Swimming in Small Ponds: A Glimpse of Small Town Practice

As usual, I pull up to the courthouse five minutes before nine.  I'm always pushing the limits of punctuality.  In a packed courtroom, no one notices latecomers.  But out here, everybody notices.

I hurriedly park my car.  Too hurriedly, in fact, as it takes four tries to get into the space and people have begun to stare.  My parallel parking inability is embarassing, I know.  I'm accustomed to parking garages and long walks down city streets, not pulling up out front and walking into the building.  Somehow I finally manage to park the car.

Two minutes, I note.  I dart across the street in my ridiculous stiletto heels, and run up two flights of stairs.  I'm out of breath by the time I get to the courtroom, but I make it in time, this time.  I smile and wave to the deputy and maneuver around the metal detector.  I've only been here a few months, but he knows me now and I no longer have to go through security measures.  I think, again, I should have learned his name, but I've learned so many names in the past few months, they all sort of run together.  I make a mental note to be better: names are important here. 

All rise.  You may be seated.  I take my seat.  There aren't many seats at the tables, and the older male attorneys take those.  Instead, I sit in the front row of the gallery.  I'm well-dressed in designer clothes, and my shoes dance the fine line between stylish professional and cosmopolitan party girl.  I know how out of place I look in this small town of mostly older male attorneys, but I want to be noticed.

The Judge reads off his rulings on our motions.  Sustained.  Hearing set.  Overruled.  Motion hour takes five minutes and is a mere formality here.  There are no arguments to be heard; those will be set for hearing.  There's barely time for a cursory glance out the window of the remarkable river view in this picturesque town before my cases are called.  I enter the pertinent information into my iPhone and email the memo to my paralegal.  Even small towns in Appalachia have 3G access.

This concludes the motion docket.  All rise.  I wave hello to the attorneys I know, particularly the other women, of which there are very few.  Another attorney has a question about a case, and we go back to talk to the Judge and come to a resolution.  I'm back in my car at 9:15.

It's been a big adjustment returning to a small town, since I left that life 12 years ago: the casual atmosphere, the slow pace, and the long-term personal and family connections.  I'm just starting to relearn the rules.  One benefit to a larger city is blending into the crowd.  But these days it would seem I want to be noticed and, more importantly, I want to be involved.  It's difficult to do that in a large city with thousands of lawyers, but here, people already know my name and, soon enough, I'll know all of their names too.  Yes, there's something quite appealing about swimming in a smaller pond.

Having grown up in a small community and now beginning my legal career in another small community, I am able to recognize the differences in life and work in larger cities.  In upcoming columns, I will make cultural observations concerning small town practice.  This will include discussion of how a variety of factors play into local culture, particularly geography, commerce, religion and educational access.  This includes basic beliefs, values and assumptions, and the strategic implications of culture.  I will discuss the benefits and disadvantages to small town practice, including professional, financial and personal aspects.  Most importantly, I will discuss the role gender plays in a small town legal practice, from client relationships to interactions with colleagues.

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