Monday, March 31, 2014

From Left to Write: The Idea of Him

I love New York.
I absolutely love New York.
New York is the best.
How did I get here from there?

As I was pumping gas at Costco this morning, these thoughts ran through my head as I was trying to think of something to post for our From Left to Write book club selection, The Idea of Him. Then it hit me. I was drawn to the book because it is set in New York City, the dream city of my childhood. There was also a Him that was part of my New York life, but that's a story best left untouched. Living in New York was the idea of glamour, intrigue, and success that was my singular goal growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. For a time I achieved it. Then I let it go because I felt myself getting hard like the Sunscreen Song predicted. But I loved my life there. So this is my post on why I love New York. Because there are too many reasons for just one blog post, I'm going to limit myself to five. The first five that fill my head--go.

1. People. Everyone from everywhere. You can be rich, poor, college graduate, high school dropout, old, young, white, black, yellow, brown, Jews for Jesus, Lost Tribe of Israel, anyone and everyone is there. Sometimes when I look around here in the Bay Area it strikes me how different the diversity here looks. Yes, there are people of every background here but it seems like there are pockets of this or that ethnic group or socio-economic echelon rather than the glorious patchwork of God's creation that you get in one subway car down Broadway. I miss that. It saddens me that Princess E stares at certain people in Trader Joe's because she rarely sees them around town. It saddens me that my children don't get why Martin Luther King Jr. was so important. It saddens me that everyone, including R's preschool teacher, first speaks Chinese to me because they assume I'd rather speak that than English. (I'm Korean, BTW.)

2. Food. Anything you want to eat any time of day or night. Oxtail soup on 32nd Street to stave off a hangover at 4 AM. Seitan burritos and all the homemade chips and salsa you can eat at Burrito Box. Bread from Amy's. The impeccable service at Union Square Cafe. Overindulgence at Daniel, Bouley, Le Bernardin. Steaks at a restaurant where a member of La Cosa Nostra was gunned down outside. Macarons from Fauchon. Breakfast at Tea & Sympathy. Part of me can't believe how much money I spent on food in Manhattan, but another part of me doesn't regret a single cent. It's not as if I could have those delectable morsels now even if I had internet startup IPO millions. I will say that the one area where the Bay Area does beat Manhattan is in boba tea. Gong Cha, you almost make up for not being able to get a Kati Roll. Yes, I even miss the Indian food in Manhattan. There are no food carts where I live, so the tastes can't be replicated, sadly.

3. Easily accessible culture. There is a show of every kind going on at all times of the year in New York. Ballet, opera, Broadway, art exhibitions, foreign film festivals, S&M exhibits, whatever tickles your fancy. Here you have to plan and drive. I used to go get the nosebleed tickets at Lincoln Center because I knew I could go by myself and catch one act or the first half of something before I had to go back to work. I used to go to the Guggenheim solo because I hate being rushed. Sometimes I just want to go stare at Kandinsky for an hour. And not have it be a big deal or a super trek. So in this post NYC life, I end up doing next to nothing.

View from Rockefeller Center (my former office-this photo from Wikipedia)
4. Youth. As I look back on my life in New York, I know that I'm wearing rose-colored glasses. As much as I miss anything else, what I'm really missing is my youth. My 20s and early 30s. My life after college. My first fitting at a designer dress shop. My first robin egg blue gift box. Going to the exact same bars as featured on SATC and ordering cosmos. Everything is exhilarating the first time around. It loses its appeal subsequent times down the line. The City keeps you feeling young because of its frenetic energy, the constant influx of new blood, and its belief that it is the center of the Universe. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

5. Proximity to my college and Stewart's alma mater. I loved my college. The actual campus and the football stadium. I loved being able to get on the Metro-North and go back whenever I wanted for games or even just to walk around. I have photos of H as a toddler sitting on the canons at West Point. As much as I am proud of my sister, it isn't the same feeling when I walk with her through Cardinal territory. It's probably stemming from the same place as number four, but on this coast I have nothing to connect me to my youth, no sense of continuity with my past and the loss is palpable at times.

Having gone through this litany of memories, I realize that what I'm missing is not the Idea of New York. It's really the Idea of Me. Who I was for such a long time and how I felt connected to the world and my environment. How I defined myself. And the message is clear. Like Allie in The Idea of Him, I need to move on. I can't keep looking to the past to limit my present. I can't long for a past that can't be replicated or relived or regained even I moved to New York this minute. I need to stay focused on the future and invent a new narrative. I know I can do it. After all, not only is the steaming, angry concrete animal a part of me, I'm a woman. And I'm a blogger. Hear me roar!

This post was inspired by the novel The Idea of Him by Holly Peterson. Allie thought she had the perfect husband, until she finds him and another woman in a compromising position in their own apartment. Join From Left to Write on April we discuss The Idea of Him. Join us for a live chat with Holly on April 3.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Monday, March 17, 2014

From Left to Write: The Divorce Papers

This post was inspired by the novel The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger. Young lawyer Sophie unwillingly takes her first divorce case with an entertaining and volatile client in this novel thold mostly through letters and legal missives. Join From Left to Write on March 18 as we discuss The Divorce Papers. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

When I went to law school, it was with the full intention of becoming a litigator. I would champion the rights of the downtrodden, fight for liberty and justice for all. If you've seen Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action, you have some picture of how lawyers can work for the good of people who have no voice. As for my specialty, apparently I told the associate in my investment banking group that I was going to do environmental law after one too many visits to toxic sludge-filled steel companies.

The reality proved to be different. Because of that banking background, it became nearly impossible to get a firm job in litigation. My experience was in Mergers and Acquisitions and corporate transactions, so naturally interviewers pegged me to follow that path as an attorney. Also, because of my nature as an introvert (which is nothing to be ashamed of as I discussed in a prior FLTW post), the mock trial sessions we had as part of our legal research and writing class filled me with terror. When I got in front of the judge (a mere 2L) to make my opening statement, I also passed out. It was bad. So I thought it was destiny that I would become a corporate attorney.

Fast forward ten years. Reading The Divorce Papers made me think about my current position as a contract attorney at an intellectual property litigation boutique. In my five years on the corporate side, it never crossed my mind that I would be working in litigation. Like the main character Sophie who specialized in criminal law but took a detour to work on a divorce case for the firm, I was presented the opportunity to dive back into law firm work last summer, albeit in litigation. I took it, since positions for lawyer moms who've taken time off are few and far between.

available at
Having worked for the past eight months on a variety of matters, I'm still undecided as to whether I will continue with litigation or focus my energy on getting back to corporate. So I wanted to share a couple insights I've gained through the experience to sort through my thought process. You can stop reading here if the mere thought of delving into different types of law practice fills you with dread. Totally understandable, after all, I wrote my college senior thesis on the sentiment from Shakespeare, "Kill all the lawyers."

First, if a hostile takeover is like a lightning raid, then litigation as it exists today in the U.S. is akin to the long drawn-out trench warfare of the first world war. As an M&A attorney, I worked on many antagonistic transactions. One of my strengths was my innate paranoia; that there was always something the other side was not telling us that I needed to ferret out and expose. There were many nights of sleeping at the office, wading through the documents and working out merger agreements. But it was rare that the entire process would last more than 6-9 months. Some of the smaller private deals went even quicker and were done in 3-5 months. IP litigation, on the other hand, is an exercise of patience. It can be years before a case even gets to a Markman hearing, the pretrial hearing that determines claim construction. Then if the trial is considered to be on the fast track, the actual trial will begin a year later.

Second, litigation is a game. The primary focus isn't getting justice under the law but winning. There are some situations where clearly the other side is making up lies that boggle the mind, but they persist in twisting the facts and the law to make their points. Even if the two sides of an M&A deal are at odds, once the merger agreement is signed, most of the adversarial posturing disappears. Merger agreements have Material Adverse Change clauses that will sink the deal if a extraordinarily liability comes out of the woodwork prior to and some time subsequent to closing. In litigation, if there is a smoking gun that one side manages to bury in the tens and hundreds of thousands of documents produced during discovery, then it is completely up to the receiving side to find it before it is too late. And even if two sides have gone back and forth on the case for over a lengthy period, there is nothing to prevent one side from slapping the other with a Rule 11 Professional Misconduct motion for bringing a case with no merit. Hey other side, if there were no merit, then why argue over the issues for more than a year before bringing your motion?!?

Last, "justice" is largely dependent on the judge assigned to the case and what that judge had for breakfast. It's amazing to see how the outcomes in many cases even in a single federal district in CA can differ from judge to judge. Basically, you can find cases to support whatever you want to argue. In the corporate context, if you are before the FTC or the SEC, even if it is one attorney writing the response to your issue, the sense is that it really is a collaborative office effort, rather than the determination of one person. No action letters and relief letters are relied upon (even if they state they shouldn't be relied upon) and subsequent actions come out in the same way for the most part. In litigation, the judge usually has the reputation of being plaintiff or defendant biased, but there is nothing anyone can do about it anymore since he is federally appointed and can only be dismissed for gross misconduct.

All of that said, I have relished the opportunity to go back to the office setting to learn IP law and the ins and outs of litigation. Learning how to use Westlaw efficiently all over again and drafting documents has given much satisfaction to my inner nerd. I'm a person that fights hard against change. It took me years to change my driver's license, my phone number, and my permanent mailing address. Some of my accounts are still listed under my maiden name. But what I've learned over and over again, that once you embrace change and step out of your comfort zone, you will be stretched and enriched in the process. The version of YOU that emerges is one that is wiser and more connected to the world. The banner across the blackboard of my seventh grade English class read, "Nothing is as constant as change." Every year of my life I find that to be true. How will you step out of your comfort zone?