Gender-Based Violence in America

The tragedy that unfolded in California has ignited a conversation about gender-based violence in the US, something that we often believe is an issue reserved for other parts of the world. For all the women I know who have been scared of their partners, and for all the women who are currently scared of their partners, I hope we can keep this conversation going. Avoiding violence, protecting yourself from sexual assault, and the inevitable fear that accompanies both of these things, are a reality for women in this country. How are we so spectacularly failing our little boys that our little girls grow up to be scared of them?

‘”Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.’

Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)

Women don’t like to walk alone at night. Women don’t like to walk by large groups of men, at any hour. The comments, the stares, the catcalls, the anger when you don’t respond. Women have their friends trail them to a bar when they’re meeting a date, so someone is watching if things get out of control. Women have other friends on speed dial, in case things go wrong when they’re trying to break up with their partner. Women are ridiculed because they do many activities in groups, but women know there is safety in numbers. And numbers don’t lie. One out of every five American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

The point is, gender-based violence is happening here, in our communities. And this is a point men understand. Once you find yourself in a relationship with a caring, kind, respectful man, you will also find that he is constantly aware of and concerned for your safety. It’s nice, of course, until you realize that a healthy part of his concern stems from his knowledge. That he knows even more than you do about what some men are capable of. A chilling realization, indeed.


  • In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, intimate partner violence accounts for between 40 and 70 per cent of female murder victims
  • In the United States, 83 per cent of girls aged 12 to 16 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools
  • Annual costs of intimate partner violence have been calculated at USD 5.8 billion in the United States in 2003

See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures#notes

Why Do Lawyers Have A Hard Time Being Themselves?

We lawyers are up against a lot of misconceptions. The law is boring. Lawyers are greedy. In my field, trial lawyers are filing “frivolous” lawsuits. Lawyers charge too much. Lawyers cause problems. Ouch.

I recently spoke to a room full of people on personal branding, and what that means in the context of developing a social media marketing plan. I think the program was well-attended because the concept of personal branding, and online marketing, is relatively foreign to lawyers. We are restrained by a number of ethical rules and tend to see the internet as contrary to our duties…and maybe somewhat evil. Sometimes, that can be true.

But, in the sea of legal talent in Massachusetts, lawyers need to work at differentiating themselves and defining who they are. Inevitably, the people I’m speaking to think they aren’t particularly unique, or that they aren’t an expert in their field yet. Or any other number of reasons that they aren’t out there leveraging the internet in their favor. In speaking on this topic, I come close to telling everyone that they are a special snowflake. Maybe we aren’t all special snowflakes, but it is true, right? Everyone, somehow, through the mysteries of the universe, is completely unique. It’s kind of unbelievable. On top of this, everyone has an expertise. Also unbelievable for most people. The challenge lies in defining it for yourself and discovering where you fit in the crowded puzzle that I call “being a lawyer in Massachusetts.”

The challenge is also putting yourself out there. The inherent difficulty most people feel in revealing their personality online is extraordinarily difficult for lawyers. In today’s world, clients want to know who we are as people, not just lawyers. In today’s world, it’s ok to be funny, quirky, honest, artistic, athletic…the list goes on. But it’s ok to be all of those things, and to practice law at the same time. Lawyers are not getting this message.

The lines between the personal and the professional have been forever blurred. I, personally, don’t think we will ever go back to the way it was. This shift, coupled with the unparalelled power of the internet, means lawyers need to get with it, get out there, and bravely be themselves. Most importantly, lawyers must recognize who they are, where they excel, and let people know the value they bring to the law.

This institutionalized silence is slowly breaking down as the newer generations flood the practice of law. All of us lawyers need to embrace this change. Fearlessly marketing and differentiating yourself also happens to bring with it the possibility of changing all of those negative stereotypes I mentioned above. It’s a win-win.

The Veteran and The Warrior

It took me 27 years, and the fresh perspective of my partner, for me to feel the first whisper of understanding about who my grandparents are. He’s a veteran; she’s a warrior.

I passed through my youth unaware; innumerable visits, homemade meatballs, they babysat us when our parents traveled. The blissful ignorance of adolescence and the early twenties kept me moving in a frenzy through high school, through college, through graduate school, collecting experiences and memories. They came to every graduation. Through torrential downpours in 2003, blazing heat in 2007 and failing health in 2010.

And then, sometime in the last few years, Eric came into the mix, forming an adorable bond with my 90-year-old grandparents, adopting them as his own. But not before he started asking questions. Questions I had never thought to ask, answers my grandparents never would have provided without prompting. “What was it like in the war?” “What was it like to be apart?” And, later, “what’s your secret to a successful marriage?” And once the stories started to flow, they haven’t stopped. Maybe I just never listened. Maybe I never asked the right questions. But they seem to have all the answers.

photo (6)And so we heard, finally, about when they were separated by war, when my grandfather was injured, deathly ill, marching through Burma, one of “Merrill’s Marauders.” When he received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his bravery in assisting his squad leader during a battle that left him with shrapnel in his neck. Eight Santoro brothers went to war, and eight came home. My grandmother never got the purple heart for the scars this period likely left on her heart.

She was at his side for more than 66 years. They lived in the same house, on the same floor, where my grandmother was born. She once taught me how to make homemade pasta. We had linguine draped over every surface in the house. She squeals with enthusiasm every time I arrive at their house, half my size, but double my heart. She always has fresh whoopie pies.

Now, we hear about how it was when grandma was pregnant, how “fresh” my Aunt was as a child. (My Aunt, for her part, describes my father as a “wimpy” child.) We hear about trips, and siblings, dramatic events, neighbors and friends.  But, the best parts are the unexpected bursts of realness. They fought about what was on television, she said she knew what was on, grandpa raised his hands and waved them in exasperation, yelling “You know boloney!” Or when I ask about long-term relationships, what makes them tick, and she jokingly suggests her best advice is to buy a weapon.

And yet, she fussed over grandpa, through his recent difficulties, offering food, drink and an occasional tear. She is loyal, he is stoic. No complaints, no whining. She oriented him when he was confused, she continued to cook. She is powerful. They are still in love, even though he’s gone now. And they simply keep going, from one transition to the next until there is no more transitioning to do.

 

Balloons

I bought a bunch of balloons and a balloon pump last weekend. They sell those types of things at CVS.

What a roaring success. Not only did we stick balloons all over our clothes. But we also stuffed a pillow full of balloons and left it for the unsuspecting target of our games. We need constant reminders that life is nothing but a series of memories, and the simplest games make the best memories.

Balloons with mom

Are All Lawyers Agents of Social Change?

Wide-eyed, hopeful, a little bit scared, and with big dreams to change the world. That’s how many of us enter law school. In short order, real life swoops in and your dreams begin to be eroded until they’re a little bit more in line with “reality.” If you’re in law school, and feeling this way, stop yourself right now! Even with a job market that is still struggling enormously, and mountains of debt, and the harsh reality of becoming a practicing attorney, you are still entering a profession that gives you enormous possibilities for social change. And that’s what you wanted, right? Change. (Channeling Obama’s ’08 campaign here.)

The rigors, realities and big surprises of real life can’t take that away from you. No matter where you end up, or where your future takes you, if you want to be an agent of social change, then you can be. Especially if you’re a member of the bar. I happen to work in a field that goes hand in hand with social change. Trial lawyers attempt to shine a light on unsafe or unfair business practices and try to make the world a safer place for families and consumers. But, even if you believe your job doesn’t contain this particularl component, there are still so many avenues for you to make a difference.

Pro bono work, bar association involvement, community volunteering, dial-a-lawyer programs. There are vast numbers of opportunities for every type of practicing lawyer to give back to our communities. I see it every day: a small thing that you can do as a lawyer, for someone who doesn’t have meaningful access to the legal system, can absolutely make that person’s day. Each time you help someone, or lobby for better legislation, or give your time to a legal aid organization, you are participating in social change.

And even if you don’t have time for any of that. Simply by practicing law, and bringing unimpeachable ethics, a good heart and a clear moral compass to your work every day can have a positive influence on your clients, your opposing counsel and on the outcome of any one case. Lawyers bear an immense amount of responsibility, but you can rest assured that your job, no matter what it ends up being, brings with it many incredible opportunities to bring about the change you want to see in the world.

4 Days Without A Phone

By choice, and while on vacation, I shut my iphone off completely. I checked email once a day on a computer that’s not even mine. And guess what? The world didn’t end.

We were in the Dominican Republic. A beautiful country, filled with absolutely wonderful people. And the beaches were magnificent.

Dominican beach

 

The DR was a place of great meaning and purpose for my little brother Mike. Now I can see why.

Teaching

PWP 2014 4

I love teaching, because of how much I learn when I’m doing it. This was taken while presenting at the “Practicing With Professionalism” course at UMass School of Law in Dartmouth, Massachusetts last week. A packed room full of promising new attorneys.

Who’s Afraid to Litigate?

Companies are afraid to litigate, that’s who. They’re afraid to litigate against you.  I’m fairly certain you think the opposite is true, that companies are ready to meet their opponents openly and fairly in our court system. Untrue. Because you, potential plaintiff, by being a citizen of the United States, have a great many rights provided to you that people around the globe are simply never provided. And that gives you enormous power.

It is very likely that everyone reading this blog post has, either knowingly or unknowingly, submitted to what is called a “forced arbitration clause” in exchange for goods, services, or employment. This is because companies, in an effort to immunize themselves from liability, would prefer to force potential plaintiffs to bring claims behind the closed doors of an arbitrator’s office, and further undermine the good that can be done via the civil justice system. This practice has a particularly disturbing impact on women.

While working for defunct retailer Circuit City, Tia Holloman was subjected to two months of appalling sexual harassment that included her supervisor exposing his genitals to her, grabbing her and parading her around the store when she tried to escape his abuse — an event that was recorded by the store’s surveillance camera. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in Tia’s favor, but despite the evidence against Circuit City and her supervisor, Tia’s sexual harassment case was thrown out of court because of a pervasive injustice lurking in her employment agreement – a forced arbitration clause.

Tia should have been protected by laws prohibiting sexual harassment, most notably Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but Circuit City evaded this landmark law through the use of forced arbitration. These clauses, buried in the fine print of everything from employee handbooks and loan applications to website terms of service and even school field trip permission slips, eliminate access to the courts where women can assert their rights and replaces our civil justice system with a private, and confidential, dispute mill. Arbitration also eliminates all rights to an appeal.

Forced arbitration is among the biggest threats to women’s rights in the workplace, the classroom and their communities. And yet most of us don’t know it exists.

By eliminating a woman’s right to enforce our laws in court, forced arbitration undermines Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts, the Equal Pay Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act—all of which were fought for and won by courageous advocates whose legacy must be preserved.

The well-known adage “sunshine is the best disinfectant” comes to mind here. Horrible abuses and injustices always take place behind closed doors. Whereas open doors keep people honest. Often, these violations of law can be stopped only when the victims have access to a fair and open legal system, thereby shining a light on practices most citizens would find morally reprehensible. In this way, perpetrators of abuse and harrassment can be asked to answer for their behavior and are forced to take responsibility for their actions. This type of process also helps to ensure that certain policies and practices, or abuses and harrassment, do not happen to other people in similar situations.

Ah, the many benefits of civil litigation. Let’s keep the courthouse doors open. Let’s protect our friends, family members and fellow citizens from being forced to give up their Constitutional right to a jury trial. No one fears the Constitution more than those corporations that are constantly violating it.

On Dream Jobs And Reality

WordPress provides bloggers a “daily prompt” in order to get people thinking about specific topics, or to provoke creative blog posts. Recently, the prompt was to describe your dream job. And it got me thinking about how we define dream jobs, and how we find dream jobs. In short, I am not sure we are doing it right.

Lots of people would say their dream job would be to “travel” or “be a professional athlete” or “an artist.” Basically, their dream job is when they get paid for performing their favorite activities or hobbies. Five years ago, I’m sure my “dream job” would have been to run, or be a personal trainer. Because I love to run and train in my free time. But when your favorite activities become a job, everything changes.

With a job comes responsibilities, pressure, deadlines, a paycheck, taxes, coworkers. You could argue that turning your favorite hobby into a job has the distinct potential to ruin it. Maybe we continue to love our extracurriculars because they aren’t our jobs?

I’ve been very open about the fact that, in law school, I was fairly determined to become a prosecutor. Looking back now, it would not have been an appropriate fit. At the time, though, that was hard to accept. But I had to move on and find a place for myself. Thank God I did. I landed in a job that, although I didn’t know it would be at the time, is most definitely my dream job.

Because more than simply doing something you enjoy, happiness comes about when people feel they have a greater purpose. Helping others, usually. If running was my job, I’m not certain I’d feel that sense of purpose. Running brings me a lot of wonderful things: a sense of accomplishment, stress relief, fitness, fun, a continued drive to achieve goals. But my actual job brings me so much more. Intellectual and professional challenges, enduring and deep relationships with incredible colleagues, a very deep sense of purpose and the feeling that I’m giving something back to the world, leaving a mark.

This is not to say artists and professional athletes don’t have this sense of purpose. In fact, I think most of them truly do; more than other people. Olympians are certainly leaving their mark. My point is that we are often encouraged to define our dream job by what we love to do and not by what we want to leave behind.

Sometimes, our hobbies and activities don’t actually have what it takes to be a dream job. So instead of thinking about those things you love to do, ask yourself “what am I here to do?” If it’s to coach high school tennis, or teach English to disadvantaged children, or to paint landscapes on every continent…the only thing that matters, at the end of it all, is if you feel like you’ve left something behind and accomplished a little bit of your purpose.