Stop Asking Where I'm From

I had lunch with THE Andrea Lyon a month ago!

Written By: humarashid - Jun• 04•13

I didn’t blog about this yet, did I? I know a lot of you (a LOT of you) were very curious about it, and also very excited for me, which was very sweet of you. When I mentioned it on Twitter, I got all sorts of replies from people who greatly admired her work (um, how could you not?), and people who had been fortunate enough to have her as a teacher, and others who had listened to her lectures at the Clarence Darrow Death Penalty Defense College, a week-long program held at DePaul University.

Fun aside: my boss, Raymond Wigell, is teaching there again this year. I think this is his … sixth year doing so? Don’t quote me on that, though. All I know is, he’s out of the office that week, so my time will be divided up nicely between handling whatever morning court calls I have, and then spending the rest of the day throwing a Kanye West dance party at the office. Obviously.

Anyway, that’s where he is right now, as I finish editing this post that I wrote two weeks ago. And his absence is also why our conference room table looks like this right now, because I am in incorrigible slob when I’m working hard on something (many somethings), and our paralegal Nicole is super sweet and doesn’t discourage me or mess with My Process, as I refer to my general ineptitude.


I can’t be trusted, basically.

So anyway, in the first week of May, I met Prof. Lyon for lunch at a sushi place on Michigan Ave, just a stone’s throw from our respective law schools. (Remember, she’s a professor, associate dean of clinical programs, and the director of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases at DePaul, which is right across the street from my own John Marshall.)

When I mentioned my plans to meet up with her on Twitter, the question I received most frequently was, “What are you wearing?!” And that kind of made me laugh because … I hadn’t thought anything of it. :P I was thinking more along the lines of, Crap! I have to read everything anyone ever wrote about Andrea Lyon! I have to prepare a list of questions about … stuff! And things! And I should bring a notepad and a pen to take notes during lunch!

You know, because I’m an obsessive trainwreck, and kind of a major fangurl when it comes to awesome attorneys.

(Embarrassingly, I still fangurl over my boss all the time. He takes it all in stride.)

Anyway, I hadn’t given much thought/importance to what I was wearing. I figured … court clothes. If it was suitable for court, I’d wear it to lunch. I was going back to the office afterward, anyway, so it was all good.

I ended up wearing a paisley printed black and beige silk dress with a black cropped sweater, black tights, and neutral/beige heels. Plus my favorite emerald silk coat (because it was kind of brisk that day). So that should satisfy any curiosity on that end.

Anyway, lunch was lovely. Prof. Lyon was a little early, and I was a little late (due to a freak accident on 290 like TEN minutes from the city, which was pretty bad and left only one lane open and I’m sitting there like OH NOES I FEEL SO BAD FOR EVERYONE THAT GOT HURT and GRAH GET OUT OF MY WAY EVERYONE I HAVE THINGS TO DO). So I felt bad that she’d been kept waiting for me.

ALSO. I parked in the Palmer House garage, which was a nightmare. I mean, I paid next to nothing to park there, but DAMN, those little aisles are narrow. And I only have a Camry Hybrid, which is not a very big car, and there were spots where I had to reverse a bit before moving along because I wasn’t about to chance it. And even then I was positive I was going to scrape half my car off on the cement walls. Which had clear scrape marks from the countless other cars, I’m sure, that sustained quite a bit of damage when rounding those turns. So that was encouraging, and I’m never parking there again. Parking in the Loop is such a nightmare in general. This was why @BobBlahBlawg was always in charge of the city driving back when we were in law school.

Anyway, all of that was obviously worth it, and then some, since I was having lunch with the woman that basically played a huge hand in inspiring me to become a CDL in the first place.

Prof. Lyon said something interesting, though, on that note, that made me think. She said, “When I was in law school, I didn’t have any role models. There weren’t other female defense attorneys for me to look up to.”

And that gave me pause, because, really, I was quite lucky to have someone like Andrea Lyon to read about and admire while I was figuring things out and trying to make my way through law school without killing anyone. She really was an inspiration. Reading about her helped me get a really clear idea of what I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to stand for.

We had a lovely afternoon, and Prof. Lyon asked me lots of questions and let me ask her lots of questions. Topics ranged widely, from law school to practice to religion to love to where I should look in the city for an apartment. She gave me lots of advice, both personal and professional, which I found very, very useful. I don’t really want to divulge any more in terms of specifics, because it just feels … wrong to do so. So, sorry. But I will try to speak to more general bits of advice that I think most people in my situation can benefit from, without betraying specifics.

I’ve made no secret here of the fact that I’m a new attorney. I have six months of experience as a criminal defense attorney, and even though I’ve handled a lot of cases and gotten my hands dirty with just about every single one of our open files, six months is still pretty damn young.

So when it comes to older attorneys who are willing to give me some advice, I always listen and remember it and soak it up like a sponge, basically. I’m really lucky when it comes to my boss, because he turns everything into a teaching moment and has lots of patience for my questions. So I listen to my boss any chance I get, and I listen to any other attorney that takes the time to impart an insight here and there. Heck, I’ve even gotten (and appreciated) pep talks from opposing counsel, which I found valuable, not to mention kind.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding. :P All my love to the lone prosecutor who got horribly lost on the Interwebz and found this blog.


So being able to sit down with Andrea Lyon and ask her questions about her experiences and have her advise me on any number of different topics and concerns was just great.

As far as being a new CDL, there aren’t many people I know personally that I can turn to for advice on certain topics. No one in my extended family is an attorney; very few of my friends, other than a handful of friends from law school, are attorneys. I’m fortunate enough to have a network of CDL friends that I “met” on Twitter, so I know they’re always there if I need help, and that means a lot.

But there aren’t a whole lot of people I’m close to who live this sort of life. People who sit at the office and look at photographs from a grisly murder scene while sipping their morning coffee. People who flip through hundreds of images of contraband pornography and do jail and lock-up visits and watch people they’ve come to care for get cuffed and taken into custody right in front of them.


It’s kind of a strange life, I guess, now that I try to think about it from a distance.

So one of the questions I asked her was about that played out “women and work-life balance” idea. I fucking hate that shit. People (often men) have been talking about whether women can “have it all” for decades.

I’m so. goddamn. BORED. of that stupid topic.

How about we stop pontificating about whether or not women who devote themselves to their career do so at the expense of their children, or whether professional women who take time off for kids do so at the expense of their careers and the profession at large?

(My favorite is hearing male friends who are doctors talk about how women doctors/researchers are negatively affecting the field because they enter it, leave it to have babies, and the research they’re working on gets left in a lurch or whatever. Like, fuck off. You did NOT just blame the entire state of medical research and whatever problems you believe it has on women. Miss me with that shit.)

So even though I HATE that women and work-life balance nonsense, and I hate that it merits so much discussions and fills pages of magazines and blogs with sanctimonious judgments and sweeping generalizations and bitter condemnations, I asked Prof. Lyon a question sort of along those lines.

Because I was curious. And because I wanted some advice that would at least in part help arm me against what I perceived would become very real problems in my future.

But only if, you know, I ever manage to successfully club a man unconscious and drag him back to my lair. Because, given how gallopingly awkward I am, let’s face it, that’s the only way I’m going to end up with anyone. Let’s just be real for a second here.

My question was basically about whether or not being a trial attorney adversely affected the relationships in her life.

The answer to this is obvious: yes, absolutely. I mean, how could it not? I wasn’t asking a yes or no question, though, even though I phrased it that way.

What I wanted to know, more specifically, was how a woman like Andrea Lyon dealt with her work – that she loved – negatively affecting people she cared about and loved.

Because that’s one of my fears. That being a(n associate) trial attorney will cause me to occasionally ignore and dismiss and be short with people that I care about, whether they’re friends or family. I can see myself missing a family dinner party or something because I had a jury in the back and was waiting on a verdict. I can easily see myself forgetting a close friend’s birthday because I’m up to my eyeballs in trial prep material. I can totally see myself neglecting a husband and barely seeing him for a week or two straight as I put on a trial.

You know, if that whole clubbing some unsuspecting gentleman over the head and dragging him back to my lair and threatening him into putting a ring on it actually works out for me. If I ever happen to grab a knuckle-dragger and turn him into some sort of a husband, I can easily see myself ignoring him while preparing for trial.

And I’m still new enough that I haven’t been through this yet. I will soon; as my boss told me not very long ago, by the time the leaves change, I’ll have several trials under my belt. We’re kind of up to our eyeballs in it right now, so that’s pretty cool.

But I know that this will probably come up (it’s already starting to),and I wanted to know how I could best deal with it. So I obviously wanted to know how Prof. Lyon dealt with it.

She was very candid in her response, and some of the things she said made me laugh. What it basically came down to, she said, was preparing the people in your life ahead of time. Letting them know that you’d basically be really short on time and temper for the next couple of weeks or whatever, and that you were sorry, and that was the size of it. I found her advice very, very helpful.

All in all, I had a wonderful time. It was a lunch date I’m positive I’ll remember for a long time to come. I consider myself so fortunate that I was able to spend some time with an excellent attorney who was one of my professional inspirations.

And then as I was driving back to the office after Prof. Lyon walked me back to the Palmer House and I miraculously managed to get my car out of there, LOL, I thought to myself that I was lucky in so many, many ways.

Because I happen to work for an excellent rockstar of an attorney, too. And I have lunch with him almost every day. And every day he teaches me a dozen new things, and shows me a dozen other things, and always takes the time to answer my questions and help me think things through and analyze them the way I should be. He is a very generous, nurturing, skilled man and teacher who loves what he does, and more than anyone else at this point, even the stuff-of-legal-legends Andrea Lyon, Raymond Wigell is my role model.

I can look to the two of them and see exactly what I want to be in my professional (and to some extent, personal) life – what I’m working every day to become.

I can look at Andrea Lyon and see the attorney I want to be. A female attorney who is taken seriously, and even feared. Who doesn’t use her femininity as a crutch, nor has it used against her as a handicap. (Or rather, one who doesn’t CONSENT to having her femininity used against her like it’s a handicap.) Someone that is determined and strong in the face of something terrible and scary and soul-gutting and heart-wrenching, who just keeps fighting the good fight, day in and day out. Someone whose attention to detail and commitment to this lifestyle, and yes, it’s a lifestyle, as I’m learning, seems unflagging. Someone who takes the time to talk to and help younger, less experienced attorneys and gifts them with the benefit of her tremendous knowledge. Someone who is an absolute legend in our world.

And I can look at Raymond Wigell and see the same thing. I can see the kind of attorney I want to be. Someone who’s been around the block and gotten his teeth kicked in a time or two or twelve thousand, who always rallies and bounces back like it’s nothing. Someone that I’ve watched go into very tense, very stressful situations where it looked like we didn’t have a shot in hell, but with all the eagerness and determination in the world. Someone who, despite how awful things may seem, or how poorly a situation develops for us, turns to me and insulates me from it, and turns it into a teaching moment so that I can grow and learn from it instead of being bulldozed by it. Someone who will tip me into the deep end of the pool, but who would never let me sink and drown.

Someone who cares about every single client that comes to our door, who loses sleep over them, who works tirelessly for them. And most importantly, someone who wakes up in the morning to do the same thing he’s done for almost the past forty years, and still has so much fun doing it.

Between the two of them, I really couldn’t have asked for better role models. (Although I do repeat here, just in case it helps anyone else, that I do my best not to admire people themselves so much as the excellent qualities they have. It’s just not fair – it’s a hell of a lot to be expected to live up to. And people are flawed, and sometimes have low moments and bad days. I find it’s so much more helpful to my personal growth to admire and emulate the wonderful qualities I see in other people, rather than model myself off of them or hold them up as some kind of ideal to aspire to.)

Despite that caveat about emulating good qualities rather than emulating people, I couldn’t be happier and more excited to come into work every day and have these two attorneys (and many other excellent CDLs) to look up to.



I’ve got it pretty good.

Pretty damn good.

And I hope, two or three decades down the line, I can help, teach, and inspire other young lawyers the way these two attorneys have and continue to help, teach, and inspire me.

Beware, young attorneys.

Until then, I’ll just be here in my little corner, quietly living the dream.

Y’all know where to find me.

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