By Andrea Welker • August 22, 2010•Writers in Residence
I must apologize to both the editors of Ms. JD and its readers for not fulfilling my column-writing duties. It has been a very difficult two months in moving back to Lexington, trying to find a job, and realizing that just simply will not happen, setting up a solo practice. It has been emotionally draining and mentally exhausting. If I had imagined unemployment to be some sort of vacation where I sit on the couch and watch General Hospital, well, it just hasn’t been. I’m busier now that I don’t have a job than when I did. But that’s a topic for another column, probably one titled “How solo practice has consumed my life.”
The transition back to “city life” in Lexington has been rather tough. There is a massive amount of traffic, lack of available parking and the sheer expense of parking. My beloved shoes are taking a beating and I’ve had to start carrying flip-flops in my tote bag so I don’t wear out the soles of my designer shoes. Also, it is simply just a different atmosphere: fast-paced, impersonal and exhausting. Criminal motion hour in District Court is this assembly-line zoo, and prosecutors don’t return your phone calls to get things squared away before the court date.
Sure, there are familiar faces around town. I see classmates frequently, as well as other colleagues and the courthouse staff. For instance, every visit to the courthouse, I’m checked in by the same deputy who’s been there for years. It is nice to see familiar faces, like I haven’t been gone for so long, and that even in the city, people can still know who you are. Sort of.
While my bag was making its way through the courthouse conveyor belt the other day, that same deputy asked where I was headed. I replied “I’m up on 4, in DV court.” He then told me I would need to wait downstairs in the hallway, because they keep the women separate from the men until court starts. Completely confused, I simply replied, “Huh?” Then I realized he had no idea I was an attorney; he thought I was a domestic violence victim.
So much for people knowing who you are among a sea of faces. (For the record, I was wearing a suit and carrying a Lexis-Nexis tote bag I got free at the KBA convention. My ensemble screamed “lawyer!”)
But while I’m trying to be recognized in Lexington, I’m trying the opposite in my little hometown to the south. I was in Nicholasville for a hearing last week, and just hoping not to bump into any familiar faces. (My mother currently has jury duty, so I’m trying to avoid her as well.) There were signs all around town of people I graduated with who are running for public office. I had lunch with a law school classmate (who was also a high school classmate) that same day at a restaurant I had not been to in years; I used to skip class senior year and eat there for lunch all the time. (A fabulous little Mexican restaurant.) As another solo, she gave me the best advice I know I need to take: be seen at every event.
Small towns offer the best avenues for getting involved and diving head-first into networking to drum up business. In large cities, it’s difficult to make it onto the board of an important foundation, or meet the important people, if you aren’t already inside those circles. In small towns, you run into important people at the grocery store, and the important foundations are desperate for a committee chair. Your kids go to the same schools and play on the same sports teams. Fundraisers for local politicians are easy to get invites to, and could even be hosted in your own living room. (Running for office is certainly a great way for an attorney to get some name recognition as well, although if you’re from a small town, you likely already have name recognition.)
As much as I gripe about going “back home” to practice in Nicholasville, I do use my maiden name on my business cards. I know it’s where I can thrive, and build a practice, and probably be a lot happier in the long-run. I just have to accept that going home doesn’t equate a failure to launch.