“Past Dreams”: A Young Lawyer’s Journey Through the Practice of Law
by Lauren Gilliam
I remember the first time I saw it. It was a simple, yet captivating photograph; a work of art to which I would often turn to help me comprehend my evolving path through life. It was an innocuous picture, really. At first glance, it was just a snow-laden forest with bare trees; in hues of black, white, and gray. Then, the title, “Past Dreams”, struck me and the photograph took on an entirely different meaning. There were bold, black trees in the forefront, drawing your focus, but never letting you forget about the muted trees behind, never letting you forget that it was your “past dreams” that lead you to your future.
Growing up and until my junior year in college, I never aspired to be an attorney. I wanted to be an international businesswoman, fluent in Spanish, and traveling often. After realizing a native Spanish speaker would be much better suited for the job, and that I had a lackluster interest in the study of business, the grandeur quickly faded. Then, I received a phone call from a family member. This family member was struggling to even have scheduled visitation with his daughter. It was then that my forest grew its first set of muted trees. International business had become a “past dream.”
Determined to become an advocate, I turned my sights to practicing law. I could fight the injustices happening everyday in the family courts, and I could speak for children who only had a whisper of a voice. I was an advocate for over a year before I began law school. It was heart wrenching to watch families destroy themselves, to see how the abusive or neglectful parent(s) had immersed their children into a world of pain. Before I knew it, I had another row of muted trees.
Unconvinced that the “best interests of the child” were usually “reunification with the family,” I knew I had to seek justice in a different way. I entered law school and quite quickly planned to earn a Concentration in Criminal Litigation Skills. I took every Trial Advocacy class offered. I interned in every prosecutor’s office in St. Louis. By the end of my first summer internship, I was determined that one day, I would earn my office on the twenty-second floor of the Federal Building. I would become an Assistant United States Attorney. This dream never faded, with time, it just became clear I was never destined for that road.
Finally, graduation came. I was one of the lucky few who had already scored a job in the field in which I wanted to practice. I drove two hours round-trip every day to a far-away county to become a prosecutor. I dove in head first and realized, not only did children need advocates, but so did many victims of crime, and I was prepared for the challenge. After about a year, another row of faded trees lined my forest- the county was suffering budget cuts.
Scrambling to find another job as a prosecutor, I took the closest job I could find. I would be a United States Probation Officer. I was back in the Federal Building, only, this time, on the second floor. I wrote presentence reports on offenders who had pled guilty. I was constantly swimming in paper, frustrated by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and knowing that most of the criminals deserved more time than they would ever see. I was constantly putting myself in danger, visiting the offenders’ homes, clad in a bulletproof vest and armed at all times. Meanwhile, my frustration with “the system” was showing up in the form of bright blue corrections shredding away my reports. Soon I realized that this job was just a quick-fix to my unemployment problem. Another row of muted trees sprouted up. Walking out of the Federal Building on my last day, I realized, I had no desire to ever return.
Six months had gone by and eventually I realized all of the trees in my forest were muted. I no longer cared to be a prosecutor. Starting off on the bottom rung at a private firm was not appealing either. One day, I received another phone call from a family member and my black trees were back.
If someone would have told me I would end up in the position I am in today, I do not know that I would have gone to law school. I am in the process of starting my own law firm, specializing in estate planning. Not the most glamorous field in the practice of law, but for me, the one that makes the most sense. I will be putting my business degree to use in this entrepreneurial adventure. I will be helping people focus not on the unpleasantness of death, but rather, helping them make informed decisions, thereby, crafting their own legacy. I will know how to treat my clients with compassion from the many years I have spent advocating for others. Most importantly, I will be my own boss, and I can control when trees fade and when new black ones come forward.
On that day that I first saw the photograph, I could have easily breezed by it. It was my good fortune that I stopped and took it all in. That particular photograph by David Lorenz Winston has led me through the twists and turns of life, has given them meaning and has given them purpose, and has given me the ability not only to persevere, but to enjoy the ride.