How Much Do People Make In The Service Industry?

In my quest to discover the right future for me — attorney or otherwise — I’ve been doing a lot of research into various careers from the simplest money-makers to the most complicated. No one would argue that “service” isn’t the simplest path forward. And it can be a decent way to turn an extra buck, too. But I never knew that waiters and servers in the U.S. don’t even make minimum wage!

One waiter pay graphic showed the average size of the customer’s check at certain establishments (which is a good way to determine how much money they’ll take home at the end of a night and how hard they have to work to make a living). Someone at Denny’s can’t expect to make that much because the average customer check doesn’t even reach $10! That’s a stark difference from someone working for Eddie V’s, where checks are over $90 on average. The average check at Joe’s Crab Shack is $25.42, and the average at Olive Garden is $17.50.

Put into perspective that means a waiter at Eddie V’s in DC will hit minimum wage basically after waiting on one table. At Denny’s a waiter will hit minimum wage eventually, but it’ll take much longer because you’re only getting a buck or two for each table you serve.

And of course it depends on where you live waiting tables, because minimum wage varies by state. And certain states have different “below minimum” pay standards. Some waiters make basically all their money on tips — and sometimes the tips don’t amount to much. All employers are obligated to make up the gap if an employee ends up with less than minimum during a particular night after tips, but seriously…why is this system allowed to stick?! It’s not fair to anyone. Just increase the prices a few cents on the dollar and pay your employees!

The reality that waiters live in is even more disgusting when you consider that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) was enacted decades and decades ago, and people can still make less than minimum wage! The law implemented the American 40-hour work week and minimum wage, which has slowly increased over time (but not in the last decade or so). Taking it to $15 would more than double the current minimum wage, and realistically — it should be $20 an hour by now when adjusted for inflation, considering how long the fight has been going on.

Only a few years ago, the “tipped” wage was at $2.13, where it had been since 1991. Our current president, Joe Biden, has promised to end the tipped minimum wage — and of course we already know he wants to increase the federal minimum to $15 an hour. This would raise millions out of poverty and help families all across the country. How has it not happened yet?!

LA Activities You Won’t Find On A Tourist-Inspired List

Per usual, mes amis et moi were looking for new activities. We’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point, but I found one of those lists that tell you what to do when your boredom peaks. We were pleasantly surprised — but then again we knew enough to put our own spin on things. We visited a number of distinct locations in and around Los Angeles…taking a shot from those tiny “nip” liquor bottles they serve on airplanes at each one. Here were our favorites.

The Lost Sunken City in San Pedro is a great place to visit if you like strange stories. Technically the coastline is off limits, but everyone hops the fence to view the graffiti and explore anyway. Where else will you find a sunken city in the United States? We downed a shot of Fireball whiskey before entering.

Afterward we drove all the way to the Time Travel Mart — we took a shot of Baileys before entering — where you can peruse shelves lined with the strangest sale items you’ll find anywhere in the city. We’re talking dinosaur eggs, canned “Mammoth Chunks,” and all manner of other things. The profits are funneled into 826LA, a non-profit built for students to help expand creativity in youth.

After that…we went to Jumbo’s Clown Room in the early evening, because girls like to see what guys are up to every once in a while. To say that it was a strange experience is an understatement. The sample video on their website allows visitors to enjoy a stripper in a huge marshmallow costume. Of course, she was scantily clad underneath.

We ended the night at the Electric Dusk Drive-In — which we’ve admittedly done before (because pandemic) just like everyone else in LA at some point during the last year. It’s also near Dodgers Stadium if you’re looking for directions.

Pondering More Big Life Questions!

Mes amis, brace yourselves: I’m contemplating a grand departure from Los Angeles. Why, you ask? Well, I’m still discussing options with new lawyer friends. My network is growing so quickly! And most of them have acknowledged that I might have a gift for articulating powerful arguments — a sentiment for which I’m very thankful. But it’s not enough to want to be a lawyer. I need to know what kind of lawyer!

I was put in touch with a new friend based in Florida — she works for the — and she offered that if personal injury wasn’t for me, then family law might be. One of the most painful parts of being away from home (even though I largely consider LA home, Paris still holds my heart together) is not being there for my own family when they need all the support they can get. Why not help other families when I’m not near enough to help my own?

I’ve begun exchanging paper, handwritten letters with my sisters and mother. They’ve offered a lot of good advice. They’re jealous I’m still living out my dreams — and not so jealous that my dreams seem to shift with the passing winds.

Interestingly, Mom said that’s why I might enjoy family law (once I described what I might be doing on a typical day). Family lawyers jump all over the place and wind up in any number of different courtroom settings depending on the particular client. They deal with divorces, adoptions, property disputes, criminal disputes, and even help families navigate some of the procedures that most estate planning lawyers take care of. 

Another reason I found beyond the diversity of the work was the ease of finding work. Most divorce attorneys say they chose the niche because there was so much work available — and when there wasn’t, it was easy to wade just a little deeper into a different practice area temporarily. Half of all Americans end up divorced. It’s probably harder to find an attorney with the time to help you than it is being an attorney looking for new clients.

Family lawyers who don’t want to dive deeply into other practice areas can build their own practice by outreach to other lawyers. Networking is an important part of the job — and apparently I’m already pretty good at it since all my information is coming directly from other lawyers (and they seem to like me well enough). 

I know that family law might be an emotional roller coaster ride, but I’m accustomed to navigating my own emotions and the emotions of others. I’ve worked in fast-paced industries before, so it would be nice to have a minute to breathe. 

And the lawyers I met say the work leaves them satisfied each day. You’re helping people, and most lawyers practice collaborative family law these days, which means they seek amicable solutions to the problems everyone has — especially in times of divorce. And hey…the money is good, too.

Staying Safe Outside During COVID

If you’ve been following my (mis)adventures through LA, you know I’ve spent much of my time cooped up indoors because of COVID. Mostly I’ve been networking with new lawyer friends or going on a few new short road trips with the girls, but otherwise I’m either at work or sitting on the couch at home. I’m looking for new things to do — safely — so I decided to give you a list of the best I’ve found so far. Some of these I’ve done before but hey — maybe you haven’t.

On the topic of road trips, I have two favorites: Palos Verdes Drive and Highway One. Both of these offer great views of the Pacific Ocean, but Palos Verdes is also amazing if you like to look at rich architecture. Oh, and we’ve gone all the way to Vegas once or twice just to see what’s going on at the Strip. But we never get out of the car.

There are plenty of outdoor spaces in Los Angeles where you won’t always find a crowd. Depending on when you go, Huntington Library fits the bill. 

A few months ago, a friend and I decided to bike the Strand — but we never did. It’s 22 miles long, and most notably goes through Santa Monica as it wends from Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance County Beach. Speaking of Will Rogers, there’s awesome hiking if you hop over to the park. Try researching Temescal Canyon. It’s my favorite LA hike, but we haven’t found ourselves there in some time.

Ever been to Mission Tiki? It’s worth thinking about seeing a drive-in movie, especially since it’s one of the safest activities that still involve getting out of the house. A lot of theaters are offering an older selection of movies because Hollywood shut down for so long. My friends and I have seen dozens of movies over the last year.

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!