Being a Lawyer Is Not Worth Sacrificing Your Life

body in morgueA few month’s ago I connected with a lovely and determined woman from Stetson University, Cynthia Clark.  She has committed herself to creating the Stetson Law Solo and Small Firm Society. She has had her challenges with the school administration which I won’t detail because ultimately she is garnering a lot of interest in what she is trying to do.

During the course of our conversations she mentioned she was putting together a meet and greet-type networking event for all the students who were contemplating the solo option.  I offered to provide a scholarship to SPU to potentially increase the draw and to show support for her efforts.  I looked forward to welcoming the lucky winner.  On April 11th I received the following email:

Well, we had a wonderful event last night – thank you so much for the door prize!
The winner is a 3L graduating next month: Kimberly Clark. I was glad she won – I know her personally. She’s from the Sarasota area, like me, and was a part-time student. She actually had a third child earlier this year – I can’t even imagine doing that while going to law school. She wants to practice in Elder Law/Estate Planning in a small firm, and then hopes to eventually go solo.

I patiently waited for Kimberly to contact me so Solo Practice University could welcome her.  Instead I received this email last week:

I don’t know whether Kimberly Clark ever got in touch with you, but I just found out that she passed away yesterday. I was shocked. Apparently she didn’t seek treatment for bacterial pneumonia until it was too late. Like all mothers and law students, she was “too busy” to care for herself. She got a septic infection and suffered a brain stem stroke on Mother’s Day. Thankfully, she was able to see her 2 oldest children  for 15 minutes earlier in the day. She was declared brain dead, and her family pulled the plug yesterday. She was supposed to graduate from Stetson Law this (past) Saturday.
I only knew Kim through school, but I liked her so much and we had planned to stay in touch after she graduated since we live in the same area and were both interested in estate planning and elder law. We even talked about starting a Stetson Law alumni group in this area. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I’ll never see this smart, funny, vibrant young woman again.
This is the Caringbridge website her family started. I thought you should know.

When I was in law school, although I wasn’t even married never mind giving birth to my third child, I conducted a one month trial supervised through our clinic which went straight through Christmas Eve Day.  I, too, developed bacterial pneumonia and refused to walk away from the trial until the judge ordered me home. I, too, remember being so committed to everything around me that taking care of myself wasn’t as important.  Now add in taking care of a household and two small kids, giving birth to a third child, not wanting to miss classes and studying for finals so you can graduate on time and you have a recipe for disaster.

This is what women traditionally do, put themselves last. Here was an important milestone and this mother was determined to not let giving birth to her third child or pneumonia stop her from achieving her goals.  It cost Kimberly her life.

I never met Kimberly or even talked with her on the phone or exchanged a single email mail.  I’m sure if I had I wouldn’t feel any more upset than I already do.

This is for all of you out there whether lawyer or law student, mother or father, who puts themselves last. You know who you are.   You put off going to the doctor for that chronic cough while you rush your child to the pediatrician for a hang nail.  You eat your cold dinner out of a jar standing up and talking on the phone while you make sure your child’s meal is hot and she’s seated lest she choke on her food.  You do so because ‘you can handle it’.  Well, here’s the truth.  You can’t. You can’t care for your kids if you break down physically.  You can’t care for your clients if you don’t take time to reinvigorate and refresh.  None of us are superhuman and to the best of my knowledge, none of us are immortal. There is nothing more important than your health, no final, no brief, no exam, no trial, no event.  Remember this the next time you get no sleep or ignore that persistent cough or inexplicable pain in your side because ‘you don’t have time’ to slow down.  And remember, you can break down, too.  Remember Kimberly. Then make the time.

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4 comments on “Being a Lawyer Is Not Worth Sacrificing Your Life

  • I have many female/lawyer clients, and many of them are also wives and mothers. I don’t know how they do it, as inevitably they end up with primary responsibility for the home and the children. On top of THAT, several are also the primary bread-winners. I’ve had plenty of coaching sessions that dissolved into tears and it rips my heart out.

  • So tragic. I also contracted a bacterial pneumonia when my younger daughter was 10 weeks old. Her pediatrician, an older gentleman who has since passed away, was the one who diagnosed me and berated me into seeking treatment. I was bedridden for 10 days. How sad for this poor young woman and her children. Hopefully your post will serve as a reminder to others to take care of themselves and prevent other tragic occurrences.

  • This story breaks my heart. I had a bacterial infection last summer that nearly put me in the hospital. I needed massive doses of antibiotics to combat it. I had let my sinus infection go thinking I could just fight it on my own. Instead I risked meningitis and couldn’t get out of bed for 3 days.

    Take care of yourself. If you don’t no one else will.

  • So sad and so preventable.

    We all need to remember that our good health is our most precious asset! Your health is your greatest wealth! I plan on playing the long game and intend to be a sharp-mined, vital centenarian solo.

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