workweek chic

March 2nd, 2015 · 9 Comments

Blazer 1.Final

So, here’s the thing. I used to post all these cute outfits that I’d wear on the weekends, and exactly none of the way-less-exciting suit rotation that I wore to work every. single. day.

But lately, since my weekends revolve primarily around machine-washable clothes that can be spit up on (sigh, but it’s reality), I really haven’t had many outfits to photograph.

But you know when I do get dressed up? For work! And since I started my own practice, I have a little more freedom to take fashion risks, even in the courtroom. The legal profession is very conservative, but I’ve become pretty good at choosing workweek outfits that are professional but still fun — I’m frequently (always) the only lawyer sporting colorful blazers and stiletto heels, but hey: it’s what I like.

(The other day, going through security at the federal courthouse, my Jimmy Choos set off the metal detector, yes they did. The officer asked if my heels were dangerous, and I promised him they wouldn’t hurt anything except my feet. Hahahahaha. I had to work that story in because I thought I was hilarious, but it occurs to me now that it might also be construed as wildly dorky.)

I didn’t actually wear this to court — it was for a regular day of meetings and a charity event. What I love about this outfit was that it went really easily from work to play — just taking off the blazer made this a cute, summery outfit (I know, it’s February, but this is Houston we’re talking about), but I could still put it back on and be professional.

What I don’t love about this outfit: the blazer is probably four years old and was originally under $100 from Zara — it’s showing some wear, and I need to upgrade. I’m insanely picky about blazers — the cut, fit, and style have to be exactly right before I’ll buy one. But here are a few I’m thinking about ordering, and I’d love your thoughts! None of them are exactly like this one, but they’re all under $200 and could be really fun additions to my workweek wardrobe.

I’m thinking about ordering this one from Shopbop in black — I like the three-quarter sleeves and the single-button style. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll probably try this bold blue from Nordstrom, or maybe even this blush pink from Topshop. (I wish I could see the color in person on the last one, but Houston doesn’t have Topshop yet!  It’s only $90, so I may order it just to try on.) Let me know if you have any thoughts and I’ll let you guys know when I decide!

So, here we go: Workweek Chic. What do you guys think? Should this be a regular Sugarlaws feature?

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Blazer 5.Final

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Tags: style · work

four things i learned from being the boss for a year

February 12th, 2015 · 4 Comments

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Many of you may remember that a little over a year ago, I left my job at a law firm to start my own legal practice. I was at a crossroads in my career, and I knew that if I ever wanted to make this jump, this was my window.

And oh my gosh: what a year it’s been.

{Actually, it’s been almost a year and a half at this point, but it took me about six months to have enough spare time to draft this post, ha.  Such is life.}

It’s been really, really amazing. And also really, really hard.

Sure, having a baby added a whole new set of complications (I touched on them a little bit when I wrote about being a working mom). But many of the challenges that I’ve worked through in the last year have nothing to do with being a mom, and everything to do with starting a business.

So I thought that I’d put together some small pieces of advice that I’ve gathered throughout the past year. Starting a business takes full commitment, all the hours you can devote to it, and a ton of creativity and energy. It takes flexibility, determination, and an incredible amount of grunt work.

And once you’re done with that, here are a few more things to keep on your mind.

Delegate Everything You Can.

My first day working at a huge law firm in Manhattan, we learned: When you can delegate, you should. I was 25 at the time, and honestly, I felt nervous and awkward at the idea that I was qualified to assign tasks to anyone (even my secretary, who at that point had more years of experience in the legal industry than I did).

But my firm made clear: this was the first and most crucial skill that I was expected to learn. A client would not put up with me spending two hours drafting mailing labels because I thought it was awkward to ask my assistant to do it. I was expected to take advantage of their resources, so that I could do what they paid me for: being a lawyer.

In retrospect, it was the best lesson I could have learned. Like many of us who are perfectionists, I have a tendency to micro-manage projects, and I worry that no one else is going to do every task as well as I can. But… that tendency sucks up a ton of time that’s better spent elsewhere.

Your time is valuable. Spend it challenging yourself, learning new skills, and pushing your brain to its limits. And when you can get help, do it. So delegate whatever you can, and focus your time accordingly.

Stop Worrying.

Ok, truthfully?

This one took me a long time to learn.

My first year in business, I worried a lot.  I worried when I quit my stable, high-paying job, I worried during my first few months as I waited for the phone to ring, and I sometimes still worry. There are so many worries for your mind to fixate on: What if I lose this case? What if I don’t get this client? What if my phone stops ringing?

But, you know what? All of those things are out of my control. They always were. Worrying is never going to make the phone ring, and it’s never going to change whether you succeed. It’s going to make you miserable, and distract you from taking chances that might just pay out in the long run.

So I’ve started to let go of my worries, and embrace the flexibility and creativity that get stifled when you spend every minute worrying about things in the future.  Right now, what I’m doing is working.  And focusing on that is more productive than all the worst- and best-case scenarios I can think of.

Build a Network.

Success isn’t just a measure of how hard you work; the relationships you build are equally important. I’ve been lucky throughout my career to work with incredible mentors and colleagues, many of whom I still regularly call on for advice. Especially when I first started my practice, my network of seasoned, experienced lawyers answered my questions, vetted my ideas, and provided me with countless hours of knowledge and advice.

And here’s the great thing about being a woman: we are natural networkers. We’re comfortable talking. We keep in touch. We maintain larger social networks, and we bond incredibly closely with our friends. This is one aspect of business that’s sitting there, waiting for us: all we have to do is reach for it.

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When the Going Gets Tough… Just Keep Going.

The biggest thing I worried about during my first year in business? The topic of all those sleepless nights?

Failure.

I worried that I’d spend a year, or five years, or ten years, doing this, and I wouldn’t be able to make it succeed. That my sheer force of will wouldn’t be strong enough.  I worried that no matter what I did, some element of success was out of my control.

Some days that failure felt imminent. When I didn’t get a case that I really wanted. When I was up at midnight because the baby hadn’t slept and I had a brief to finish. When I had to take a deep breath because my to-do list was a mile long and I was still on the first item.

In short: When any obstacle got thrown in my path, that fear re-emerged.

But it’s been a year, and I haven’t failed. Sure, there’s some relief there. But there’s also something even more valuable: I’ve come to terms with the fact that that even if I did, or if I still do, failure isn’t the end of the world.

So here’s what I say to someone who’s in the position I was in a year ago, worried about the uncertainty but itching to try anyway:

Life is long and you’ll have many chances to do many things. Maybe this one will work out — hopefully, it will. But if it doesn’t? You’ll pick up the pieces and move forward.

You will be wiser for the experience, even if it’s painful.  Failure can teach you lessons that you’ll never learn from success. That, in itself, has value.

One of my favorite pieces of inspiration is a speech that Steve Jobs gave for Stanford Commencement in 2005. I’ve probably read it a hundred times, particularly in moments of doubt and uncertainty.

His last few words are hanging on a print in my home office: Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

My first year in business was hungry and foolish. It was scary and exhilarating and maddening and stressful beyond belief, and it was also one of the things that I will be proud of doing for the rest of my life. It was jumping off a cliff to see if I could fly, and it was unlike any experience I’ve ever had.

It has profoundly changed the way I think about my career, in ways that will be with me for the rest of my life. It has given me responsibility, discipline, and drive that I couldn’t have imagined a year ago.

For every sleepless night, there was another full of exhilaration, full of celebration, and full of tiny little victories that kept me going, day after day.

I learned a thousand lessons — sometimes that were exciting, some that were painful.

I learned when to trust my gut and when to trust my experience… and when to just flip a coin and call it a day.

I learned that, at the end of your first year, the process of making these decisions is just getting started.

I learned that every day brings some new challenge that I am stronger and better for having overcome.

For a girl whose life has been spent on a pretty rigid trajectory, I learned the freedom of inventing a path for yourself, and the flexibility and grit that it requires.

And, you know what? I’m still learning, every single day.

So ask me again at the end of Year Two.

Office-Final

Tags: work

career: where it all began

January 22nd, 2015 · 7 Comments

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One of the things that I promised in 2015 was that I’d share more with you guys about my legal career.  From the start of this blog, I’ve struggled with how to incorporate my professional life with the content here, and up till now, I’ve never felt like I had the right solution. 

Honestly, in the past seven years since Sugarlaws was founded, I’ve largely ignored the topic of my job on here.  Except for writing about the challenges of being a working mom, I haven’t written much about my life as a lawyer, and often it feels like a gaping hole that this blog is missing.  As much as I love fashion, food, and our son, my work is an integral part of my life.  So this year, I’m making a conscious effort to share more about it with you guys.

But when I think about my legal career, I have to start at the beginning. 

So today, I want to tell you about Lonnie Jones. 

This was one of the first cases I ever worked on as a lawyer, and still one of the absolute most meaningful.  When I was a second year law student, I spent the summer working at Davis Polk, the firm I would eventually join after graduation, and one day, a senior associate asked me to help with a pro bono brief he was working on.  (For those of you who aren’t lawyers, pro bono work is legal work that law firms do for free for people who can’t otherwise afford it.)

The brief was a criminal appeal for Lonnie Jones, a man who had been wrongfully convicted for murder and sentenced to life in prison.  Lonnie’s conviction was based on flawed testimony from a single eyewitness, and even in my first days working on his case, it was crystal clear that his conviction was a serious injustice.  I helped with the brief and then went back to law school for my third year, hoping for the best but knowing how difficult it can be to get a criminal conviction overturned.  DNA evidence has helped immeasurably, but when a conviction is based on eyewitness testimony, even drastically flawed convictions are very, very hard to overturn.

Fast forward one year, I graduated and joined the firm.  And in my first week, the same senior associate told me that we had won Lonnie’s appeal: his conviction had been overturned, and he was getting a new trial. 

And we would be representing him.

Now, I know that TV and the movies give the impression that murder trials happen every day, for a lawyer with a white-shoe corporate litigation practice, they happen exactly never.  I immediately asked to join the trial team, knowing that this might be my only chance to work on a criminal trial — and, more importantly, knowing that we had a chance to correct the injustice that Lonnie had spent almost six years in prison for. 

For confidentiality reasons, I can’t say anything about the substance of our trial preparation, so I’ll tell you about the mood of our team, which was something pretty incredible.  For months, we spent every night and weekend gathered around conference rooms in our office, talking with witnesses and debating points of strategy.  We learned firsthand about New York City gangs and inner city housing projects from people who lived in them.  I visited Rikers Island and learned that an underwire bra sets off their metal detectors (who knew?). 

And then, in the middle of winter in Brooklyn, eight months after I graduated from law school, we took Lonnie’s case to trial. 

And won.

He was acquitted of all charges by a jury, and I’ll never forget the moment that the jury read his verdict: there was so much relief and joy in that courtroom, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced.  After six years in jail, Lonnie left that courtroom a free man.  The bailiff cried as she took off his handcuffs, and he went home to his wife, who had stayed by his side and believed in his innocence for all those years. 

In many ways, that case is where my legal career started.  This month marks eight years since that trial, and since then, I’ve tried other cases and gotten other verdicts, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had one that meant so much to me as that one did.  It was an incredible experience to begin my career and one that I’m still grateful for every single day. 

I’m not a criminal lawyer and chances are, I’ll never try a murder case again.  But having that experience as the focal point of my first year as a lawyer shaped me in so many ways.  It gave me faith in our legal system to get the right result and the courage to seek justice, no matter how tough the odds. 

And most of all: It taught me that the best lawyers look for the truth rather than spinning a story, a principle that I carry with me to this day. 

You can read more about Lonnie’s case on the National Registry of Exonerations here, or see the article that my firm published after the trial here

Tags: life · work