Chatting With A Lawyer Friend Over Coffee

A new friend and I went out for a long drive the other day. We found ourselves venturing north along the PCH toward Santa Barbara — we actually made it to Monterey before turning around — and I had actually forgotten how beautiful it was. Sometimes, the world can see so bleak after you’ve spent a long time indoors. It was good to get out and feel the wind in my hair, the sun on my face. We were quiet for most of the ride, but we eventually stopped for coffee at a drive-thru. I don’t know what it is…but coffee just makes us talk. 

The friend works for Paul Mones (a sexual abuse attorney), and she asked me if I would be comfortable handling certain kinds of cases. She reminded me that the job wasn’t just about helping people who were injured — it was about helping people who were injured but also angry and sad and potentially financially ruined, people who might be in a hurry to focus blame anywhere, even toward me. 

She knows I’ve been struggling with the decision about whether or not to enroll in law school, and she was curious if I really understood what types of people a personal injury attorney might meet in a day.

She reminded me that not every injury was a small claim. She had recently represented a victim of sexual abuse who had been burned by the abuser. Even then, the victim still claimed she felt genuine love and affection for her abuser — even though she hated him and wanted to see him die the same way he had hurt her. My friend said that what people feel doesn’t always make sense, but it was hard to keep a clear head the harder it got. 

At another firm, she was responsible for a number of car accident claims. That one was hard, she said. Some would look totally fine, only filing a lawsuit years after the fact. But others got the ball rolling right away. There’ve been amputees, brain injuries that left someone unable to speak, paralysis victims, etc. One man committed suicide days before a big settlement was reached between both parties. The family wanted to sue again for wrongful death, but the case was quickly dismissed. 

She said it wasn’t just the injured party, either. Sometimes family members would want to interact with the legal team directly, and that’s where it got most awkward. They didn’t always have the right to certain types of information, but they would want it anyway.

Cases aren’t always successful, and you have to deal with that, too. And that’s even more messed up, because it means the attorney doesn’t get paid and the victims are crushed. They often blame the lawyer. “You feel bad for them, of course, but then you feel bad for yourself because you’re more worried that you didn’t get paid,” she said. It’s just a cycle of crap, day after day. You try to make sure you put more good out into the world, but it’s not always easy. It’s damn near impossible, actually.”

I have a lot to think about.

Can You Go Skydiving In LA?

While I’ve been asking myself whether or not I should go to law school, potentially dumping every cent I earn down the tubes, it’s hard to stay away from other challenges. There’s this need to get my blood pumping at every opportunity — and that need grows in tune with the size of the challenge in front of me. Law school is a huge challenge! And what’s the best way to get the blood pumping. I can think of nothing more terrifying than skydiving.

That’s why I’ve made it my goal to skydive three times as soon as COVID is mostly behind us (and I don’t think we’re there yet, mes amis). Of course, that’s not cheap, but who cares? It’s worth the payoff. 

The good thing is that the cost of skydiving is the same basically anywhere in the country. Of course I could always go “skydiving” in Hollywood, but where’s the fun in a fake adrenaline rush a few feet off the ground? Tandem skydiving sounds so much more fun. And after I’m done I can grab a few drinks with my friends — because I’m going to make them come with me for sure. 

None of this is to say that I don’t take skydiving seriously. People have gotten hurt before because they weren’t paying attention during the lesson before the jump, and I don’t want to be one of them. This might be a year ahead of me and I’m already stupid excited. Then again, I might have tried to enroll in law school before then, so who knows? I have so many questions about jumping.

How long does the flight last and how high do we jump from? Will I have to do anything for the jump or is it all the instructor’s job? Will I be allowed to eat anything beforehand? …Should I go to the bathroom before we board the plane?

To Enroll In Law School Or Not To Enroll

I was pleased after meeting those two Texan lawyers last year, and we’ve stayed in touch. They’ve made me feel more like a close friend than a client (even though I am the latter), and they’ve actually inspired me to consider bigger life changes. Los Angeles is my new home — there’s no denying that — but I’m ready to step through a new door. I’m considering law school to potentially become a personal injury lawyer.

Through my LinkedIn networking, I virtually “met up” with a personal injury attorney from Hale and Monico (a Chicago firm), and she’s been explaining every little detail I might miss. Primarily, I asked her what she wished she’d have known about the path she took before it was too late to go back. She provided a great deal of insight.

She assured me that law school was hard, but not impossible. Lawyers are expected to act as sponges to soak up as much information as possible while they study, but retention is another matter — or so she says. Even accomplished lawyers need to open up dusty old tomes in pursuit of that one piece of archaic legislation that might help them win a big case. 

She also told me she wishes she’d got on board with the big firm sooner. You give up a lot of freedom, but the benefits outweigh the losses. She asked me whether or not I could afford school, and I told her the truth — not without help. She told me there are many avenues for those who don’t make enough to afford school on their own, and there are some great schools that matriculate students who didn’t believe they had the money. 

But I’m still having doubts.

Even so, I’ve looked at a number of schools in the LA area (the University of California Los Angeles School of Law is at the top of my list). And I’ve started saving every penny. I’ll need to since tuition stands at over $50,000 per year! 

My friend at H&M asked why law school might be for me — and I answered that I like to help people. She smiled politely, but told me the law was more about society as a whole and not any one person. You’re expected to do your best for each and every client, but you also want to make a lasting impact to hand something down to the next generation of lawyers. You make it easier in a world dying to make it nearly impossible. That might mean suing a giant corporation for millions. She asked if I had it in me to withstand that kind of pressure.

Of course, it was my turn to smile back.

My entire life has been about pressure! I’ve tackled one challenge after another, and I don’t mean to back down now. My life is about the journey. It’s about that coffin full of experiences when I’m gone and buried. I want as many as I can grasp!

Backpacking The Lost Coast Trail

COVID has funneled many of us outside. I was getting stir-crazy over summer last year, so I decided to do something about it. A few friends of mine told me they were going to backpack the 25-mile Lost Coast Trail in early fall — so after a week of research I asked if I could join them. They were happy to have me along, even if I did slow them down a bit. I wasn’t ready for the physical exertion that the trip promised (how was I to know?!) but they made sure I was geared up!

I was reminded earlier when reading about a woman who had been airlifted off the trail after being seriously injured. Then I read about a new 2.3-mile extension they built.

The Lost Coast Trail blew my mind away! We only spent four or five days hiking, but what an adventure it was! Parts of the trail disappear during high tide, which means you really need to pay attention to where you are and know the tiding schedule for that day. And even when the tide is out, sometimes the beach disappears in a sea of fog. It’s a foreign landscape I didn’t know existed here in the United States — but maybe I’ve just become accustomed to the LA desert.

The trail extends along the coastline in the King Range National Conservation Area. You might know it if you’ve ever gone through Humboldt County using Highway 1. That portion of the road is actually inland for about 90 miles without even touching the sea. It’s that rugged! And that’s what makes it a great nature experience, a great trail, and a challenging obstacle for novice backpackers — and I would definitely classify myself as a novice. 

Sound fun? It rained on us perpetually. I’d recommend going in June, July, August, or September when there is significantly less precipitation.

My Experience With Near-Financial Ruin During COVID

Over the last year I’ve had my fair share of money issues, mes amis — and let me say they were no fun. I’d lost my job temporarily because of COVID and didn’t realize that my landlords couldn’t kick me out or try to evict me while the pandemic was ongoing, so I started to think of ways I might save my financials. Remember, the French don’t like talking about money. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do. 

On a road trip to Texas over the summer, I was lucky enough to run into a pair of lawyers from Toronjo & Prosser Law. They helped me figure out that bankruptcy probably wasn’t in the cards for me (at least not while my financial situation was getting even worse), and that I should probably wait to see what the next year would bring. The laws in place to help victims of coronavirus would help me, they said. So I’ve waited. And thankfully my job has opened up again and I’m back at work.

But it got me thinking about all the differences between the United States and France or Europe when it comes to insolvency. Things work a lot differently overseas. The process does, anyway — we can still declare bankruptcy, so to speak.

Our petitions for bankruptcy in France certainly don’t take as long to process, and our legal representatives can get into a lot of trouble if they screw up. In the United States, everything takes forever while the government double-checks everything — and your lawyers basically get a slap on the wrist if they screw up, while you just get literally screwed. Okay, not literally. But you get the idea. Things are harder and more complicated here.

Bankruptcy in France is temporary and doesn’t last long. The average amount of time is only six months, and usually a business or credit is sold off by then. In the US, those who have declared bankruptcy are barred from doing it again for years and years — and this is why the lawyers from Texas told me I was better off waiting. To do otherwise would have resulted in a significant reduction in options if my finances didn’t turn around soon. And then I’d really have been in trouble.

Court in general is just very different in France. We didn’t even have access to class action lawsuits until 2014, while you guys have been suing everyone for everything for decades. Even then, the standards are much higher. Damage must be material, not just financial. A judgement is never final until the authorities let both parties know that it was rendered — and if you don’t know you’re not obligated one way or the other. Here, you’re just in trouble whether you know or not. It’s sort of like getting a jury summons. Not knowing isn’t necessarily an excuse.

How To Live And Think Like The French

Even though I’ve been living in the states for years, my identity as a French person hasn’t vanished altogether. I try not to take the life I’m leading for granted, and I don’t think anyone else should take their own life for granted either. On that basis alone, I still “live French” in more ways than one. Curious how you might change your life to live more like a French person? Here are a few things you can do.

Anyone who has lived in Paris will be familiar with the habits people develop there. Many smoke (I do not), many drink coffee (I do), and many will “people watch” from their balconies in the morning while doing both. Admittedly, I still do a lot of people watching. You’re fascinating.

The French are discreet in many ways of life. We don’t flaunt our wealth or material possessions. We don’t share as much as you do via social media. I’ve kept the lessons from home because I think they’re important. I don’t want someone prying into my life as much as they possibly can — which is why I don’t have a Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter account. 

French people have a deep appreciation for the arts. That’s not to say Americans don’t like a movie now and then, but in France you’re much more likely to hear us talking about an actual piece of art or an opera we liked.

We talk about everything in France. Here in the United States, there are lots of conversations that seem small-natured to me. You talk about money all the time. How much you make or what you do with it — who cares? It doesn’t help you live healthier or more content. 

You won’t necessarily find a French girl in the gym in the midst of a vigorous workout. We prefer to waste no time — and that means exercising while we move from place to place by using bike paths or walking. I definitely do this in LA, and I would suggest everyone else do the same. I don’t even have a car!

When I Was Hurt On The Job

I didn’t say anything about it at the time, but about a year ago I was hurt after getting a seasonal job during the holidays. It wasn’t my fault, but my boss still guilted me about it — and asked that we keep it “down low” because the injury wasn’t serious. But even a serious injury can end up costing an arm and a leg. Mes amis, urgent care cost me hundreds of dollars just for a few stitches! 

I was laid off after the season was over even though I wanted to keep the job. Later, I went to a workers comp attorney because I couldn’t get the injury — or what I paid — out of my head. The man who listened to my story asked what I wanted out of this, and I said I didn’t know. I told him I wanted to understand my options more than anything else. He was resolute: “It’s not about options. Your boss took advantage of the situation. You should sue.”

I’m not a helpless girl — far from it — but he seemed to think my boss might have assumed that cultural differences between the French and Americans might make it easier to avoid going through workers comp insurance, even though accidents happen all the time and there should have been no problem. In other countries, lawsuits aren’t so common. In other countries, people are sometimes forced to take care of themselves. That isn’t quite the case back home in France, but he probably doesn’t know that. He wasn’t that kind of man.

My attorney and I spoke virtually via video chat in recent months and he helped me decide that suing was my best means of recourse. At the very least, I want my money back. Much of what I made went to paying for medical expenses. But my attorney says I can also file a complaint because I may have lost my job more because I got hurt and less because I was a seasonal employee. So I’m not sure what will happen.

I’m only sharing this story because it’s important to me that other people realize they should never allow other people to get away with taking advantage of them. Business is a complicated world — especially here in the United States — but business owners and big corporations don’t have the right to make their own laws. 

The biggest mistake you can make is to wait. You forget little details you might need to win the case. The judge is less likely to believe your story. My attorney let me know that might be the situation in court — if we go — but that’s a chance we took. He still hopes to settle with the company I worked for, and I let him know that I never want to work there again. I made friends there, but it was a terrible job.

We probably all have those stories.

When Will We Get the COVID Vaccine?

Mes amis, I’m worried. I’ve been worried all year, of course, but a hopeful start to 2021 hasn’t made me forget about everything that happened in 2020. The entire world is faced with the gargantuan task of rolling out a vaccine that was conceived, prototyped, and trialed — all within 12 months. And it’s becoming clear that not all of us were truly created equal. And that’s fine, because right now we need equity, not equality.

In the United States, the oldest in society receive the vaccine first. That’s not the case everywhere in the world. In my home country of France, for example, the government has stated that there is little scientific evidence to show the effectiveness of the vaccine in the older population. 

President Emmanuel Macron said, “For this AstraZeneca vaccine, we will not propose it to those older than 65.”

That was a scary moment, since the older you are the more vulnerable to COVID-19 you become. But Macron claims that the vaccine will become widely available to the public by the end of summer. That’s a long wait.

For those of us here in the U.S., things don’t look much different — except that the older populations and those living in nursing homes will receive the vaccine first. And that makes sense. That’s the equitable solution. They need it. We don’t.

Probably the biggest obstacle is convincing our essential workers that they should actually get the vaccine. As of now, the injections are voluntary. The Los Angeles Fire Department has access to enough vaccines for all its staff, but barely more than half have opted to receive it. The fire department is on our front lines — more so than people realize. It doesn’t make sense that they decide not to get the vaccine.

Until we can find a way to show people that the science works, this pandemic will probably continue longer than it should. And that’s what really scares me.

Rumors About LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Potential Role In The Biden Administration

Suffice it to say, our city has been through a lot over the past few years. Many immigrants live in Los Angeles and the surrounding cities of California — so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that our people aren’t exactly divided on Biden’s 2020 victory. We’re happy. We think everyone should be happy. I say this as a “visitor” myself (even though I’ve been here many years at this point and have learned the language and customs fairly well, no matter how different they are from my own back home in France).

Black Lives Matter didn’t take well to the rumor that LA Mayor Eric Garcetti might play a role in the upcoming Biden administration. The rumors suggest that he might be offered a fairly important role as Secretary of Transportation or Housing and Urban Development. 

Garcetti denied that he was “seeking” any such role in Biden’s Cabinet, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t take one if it was offered.

Garcetti said, “I have been focused 110% on these numbers and on COVID and on saving lives. It’s one of the last things on my mind right now. You know, we have deaths that are going to be increasing, we have record numbers of cases and so I don’t have anything to add on that not because I have anything to hide, I just have nothing to add. Right now my job number one is to make sure to protect the lives of Angelenos.”

BLM wasn’t unhappy about the possibility that Garcetti might be leaving, however. The protestors were lamenting the fact that he’s allegedly done a poor job of organizing housing and development in our own city, especially when it comes to providing it to the homeless. Transportation is another huge issue — ask any Angeleno — and he’s done very little to remedy the situation.

The mayor of LA has always been an important position because it can have an impact on all of Southern California. Much like the United States is supposed to “lead” the world in many areas, so too does Los Angeles lead the rest of our state. Garcetti has failed in that regard.

Garcetti isn’t the only potential pick from Southern California. Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas is also rooted in Los Angeles. His family was originally from Cuba before they fled to the states. Mayorkas went to Beverly Hills High before studying at Loyola Marymount Law School. He served as U.S. Attorney in Central California, and has held a number of other important positions during his tenure.

What does this all have to do with my life? For me, it’s interesting to say that these potential picks for roles in higher government inspire some pride — even though I’m not originally from Los Angeles. I think that means this is finally home. The funny thing? I always thought my life here would be temporary. I thought I’d go back home eventually. Now, I don’t feel that way.

My Thoughts On Terrorism In France

The last week has been hard on me. On one hand, I know I’m safe here in the United States — or at least safer than I would be anywhere in Europe. But on the other hand, I have to worry about family and friends I have back home. Terrorism in France isn’t going away no matter how hard we try to fight against injustice and violence and open our hearts to free speech and differing opinions. Why would anyone be against it? I don’t know.

What I find especially disconcerting, though, is the fact that a person can be beheaded anywhere in the civilized, industrialized world, and we barely see it in the news — if at all — because we’re too focused on what crazy President Trump said or did today. 

But it’s also a problem for the Islamic community. I believe there’s nothing wrong with being a devout or practicing Muslim, just like I believe there’s nothing wrong with being Christian, Jewish, or Hindu; like I believe there’s nothing wrong with being old or young, gay or straight, rich or poor, pro-life or pro-choice, Texan or California, French or Hispanic. What does any of that matter? We all come from the same place. We all start off the same way — until our leaders change us beyond the point of no return.

That’s exactly why free speech is so important. When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I was only a French girl with broken English — but my friends embraced me and helped me until I learned. Look at me now!

We live in a world where anything is possible, but that shouldn’t depend on where you live. The recent debate in France was sparked by a horrendous terrorist act, but that shouldn’t mean we give up on hope or humanity or our rights and freedoms. We need to do better. Before that, we should start to think better!