Discover Professional

What’s Been Going On?

It's been a long year+ since my last update on this website.  It's not that I haven't been busy (or even blogging), but my focus as been elsewhere.

I returned to the practice of law, while continuing to work on the Shine Vision as much as time would permit. From April – July of 2016, I was super-busy getting all my “ducks in a row” for my return to the legal world.

During July and August of 2016, I was also hustling lots of farm produce grown at Shine Springs Farm. We had a great mid-summer harvest of watermelons and okra.

Our Shine Springs Farm watermelons took 1st and 2nd place at the Franklin County Watermelon Festival “best tasting” competition.

My recipe for watermelon-flavored sweet iced tea won the “best flavored tea” competition sponsored by the Franklin County Extension Service (ACE / Auburn University). I'll find the recipe and share it.

Thanks to Chef Chris Newsome, Chef-Owner of Ollie Irene for buying and serving lots of Shine Springs Farm produce in 2016 (and 2014-15). It's been great to get to know Chef Chris and wife, Anna, through my farming activities.

I handled several trademark registrations and then the legal work started to take off.

My niece Allison lived with me for 8 weeks in the late Fall while she did a round of clinical training with a Birmingham PT healthcare provider for her degree in physical therapy. It was fun having a room-mate again. 🙂

It turned out to be a great year, although it was definitely not without its challenges!

God is good and He will meet our needs when we come to him in faith.

The whole return to law practice was an exercise in faith, because it wasn't something I intentionally chose to do or that I entered into lightly.

As I opened myself up to fully embrace His will and purpose in my life, the doors began to open to law in ways I had never anticipated. As I took the tentative steps in faith, the opportunities and somewhat bigger picture began to unfold.

Each week has been a continued exercise in faith as I've sought to take action in ways that serve the clients I've been blessed with, while continuing to pursue non-legal activities and work that are consistent with the Shine vision and values.

As the “bigger picture” has unfolded, I've also come to see how my background in law is entirely connected with necessary for my Shine vision to come to fruition, in part through Shinecast® media and in part through other similar-but-separate ventures.

In late February, I attended the Lawyerist's TBD Law 2 event in St. Louis.

Sheree Martin attends TBD Law 2 Conference, Franklin County Times April 2017 article

In a few days, I'll be making the official announcements, but I'm about to launch a series of courses to help creative professionals, solopreneurs and entrepreneurs with legal and business topics. The initial offerings will be through the Sheree Martin Law website, but I'll be moving them into a standalone portal later in June.

This isn't the final logo for Write: Legal but it's one of my early DIY designs:

Write: Legal (TM) a Resource from Sheree Martin // Law

June 2-3, 2017 I'll be speaking at the Southern Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa. It's always a great time and a very inspirational conference.

Thanks to Cheryl Sloan Wray for including me among the speakers she featured on her blog in the weeks leading up to the conference.

Lots to do….best get to it!!


Teaching Through Food: Faculty Shoptalk

For the Fall 2012 semester I proposed a faculty shoptalk on the topic of teaching through food, since the health benefits of real food and the economic benefits of a sustainable local food system are two of my favorite causes.

I could easily see the value of using food as a theme to connect learning across various disciplines: Nutrition classes look at the nutritional side of food, while biology classes focus on botany or maybe even the science of genetic engineering, journalism students learn to write about food and food science, lit classes could focus on food in literature, art, well, you get the picture.

We ended up making the session a panel discussion.

Here's the session promotional synopsis I wrote. I found a copy as I was cleaning out papers from my office move and figured I may as well share it:

Food—and associated issues arising out of our complex modern food system—is a topic that can (and is) being taught in a multidisciplinary fashion. Food can be approached from many different directions: Economics, marketing and advertising, the environment, health and wellness, public policy and political science, entrepreneurship, sociology, even literature and art. Items to consider when teaching food include: The health benefits of eating “real” food (personally and the societal impacts of poor eating habits), the environmental issues associated with “modern” monoculture and large-scale industrial farming, the benefits of diversified, sustainable biodynamic types of agricultural practices, food security and access to healthy foods (locally and globally), the ethics of food marketing, the cultural aspects of food and society, and the economic benefits of a local food system.

[slideshare id=14890235&doc=teachingaroundfood-121025181902-phpapp02]

Thereafter, I presented a poster on how to use social media to promote and market a sustainable farm and also gave a couple of conference presentations related to food and farming research I was doing.
[slideshare id=36961537&doc=ssawgposter-140714115652-phpapp02&type=d]

Not Everyone Gets Interdisciplinary Education

My subsequent faculty evaluation by the chair advised me to select research and scholarly activity that was more closely related to the discipline of journalism and mass communication.
Food Blog South 2012 program coverI guess I should have thought to footnote all the job opportunities students have for careers in magazine journalism related to food, the billions of dollars spent on food advertising, the massive growth in marketing organic food products, the power of food bloggers, etc. etc. etc.

I forget that some people like to live in silos.


Silo photo copyright 2012 Sheree Martin

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When Things Don’t Turn Out Like You Expected, Part 1

In the early Fall of 2007 I returned to the practice of law. At the time, I hoped to build a new practice focused on internet issues, intellectual property and start-up ventures growing out of research at The University of Alabama.

I rejoined Rosen Harwood, P.A., in Tuscaloosa, where I'd been a shareholder before leaving for my 10-year stint as a writer/academic. Back then it was known as Rosen, Cook, Sledge, Davis, Carroll &  Jones, P.A.

I hadn't anticipated ever returning to active law practice, but the opportunity arose when I contacted Sydney Cook in May 2007 about a recommendation letter for a law school position I'd applied for. When I'd explained to Sydney that I wanted to leave Oklahoma, the question was put forth: Why don't you come back and join us? Within 2 or 3 weeks, I'd said yes to this new opportunity.

My Future In Tech

I was thrilled, envisioning all of the ways I could combine my knowledge of internet technology, IP law, and business transactional law to assist what I anticipated would be a growing community of start-up entrepreneurs in Tuscaloosa.

One of my first actions was to attend a tech start-up event at Innovation Depot in Birmingham. Another attorney with the firm, Andy Jones, drove with me up to Birmingham and he seemed very excited about the possibilities to expand our firm's practice areas and grow our client base through tech start-ups.

I knew there would be a bit of a transition period, as I developed my reputation in this new practice area. But as we approached the end of 2007, I was less-than-thrilled to find myself spending more and more time working on the same types of transactions and preparing the same legal documents as in 1992-97. My excitement over the return to law started to dim a bit, because I was not interested in estate planning or simply restructuring businesses to save taxes. But I soldiered own, not giving up hope.

The Great Recession

My future in tech was not to be, at least not then……

In 2008, the economy imploded. Everything in the legal world shifted to a focus on business restructuring and wealth preservation.

What I'd found when I arrived in 2007 is that Tuscaloosa wasn't yet producing the types of research-driven tech start-ups that I'd anticipated. Alabama's tech start-up community (such that it was) seemed to be based in Birmingham around UAB or in Huntsville around UAH. And the big Birmingham firms had already locked-up that most of that work.

And so, with no end to the recession in site, I began to lose any hope that I would ever get to do the type of legal work I'd envisioned when I said “yes” to the offer I received in June 2007. All of the optimism I had in September 2007 was, by October 2008, shifting into something of a sense of resignation that my law practice would just be more of the same. I couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps I was just being short-sighted. Who knows.

At that point, I'd been out of academia for just over a year. I had taught media law as an adjunct at The University of Alabama in the Spring of 2008 and was scheduled to teach it again in Spring 2009. I really enjoyed teaching the class and the students were great. No attitude problems and most were engaged with the course material.

I started have doubts and think that I'd made a mistake in leaving Oklahoma State, where I had a successful academic career underway. The only reason I left was to pursue a new opportunity in a place where I had more friends. I loved my colleagues and classes at Oklahoma State and solid-to-great evaluations from students.

I thought perhaps that my return to law practice was a transition because of an unexpected family crisis that had been unveiled upon my return to Alabama in August 2007. I thought perhaps I'd been brought back to Alabama to deal with that problem and, once I'd solved that problem, it was time to move on again—sort of a real-world Dr. Who.

I took a look at the academic job postings in the Chronicle of Higher Education and sent off a couple of applications.

A New Door Opens?

One day, out of the blue, I got an email or phone call (I don't remember which) from Jon Clemmensen, a faculty member at Samford. He'd seen my picture in an Alabama Sierra Club newsletter and wondered what was up. Jon and I had become friends during the year I taught CA classes at Samford in 2002-2003. My office and most of my classrooms were in his building.

I explained to Jon that I was contemplating a return to academia and he mentioned an opening at Samford. After finding the job listing on the Samford website, I sent off my materials.

At that point, I'd only applied for a couple of positions. I was being quite picky about the locations and the subject matter. I wasn't desperate and not looking to simply leave law practice. I wanted to move into the “place” where I would be able to pursue one of my interests and make a major, substantial contribution.

The Samford position was described as “visual and multimedia communication.” It sounded like a great fit, since I'd taught visual communication theory at Oklahoma State and was a big user of multimedia technology. I had thoroughly enjoyed teaching CA at Samford in 2002-03. I had no experience with Adobe software, but knew how to code websites without Dreamweaver and edit video using other software, so I figured I'd explain that and see what happened.

In light of Jon's phone call, completely out of the blue and unrelated to academia, it just seemed like one of those situations where “a door opens” just when it is meant to open. I figured that it would all unfold as it was supposed to unfold.

My Preference

I was really interested in another position, at Plymouth State in New Hampshire. I wasn't familiar with the school, but I liked the location and liked what I'd learned about it through my research. I was especially attracted to it because it was a communication position with a business department.

I've always known that my strengths are more focused on business and strategic communication, rather than journalism. [I'll explain another time how I ended up in a Ph.D. program in the College of Communication at UA, rather than a business program.]

In February 2009, I had a couple of phone interviews for positions that didn't seem to be a good fit for me and I ended up withdrawing from both searches, just as I was getting an invitation for a campus visit.

In late March I was scheduled to visit Plymouth State for an interview when I got a Saturday night call from my airline that my Sunday flight had been canceled. There was no way I could get another flight there and still make the meeting schedule on Monday. They kindly reworked my campus visit for the following week.

I loved New Hampshire. I really liked the campus and, more importantly, I really liked everyone I met who might be a potential colleague. The campus visit and interview seemed to go well. I seemed to connect very well with the department chair, Dr. Trent Boggess, as we shared a common fondness for Ford vehicles.

I returned home, hopeful and optimistic.

The Other Search

I hadn't heard anything from Samford as of mid-to-late-March, so I assumed that I was out of consideration for that position.

Around the time as my rescheduled trip to Plymouth State, I'd been invited for an interview at Samford and was given essentially two choices for dates, never of which offered much advance notice. The teaching demonstration was scheduled to be on Photoshop. I had purchased the software, but had no time to learn it.

In light of my optimism about Plymouth State, I attempted to withdraw from the search at Samford. I sent an email the day before my visit and said I was withdrawing.

withdrawal email

I received a reply from the department chair Bernie Ankney asking me to come anyway and do my a teaching demonstration on beat reporting. I didn't want to leave them hanging with my last-minute withdrawal, so I said OK. I put together a lecture and demonstration activity and went for my interview.

Nothing felt right about my Samford visit except for the teaching demonstration and conversation with the Provost. Everyone was cordial but I sensed something was off. I kept thinking it was just me and my distractions. I asked about the teaching load and was told it was a 3/3. I was assured that it was fine that I didn't yet feel competent to teach Photoshop. I didn't get any sense that the courses I'd be teaching were print journalism and reporting labs, rather than mainly visual/multimedia communication and media law. I interpreted the beat reporting teaching demonstration to be a simple “gimme” to make me feel comfortable. I didn't really expect to get an offer, quite honestly.

I left with understanding that they had one more interview to complete and then I'd hear something.

At that point, I continued to think that Plymouth State was still a possibility, although I didn't think I was a sure bet. I had gleaned from the campus visit that there might be an inside prospect, such as a regular adjunct who'd taught the course before.

The Offer

About a week or 10 days passed. I received a notice from Plymouth State that someone else had received and accepted an offer for the business communication position. I was bummed, but accepting of the outcome. The same week, I received a call from offering me the position at Samford.

My gut was unsettled, but I accepted the offer from Dean David Chapman to join Samford in the JMC department as a tenure-track assistant professor. I was given 2-years credit for my 4-years at Oklahoma State.

I simply assumed everything was working out as it was meant to work out.

In my first phone conversation with the department chair after verbally accepting the position my unsettled gut became much more unsettled. Something seemed wrong. I keep telling myself it was just a bit of anxiety over a big decision about my career.

Little did I know how much that decision would change my life.

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Intellection and Input: StrengthsFinder 2.0

Input and Intellection are two themes that emerged from the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment I completed in 2007 that didn't show up in my 2012 results.

In 2012, Input and Intellection were replaced by Maximizer and Achiever. Three themes were common to both set of results: Strategic, Ideation and Leaner.

In this post I'll explore the meaning behind Input and Intellection and how I see how those two themes are reflected in my professional and personal life.

Characteristics of the Input Theme

“You are inquisitive.”

Strengths Finder 2.0, p. 125

I would sum up this theme as being driven by curiosity. I am endlessly curious. I am interested in just about everything. I was the kid who read the ChildCraft Encyclopedia to learn new things every day.

“Yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity.”

Strengths Finder 2.0, p. 125

That describes me and my view of the world almost perfectly.

The Input theme also encompasses the acquisition of things and experiences, and I'm less inclined as an adult to collect tangible things.

You collect things. You might collect information — words, facts, books, and quotations — or you might collect tangible objects….

Strengths Finder 2.0, p. 125

I do have a sizable book collection, but I've had to start downsizing it over the years. And I've moved to Kindle (or PDF) for about 80% of what I'm reading now. I have an extensive collection of “information” in various Evernote folders and I love to curate content online. I used delicious for several years for bookmarking, before moving to systems.

I used to collect “things,” but eventually the lack of storage space and headaches of moving all the things became something of a burden, so I stopped collecting new things. I still have most of my old collections but they aren't on display. They're taking up space in my extra closets.

I love to take photographs to chronicle my travels and more local explorations. The photos serve as collections to remind me of experiences, even feelings, that emerged as a result of those places.

As I learned to cook during my early adolescent years I would expand my family's food horizon by cooking dishes I found in a cookbook called Food From Foreign Lands. I think that's representative of the Input theme.

The Input theme meshes well, I think, with Ideation and Learning because the Input reflects how I acquire the information needed to learn, grow and connect-the-dots between the disparate bits of information I need to see what's coming next, which is reflected in my Strategic theme.

My application of Input as a mechanism to feed my ability to generate new ideas and develop strategic plans is supported in this explanation of the Input theme by Brian Schubring of Leadership Vision Consulting.

Characteristics of the Intellection Theme

Intellection is all about thinking, exercising mental muscles. The Intellection theme encompasses a desire to have time alone to reflect on ideas.

Intellection is not particularly complicated: It's just about thinking, reflecting, musing. And it's not about thinking on “intellectual” topics. Thinking can be highly pragmatic, as well: What's for dinner? What just happened in that meeting?

Although I'm never so “lost in thought” that I miss an exit or turn on my drive home, I do like time to reflect on my day. I almost always wake up in time to have coffee at home while I journal, blog, or do some reflective activity to prepare me for the day ahead. I hate to have to roll out of bed, jump in the shower and dash off to work.

In reviewing some of the Ideas for Action in Strengths Finder 2.0 book, I ran across one that suggests explaining to coworkers why I like to work with the door closed. That makes sense.

Noise disturbs my thinking. My current office is located on a busy portico just off a primary entrance to my section of the building. Four faculty offices open into this portico and the sounds of their conversations with students carries directly into my own office. I suspect that those colleagues know why I close my door when it's not drop-in office hours, but students and other faculty probably do not. The faculty upstairs don't get the same amount of traffic passing by their doors each day so they probably don't understand why I close the door.

I found this blog post that provides a good description of how Intellection can play out in daily life. I'm actually good at listening to a complete conversation, rather than tuning someone out while I revel in processing something they just said. But that's something that comes with practice.

As a lawyer, it's necessary to listen to every word that's spoken in a negotiation or client interview. The time to process that information comes after hearing it. A lawyer who isn't listening is likely to miss a clue to how to move the deal forward.

I suspect that Intellection was highly relevant in 2007 when I was practicing law, more necessary than in my work as a college professor teaching undergraduates. You'd think that “thinking” is a big part of life as a college professor, but it's really not, at least not in a pre-professional degree program where students have little-to-no experience in real world application of the subject matter.

Relevance of Input and Intellection Themes Today

For reasons I've touched on above, I think Input and Intellection are both fairly dominant themes in my life, but Intellection has been less prevalent on the professional side of my life since I returned to academia in 2009. The courses I've been teaching don't require much deep thinking and reflection on my part. There's a lot of prep work and grading, but not deep due to the subject matter and nature of the degree program. [That was different when I taught and mentored graduate students while at Oklahoma State.]

Input is still quite relevant in my life, but it was probably replaced by Maximizer and Achiever as dominant themes because of a need for, and desire to, gain professional recognition at an academic institution where I seem(ed) invisible.

I suspect that if I took the Strengths Finder 2.0 test today, as I embark on a new chapter of my professional life, the dominant themes would be ranked this way:

  • Strategic
  • Ideation
  • Learner
  • Input
  • Maximizer
  • Achiever
  • Intellection

Although Achiever and Intellection might be reversed in order. In fact, it's hard for me to say where Achiever fits in the list. I do have a strong desire to do new things, start and finish new projects, but it's more of an internal drive for the most part. That said, I also have a need to “achieve” to be respected professionally, so it's not entirely internal. That, I suppose, relates to ambition and respect, which are different topics. So I digress….

Have you taken the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment? Do you think the themes reflect your true strengths and needs? Leave a comment. I'd love to connect.

Marketing Professional

Client Confidentiality & The Era of Personal Branding

I began my professional life as a business lawyer. I am honored and proud to be a lawyer and proud of the work I did as a lawyer during the 12 or so years that I practiced.

I love thinking through legal problems and solving legal puzzles. That said, I don’t like to sit behind a desk all day and I'm more into harmony than conflict resolution, so I’m unlikely to return to the active practice of law anytime in the near future.

One of the challenges I've run into is how to translate my extensive legal experience in the business world to land new business and career opportunities outside of the legal profession.

I typically have at least one conversation per week where another person says some variation of this:

“Wow, you have an awesome set of skills and expertise. I'll be you have career opportunities just flowing in all the time.”

I've been hearing this for well over 10 years, since I finished my dissertation and added the Ph.D. to my list of accomplishments.

Overqualified for the Corporate World

Too Interdisciplinary for Academia

The reality is that I've usually been labeled “over-qualified” in the corporate world.

Another way of putting it is that I'm deemed (by some) insufficiently narrow in my expertise to fill most jobs. For example, I don't do cost accounting, engage in supply-chain systems optimization, or initiate HR-best practices for outsourcing the workforce. I'm not sufficiently myopic in my pursuit of academic topics.

My expertise, the value I add, is all about understanding. I can quickly identify the relevant pieces to a puzzle, evaluate  how those pieces fit together, examine them in light of emerging trends, and create a viable strategy, solution or opportunity for something bigger and better.

That's what I did every day as a lawyer and legal-problem solver. I solved problems to prevent or minimize crises. That's what I've done in my smaller personal entrepreneurial ventures and volunteer efforts. And it's how I approach my work in the academic classroom. As a teacher, I use this approach to select and refine the subject matter in courses I teach and I strive to enable students to do the same as they prepare for a career in a world that is changing much faster than academia.

It's just as well that I'm deemed over-qualified for mid-level corporate management or analyst roles. I'm not interested in those types of jobs. I'd be bored out of my mind in a cubicle, doing the same spreadsheet analysis every day, writing Dilbert-esque reports or creating an awesome presentation for someone else to deliver.

No Boxes for Me

The reality is that people don't know what box to put me in. I don't like boxes, so I haven't made it easy. But that's really my strength.

If everyone is in the box, no one knows what's on the outside.

My professional life has been all about helping businesses and leaders expand their box, improve their box, or move from one box to a new box. I help students who realize there's life beyond the narrowly-defined career categories and specialties that academia offers them.

Practical Knowledge To Move Beyond The Status Quo

My strengths are the result of my ability to understand, comprehend and synthesize disparate bits of information. I am all about vision, strategy, innovation, change management, adaptability, communication, resilience.

I have developed and sharpened  myhighly practical business knowledge through more than a decade of of guiding businesses and high-net worth individuals in my law practice and through a lifetime of problem-solving, advancing my own skills, and engaging with the real world as a business owner and committed citizen.

Not only can I quickly grasp new ideas and understand things outside the realm of first-hand knowledge,  I have the ability to interpret that information, apply it, and communicate it to a new audience.

I've been a business owner and manager, as well as an employee at every level of an organization.

But my expertise goes beyond practical, applied tactics.

Through my Ph.D.-level academic work, I also understand the theory that explains or seeks to explain systems thinking, organizational development, leadership and communication.

Writer, Speaker, Advocate

As a paid writer and consultant, I have written more than a hundred published feature-length articles for trade magazines and newspapers. I have a huge portfolio of work as a copywriter for several ad agencies.

And I have extensive experience as a public speaker on a range of topics, from continuing legal education seminars to civic organization talks to leadership training workshops for college students and social media marketing for business owners. I've been active in public speaking since 4th grade when I won 1st prize in my school's 4H Club Public Speaking Contest.

I also have more than a few scholarly research papers and presentations in my dossier.

On top of all of those accomplishments, I have 2 decades of experience creating and publishing online content for fun and business.

So the reality is, traditional skills and job descriptions are too narrow to describe what I can do.

But the challenge I've often faced is how to communicate the specifics of real-world business challenges that I've resolved or helped to resolve without breaching client confidentiality.

How do I tell these stories?

Specifics in Law Practice

During the 12 or so years that I spent actively practicing law, I routinely represented small businesses and professional clients in 7-figure+ business transactions.Many of those 7-figure deals in the early to mid-90s would be 8-figure deals in today’s dollars.

The biggest transactions I handled usually involved the healthcare industry, and occasionally involved sales to major publicly-traded companies. My clients were sometimes the sellers, sometimes the buyers.

The deals often involved real estate and real estate developments. Sometimes, I was involved in writing and/or reviewing contracts ancillary to real estate development projects–like cable television delivery agreements or homeowner association governing documents.

Another big focus of my practice was new-entity formation and restructuring for business expansion into new projects. I formed a lot of LLCs and limited partnerships for real estate projects, healthcare and, occasionally, oil and gas.

Related to my general business work and my interest in intellectual property law, I handled trademark registrations and assisted litigators with cases involving business trade secrets. Occasionally, I reviewed contracts and advised authors on publishing matters and copyright law.

Contracts between professionals (usually MDs) and healthcare service providers was another focus of my law practice.

Estate and business succession planning rounded out my law practice areas. I had a mix of clients who needed guidance for estate and tax matters, but many had a high net worth and needed advice about how best to structure estate plans involving commercial real estate, manufacturing operations and/or other b-to-b and professional services firms.

My firm represented municipalities and quasi-government corporations involved in public/private activities, so I was also involved in work related to municipal financing. Once, I wrote updated regulations for delivery of cable TV services to a small municipality.

Owner and Manager

I was a shareholder (owner) in Rosen, Cook, Sledge, Davis, Carroll & Jones, P.A. (today, Rosen Harwood, P.A.). During those years, I had a range of management-level responsibilities, including hiring and managing employees and shaping the vision and future of the firm.

I've also owned my own, small law practice (as a sole-practitioner) where I was 100% responsible for all the business decisions. I've been self-employed as a freelance writer, as well.

Confidentiality Comes First

Confidentiality is one of the marks of an ethical lawyer so I have never promoted the details about the types of transactions I worked on. I've never even identified my clients outside of my law practice, except in a few situations where publicly-filed documents made it obvious that I represented someone or some business entity in a transaction or legal proceeding. Even then, I've never revealed anything more about the attorney-client relationship: “Yes, I worked on that” is about as much as I've ever said.

Unlike litigation, the work of a transactional lawyer is rarely public. The work is seen by the client, other lawyers and the clients of other lawyers who are involved in the negotiations or present at closings.

I often received thank-you letters from clients and referrals by the clients and other lawyers. But these are not the same as “Likes” on Facebook, so they aren’t something I feel I can display as a testimonial on my website.

So the challenge is finding a way to tell the story of all I've accomplished in my professional life, while maintaining the confidentialities of my business and estate planning clients and adhering to what I consider proper professional ethics and decorum.

In short, as I've said elsewhere, “tooting my own horn” is not my natural tendency.

I'd love to hear suggestions about how to handle this, especially if you're a lawyer!


Don’t Settle for Less Than Your Dream

Are you ready to give up on your dream? Do you feel knocked down by forces seemingly beyond your control? Does your path seem blocked by brambles, briars and boogey monsters?

Are you in a situation that hasn't turned out like you expected?

I've been there. Multiple times.

And I've learned is that I must push on, adjust course when necessary and, most importantly, never settle.

Life is a journey

Your dream, your vision, can only become reality by setting out on this journey and following a path that may not be on a map. In fact, the path to fulfilling your dream should not be on a map. If it is, you're following someone else's dream. If you can see every step to your destination, you may want to revisit your vision.

Settling for less is giving up. It means you're stepping off the path.

When I was in law school I had fairly prestigious summer associate experience with an well-established law firm in Miami. I had the opportunity to do securities work. I'd been planning a career in corporate law and I'd loved the course I'd taken in securities law. I spent most of the summer working on real estate limited partnership syndications, assisting with due diligence research and documentation. It might sound tedious to some, but I loved the work that summer.

Shortly after the summer associate program ended I received an offer for a job after graduation. I was set. So I thought. Dream job. Great vibrant city that was experiencing a renaissance. This was at the height of Miami Vice and Miami Sound Machine era. I had friends in the city. Everything seemed perfect.

Law school graduation finally arrived. My car was already loaded for the move and I hit the road shortly after the commencement ceremonies ended.

The first sign that something was amiss: When I arrived at the beachfront lodging where I'd lived the previous summer I found it a bit less savory than the year before. An understatement. The unit I was given was positively filthy. After one look, I told the manager that I wouldn't be signing the short-term lease after all.

I set out across town to look for a decent apartment that I could lease without a long commitment. I was tired from driving and frustrated by the need to find something on-the-spot. Spent the night in a hotel and the next day found an apartment way south of downtown. New complex, nice apartment, unfurnished. I ended up leasing a few pieces of furniture until I could figure out a better alternative. The where-to-live problem turned out to be minor.

Several of us new associates were starting on the same day and had arranged to work for a few weeks prior to taking time off to study for the bar exam. We were greeted with what was, for me, a bombshell announcement: The firm had recently “split” and most lawyers in the corporate division had left the firm to join another group. The firm's primary business was now, and for the near future, litigation, mainly insurance defense.

My hiring offer had been to work in the securities department but the firm now had no securities work and no securities department. We would all be starting our legal careers doing insurance defense and trial work.

Hmm. My entire law school experience had been designed to avoid litigation. I had zero interest in doing trial work. I'd prepared for environmental policy, business transactions, securities, real estate, even taken specialty courses in sports and agriculture law. But not trial law. Not litigation.

My dream job was going to be a nightmare.

I tried to make it work. I showed up dutifully each morning, after a 10-15 minute car commute followed by a 20 minute train ride to my downtown Miami office building. I slogged through depositions in medical malpractice cases involving “myocardial infarction.” That's when I learned the medical terminology for heart attacks and other conditions. I drafted legal memoranda on corporate negligence involving accidents in retail establishments.

I attended motion dockets and hearings on motions for summary judgment. Prior to these few weeks, the closest I'd come to a motion for summary judgment had been filing one in client folder in a filing cabinet during my undergraduate prelaw internship. I'd barely been into a courtroom. I'd certainly never been to a motion docket. In fact, I'm not sure I'd ever attended a real hearing in a real courtroom, despite having graduated from law school. That's how disinterested I was in litigation.

I tried. Two years isn't that long, I told myself. I could even look for something else as soon as I passed the bar exam. But I had to get over that hurdle.

Opportunities aren't always what they seem.

Sometime around the third week, I was called in to assist a junior partner on something. I did the research and wrote the motion or memo or whatever it was. He said he wanted me to accompany him to the hearing. OK. No red flags. It was a morning docket call and we took the Metrorail across town to the courthouse. After the hearing, he said he wanted to stop for breakfast. So we did that.

On the train ride back to the office we had to stand up and the partner kept moving around so that his midsection would bump into my hand holding on the pole. At first, thought it must've been an accident and just moved over. But when it continued after I started moving around, I realized that he wasn't accidentally falling into me. It was something more akin to an attempt at bump-and-grind. Became very obvious.

Back at the office, later, he asked to meet with me. He proceeded to tell me way too much about his home and personal life. More than one picture of his wife was on display in the office. He'd requested me as his primary associate and, although he didn't specifically say the words, it was clear that I'd have an “opportunity” to do more than simply write legal briefs and attend motions with him.

I found out from one of the other new associates that this wasn't the first time this guy had made women clerks and associates feel “uncomfortable.”

I was 24 years old. Not interested in becoming a litigator. Not interested in becoming a concubine. Not sure how to handle sexual harassment. Totally stressed out. The mental strain was affecting my efforts to study for the bar exam in the evening. Not sure what to do. No one in my life to provide advice and counsel about this situation.

Welcome to the real world, Sheree.

Within a week, I made an appointment with the managing partner and told him that I could not work with the firm. I used the litigation assignment as my justification. Didn't mention the sexual harassment stuff. Said it would be best if I didn't stay on longer because it wouldn't serve either the firm or myself to fake it. Better to leave now, yada yada.

I quit.

Barely one month after embarking on what I'd spent the past 7 or 8 years dreaming of and planning for, I quit. And I had to use the money my parents gave me for law school graduation to repay the portion of the signing bonus I'd used to set up my residence in Miami and make a downpayment on a new vehicle.

One of my dreams had been to travel around Europe with a friend that summer. We had purchased tickets and planned to leave on our month-long adventure immediately after taking the bar exam. My parents had given me the graduation money to pay for most of the trip. Since I had to use that money to pay back what I'd spent from the signing bonus, I had to cancel my travel plans.

No trip to Europe after the bar exam. Another dream put on hold.

Instead of having a dream job as a corporate lawyer at a nice salary after a month in Europe, I was unemployed, had a new car payment, no savings and no plan.

I refused to settle.

The choices I made in late June 1987 that year changed the course of my life. In hindsight, I think it was the universe telling me that corporate law was not my destiny. I'll explain why later.

Don't settle.