Gah. You guys. I really do. I need to get over my Wounded Bird tendencies, because they’ll probably definitely hinder my performance as an attorney. And, you know, they’ll cause me to stress out way more than I should in an already supremely stressful career.
I really do have Wounded Bird tendencies. Anytime I see anyone in trouble, or anyone that’s hurt, or anyone that’s just down, I want to wrap my arms around them and protect them from the world and fix everything.
And yes, part of that is why being a criminal defense attorney appeals to me as much as it does. (Which is a shit-ton. If we’re being specific and quantitatively measuring this, that would be “a metric shit-ton.” That’s how much being a CDL appeals to me on a daily, hourly, minute-ly basis.)
As a CDL, I get to protect people. I get to be their advocate. I get to listen to their problems and stick by them regardless of how serious and heinous those problems are. (You have to remember, a lot of the time, these folks’ family members aren’t even willing to do that.)
And I get to do my best to pull their fat from the fire, so to speak.
I get to be ragingly awesome, is what I’m basically saying.
You know, I feel like a lot of CDLs start out this way. A lot of us probably have bleeding hearts. A lot of us probably have Wounded Bird tendencies. A lot of us are probably Lost Kitten Chasers. (More on this in another blog post. Spoiler alert: I’m an even bigger trainwreck than any of you ever imagined.)
A lot of us – not all of us – probably started out this way: ready to save the world and protect the people because fuck the police and stick it to the man and viva la revolucion and we are legion, we do not forgive, we do not forget, expect us. All of that rolled up in one complicated ball, located in the hearts and minds of a group of very complicated people who do what we do for a living.
That’s probably pretty naive. I don’t know. I don’t care.
I want to save the world, obviously, but that means different things to different people, and I have a very specific idea as to what it means for me. And yeah, being a CDL does fit into my vision of saving the world. It’s a part of it. I’m not sure how big a part, but it’s a part of it. And it’s definitely a part of my daily struggle – my jihad, and this is literally what true jihad is – to be a better person.
Being a CDL helps me keep my own problems in perspective. It helps me learn compassion, and teaches me patience and understanding. It helps me learn tolerance, and how to force myself not to judge people as harshly as I might if I didn’t do this sort of work. It helps drive me and give me purpose.
I know this sounds incredibly starry-eyed to some of you reading it. That’s fine. I can understand that. But it’s my truth right now. It’s the reality of how I am experiencing my job at this point in my life. I have plenty of time to become jaded; I’ll be bushy-tailed for as long as I possibly can.
CATCH MY ENTHUSIASM YOU GUYS.
But all of this good stuff aside, I feel like I really need to get a grip when it comes to my Wounded Bird tendencies.
If you’re not familiar with Wounded Bird tendencies, well, I’m not exactly sure that they’re a thing. That’s just what I call my very immediate, very visceral, and very strong urge to protect and shelter people that I think of as “wounded birds.” These tend to be people in trouble. People who have been abused or victimized, as some of our clients have. People that are scared. People that have no one left to turn to (aside from people they pay, like me).
And I get very protective.
Which would be fine, if I only got protective when it came to their substantive case. Like, if I was so protective of my client that I motioned up every damn thing I could think of and worked every damn angle possible and assisted my boss in negotiations in any way I possibly could. And I absolutely do that.
But I get protective beyond that, too.
Like, I care about their personal lives. I care about their self-esteem and self-worth. I care about their job hunts. I care about their health and physical well-being. I care about all sorts of shit that is really important, but doesn’t have a blessed thing to do with the actual case. I want to play lawyer, doctor, social worker, therapist, priest, mother, guidance counselor, and best friend.
I want to wear ALL the hats.
And that’s not … realistic.
Hell, it’s not even SANE, you guys.
It’s a completely unrealistic expectation, and it’s a completely unrealistic standard to which to hold myself.
I mean, there are some situations in which caring about things going on with your client that aren’t about the substance of the case is important, and actually does serve some purpose as to the case, even if it’s, eh, not that great.
For example, that client I blogged about before? Who I worked really hard to get those Kosher for Passover meals for? Who called me from the jail and told me that he’s hungry? Well, I got the details from him about his food situation, and I’m motion-ing it up right now as a violation of his First Amendment rights. No, it has nothing to do with the charged offenses of possession of child pornography or transporting a minor across state lines for the purposes of sexual contact.
Not so much, no.
But it’s still important given the situation that he’s in. He’s a federal prisoner, and he has rights. And unless we win at trial on both counts (we have a good shot at one, I feel, but the other one, eh, I’m not nearly so optimistic), he’s going to be spending many more years in prison. And during that time, he absolutely has a right to Kosher meals, and meals that are Kosher for Passover during that week. So the motion isn’t about the charges, no, but it does project forward and attempt to protect his rights.
For another client, I’m really worried about the fact that he’s addicted to a certain category of controlled substances. And I’ve been talking to him about seeking treatment. Not just meetings and other fly-by-night talking sessions, but actual, intensive, in-patient treatment. But in this case, my Wounded Bird tendencies, exhibited in my desire to get him the help he needs and help him come to a place where he affirmatively wants to seek that help FOR HIMSELF, would help the case. It always looks better when a criminal defendant in a drug case acknowledges his problem and seeks treatment.
In another case, I care very much about the way the case is affecting a client’s academic and career prospects, especially because of the client’s age. But in that case, the concern has a good purpose. Pushing this client to continue to pursue a longtime career dream – a dream that he had long before this happened to him – helps the case as well. Which would be a win-win-lose. Win for us, win for the client, lose for the State. But who cares about the State?
Anyway, normally, I can generally keep it all under control. Kind of. I focus on doing productive shit, and if I’m not doing something productive for the actual case, then I’ll do something productive that’s peripheral/incidental to the case, along the lines of what I outlined above. And if I find myself getting bogged down in the stupid stuff, I try to wrap it up as quickly as I can and move on to more important things.
So generally, I’m pretty good about it. I mean, I feel like I waste more mental energy thinking about things that don’t matter for the case than I should, but I’m working on it.
But seriously, you guys, sometimes I find myself doing or thinking something that is totally out of left field as far as the actual substance of the case, and it’s just like … wat.
Wat am I doing.
Wat is life.
So then I just kind of have to slap myself and move along.
Because I know that I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep working my ass off on the actual case, and then spending my other time thinking about things that are very important in the client’s life … but don’t help move the case forward.
It’s a great way to drive myself crazy and totally burn out on work that I absolutely burn to do.
It’s a great way to stress myself out to the point that I become increasingly ineffective when it comes to actual lawyering.
It’s a great way to wear myself down using coping mechanisms to deal with shit that isn’t even the important shit.
I don’t want to be that burnt out CDL who turns to random vices and tics just to deal with the weight of shit that DOES NOT EVEN AFFECT HER ACTUAL WORK THAT MATTERS MOST TO HER CLIENTS.
Yeah. I don’t want to be that person.
So basically, I just need to get a fricking grip.
I’ve always had Wounded Bird tendencies. Always. Since I was a kid. I have always empathized deeply, I’ve always sympathized deeply, I’ve always had a very strong urge to fix other people’s problems, and if I can’t do that, I consider it my obligation to make their day just a little brighter.
And these are all good qualities. These are all strengths.
But the goal here is not to let these strengths become a weakness when it comes to actual lawyering. I gotta get over this Wounded Bird thing.
When I was in high school, I was leaving one morning for school, just like any other day. I stepped outside the house and was locking our front door when there was a huge BANG! and something hit the living room windows – hard.
Naturally, I screamed and ducked. It was ridiculous. It came out of nowhere and was LOUD – in a very quiet neighborhood at about 7:30 in the morning. When I got over my fear ten seconds later, I went over to the hedges in front of our window to investigate. I found a robin sitting, quite dazed and stunned, in the hedges, chirping its little head off and unable to move, despite how close I got to it.
I didn’t know how to fix a broken wing (it clearly had one, no question), but I figured the little animal rescue center/sanctuary near my house could handle it. My friend Paul took a rabbit there once in our junior year, I think, when he accidentally ran over it with his riding lawn mower.
So I grabbed a shoe box and a dish towel and basically picked the bird up with my bare hands (ew, they’re probably disease-ridden) and put it on the floor in front of my passenger seat and, overcome with worry and sick to my stomach over the well-being of this unremarkable robin with its red, red breast, decided to risk being a little late to school in order to drop it at that wildlife sanctuary thing so they could fix its wing.
So I drive to the sanctuary place, which is maybe 7-10 minutes from my house, and I put the car in Park and undo my seat belt and open my door, preparing to grab the box and head into the little building, and I look over to reach for the bird …
And find it sitting on the shoulder of the passenger seat.
Holy cow, do I scream. I scream and jump out of the car and hop around a bit because, OMG, scary. And this bird, meanwhile, has hopped onto the dash and is repeatedly banging its head against the windshield, trying to get out. So my next plan of attack was to open all the doors so the dumb thing would be able to get out.
But it kept bashing its head against the windshield and freaking out, so obviously it needed help. So I grabbed a magazine I miraculously had lying on the backseat (in high school, I always kept my car immaculate), rolled it up, and tried to nudge the bird toward the open door. This yielded mixed and terrifying results, and necessitated me getting within arms’ length of this scary bird.
But I finally got the bird out, after many unsuccessful attempts. And the fat little robin that had bashed into my living room windows and CLEARLY exhibited a broken wing (like, it was busted, you guys, seriously bent out of shape) just took off and flew right up into the tall trees until it disappeared from my sight.
And I’m standing there as a little sixteen year old thinking, …WTF.
YOU WERE BROKEN, YOU STUPID BIRD. YOU WERE CLEARLY BROKEN.
But that’s the point I’ve been slowly winding my way to. Sure, I’m trying to get from A to D and I’m stopping at B, C, X and 12 along the way, but you guys know by now to expect this sort of thing from me.
Sometimes, wounded birds manage to hop out of shoe boxes and sit on the shoulder of passenger seats and strike terror in the hearts of sixteen year old girls named Huma before they fly up into the trees as if nothing was ever wrong with them.
Sometimes, wounded birds just get their shit together.
So, I really have to just kind of … stahp. I really have to stahp letting myself get sucked into wanting to wear all these different hats and set up some clear boundaries.
I’m an attorney. Not a best friend or a therapist or a teacher, much less someone trying to save the whole world. My focus has to be on the case, and some of the peripherals I mentioned above, but those are limited.
I can do it. That’s not a problem. I can absolutely do it. I just need to frequently check myself and make sure I’m not falling back into these habits.
But at the same time, I won’t let myself lose these qualities, either, because they’re good qualities, they’re beneficial to a lot of people in my life, and they make me a better person. More importantly, they really do make me who I am, and I like who I am. I’m a trainwreck and I’m a spazz, but I like who I am. I’d like to keep being who I am.
But this is getting too Carrie-in-the-last-scene-of-Sex-&-The-City, so Imma stop now.