My daughter, Ashley-Taylor (A.T.) recently spent some time in Washington D.C. She went to DC to attend a conference for select college students who volunteer their time to advocate for mental health awareness. She is passionate about de-stigmatizing mental illness. After her trip, she said that DC “felt like home”. A.T. was born in Illinois, as a toddler she lived in the Middle East but the majority of her life has been in Alabama. I wondered if it was the charm of the city, or bustle of the “big city”, but she now lives in Birmingham. And, Birmingham is a bustling city with some very charming areas such as Highlands and Five Points. So, why then did she have a connection to DC?
Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” What my daughter was doing in DC was finding herself in the service of others. She spent her trip with other people, who just like her, were giving their time to a cause for others. As I thought more about her statement, I realized that I too have “found myself”.
For the past 9 years, I have been inwardly focused. I attended law school – which was all about me getting through successfully without filing bankruptcy due to law school debt. My husband took care of everything including our two children, while I was working during the day and attending classes at night. I then spent the next 6 years building a law practice. Building a law practice was not only about my clients but about me as well. Although the practice of law is a profession, it’s also a business. I was constantly scared. I was afraid to fail both professionally and financially, afraid to be successful for fear I couldn’t keep up with business, and, I feared I wasn’t good enough for my clients. The result of these worries was that I had lost sight of what I needed for myself. I needed time for my marriage, my children and myself. There were very high highs and desperately low lows. I dedicated my life to my practice and it was to the point, I was losing touch with my family, friends and myself.
About 5 months ago, I changed my path. I accepted a position with the District Attorney’s office. I am now a prosecutor in the sexual assault and family violence unit. It all happened so fast…that quite honestly, when I stop and think about it, I am still in a bit of shock. I made the big and somewhat snap decision to stop doing what I knew and dive into the unknown. I knew the Assistant District Attorneys that I would be working with; however, my relationship with most of them was adversarial. Even though there were a few with whom I believed I had a personal connection with, their real work was foreign to me. When I was approached about the job, I was told I would be working in a unit with attorneys Jason Scully-Clemmons and Tim Gann. I had had cases with both of these men, but I didn’t know them personally.
I knew Jason was highly educated, and his credentials are quite impressive: New York University for law school, a MPA from American University and a BS from Georgetown University. Although we had had only a few cases together, we were quietly playing Words with Friends. His vocabulary was incredible…his comments, albeit brief, were funny: “Gaby, it’s Words with Friends – not Definitions with Friends” in response to my request for an explanation to his foreign yet acceptable words!
I knew Tim Gann a little better as he had been the prosecutor for a short time in the juvenile delinquency unit and at that time, I had a heavy juvenile caseload. I knew that Tim was a former police officer, and I knew he had worked full-time while commuting 4 hours a day to attend law school in the evenings. I knew him to be personable and fair.
Both men were small town boys who through dedication and hard work made good. I had had enough contact with each of them, that I knew them to be very ethical and respectful – and they always returned my calls to their office when we had cases together (that is a biggie). Jason and Tim are also highly respected by the members of the defense bar. However, what won me over – and made me a fan of each of them – way before I was extended an invitation to join the office – was their professionalism and common sense approach to their cases.
So, I did say “yes.” “Yes” to the opportunity to work and learn from them. However, what I didn’t realize was, I was saying “yes” to working with a team comprised of investigators, a legal assistant, a victim’s advocate, and social workers. People I had never met but that I would be working with in close quarters every single day!
I now know that I really said “yes” to working with people who are committed to the service others. And, guess what? After 5 months in my new position of serving as an assistant district attorney, I have found myself. Gandhi was indeed right.
Since the day I started, life has been very different. Not only do I not dread going to work, I look forward to it. Despite the terrible cases I review on a daily basis, which are only sex crimes and family violence, I am able to manage the subject matter, because I work with an incredible team of individuals who are dedicated to serving the citizens of Madison County.
Don’t misunderstand, we aren’t always a big happy family, as there are many times the “team” is not in agreement. Nevertheless, we all share a common goal and our disagreements are simply opportunities to learn from each other, making us all better in our respective positions.
My new job feels like home. It is really my home away from home. My real home is now in balance. I come home in a better mood as I am not worried about my business. I am able to leave work at work due to the support of my co-workers. My new job allows me be home for dinner, and get to bed at a decent hour. I am able to spend real time with my family as before my family time consisted of saying “good night”. There’s no competition for clients thus no worries about keeping afloat financially. There’s no fear that I can’t do my best, as my fellow prosecutors, Tim and Jason won’t let me fail.
I have honestly found myself in the service of others. Just like my daughter, I am in a group of people who give their time for others. I believe that my new employment has allowed me to shift my focus from me to others. I have let go of much of my ego because this job is not about me. Gandhi was right; I have found myself. Now, granted I am not volunteering my time; however, I am no longer haunted by earning more money so I can keep my practice as the cost of doing business is always on the rise, nor am I preoccupied with furthering myself as individual lawyer as I have lost the individual competitiveness inherent in the legal profession.
I am hopeful that my message in this writing doesn’t come across as preachy or one that reads as if this is all too good to be real. So, to those who doubt my personal revelation, I say this: there are days when I feel defeated, frustrated, afraid and sickened.
The defeat comes when I believe a crime has truly been committed but I can’t prove it. The frustration kicks in when I’ve had to ask Tim or Jason no less than a thousand questions before lunch. And, I am many times afraid that I will screw up in court or worse, in trial, and that my screw up will affect my case. As to my daily sickness, it doesn’t stem from any physical activity but from the emotional strain of my daily work on cases that always include either a child or adult victim. These cases are very difficult handle; in fact, many attorneys won’t/can’t work on these types of crimes.
Despite that the nature of these cases should be extremely depressing, I am not depressed by my work. The only explanation as to why I am not suffering is that I have the privilege to work with a group of individuals who are strong in their resolve to serve others; and, in this unit “others” include each other. The people I work with are always willing to help on a case even if they aren’t even officially involved; they are available for feedback, and each will listen in the event there’s a need to vent.
Every day, I am thankful that I made the crazy decision to shut down a thriving law practice. I am thankful for Melissa, Chad, Tim, Cindy, Jada, Barbara, Corey, Kristin, and Tikki for being patient, kind and understanding, as they form the rest of the team and have had to withstand the new girl.
I am most thankful to Jason and Tim for being the men I believed them to be, for without them, I would not have found the person I need to be…me.