Sunday, November 20, 2016

On what it's like to write a legal brief - the long marathon

These law few weeks, I had to relive what it's like to write a legal brief. Almost every day, I returned home with that dreaded feeling of fatigue and an unthinking mind. (It's the kind of feeling you get from sitting through hours of traffic; your body may not be tired, but your mind is exhausted.) Now that I'm done writing those briefs, I wanted to share what it's like writing them.

A person (who will go unnamed) said to me once I don't really work, because all I do is write. I actually fell into believing this lie, when another friend told me to snap out of it and reminded me the difficulties of writing.

It's true, to an extent what that unnamed person said. Writing a legal brief won't get my hands dirty, and I'm not physically laboring. No.

And a judge once gave a speech to our class and reminded us, that we, as lawyers build the invisible. We don't architect or construct buildings or bridges or tunnels. Our work is not physically visible once complete.

(And that always got to me, because I would say that the work I put into things can take just as much energy as drafting an architect's blueprint for a house or building, and nobody will ever see it. What's worse, what if you write a labor-intensive brief and the judge doesn't even read it. Has happened to me.)

No, essentially, it can seem like the work I do is meaningless and that nobody will ever see it.

* * * *
Before I begin working on my brief, I know, deep inside, that it's going to take a lot of work. So, a bit of necessary procrastination kicks in. It's almost like, I have to mentally prepare myself for the day's writing ahead.

I start the day at my favorite cafe in Pasadena. I order an iced latte with half and half (American, for half cream and half milk), not regular milk. I have to pay extra for the cream. It tastes a lot better with cream.

I wish the cafe would begin using full cream. Maybe, I need to make the suggestion.

I sit down with my iced latte and computer. I drink the latte. I love the buttery taste.

I write emails to my friends. It makes me feel better.

I try to read Scripture, from time to time. (I've been bad at disciplining myself to do it, but when I do, I feel of sounder mind and at greater peace.)

I like to get my bills or other errands sorted out. It makes me feel like I'm getting something done, and it makes me feel like I have some control over my life. When it gets done, I feel like my life is ordered and clean, even when it's really not.

I wrestle with myself next on how much longer I should stay at the cafe. People are watching me; that's the kind of people who come here. They watch people and want to be seen. I tell myself: It's good I have so much to do; it makes you look like you have a purpose.

The time is ticking. Should I go? No, stay and kill time. The time is ticking. Should I go or stay? Every time, it's the same string of thoughts; it's the same fight. But, somehow I force myself to go.

I walk to the library, which is about three fourths of a mile. The walking is good, because it helps me think through what I'll need to do today.

There's a small wooden desk with a study wooden chair that's in one of the legal sections at the library that I go to. I try to grab it every time I work. In this case, I've had to go to the law library every day for several weeks.

Out of my bag, I pull out a sheet of paper. Written in the corner, it says: "What you need to do tomorrow?" After I finish every day, I write down all the work that needs to get done for the next day; so, I can pick up where I started. It's my map for the day.

On one day, it said I had to look up certain cases. I go to the shelf. Take down a book. Find the case name. Look up the case online. I read it. I evaluate it. I determine whether it's a good case. Then, I have to figure out how to adjust it; so, that the case actually reads better than what's stated. (The final skill is the heart of lawyering; I can't turn white into black and vice-versa, but I can turn grey into white or black.)

I sit for hours at the library, writing, reading, revising, thinking, and getting stuck. Writers get writer's block. Well, I'm convinced lawyering also comes with lawyer's block too.

It happens in one of two ways. Either, you can't figure out an intellectual or logical problem. Or, you know you're not saying what you want to say in words. A lot of time is spent, just solving how to get passed these intellectual roadblocks.

Often, when this happens too long, after hours of working, I pack up. I walk around the city for awhile. I sit down on a bench and watch the people. I answer texts. I call people. I get another coffee. I eat at the local British pub - where they serve me bone marrow on toast, or is it toast on bone marrow? I can't help but drink the jus (which is rich beef broth, boiled down to a liquid gravy).

Sometimes I tell myself, perhaps it'd be better to have a glass of wine with that. It'd be better with the food. Yeah, but I'd also be more tired later. I don't do it.

I always sit outside. It makes me feel better. It makes me understand my cat, who seems happier outside too.

I talk to the waiter. He asks me, "How's the food?"

"Good," I say. He smiles. I smile back. The smiles are genuine.

After that, I walk back to the library, and somehow, even though I haven't been thinking about it at all on my break, I seem to almost always have a solution to the problem I was working on. And the mental process is always the same.

It's as if I'm chopping a big chunk of wood. First, you have to make a crack in it. Then, you take a spike and drive it into the crack. The crack becomes larger and larger, and then it cracks into a smaller pieces of wood; so, you can chop it.

The intellectual solution almost always begins with a crack into the problem. Then, you see that it's going somewhere, so you drive into that problem - harder and deeper, until it starts to work itself out.

At the end of the day, I can feel it, when I can't work anymore. I start to feel sleepy, even though I'm not physically tired. I know it's time to stop.

I can keep going, but then I'll be driving myself into the ground. At a later point in time, I won't be as sharp and ready. And although I would still be able to work, I would make more mistakes or not be as agile later.

I pack up and drive back home. There's some traffic. Great, I think. My head is tired. Traffic. Tired. Traffic. A car cuts me off. That idiot almost got me into an accident. Calm down, not worth it.

When I get home, I take care of what I need to. Sometimes, the cat will spot me halfway up the street. He'll come charging at me: running and running. When I open the car door, he's right there. It cheers me up to see him running towards me from such a distance.

I pick him up. I hug him and say, "Jeh Pan, how you been, kitty?"

I take him with me inside. Inside, dinner is ready. My mother is always thoughtful. I tell her not about my day because what's so interesting about me staying at the library and reading and writing. Instead, I tell her that the cat spotted me and ran up to me.

She says, "Isn't it cute when he does that?"

I say, "It makes you feel so good."

At dinner, my mother's made me one of my favorite dishes. She steamed the eggs from our chickens and threw in pollack roe and salted the eggs. It's a Korean dish that's been modified with the fish roe, which is a kind of caviar. The egg is fluffy, salty, runny, creamy, and rich. The caviar inside makes it meaty and strong.

I pour the egg over my rice with Japanese sesame oil. I eat it all.

"This is good," I say.

She picks up Jeh Pan and tells him, "Time for you to eat too," in Korean.

He understands. He meows in response.

I thank her. I rest a bit.

After, I change into my gym clothes. I go running in the hills. I run for two hours. There I see the coyotes and the owls looking at me. They know me now, since I run there so often. I know them too.

While running, a flurry of ideas come at me about my brief. The introduction needs to change. Take out sentence. You sound too petty. Make sure to add more context on that idea. Make sure to revise section X or section Y. 

I tell myself, I hope I can remember all this after my run. Ok. There are five ideas that are important. Five. Remember. Five. Five. Five. 

I finish my run. My calves are sore. I drive home. I tell myself, five.

When I come home, I take out a sheet of paper and write down the five ideas.

This is like studying for the bar. This is like a marathon. I just want it to be over already.

I shower. In the shower, I'm thinking, you still have a long way to go before you rest.

I lie in bed. It can only be about five minutes before I fall into sleep. I know that I'll be doing almost exactly the same things tomorrow. I want this to be done already. But I tell myself, don't think such things. What would be the point? The negative thought would just consume more energy, and if I don't manage this right, I won't finish? And if I do, it won't be the way I want to finish.

The last thought I can remember is: I hope this will all be worth it.

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