Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Conference -- Day Two

I rarely blog about my job.  This is mostly because all the really interesting stuff I do is protected by all kinds of confidentiality rules.  Basically, I'm an invisible little cog in the wheels of justice.  I'm a happy little cog, but a largely anonymous one.

(I am also your (state) tax dollars at work.  And, if I do say so myself, I'm a damn good deal at the price.  And for everyone out there whining about California state employees getting too much money in our "defined benefit" pension plans, keep in mind that every lawyer who came to my job from private practice (that I know of) took a substantial cut in pay to work for the court.  I'm 19 years out of Yale Law School; I've spent 16 of those years helping the California Court of Appeal dispense justice; and I make less money than a first-year associate at major downtown law firms.  And part of my agreement (and that of my co-workers) to work for the court at the cut rate of a government salary is that we get paid a decent pension when we retire.  Anyone who thinks we'll be receiving pensions for sitting on our butts as part of some sweetheart union deal can just bite me.  Because, honestly, if the state would rather cancel my pension and instead pay me what I'm freakin' worth (and what I've been worth for the past 16 years) I'll come out ahead -- way ahead.)   

Where was I?  Oh, anonymous (slightly squeaky) cog.  

And every year, all of us anonymous cogs up and down the state get together for a conference.  (Actually, we each get to go every other year, thanks to budget limitations.)  There are all sorts of lectures about developments in different areas of the law -- things that are likely to be of use to us in the cases we work on.  (Just came back from the hour-and-a-half update on what the U.S. Supreme Court has been up to, which is always a highlight of the conference.  Yes, we actually dig this stuff -- I know that makes me sound a little weird.)

Actually, the, er, shared weirdness of this group is sort of a bonus of the annual conference -- it's something I've come to appreciate over the past few years.  Here's the thing:  judicial appellate attorneys (for that's what we are) are a bit different from your trial lawyers or your corporate lawyers or ... really ... most people's image when they think of what a lawyer is.  First off, we don't have clients.  When we're presented with a legal issue to resolve, we're looking for the right answer, not the answer that makes our client happy.  Second, we generally like this stuff.  Lots of lawyers like the drama of being in a courtroom.  Or even the fun of finding the "smoking gun" memo that's going to end up costing the other side a lot of money.  But what we like is the research, the digging into the problem until we get the right answer.  

And what I've noticed about these conferences is that we all genuinely like rational, reasoned discussion of almost any problem.  Every once in a while, we'll have a speaker who comes in with a list of hypothetical questions that he'll want to raise for group discussion -- and what will invariably happen is the speaker will never get past the first question.  We can easily go an hour and a half on a juicy topic -- hell, we've debated for hours on stuff at work, imagine how long we'll go when they give us something fun to discuss.

And that, I think, is where the real value in these conferences is found.  Sure, we get the continuing education that we need in order to keep our licenses current.  But we also get to meet with other judicial attorneys around the state -- bringing into our discussions different people than our usual "debating partners."   And they invariably have new arguments we haven't considered, or new points of view for us to contend with.  The whole exercise helps keep us sharp -- and, of course, gives us a chance to discuss our work with some of the (relatively) few other people on the planet who understand exactly what we do, and with whom we can speak freely without violating any confidentiality rules.

1 comment:

Lori said...

This was very interesting, and it sounds like you are practicing the type of law you should be practicing. I'd say the state taxpayers are getting their money's worth, and I would like to know more about what you do.