Thoughts on Being Nice

Friday, April 9, 2010

Two past events are on my mind today, as I've been challenged by juggling part time lawyering with full time mothering.

Event 1: In my third year of practicing law, I drove from my office in Atlanta to Columbus, GA, to make an argument in support of a Motion for Summary Judgment. The argument was based on some controversial legislation that had recently passed in Georgia, and the judge I was about to argue before was a staunch opponent. I mean, staunch. I should have suspected something when I found the courtroom full of local lawyers, there to see what would happen. The judge sauntered out, looked down at me, and said, "I can't believe they sent YOU." I swallowed hard, started talking, and he basically tore me into a million pieces. I mean, he attacked me personally, professional, ethically - you name it. As I started to talk back, he cut me off and threatened to hold me in contempt. Like, go to jail. It was an awful. Unbelievable. I barely had the strength to pack my briefcase, walk out of there, and drive back to Atlanta. Needless to say, I lost the Motion.

By the time I got back to Atlanta, everyone at my firm had heard about what happened. Apparently news travels fast when you witness a jaw dropping verbal beating. I remain grateful to those unknown Columbus lawyers who called ahead to let my boss know that I lost, but it wasn't my fault. I walked into the office, afraid I was going to lose my job. Instead, I got a hug and an apology for sending me down there. My friends took me for a much needed cocktail. That judge was mean, but everyone else was nice.

Event 2: A couple years later, I was in a deposition with a different boss in Virginia. During a break, he told me he didn't think I was being tough enough. "You've got to be able to smell blood in the water, and attack!" he said. We were deposing an 85 year old lady in a nursing home, who said her gangrene foot wasn't properly cared for. I didn't want to attack her. I didn't think it was the right thing to do morally, or for the case. I went back in the deposition, and I did not attack. I did not change my tone, and later, he evaluated me as being "too nice."

Here is what I think: It is okay to be nice. You can be confident AND nice. I got through that deposition being nice, and I got through the Columbus, GA event being nice. I got through them. I didn't "succeed" in Columbus, and I didn't make the old lady with no foot cry and admit, "I'm a liar!" - but I'm glad I didn't yell back at the judge, and I'm glad I didn't make the old lady cry.

I admit that sometimes I am tempted to be "too nice." As I get farther away from the full time practice of law, I can get lulled into the typical female thing of bending to please everyone, even professionally. Today, I almost let a call, that had been set in stone for weeks, get rescheduled because one guy wanted to leave early to go play golf. I almost said, "Okay," but Events 1 and 2 popped into my mind and I thought, "Hey! Wait a minute! My time is just as valuable as yours. I've got a babysitter coming. I've planned my whole day around this. We are doing this thing today." I smelled blood, and I wanted to give a verbal beat down.

But, I am too nice. And I like being nice. So, I called Mr. Golf back. I politely explained that the call had to get done today, and it did. Everyone was well behaved and nice.

On days like today, the vengeful side of me would like to tell Columbus Judge and Virginia Boss, "See! You don't have to be mean! You can accomplish things by being polite and kind."

But, that wouldn't be nice.

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