I poured over a binder of documents that if presented carefully should have helped someone in court. It was late, and I was tired. But it didn't matter.

The contention of litigation didn't care that I was tired.


That's what people do.

They spend their time just fighting each other. Sometimes over petty things. Sometimes over significant things.

And I get involved because they ask me to.

I went to law school in 2008 with this eternal optimism that if I worked myself to exhaustion, I could be good at this, and one day I could actually help people stop fighting and find peace.

Was that naive?

Part of me wants to insist it wasn't. Because if it was naive, that might mean that the calloused lawyers who make people hate lawyers are winning. But part of me wants to admit that it was naive. Because letting go of that optimism feels a little like relief.

The binder of documents contained a lot of emails. Some from an attorney whose aggression looked like abuse to me. I would meet that attorney later, just outside of a courtroom. He would try to bully me and threaten me. Threaten me to make my life "miserable" if I didn't do what he wanted. It wouldn't work. The last six years of my life have seen enough aggression that an acerbic tone and a sweating forehead are not enough to get me to waffle. I would tell him that he didn't scare me. I would look him straight in the eyes when I said this. And I would mean it. I would say some other things, too. I would surprise myself that I said those things so calmly. Those things would cause him to immediately back down.

Of course I didn't know any of that yet when looking through the binder of documents and wondering if this attorney could be as uncivil in person as he is in writing.

He could, by the way.

While looking through the binder, I asked myself the question I ask myself often. Was I actually helping anyone? Have I ever actually helped anyone? Or am I just another cog in a very inefficient system. One that costs people money. People who are really hoping I can help.

I think I've helped children stop getting abused. But have I? And if I have, wouldn't someone else have just done the exact same thing if I wasn't there?

The world doesn't need to revolve around me. The world doesn't revolve around me. It's ok that I'm replaceable. That's not upsetting to me. Some days I just want to know if my time in all of this has actually been well-spent. And if I haven't really helped anyone or if I have maybe helped someone in a way that they would have been helped just the same if I wasn't there, maybe that means my time wasn't well spent?

I didn't know that last sentence would be a question until I got to the punctuation mark.

My mind went back to the binder. It went back to the certain sophistry I would need to combat when telling the judge that the uncivil attorney was attempting to distract the court from a very simple matter by polluting the dialogue with unfettered soliloquy.

The judge would take exception to my calling the matter "simple." He would tell me that if the matter was simple, we wouldn't be in front of him. I would say "touche," but I wouldn't really mean it. The matter was simple. And failing to get the judge to understand that meant that the other attorney's efforts were succeeding.

But I didn't know all of that when looking through the binder. I imagined some of it. And I prepared for variations of it. But I'm rarely very good at predicting the exact exchange and planning the responses like a script. Which is sort of both the most exciting and terrifying part of going to court.

I feel guilty that I cost people money. Guilty enough that I often don't charge them. I'm told I should stop doing this. Stop feeling guilty. This is how these things work. Help costs money sometimes.

That's probably why it matters so much to me to know if I'm really helping.

Maybe if I know I'm helping, I won't feel guilt over costing people money.

I wonder if Atticus Finch ever felt guilt for costing people money.

Not that I think I'm Atticus Finch.

Not that Atticus Finch is a real person.

I certainly wouldn't feel like Atticus Finch when the judge would get distracted by a red herring and I would be wholly incapable of getting him to see this. He would tell me he was going to rule a certain way. He would state his a posteriori conclusions. I italicized the word because I meant it sarcastically. He didn't actually hear enough to understand. I would interject and attempt to explain that the argument counsel made was irrelevant. The judge would cut me off and tell me he had heard enough.

Should I have attempted to interject again? I don't think I should have. But should I have? Was I supposed to be more aggressive than I was? If I'm not aggressive enough am I actually helping anyone?

I guess the word "enough" in that last question necessarily means that the answer is no. But you know what I mean.

I closed the binder. There comes a point where sleep is more important than continuing.

I climbed into bed, a few feet away from the binder. I would pick it up again in the morning. It would look the same to me in the morning.

It was time to try to sleep. Something I've never really been good at. Besides that year in Palau. I was really good at sleeping in Palau. I don't know why I was so good at sleeping in Palau. It was probably because there weren't as many binders in Palau.

Thanks for reading this.

Y'all matter to me.

I decided to make an exception just this once and actually say "y'all."

~It Just Gets Stranger