Empowerment – Use it or Lose it

On Sunday, as I was reading the NY Times, a pastime of probably 95% of the world, I came across an article entitled Casey Greenfield v. the World. Loved the title. It was about the life and love of Casey Greenfield, daughter of journalist Jeff Greenfield and mother of Roderick Henry Greenfield, nicknamed Rory, son of married (not to Casey) legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin. Was this ever going to be a juicy article.

As I read the article I realized what Ms. Greenfield was actually doing was taking charge of her life and living it as she saw fit. She may not be rezooming her career, but she clearly was revising her career to meet the needs of her life, her son’s life and the lives of her clients.

She is, along with her partner Scott Labby, a self proclaimed “country lawyer.” She redefines herself this way by dint of her life experiences. As the February 18th, 2012 NY Times article states, “Empowerment is a major theme in Ms. Greenfield’s personal and professional lives”.

Greenfield decided to create her boutique practice, Greenfield Labby, along with Yale Law School chum Scott Labby, as a place where “an elite group of country lawyers” help the “glittering urban professional” sort out their legal entanglements. She comes by this knowledge quite honestly, having untangled herself from a multitude of personal legal entanglements. What I find so interesting, and as the author puts so succinctly, “the partners… are not afraid to use Ms. Greenfield’s life as a subtext and an asset”.

As Rezoomers we never view our lives, outside the law, as a ‘subtext or asset.” By being so naive and myopic we miss the front page, Sunday NY Times Metro Section value of what we lived and now bring to the table. We miss the opportunity to bring our life experiences to the fore. Is Ms. Greenfield the first woman to have a child out of wedlock by a married man?

Instead of shrinking away and plowing on as a “smart, savvy, tough and natural litigator”, as Ms. Greenfield was described by her former boss at Gibson Dunn, she decided to open her own practice. She uses her own experiences to gain street cred. She identifies with people, like herself, who are struggling with legal and non-legal issues. She relates to them on a deeper level because of her honesty and forthright discussion of her own experiences. This in turn helps her resolve their similar outstanding issues. Brilliant.

According to the article, Ms Greenfield and Mr. Labby are fashioning themselves as the “next generation Gloria Allred and Raoul Felder, but with Ivy League Law Degrees.” Talk about making lemonade out of lemons. Ms. Greenfield’s friend and professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, Katie Roiphe, describes Ms. Greenfield’s journey as one “live[d] on a kind of heroic register; she isn’t going to let what other people think about her affect her choices and there’s a real bravery in that. She is not your average divorce lawyer.”

Need I make my point on Empowerment any clearer? We Rezoomers never really value what went before as gold to guild the road ahead. We make this new journey harder then it needs to be because we want to break with the past, it has no value to us and will impede our attempts to get back in the game.

After reading about Ms. Greenfield’s journey, it is clear her plans for the future are all about embracing her past. Her past is guiding her future, evaluating her present. She is not afraid of what she has done in past lives. She identifies herself to her ideal client by using her personal experiences as a badge of honor for the conquering hero. She has walked the walk and survived.

Empowerment-Use it or Lose it

There is a small window of opportunity to value your past experience in a way that creates the niche market you were made to fill. Be it a ‘city or country’ lawyer. Don’t subtract your life experience from your dynamic, it may identify you in a way that creates buzz and enables you to, as Ms Greenfield says, “recogniz[e] your own power.”

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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9 comments on “Empowerment – Use it or Lose it

  • Debra, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked with non-trad lawyers (those who took a break after college then went back to law school) who don’t incorporate or feel they should be incorporating their life experience into practice area selection. Especially with solo/small firm practice, your life’s experience is your differentiator, what sets you apart, makes you unique. Failure to use it is like trying to lift a boulder over your head with one arm tied behind your back. Why??? Great post.

  • Debra,
    I had read that article and came away with many of the same conclusions. It also struck me odd that this law firm with only one year of existence could celebrate its first year anniversary with an (expensive) splash party at a Danny Meyer restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art and invite 200 people, with so many “A listers”…

    • Stephen,

      I celebrated with the family and close friends at home!
      Suffice it to say, as I said with Judy’s post, a strong way to remind us we never know what will strike a cord and catapult us to fame.

      I have a much less controversial resume, yet if you have it, maybe flaunting it is a way to attract like minded clients who want this kind of representation. We attract our ideal clients with the platform we put out there. I hope my rezooming buddies, use this article to build their platform with all they have to offer.

      Enjoy this glorious day
      Love to chat off line

  • I guess I didn’t drink the kool-aid. Casey Greenfield is 35. Pregnant (no birth control) from a ten year relationship with a married man. She’s now suing the father Jeffrey Toobin who was unfaithful to his wife and children. Despite the Yale degree, privileged upbringing, and stylish office it does look very much indeed like an old re-run played from the the Jerry Springer show only played out on the front pages of the NY Times adding fuel to the lawyer haters who insist that the legal industry players have no moral compass. But I digress–not exactly my role model for re-zooming with a series of poor choices as her “asset”. Oh, yeah, her legal firm “Partner” who formed the practice with her—-her old college boyfriend now married to someone else. Really? I guess Im not convinced she’s “breaking from her past”. But then again, I didn’t drink the NYTimes kool-aid last week.

    • Judy – she doesn’t have to be your best friend :-) The message, however, that Debra pulled from it is if you don’t incorporate your life’s experience (good, bad, or morally repugnant) into your practice, you’re missing a big chunk of opportunity. I spoke with a student who had several years of successful night club experience before he took the bar. Once he came out he was ready to shed all this experience as a matter of due course not realizing that this very experience is what was going to set him up in big way for his practice.

      In the Greenfield case,it’s like the security hacker who goes to jail for hacking systems and then comes out and kickstarts a career showing companies the weaknesses in their security systems. Use your experiences!

      • Susan- -I like to think I’m well versed in how to use one’s life experiences in their practice area having done it myself in my own practice, so Debra’s point is not lost on me. I think the message however ignores the hurt, pain, and suffering that the wife, children, and unborn child have and will have to experience as a result of Greenfield’s life choices to bed down Ms. Toobin’s husband spread across the front pages of the NYTImes with her as the glorified victim suing for child support. So much for invoking the ethics/morality clause. I take issue with Greenfield being the best role model for newly minted attorneys to make the point of using one’s life experiences to propel their practice. So many other better examples to make the point that operate with higher levels of personal integrity.

    • Judy,

      Thank you for the in depth background

      Sorry it has taken me 10 days to get back to you
      On spring break!

      I agree, she is not the idyllic role model for rezoomers

      My point was simply and really…you never know where the value in your past will help you rezoom your practice in the future.

      You are absolutely right, this may not be a stellar example of things you would be proud to dust off and use to get back in. Yet…if we would only look at things we devalue and see their value, this being an extreme, we would be a leg up on the younger less life experienced attorneys.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to respond.
      I know more about the juicy details and am glad I have a less colorful resume to use as my way back in to the legal field!

      Id love to connect have coffee and chat about ‘things.’
      Enjoy this beautiful day

  • Talk about owning yourself! I am a “rezoomer” too. Until fairly recently, I wanted to denounce all I had been and find something different and did not even realize I was doing so. One day I realized that as a rebel and one who dislikes “boxes” we put ourselves in, I was throwing away the baby with the bath water. My life experiences have brought me here given me a special edge and perspective on empowerment and a few other things, like others experiences give them special insights into matters they were hounded by. Our experiences and life stories are what make us who we are. If we use them for personal empowerment and to help others, we are able to transform the world around us.

    • Shahina,

      So beautifully said, I can add nothing!
      Love to chat off line and find out what those ‘rebel’ outlook looks like.

      Enjoy this great Spring like weather
      No boxes or babies with bathwater on the rezoomers post site!!

      Be well

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