The Lady Lawyer: Kerslyn Featherstone, Esq.

Happy November!   So far, the Fall is off to a great start for me.  The weather has been crisp, but comfortable here in Washington, D.C.   Likewise, the majority of my cases have been relatively quiet as the holidays approach.  However, I’m sure many of you, particularly litigators, can relate there is usually calm before a storm.  Chaos is often right around the corner.

As I await the next surge of depositions, motions, witness meetings, and trials, I think back to July when I first-chaired a two week-long jury trial.  During that time I worked until 2 a.m. every night, seven days a week, over the week leading up to the trial and during the trial.  I breathed and dreamt witness testimony, evidentiary objections, and exhibits.  Needless to say, I neglected everything and everyone around me, including myself.    It was exhausting, but no one was irreparably harmed, and most importantly, we won!  So, all is well, right?  Probably not.   Considering how drained I was in the end, I recognize that tuning out the rest of the world is unrealistic, long-term, and for many it may be impossible now.

This month, I wanted to speak to a Lady Lawyer that does not have the luxury of tuning everything out.  Our November Lady Lawyer is a litigator and mom, Kerslyn Featherstone.

Kerslyn Featherstone, Esq.

Patricia Donkor (“PD”): Where are you from?

Kerslyn Featherstone (“KF”): Memphis, Tennessee

PD: Tell us what you do.

KF:  I am a Civil Litigator with the D.C. Office of the Attorney (“OAG”), in the Civil Litigation Division.  My official title is Senior Assistant Attorney General.  Prior to that, I was a Prosecutor with OAG’s Public Safety Division from 2003-2008.

PD: How many jury trials do you have in a given year?

KF: One to two.  They typically last 1.5 to 2 weeks.

PD: When do you get into trial mode?

KF: Depending on the complexity of the trial, I typically get into trial mode about a month before the trial.  In other words, that’s when I start meeting with witnesses, getting files ready, move around other assignments, and make time for the trial.

PD: Tell us about your kids.

KF: I am a mother of identical twin boys.  They are seven years old and in the second grade.

PD: So, as a mom and trial attorney, how do you balance those roles?

KF: It’s a balancing act between keeping up with them in general, their school, staying active in my community, managing a case load of thirty cases, and trying to make time for myself so that I am operating at my best.  It can be challenging, difficult, and almost impossible at times, but it is something that I have to do.  I have to figure out a way to make it work for my own sanity.

PD: What does that look like?

KF: For me, I have a shutdown period from about 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.  During that time, there is absolutely nothing going on in my head.  This is after I have put my kids to bed.  Even if I have taken work home with me, I will wait until after that down period to do that.  I spend an hour doing nothing, reading gossip blogs, or whatever makes me unwind.  My mom lives out of town, but she will sometimes come into town, like once a quarter, for a week at a time to give me an extra hand.  This gives me time to work out in the mornings or evenings, and gives me a break from having to rush home to help with homework.

PD: We are both trial attorneys, for me, I shut down when I’m in trial, but for you as a mother of two, this may not be possible.  How do you do it?

KF: As a single mother, which I am, I don’t have the ability to completely shut down.  I have to remain plugged in on some level.  Sometimes, my mother is able to come into town for my trials.  Within a week of trial, I go into shut down mode, but it is impossible for me to shut down completely.  I would love to, but a part of that balancing is actually performing the balancing act.

PD: What would you say to our mommy readers, who are litigators or thinking of litigating, about how you handle business while caring for yourself?

KF: Being a litigator you already have toughness about you and think you can do it all, but you don’t want that breaking point to come at your cost.  You have to make time for yourself, have to have an unplug period, have to pull that hour out for yourself, you have to eat lunch away from your desk, and you have to begin to start taking little breaks.  You will know when your body is telling you that you have done enough.  It is hard to give one answer that fits everyone. It depends on the situation and one’s level of comfort.   Everyone needs to find that balance for themselves.  Don’t believe that you can do it all.  Regarding work, if you are at a place that is requiring 18 hour days, that may not be a place for you.  There has to come a time when you decide whether the employer you are working with suits your needs for your ability to make time.  It’s a tough decision, but it’s a balancing thing.

PD: Do you think you find that you have mastered the ways to care for self?

KF: Absolutely not.  That is why I am affirmatively trying to make time for myself.  I have now started to accept that I can’t do it all.  You have to find your own center and once you do you will make the right decisions.  Don’t measure yourself by what someone else is doing.  Don’t look at another mom.  Look at your situation and make sure you are making the same decision for your family or career.  You can do more or less but that does not make you less of a mom or a lawyer.  People can look at me and think, “I don’t know how she does it.”  But I may be different.  In fact, at one point I would think I’m good, I’m good, but now I am taking more help.

PD:  Great advice!  Thank you so much for your time Kerslyn.

Self-care is subjective.  There is variation depending on work responsibility, home life, etc.  However, I think we all can agree it’s important.  I’m a work in progress.  Hopefully, through the exploration of this blog, I, and maybe you, will get closer to self-actualized self-care.

-Patricia Donkor

 

The Ethical Esquire

The Ethical Esquire

By: Maryam Hatcher, Esq.

Dear Ethical Esquire: I just passed the bar – yay! – and I had to sit through my state’s tedious professional responsibility seminar.  After hearing about all of the potential professional responsibility pitfalls, I am scared to death of getting disbarred!  After all – these student loans aren’t going to pay for themselves!  What’s a baby lawyer like me to do?

                    -Newbie ESQ*

Dearest Newbie: Congrats on getting through law school and passing the bar!  With all of the jokes out there decrying the seediness of our noble profession, you would think we don’t care a thing about ethics.  On the contrary, becoming a licensed lawyer often means that you have taken at least one professional responsibility course in law school, earned a sufficiently high score on the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), learned enough about state-specific ethics rule to pass your state’s bar exam, and provided a detailed explanation of every infraction in your life (from your parking tickets to that one time you fibbed to your fourth grade teacher about your dog eating your homework) via your character and fitness disclosures.  And then you have to meet your (sometimes yearly) ethics continuing legal education obligations.  Not many vocations can boast of quite so many safeguards to ensure that their professionals understand and abide by certain codes of conduct.

Nonetheless, each year thousands of lawyers throughout the country find themselves before their states’ attorney discipline boards for alleged violations of a myriad variety.  As brilliant as the Ethical Esquire likes to think she is, even she cannot explain in one blog post how each of these violations could have been avoided.  To claim otherwise would be, well…unethical of me.  However, knowledge is power and I encourage you to keep your post-bar exam enthusiasm for professional responsibility knowledge going by staying on top of changes in your jurisdiction’s ethical rules.  When you have a question about a professional responsibility issue, don’t ruminate quietly in your office until that sick feeling in your stomach goes away – seek an answer immediately!  If you’re feeling a bit lost on how to proceed, try these resources to help point your research in the right direction:

  • The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct (the “Model Rules”)
  • The American Bar Association’s Ethics Opinions
  • Your State’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which may differ from the Model Rules
  • Your State Bar’s Ethics Hotline
  • Your firm’s principal in charge of Professional Responsibility

Additionally, it goes without saying (and yet, here I am saying) that, to the extent that you have found yourself in violation of the rules, honesty and forthrightness are the best policies as you work to rectify those violations.

Ok, Newbie, I answered your general question with a list of general professional responsibility resources.  I hope that this information helps you sleep at night knowing that, while you will never hold all of the answers in your head at one time, the answer is in fact out there somewhere.  Seek it zealously.

Now – go forth and be ethical!

                       -EE           

*Disclaimer: “Newbie ESQ” is a fictional advice seeker.  This blog is satirical in nature and, though it aims to provide helpful guidance regarding professional responsibility dilemmas, it is not intended to offer legal advice.

Next month, the Ethical Esquire will tackle the purgatory-like period of time after you earn your law degree but before you’re licensed to practice law.  She will offer tips on how to navigate post-JD life like a champ and avoid getting called out by bar counsel for the unauthorized practice of law.  Stay tuned!