What I Wish You Knew: Zara Friedman, J.D.
Principal Appellate Court Attorney
Written by Zara Friedman, J.D., edited by Laura Schaefer
My title is Principal Appellate Court Attorney. I work in a law department (a group of attorneys) for an intermediate-level appellate court. An appellate court reviews what happened at the trial level, and decides whether the party appealing is entitled to have the decision of the trial court changed, in any way, based on the arguments made by that party on appeal.
My job is to write a report for the judges in which I summarize what happened below (either at trial or in motion papers), summarize the arguments on appeal, and discuss the relevant law. I make a recommendation as to how the appeal should be decided, and I write a recommended opinion for the court. Reports can be anywhere between five and 100+ pages, depending on the size of the record and the legal issues that are raised. I also have other responsibilities, like making recommendations on motions to my court and reviewing the work of other attorneys.
I left a litigation job for this job because in law school I always maintained that I wanted to be on law review for a living. This job is mostly research and writing, and I figured that this was the closest I was going to get.
The best result
I enjoy my colleagues, so that's where any happiness or joy comes in. I do sometimes feel fulfilled. I like that, rather than trying to obtain a result for a client, I can look at the law and try to come up with what I think is the best result. We live in a common-law society, which means that the law is constantly evolving through appellate decisions, and I really enjoy being a part of that.
I was not surprised when I had a difficult time finding a job when I got out of law school. I was grateful that I was working by September (after having graduated in May and taken the bar in July), but I was definitely not doing the kind of work that I had planned on doing. The big surprise, I think, was that it didn't seem to matter to anyone in New York that I had graduated from a top-tier law school (University of Maryland). In terms of doors being open to me, I probably would have been better off going to a lower-ranked local law school if I couldn't get into a higher-ranked school. I took myself off the wait list for GW Law, and wondered for quite some time if that had been a mistake.
I've never been great at networking, and I have tended to underestimate its importance. I also made the decision in law school that I did not want to work for a huge firm so that I could work myself to death and get rich quickly. Because of that, I didn't work as hard for good grades as I could have, and that ended up limiting my choices more than I had expected. Ultimately, I'm happy in my job, so it is difficult to say that I regret my choices.
What I wish you knew
Regarding the law in general, I wish people understood that lawyers specialize. It seems to me that there is an assumption that all lawyers go to court as litigators, but that they can also do your real estate contract for you so that you don't have to pay someone. Television really doesn't help with that. I'm looking at you, Suits. In truth, the laws of every state are different, and litigators usually know nothing about contract law, real estate law, divorce law, etc. (This is not true of small, very local general practices.) Many litigators have never even done a trial – that is how specialized the practice of law is.
People don't know anything about my job, but I'm okay with that. I'm not sure how the general public would feel knowing that there are a group of attorneys advising judges on just about every decision they make. Considering how people distrust those in power, I'd like to think it would be a comfort to know that there is a deep knowledge base behind the decisions that are made by judges who are elected or appointed. In New York, they are elected. On the other hand, I imagine people might feel like a measure of control is being taken away from them.
I would like to be promoted so that I can run my department the way I think it should be run. Perhaps, after that, I'd like to continue to work my way up in the court system. I think I would be a good judge, but I don't think I'd be good at running for office, which is what is required where I live.
What I Wish You Knew: Dr. Kathleen Terry
Physician, currently in further training to be a psychiatrist
Written by Dr. Kathleen Terry
Edited by Laura Schaefer
I chose this field of medicine because I wanted to be at the intersection of clinical medicine and public infrastructure, specifically to work in the foster system. I chose medicine in general in order to use my interests and talents to tangibly give back.
There is little joy or delight. It is fulfilling – I may not feel on the day-to-day that I'm making a difference, but I can think of people who would have died to suicide by now but for the meaningful care they received with my team, or people who have been dealing with overwhelming illness who have said that I'm the first person who has made sure they understood what was happening, or the first person to help them not be afraid. Those experiences make it worth it.
The work I really want to do still lies 5+ years in my future, once training is done, and I expect that work – seeing kids and families clinically, but also working as a patient advocate in legal and policy arenas, to champion for the well-being of the most vulnerable in our society – will be hard, so hard, but so worth it. A lot of my professional satisfaction is deferred gratification. That's basically what a medical degree is – a doctorate in scientific knowledge, risk/benefit analysis, and deferred gratification.
The hours…that was known, but not understood until it was experienced
Even if you know it's coming, how do you anticipate the cumulative effects of 80+-hour work weeks? I basically didn't see my daughter awake for months. That's temporary, though, a peculiarity of training and not something doctors generally submit to when they're no longer residents.
Other challenges? The vastness of knowledge required. There is no mastery, because the field is always changing, always evolving. There's no room for complacency. Oh, and the documentation. The majority of my time is spent writing, rather than working with patients or actively making decisions about their care.
Do I have regrets? If I could do it over, I'm not sure I'd have gone into medicine. As a vocation, it demands more than I am okay with giving. But I'm in it for far more than just my own happiness, and I don't see myself leaving.
What I wish you knew
As a trainee, I'm astounded by the huge fraction of what we're expected to do all the time that is not for patient safety or improved outcomes, but because insurance expects it and won't otherwise pay the providers or facility. I easily spend at least double the amount of time writing as I do with patients.
Doctors hate to be running late even more than our patients hate it.
I love being an osteopath, and would like to see more use of therapeutic hands-on modalities in mental health work. This is a complicated issue.
Your providers, at least the residents and early-to-mid career attendings (doctors no longer in training), are by and large overworked, underpaid, and caught between multiple very intimidating rocks and uncomfortable hard places. We've got mortgages on our brains that outweigh those on our houses, in a system making it increasingly difficult to have any hope of paying them off. Probably related – though more telling of the culture within medicine, I think – doctors and student-doctors have the worst mental health and highest suicide rates of any profession in this country.
Maintaining professional and ethical boundaries does not mean we don't care about our patients, especially in mental/behavioral health. It rocks me how much my colleagues are impacted by their patients' successes and challenges, how deeply they care.
The best I can hope for is for the system to not get worse
I'm headed toward public service, some balance of clinical work seeing patients and policy/advocacy work to improve certain socio-medicolegal structures (foster system, juvenile justice, public schools). I'm hoping that the system(s) I'm aiming to work in doesn't become intractably inefficient or misguided in the coming political era.
I'm concerned about the implications for delivery of healthcare and the extent to which insurance companies and reimbursement regulations will hold a leash on providers if the Affordable Care Act doesn't hold. Saying it like this sounds like I've got a despairing outlook on my field, which isn't true – I enjoy what I'm doing and learning (and more importantly, I believe in it), and am looking forward to further specialization and practice.
As a discipline, this is a fascinating time to be in psychiatry, the knowledge base is expanding and neuropsychiatric science is advancing. But the public systems of healthcare in general and mental health care in particular…I was getting my Master's in public health while the Affordable Care Act was getting hashed out (also fascinating), and I think a single-payer arrangement would be beneficial. I suppose that's a pie-in-the-sky hope, but I don't think it's likely anymore.
Famous literary characters and their favorite apps
Miss Havisham: Pinterest. Curates a very popular vintage wedding style board.
Scarlett O'Hara: Kickstarter. "You mean I can just ask people for money and they'll give it to me? Well, fiddle-dee-dee, what are we waiting for?"
Emma: OKCupid. Specializes in writing quizzes and critiquing her friends' profiles.
Jay Gatsby: Instagram. Likes his weekly parties to be well-documented. Also stalks Daisy on Facebook.
Ebenezer Scrooge: Etrade.
Jo March: Goodreads.
Holden Caulfield: Twitter and Uber. Enjoys calling out the phonies in 140 characters.
Becky Sharp: LinkedIn. Has 2,000+ connections.
Mr. Wickham: Tinder.
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