Launching Into Lady Lawyerhood

Nov 9, 2021

Join lady lawyers Susan Reff and Joy Kathurima as they go over all the trials and tribulations of being a lady lawyer. From public and private backlash to school vs actuality, down to what you wear, launching into lady lawyerhood is so much more than meets the eye.


Susan Reff: On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk about the experiences that we’ve shared as women lawyers, from sexism in court to social perceptions of women, lawyers and even some misperceptions, along with the double standards that women lawyers face. That’s next on the Lady Lawyer League.

Announcer: Welcome to the Lady Lawyer League podcast. They are a league of lady lawyers and an all female law firm in Omaha, Nebraska, called Hightower-Reff Law. On this podcast, you’ll hear stories of what it’s like to be a lady, lawyer and an entrepreneur. Now it’s time to talk about the law. Share real life stories about representing clients and discuss the current events of the week. It’s the Lady Lawyer League podcast with Susan Reff and Tracy Hightower-Henne.

Susan Reff: With me today is Joy Kathurima.

Susan Reff: And welcome back, Joy. Hello, happy to be back.

Susan Reff: And really exciting stuff happening around here. We just celebrated Joy’s one year anniversary with our law firm, law adversary.

Joy Kathurima: Yes, my law adversary. I am now officially one year into my practice of being a lawyer.

Susan Reff: Golf clap. Yeah, yay. And then we also celebrated my 20th year anniversary of being a lawyer. Yes. So yes, golf claps again. Seal claps it. So I have been an attorney for 20 years, but I have been with high tariff law. We are going into our tenth year, so that will be coming up in twenty twenty two, but twenty years overall of practicing and one year overall of practicing.

Joy Kathurima: Yes, and we had a great creamery, did a great truck in the parking lot for Susan’s anniversary. It was delicious, their cookies and their ice cream and it was a beautiful day to celebrate.

Susan Reff: Yeah, ice cream and cookies are my I mean, I clearly so this is what I said to people. Clearly, I have a sweet tooth when I got to pick what I wanted for the party and I said ice cream. And then I I really wanted to work with E Creamery because it’s a woman owned business. It’s a locally owned business, not a chain. And I know they had partnered with Carsons Cookie Fix, and they do like cookies and ice cream. I mean, who doesn’t love cookies and who doesn’t love ice cream? Mm hmm.

Joy Kathurima: They were a hit. Everyone loved them, and the combinations were so good.

Susan Reff: So good. Yeah. And it’s not just like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. It was some gourmet ice cream flavors. I think I’m still recovering from the sugar and the dairy, though.

Joy Kathurima: Yeah, they were very generous with those scoops of ice cream. Like when I got mine, I was like, Oh my gosh, I I already knew I was like, This is too much dairy for me. But you know what? You only live once, right?

Susan Reff: And people were ordering like they were saying, Can I have a smaller size for my kid? And even those were giant. So it was a lot of ice cream.

Joy Kathurima: Aaron’s daughter, one of them she like, scooped up the whole scoop of ice by herself and confidently got it to her mouth. Didn’t drip that much, surprisingly, but for a two year old, did

Susan Reff: She put it in her mouth like the whole thing?

Joy Kathurima: She couldn’t put it all in her mouth, but she really, she tried. She was so awesome

Susan Reff: That well, and we wanted to have an event that would be family friendly. So ice cream, of course, is always family friendly versus going to the bar.

Joy Kathurima: Yes, yes.

Susan Reff: And so how did how did you celebrate your one year?

Joy Kathurima: I don’t think I’d actually did anything special specifically for that day. It felt surreal because it feels like the year either has gone by really fast or really slow, depending on how I view it, because it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here for a year or been in practice for a year. But when I look back at the calendar, I’m like, Yeah, I guess a year did pass. I don’t know if I feel I feel like I knew more than I did, but I still don’t feel like I know that much sometimes so. Still getting the hang of it?

Susan Reff: Well, I’ll tell you, at 20 years, I feel like I know less than I probably did in the beginning because and people say this all the time. As you get more into your career, you start to recognize things that you just glossed over before because you’re better at looking for details. So every day, I feel like I learned something new or I see something and I’m like, Wow, I’ve been doing that wrong all along, or I miss that in all of those other cases, so hopefully I can help you to to maybe see some of these things sooner in your career than later. Yeah, but a couple of the things we wanted to chat about was kind of a comparison of what it’s been like for joy, you know, and what it’s been like for me when we first started. And then I can kind of juxtapose like, oh, well, after 20 years, has that changed? Is it the same and some some good things and some challenges, maybe that we have both experienced and maybe in in the same ways or different ways because we’re different people? Mm hmm. Enjoy. Went to University of Nebraska College of Law. Is that how they say it? University?

Joy Kathurima: Yes. University of Nebraska College of Law.

Susan Reff: I said it correctly, yes. And so coming out of there, you know, coming to Omaha to practice, I know there’s kind of this whole thing like, well, Omaha is full of Creighton lawyers. Did you feel like that at all or have you felt that?

Joy Kathurima: I haven’t felt that as much as I thought I would. There is that stigma. Very much so associated that like Omaha, like if you want to practice in Omaha, you should go to Creighton. If you want to practice in Lincoln or in Greater Nebraska, then you’re going to go to the University of Nebraska. I haven’t necessarily found that to be true, but I guess I also don’t ask a lot of the other like opposing counsels where they went to law school. So I don’t know if they’re Creighton grads or not. But I will say there are far more Creighton grads up here than Nebraska. Grads, though, are office now. Has more Nebraska grads than Craig GBR. Ooh. But yeah, I don’t think the I feel like a lot of the judges up here, though, are from Creighton versus the judges in Lincoln. There are a lot of Nebraska

Susan Reff: Grads, judges wise, for sure. Do do people ask you?

Joy Kathurima: No one has asked me. They I’ve had a couple of people ask me when I graduated. And I mean, I think that’s a product of just looking young and which is, I mean, fair. But some of them, you know, if they’ve been practicing for a while, I’m sure they’re not going to tell me. But some of them will be like, You know, I’ve been doing this for longer than you’ve been alive, and I’m like, Congrats for you. I guess, like, that’s really great, but it doesn’t mean that, you know, more than me all of the time or that you are automatically right because of that. But. Well, let’s

Susan Reff: Talk about that comment. Like, I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive. I mean, that isn’t the answer of, well, how long have you been practicing law? Like, right, that’s there’s there’s a motive behind that. And the motive, I think, is probably to tell you that they think they’re great and they’re better than you and that there’s no way you could know as much as them.

Joy Kathurima: Yeah, I feel like it’s definitely more of an intimidation thing. Yeah. Trying to be like, Oh, this is a collegial thing about how much we’ve been in practice and stuff. Yeah, I know more. It’s like how in Matilda, like he’s like, I’m bigger than you. I’m smarter than you. I know more than you like. It feels like that that more so than it’s supposed to be like, Yeah, I have been around and I have things that I could share or tips that I could teach you about how to get into the practice of law or how to make the transition smoother does not

Susan Reff: Feel like that. Yeah, it’s like a bullying tactic. Kind of veiled as conversation, yes. Or like a little jokey thing, which is so stupid. Mm hmm. Yeah. And I’m guessing I’m just going to guess joy. And you can tell me if I’m wrong, that most of the people who’ve said that to you are men.

Joy Kathurima: Yes, they have been. They have been men. I have had a couple women call me like honey or babe, which is disconcerting because I’m like, I don’t know you like that. My mother does not call me any pet name. So it’s weird that you, as a woman, I do not know are calling me a pet name. Also, why and for what reason or purpose. But it definitely feels like one of those like this is supposed to be like Girlboss stuff. And I’m like, Yeah, no, this is just weird because I don’t know you and pet names seem weirdly personal. Yeah, but yeah, it was. It has been men who have talked about how long they’ve been in practice versus women who do that. I think women are generally like, Oh, that’s really cool. That’s great that you’re already and you’re already here doing your own like hearing or whatever. But yeah. Mm hmm.

Susan Reff: So when I was a brand new lawyer, I worked at the public defender’s office right out of law school. And so immediately, you know, I walk in the door and they’re like, Here’s your caseload, go to town, you know, courts over there, which was great for me because that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be in the courtroom, but I immediately got questioned by my clients like, Well, you’re not. You can’t be very experienced or you’re very young. Like this. Is this your first case? Have you ever had a trial like things like that? And sometimes the answer had to be yes. Like, Yes, this is my first trial. Like, everybody has to have their first trial or their first hearing or their first case. And you know, one of the things with the public defender’s office that I think people don’t think about is, I mean, I was in the courtroom every single day, day in, day out. The judges knew me. The judges knew kind of like how I was going to approach a case. So to say, like I wasn’t experienced was crazy talk, because right away, I mean, after being a week in the public defender’s office, I probably had more trial and courtroom experience than someone, maybe even a year who’s in private practice just because of the nature of the caseload. So I would I would say that to people all the time, and after a while, I just kind of would say, Well, you know, I’m the attorney that the judge appointed to represent you. So this is what you get. And if we sit here talking about this, we’re wasting our time like, let’s just talk about your case. And it’s kind of that idea, too of sometimes people deflecting a little bit to like, I don’t want to talk about me because I did something wrong. I want to talk about you.

Joy Kathurima: Do you feel like after a couple of years, it got better where people stopped asking you how long you’d been doing it?

Susan Reff: Yeah. And I, you know, I developed my like routine of how I would talk to people, and I basically when people would start to talk like that. And even now, when people badmouth public defenders, I kind of let them know like, I’m not, I’m not listening to that. You know, there’s this kind of. Thought of like once a always APD, because you you have that mindset and, you know, we’ll get calls here, someone like will want us to be their lawyer instead of their public defender, and they’ll talk bad about him and I’m like, I’m not putting up with that. And like, those are things that just you learn over time, like, well, I could let them talk and talk and talk and talk, and I could try to reason with them and blah blah blah. But it’s just not going to work so. But I remember when I was a brand new attorney. People would comment on how young they thought I looked, and in my head I didn’t feel like I looked incredibly young or anything. But I remember my dad and I were talking and he was like, You, you look younger than you are and you need to portray that you’re an attorney like right off the bat. And so when I was a new lawyer, I always wore a suit. Never, never did I not wear a suit. I mean, I was like in a matching suit to like it was like pants, jacket, skirt, jacket, blouse, like because I didn’t ever want to not be perceived as the attorney.

Joy Kathurima: So I think that’s interesting because I think that perception carries over in different ways for me, because I think one being a woman and then to being a black woman means that the ways in which I’m perceived in the courtroom are different. So it’s like depending on how I style my hair. I mean, you know, I have a nose ring. The judges don’t know that because I’m still wearing a mask in the courtroom right now because of COVID. But those things that are whether is this profession or is this not professional or are these considerations that I need to take, like when I get my braids, I’m like, Well, I like my braids. Like, right now I have like blonde braids. I keep forgetting that word. You can’t. People can’t. People can’t see. Yes, like right now I have like homebrewed of blonde braids, and I love this color on me. But it’s like I had the thought, I’m like, Is this professional or is it not? And I’m like, Well, I like it, and I will still be a good lawyer with how whatever way my hair looks or whether I decide to wear a bad rap or not. And I think that, you know, the ways in which women are, like, asked to be professional or think about professionalism are not necessarily the same way.

Joy Kathurima: Like male attorneys might have to think about it because for them, it’s like there’s only one style of suit you can wear, right? You know, you can add a funky sock or add a funky tie, but it’s like women. It’s like, OK, if you decide to wear like dress versus a pant suit versus a skirt suit versus no panty hose and hose versus heels versus no heels, it’s like there’s so many factors. And I remember in our trial ad class they had talked about how just like jury perceptions of the way that they consider women attorneys and how they like, what is their nail color look like, what you know, like what are they wearing makeup? Did they put blush on? Did they are they wearing a skirt suit with heels, with pantyhose? Because that seems more attorney light than a woman in a pantsuit? Right? It’s like, who cares? Like, I’m still your attorney. Like, obviously, I look, I’ll wear a suit to court, but a pantsuit versus a skirt suit? Yeah, but it’s interesting that it’s still it’s still pervasive in the ways in which professionalism and how women have to be taken

Susan Reff: Seriously on that line, too. I know a lot of attorneys who do a lot of jury trial work, who are single people will wear a wedding ring for their jury trials, men and women because they’ve been told that people perceive people who are married to be more trustworthy. And some people who are married just don’t even wear a ring, right? So a lot of them just have like a band that they’ll wear. Just so there’s like this perception that they’re a trustworthy person. So you should listen to me and, you know, find in my favor.

Joy Kathurima: So, so interesting. Yeah, it’s like what makes marriage great for someone who liked you enough to marry you, that you you’re now more trustworthy? Like, that’s funny to me, but it’s interesting that that’s like the perception. Like, attorneys know that and are like, OK, for me to get a favorable outcome for my client. I also need to be doing X Y Z, including wearing a fake wedding ring if I’m not married, right?

Susan Reff: So interesting. One of the, you know, the big misconception conceptions I had when I became an attorney, and I think we chatted a little about this is that like everyone would come to work or come to a case equally prepared, you know, everyone was going to be collegial. You know, those kinds of things, you know, have you had those experiences too?

Joy Kathurima: Yes, absolutely. I think that the perception of attorneys generally is that like, you know, they’re super smart, super hardworking, super like, know their stuff. And then in law, because law school doesn’t teach you how to become a lawyer, you know, they teach you how to think like a lawyer. I think that’s the brand like the the little sticker point for it, but you don’t actually learn the intricacies of it until you’re in it. And I think that there’s some. Attorneys who I think the perception by clients is like, you know, everyone’s on it or you’re their only case, so you’re always only communicating about their case and they’ll be like, Well, why haven’t you received a response from my spouse opposing counsel? I’m like, There don’t have to respond to me. It would be nice if they did. That would make the case a lot easier if they did, but they’re not obligated to respond to settlement letters or they’re not obligated to respond in a timely manner, even if I’m responding to my client in a timely manner. They could wait three weeks to get back to our email request, and I think that part can sometimes feel frustrating because you’re like, I’m I come to work to do my job and do it well for my clients. And whether I think that the opposing counsel is not doing their job well by responding, you know, super late or not responding at all. It’s frustrating from our client. Our clients have to explain that to them. And then they’re just like, Well, so I just have to wait and I’m like, Yeah, like, I can’t go to the court and order that he communicate with me, right? It’s like he’ll they’ll respond or they won’t. But yeah, I think that the pedestal that attorneys are put on, I don’t know if it’s well deserved.

Susan Reff: No. Right? I, I, I I’ve had those same challenges, joy with my clients. And you know, you’ll you’ll call the other side and you’ll leave a message or you’ll email them with something kind of simple even. And no, you know, crickets for weeks sometimes. And I think I don’t like I don’t like to walk out the door at the end of the day with a lot of loose ends like things not done and especially easy things. So to to practice where you’re basically ignoring people. And I know were the other side but like to just ignore us is it’s that is just foreign to me, and I don’t think anyone here practices that way. And the idea of just like, I’m just not going to respond. And then, yeah, like then the client is saying to us, Why is this taking so long? I don’t know. I mean, we could sit around and try to figure it out. I mean, sometimes there’s valid reasons, you know, health issues, deaths and families, you know, kids sick, whatever. But there’s also just people are lazy or it’s not a priority. And I mean, I’m at the point now where I’ll tell people like, well, in my experience working with this attorney, this is normal. Mm hmm. You know, they don’t respond right away. They they’re going to make us hound them. And then and then we have to decide, are we going to spend our client’s time and money and chase down that other lawyer? Because every time we do that, you know, that’s work on the case where we have to bill. Or is it better to just kind of wait, Laylo, hopefully that other person is going to get around to it, you know, like, that’s a decision we have to make.

Joy Kathurima: And that balance is so hard to find because it’s like you’re trying to get to an outcome or cloke case closure. Yeah. And then yeah, because you’re spending your client’s money and if the other the opposing party just is not or opposing counsel, just as like, I’ll get to you when I get to you, which is fine. Obviously, no one’s entitled to anyone’s time, but it can be. It’s incredibly frustrating to deal with. In that part, I think was the hardest part of transitioning into. It was like I assumed that other people would be respectful of others time or my time. And that’s not the case. It’s like you kind of have to put the value on your own time and be like, OK, well, I did this for my client. I can’t control what the other person does with it. Very, almost therapy. Like like, I can’t control other people’s actions, right? I’ve done what I can for my client’s case in this situation, and I’ll until I hear back a response or our next hearing date, then we’ll have to figure it out or what our next steps should be

Susan Reff: Along those same lines. One of the things that I have learned over the years that’s similar is, you know, people always say, Well, don’t take things personally, and I don’t really think I take things personally. But like, there’s a way to walk into court and be a really strong advocate for your client and poke holes in my case and tell the judge why my case is not as strong as their case. There’s a way to do that that isn’t just ridiculous. And there’s some lawyers who it it’s not personal, but you just can’t respect them anymore. You know, you walk out and then they walk out and they’re like, Hey, you know, what’d you do last weekend? And you’re like, Shut up, I don’t. I mean, like. And it’s not me taking it personally. It’s just me now thinking, like, are you kidding? Like, I’m not going to sit and chitchat with you after you took your argument to that level. And. Even if they didn’t make it personal, but they’re just so outrageously attacking us, you know, like I’ve had, I’ve had other attorneys, you know, pretty much say that we’re lying when we’re not lying, we’re strong advocates for our clients, you know, I mean, I would never, you know, put forth false evidence to a judge knowing that it was not true.

Susan Reff: Now I did, I did. I’ll tell the story. I did have a trial one time where my client had given me all these emails between him and his ex, and I presented them as evidence and they looked a little funky. You know, sometimes emails print out different depending on the platform, right? And she was like, I never sent those emails that I never saw that what he wrote. And I never I never responded like because it was the chain, you know, both parties. And after a while, I I started to think that my client was had given me stuff he made up, you know, like he could just type it out on word and make it or whatever and make it look like an email. And I was like, This is terrible. Like, This is horrible. But I didn’t know that at first. Like, I had no idea that she was going to say that.

Joy Kathurima: What do you do in that situation? Do you just tell the judge that you think that this is not real?

Susan Reff: Well, when I think it was like mid trial where I got to the point of like, I yeah, I mean, she can’t say that like. And these weren’t really like that big of a deal emails, either. I just was like, I’m not going to offer any more of these emails. You know, I just said, I’m not doing this anymore. And then we the case was over and he didn’t get what he wanted, and he came back later and wanted to hire us for a modification. And I was like, We’re not taking your case. You know, you’ve got to find a different attorney. Mm hmm. So but you know, when lawyers like act so self-righteous in the courtroom and so and then they want to like, be chummy with you after I don’t know if you’ve had that experience yet or you’ve seen that as a trend, but it it happens a lot.

Joy Kathurima: Yeah, I think mine is sometimes the communication via email comes off, maybe snarky or ruder. And you know, everyone can. You can read any tone into an email. Yeah. And then how versus how opposing counsel is in person. And so I’m always just like, which one are you like? Is the person who’s very nice to me in court or the person who sounds a little bit rude and email like, who? Who actually are you as a person or as an attorney? And which one should I be preparing for? To be arguing against? Or should I be a little bit more aggressive? Or can we have a conversation where it’ll be? You know, the results will be what the results will be that the judge decides, but it’ll still be amicable. I think that part’s been interesting for me.

Susan Reff: One of the things I can say that I think has changed in the 20 years that I’ve been practicing now. I started practicing as a criminal defense attorney and then I started doing family law after being a criminal defense attorney for seven years. And what I can say is when I started practicing, there was definitely a presumption in custody cases that kids should be with mom most of the time. And that change came probably 10 12 years ago, I think. But I think there’s still a perception of people who don’t come to court very often or at all ever that that that’s still out there. You know, like dads are like, I’ll never get custody or I’m assuming she’s going to get custody. And you know, I think now at least, you know, in the in the counties where we practice, most of our judges look at a case and say, you know, these these people have been parenting their kid for however long the kid’s been around. You know, if the kid’s three for three years, there’s no reason that just because they’re splitting up, that that should change unless there’s a really good reason, you know, and that’s really hard to explain to clients to because generally one of them feels like they’ve done most of the parenting.

Joy Kathurima: Absolutely. And I think especially once people get riled up and whatever Facebook groups, their friends, group chats who are like, You’re going to get the kids one hundred percent of the time, he’s going to have to pay child support, alimony, all of these things. And then you spend most of the console being like, Well, that’s not true. Your friends went to Google School of Law. Google will tell you whatever Google wants you to hear. Whatever you want to hear, you can find it. And so it’s you spend a lot of time like, I’m working that and being like, no more likely than not, the two of you will have joint custody like everyone should have access to their kids if they’re a good parent. Yeah. And the bar to be a good parent by the law. Any low,

Susan Reff: So basically, you’re either abusing your kid or you’re a good parent or you’re a good parent, there’s no like.

Joy Kathurima: Yeah, yeah. So I’m not taking kids to doctor’s appointments. That’s not enough for them to not have custody, right?

Susan Reff: Right. They’re terrible with money. Ok. You know, did they still have a roof over their kid’s head and food on the table? Ok. They’re not a bad parent, right? Yeah. So, you know, I think some of those just gender stereotypes kind of in general, maybe are changing and more. You know, I don’t know, like, was your law school class equal men and women or.

Joy Kathurima: Yeah, ours was a little bit more women than men. I think the last couple of classes at the law school were like that where there was more women than men, but not by a lot. It was close. It was pretty close to 50 50.

Susan Reff: Though I heard a statistic that more women start law school, less women finish law school and then even less women actually work as attorneys. And I wonder, you know, and they they talk a lot about the, you know, demands of being an attorney on women and especially women who want to have families and the, you know, I mean, it is a male dominated field still to this day and to for anyone to say that it’s not I don’t know what La La land they’re living in, but you know, just even basically because we’re being judged on how we look when we go into the courtroom and how we, you know, present our case, all of that when it shouldn’t be that way. But, you know, women end up either not using their law degree or kind of like flexing to something that is like a lateral to being a lawyer. Like a lot of women work in insurance with law degrees, I think they work as in-house counsel, so they’re still lawyering, but they’re not the traditional lawyer.

Joy Kathurima: Yeah. And it makes sense because it’s like a lot of law does require a lot of after hours work if you’re prepping for a trial. And I think the Work-Life Balance Part has been the most interesting thing of trying to develop in this first year.

Susan Reff: So one of the things I wanted to talk about, too, is so I’m I’m married. You’re not married. But when I started my legal career, I was unmarried and I was dating, and it was really interesting how people reacted in social settings when I would say I was a lawyer. Men and women, but mostly men, you know, like you would meet people and their, you know, people to get to talking like, What do you do? Oh, I’m a lawyer.

Joy Kathurima: Oh yeah, the oh with the high, with the little little on it. That’s the reaction. Every time I told, I told my doctors, my nurse, my doctors, she’s like, Oh, you’re a lawyer? And I’m like, Don’t say it like that. I was like, Yeah, it’s not. I did work hard to get here. It’s not that I’m saying I did it, but it’s like after being in practice, I’m like, There’s some people who make it here that I’m like, How did you make it here, too? Because I felt like I worked really hard and here you are, like skating along. Yeah. So it’s interesting. And you know, when dating, I don’t. I’ve talked to some of my other friends who are lawyers who are also dating, and they’ve talked about how, particularly if they’re dating men, that it can sometimes scare some men off. When you say that you’re a lawyer because they’re like, Oh, oh, oh, oh yeah. And they’re like, Oh, OK, because either they think you make more money than them or you have, you know, yes, higher status, career or whatever the case is. And it’s like,

Susan Reff: Or you’re a crazy, powerful, aggressive bitch.

Joy Kathurima: Yes, or that part, that part, you’re like, you’re going to get dominated. Maybe. I don’t know, dude. Like, if you’re not confident in yourself, then it’s never going to work with anybody. But sure, yeah, feel some type of way about it.

Susan Reff: So when I met my husband, we were in a social setting and we were we got past the. Who are you? What? How like, what’s your name? Blah blah blah. That stuff. And he was like, Well, what do you do? And I said, Well, I said, I’m a lawyer. And he was like, Oh, do you know, judge so-and-so? And he said this judge’s name. And I said, Well, yeah, it was one of the District Court judges. And my husband had just gotten divorced and that was his judge. And so he wanted to talk smack about the

Joy Kathurima: Judge, which was a little

Susan Reff: Bit of a different experience than I’d had with other people. But I was in one social setting. I had this group of friends and there was like, you know, five to ten of us that would go out on the weekends and we went to this party and it was, I think it was a holiday party and there was a group of people kind of sitting around kind of quiet, more quietly talking. And I was in that group and it got, you know, talking about what people did. And I was a public defender at the time, and this guy really wanted to challenge me about how could I represent those people? And he got he was so attached. Hacking towards me that people in this group started to like leave like the little circle area where we were sitting and like, go like, well, this is really uncomfortable and he’s totally attacking her. So I’m going to go back over there where the people are talking about, you know, Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve and like fun stuff and you know, most. So at the time, you know, I got I would be super defensive, you know, like, well, everybody has a right to have an attorney. And now I think if I was in that position, I would just be like, Well, if you don’t understand, you know, it’s not for me to make you understand, you know?

Joy Kathurima: Yeah. And it’s interesting in those social settings, like when someone learns that you’re a lawyer and then they’re like, Well, I just have a quick question. Oh my gosh. And you’re like. And then they’ll either. Sometimes they’ll ask you a question in an area of like, they’ll ask me a question about like their workers’ comp or something. And I’m like, I don’t practice that area. And they’re like, But you’re a lawyer. I’m like, Yeah, here’s the thing. I was like, There’s a lot of areas of law. I was like, You and I both know the same amount of that information about that specific issue. I could just tell you where you need to file your complaint. That’s about it. Yeah, it’s and or the messages. I think we were talking like the messages on Facebook that you get or after I got barred, I got a couple of messages from people I went to high school with who I had not spoken to since I went to high school with, who were like, Hey, I just had a quick question, and I’m literally like, I don’t know anything. I just took the bar. I know zero percent of anything. But here’s here. Here’s a Google resource that I found from a quick Google search and

Susan Reff: Well, it helps you. Yeah, and we talk a lot about that here, too. Like if someone reaches out to you in a social setting like you’re at a party or they’re texting you, or they’re using social media to reach out to you and they ask you a substantive legal question like they’re not our client first. It might not be our area of the law. Second, we don’t know all the facts. I mean, think about like when we take on a new client, we have done a full hour consultation with them. We’ve reviewed documents that they’ve given us and that we can find online. If there’s already an open case, it’s like. And even then, we are just starting to formulate the case. And these people are like text, text, text, OK, what should I do? And you’re like, There’s so much more. And you know, we talked a little bit in our one of our lawyer meetings about how should we respond is. And Tracy had a situation. I think she told us about where someone kind of danced around like, Hey, can can I, uh, do you have time to answer a quick question for me? And she was like, Well, I’m really busy, you know, can you tell me a little bit more about what it is so I can maybe help you? And she’s like, Well, it’s a family matter. And Tracy’s like, Oh my gosh, like, is that going to be a legal question? Or is that like, I know this person?

Joy Kathurima: So we’re getting a surprise party. Yeah, tell me about

Susan Reff: Yeah, or you’re you, you know, so it’s like, how? I mean, I have a lot of friends who are doctors and nurses and work in the medical. I would never think to Facebook message them and say, like, here’s my problem, what should I do?

Joy Kathurima: I mean, I do do that because my mom’s a nurse, so all my texts will be like rapid fire like this. This is everything that’s wrong with me. Please diagnose me. But a mother that is your mother, she burns me. So it’s like a different situation than just a random Facebook friend where you’re like, Yeah, hey, give me this time of yours. That is very important. Or messaging you like on the weekend or something and then being upset that you’re not responding. It’s like you’re asking me to give you like a free consultation with my own personal time, as though I don’t have things that I’m trying to do that I enjoy with my friends and family. So. Right?

Susan Reff: Just because you thought of it in the middle of your Sunday doesn’t mean I have to respond. Mm hmm. And I think, you know, we talk a lot about why, why do people do this to lawyers? And, you know, we don’t make anything, you know, we don’t fix. We don’t like, climb under your sink and fix your leaky pipe. So there’s not something to like. Look at at the end of the day, and we didn’t make you a product and give it to you and then you give us money. So people think it’s just so much easier to just be like, Hey, can I pick your brain? Mm hmm. Because we don’t have a product, we’re a service, you know, profession,

Joy Kathurima: And our product is often just like paperwork. Like it’s not something that necessarily like a doctor will heal. Like, you know, they’ll put a Band-Aid or you’ll physically feel better after you have surgery, but it’s like, it’s like, OK, we helped you through this really difficult time. Maybe five years from now you’ll feel better, but will you think of your lawyer will know better, you know, so it’s like, no, they there’s no correlation to what we’re doing to help that. Yes, in that like tangible way that some other professions have.

Susan Reff: I I flip flop between. We’re a hired brain and we’re a hired mouth mouthpiece

Joy Kathurima: Speaker

Susan Reff: For our clients because they’re hiring us for our knowledge and our ability to advocate for them in court. So, you know, I think lesson learned for some people is if you know anybody who’s a lawyer, if you want their help, schedule a consultation, pay them for it just like you would any other professional.

Joy Kathurima: Ask them, Where do they work? What is the phone number for your office? And that’s all. You need a message? Yes. And then go from there for making your appointment.

Susan Reff: Yeah, I want I wanted to circle back to your comment about the pet name thing. I didn’t jump in right away. But so this is not happened to me where older women lawyers have used pet names towards me. Mm hmm. So I’m interested. I want more details.

Joy Kathurima: One was during a phone call and then one was via email. And it was just, I think, for the email. I think for the other person during the phone call, it definitely sounded like it was just like a that’s just a how they talk and weren’t thinking, you know what they were saying or what, like, it wasn’t intended to be like a little. Yeah, like a pat on the head. It was more just like, Yep, thanks, babe. Like, and you know, going on. But babe, it was just like was like, I was just like, kind of startled by it. I think this one, they call me hun, and I was just like hun. I was like, That’s a little bit like, Oh, I know that that probably. But like, slipped out. But it was very much so. I was like, I’m not your hun, and don’t call me that. But. Well, because I think to say it in the time of like, don’t call me that.

Susan Reff: Yeah, I can think of one female attorney who’s been practicing probably 15, 20 years more than me even. And she’s from the south and she just plays that, you know, that role really well. And I think she calls everybody some, you know, name besides their actual name, and she has a very deep southern drawl. And I’m not sure if that’s who it was,

Joy Kathurima: But it was not OK. And that one would have been that one could have almost had a pass because it’s like, OK, that’s just where you’re from. Yeah, I get it culturally, I get it. But this one, I was just like, What is happening? And it happened so quickly that it was just like after I hung up, I was like, Did she just call me hun? And then I was like, She did. I was like, That’s weird. It’s like, Why should I have said I was like, Well, it’s too late now.

Susan Reff: Yeah, but you noticed it.

Joy Kathurima: I did. Yes, I did notice it. And it’s just like different things like that, like that kind of play into what it’s like feeling like a new attorney like, you know, you and I have talked about and I’ve talked about even with Deanna, too, particularly as attorneys of color, what that feels like. And you know, my last name is not difficult. I don’t think it’s difficult, but it’s been a kind of a recurring issue where judges don’t know how to say my name or they’ll say it wrong, and then I have to correct them and I correct them every time because it’s my name. I was given to it by my parents. I feel very strongly about my name and I love my name and you know, people should pronounce it correctly. And so, you know, and there’s the judges of who have mispronounced have been, you know, taken it kindly when I’ve said, No, it’s Katharina. That’s how you say it. Yeah, if anyone is out there. Yeah, exactly how it’s spelled. Yeah, it’s it. Just maybe it looks difficult because there’s more vowels. If you see my middle name and see my last name, you’ll be like, Oh my gosh. Very ethnic, which it is because I am Kenyan, but it’s like, So that part has been a little bit difficult, but I always stand like in my ground of always correcting. Even if it is a judge, I’m like, I don’t care who you are, this is how you say my name. And it’s if it’s going to be the court reporter typing my correction in there. Yeah, great. That’s fine. But that part, I think, has been a little bit difficult in always having to say or correct pronunciation of my name or correct perceptions. I mean, like, no, I am the lawyer. That’s that’s me. Yeah, I’m not a client or someone waiting for something else like, it’s me here.

Susan Reff: Do you do you think that there? Because you’re a black woman when they see you, they because they’re not used to seeing black women lawyers, I mean, Omaha does not have a lot of black women lawyers, and when they see you, they’re automatically like, Huh? This is just this is a different situation. And then they’re like. And now it’s different. And I look at a name that I’ve not seen before. Well, my name is not common either, but it’s they don’t. They try. With your do you think maybe on, you know, part of it is because they see a black woman and then they see. I mean, your first name is super like, right? Yeah. So it’s the last name. Yeah. And then they’re like, Oh, like it’s it’s like added a layer to it. Like if you were a white woman with the same name, I’m guessing the struggle wouldn’t be as high.

Joy Kathurima: I think I think that’s true. I think that a lot of it is that when people see foreign sounding names, particularly when they’re attached to brown or black people, they automatically like glaze over. Yeah, like they don’t even want to make the attempt to say it for fear of saying it wrong. If you say my name wrong, I’ll correct you. I won’t be rude about it. I’ll just say, no, it’s Katharina. Like, I’m not going to be like, Oh my god, why can’t you say my name? You know, it’s like, I’ll just correct you, and hopefully you’ll retain it for the next time. But it’s like sometimes people just like glaze over when they see a name that they don’t recognize and then see it attached to a brown or black face or black person. They’re like, now they overcomplicate it, even in their own head, that they second guess themselves to the point where it’s like, if you would have gone with your first bet, you probably would have been pretty close. But now that you second guessed it multiple times, you’re putting in words and vowels and sounds into it that I’m like, Why did you even? Yeah, the T-H still makes the same sound.

Joy Kathurima: Yeah, it’s not like it’s all like I changed the way it’s the sounds that are being made with it. So I think it’s just a product of I don’t know if you want to call it colonialism, white supremacy or whatever, but it’s I think the perception of particularly foreign names that are attached to brown people or black people are just always people really feel uncomfortable trying to say them. And I don’t know if, again, if they’re afraid of being offensive, it’s like, OK, but if you don’t know how to say it, then ask, you can ask. You can also ask someone how to say their name, like, I do that with my consoles. When I have a name that I don’t recognize, like, ask them, like, did I say it correctly? Or is that is am I saying it correctly? Or can you say it for me so I can hear you say it? And then I’ll remember. Yeah, and it’s like just as simple as that. And then you just kind of move on because to honor that person to make sure you’re referring to them correctly because everyone wants to be referred to correctly.

Susan Reff: So I had a I had a client with a she was from Africa and she had a very common first name and her last name was she was from one of the French colony countries. And her last name like yours. It looked, you know, when you looked at it on paper, but the way she accented, it was a little bit different. And so we’re at the trial and I said her name correctly, you know, the other side said the name correctly. The judge mispronounced it, caught himself, pronounced it correctly. And then for the rest of the trial, mispronounced it. And you know, for my client, you know, this is a super important day, right? Your trial, all of you know, your custody is getting decided, your assets are getting split, and the person who’s making the decision is saying your name incorrectly. You know, like how how do how does that affect people? I mean, maybe some people just are like, Well, I’m so I’m so used to it, which is not good, but it’s a thing.

Joy Kathurima: It is a thing like my cousin. Her first name gets mispronounced often, and I remember that she used to say it should be fine with it. And then in recent years, she’s learned, you know, she’s gotten people to pronounce it correctly. But I remember, like, I’d been visiting her in one of her friends was like, Hey, where is she? And like, I said her name. And I was like, Who like, who are you talking about? And she was like, You know, and I’m like, That’s that, and I got mad. I was like, That’s not how her name said, You’re supposed to be her friend, you’re supposed to be her friend. Like, Why don’t you know how to say her name correctly? And I could understand, like, for that client, it’s like, I just I understand that if the judge you, if you feel a little bit personal about it because like, just take the moment to like, say it correctly or like ask how to say it or something like that. But it’s like particularly on a day as big as trial, you just want to be referred to in your with your correct name. Yeah, and it can. It can feel sometimes dehumanizing when it’s like happens consistently, especially when it’s like I’ve seen very difficult European names that have been said with ease and I’m just like, Y’all, my name is like seven letters and it doesn’t even have any

Susan Reff: Anything in it. You don’t have a seasoned K right next

Joy Kathurima: To each other. It’s almost just like, how did you all like there’ll be some European names that someone will pronounce and I’m like, I would not have said that. That’s not how I would have said those words together, but good to know that that’s how it said and then correct it for myself and remember it later. But it’s like, you know, different ways that people perceive it.

Susan Reff: I had another trial where this is like a gender thing. My client was a woman and a doctor. And generally in trials, we start referring to people as Mr or Mrs Doctor, their title and then their last name. In this case, everyone refused to call her doctor so-and-so, except me. And so when it was our turn to testify, I had her testify to her credentials, even though it wasn’t really relevant to, you know, custody and money to. And I said, you know you, you’re referred to as a doctor like as your profession, correct? And she was like, Yeah, I said. And is that what you would like everyone else in the courtroom to call you? And she paused for a minute because she was totally probably OK with being called. But in the moment I was like, No, hold your ground, show your power. You worked hard for that, you know? And and she was like, Well, most people do call me doctor. And I was like, See all you people in the courtroom. You know, this woman worked hard for this. Yeah, it’s not relevant. Like to whether she should have custody, but it’s important that we’re addressing people the right

Joy Kathurima: Way, right, and in the way that they want to be referred to. Yeah, it’s like it’s just something. It’s a simple act of humanity to recognize someone and pronounce their name or say or refer to them how they want to be referred to because it’s like you’re honoring them and their personhood. And when you do it that

Susan Reff: Way and never, ever, ever, ever, would anyone not would ever call a male doctor Mr. So-and-so, right? No matter. I mean, I’m guessing men who are doctors, their friends call them, you know, jokingly like, Hey, doc, yeah, you know, but nobody does that to women. So it’s like

Joy Kathurima: Just

Susan Reff: A little step to be like.

Joy Kathurima: You don’t get to hold yourself so highly. Like, how dare you? Yeah.

Susan Reff: So at one year, so at one year plus 20 years, we decided that our our being lawyer, our lawyer goodness, our lawyer, our lawyers.

Joy Kathurima: This is of

Susan Reff: Drinking age, its drinking age. So next time, we should probably celebrate with some drinks instead of ice cream.

Joy Kathurima: Yes. What will your drink be?

Susan Reff: Well, I tend to like drinks with either alcohol or either alcohol, either vodka or gin. Those are my two alcohol choices. What about you?

Joy Kathurima: Mine is usually rum or vodka, something sweet. So, yeah, yeah, I’ll have to think about a little bit more or a sweet wine.

Susan Reff: So thinking about Joey at 20 years, yeah, I can certainly say that this is not where I thought I would be when I was at one year. And honestly, I never celebrated a work anniversary or a lawyer milestone ever before. Like, I never was like, it’s five years. It’s 10 years. You know, like the big years. I never did that. I don’t even I mean, a lot of times people will be like, How long have you been practicing law? And I was like, Let’s see, I graduated, OK, do math, you know? So, you know, I like I said, I don’t I didn’t think I would be in private practice as a managing partner of a firm. So it’s a little bit of a tricky question, maybe for you. Like, where do you

Joy Kathurima: Where do I see myself sound 20 years? I. I don’t think I’ve even thought that far.

Susan Reff: Honestly, how about one year? Let’s go one more year.

Joy Kathurima: Yeah, one year. What are some more reasonable? Yeah, yeah. Because I was like 20 years. I’m like, Oh my God, I was like thinking about how old I’ll be. I’ll be like, Dang, OK, I’ll be almost 50. That’s pretty cool. One year, I’m hoping to do some more pro bono work. Do more estate planning. So holla at your girl for your estate planning. Yeah, I’m hoping to travel a little bit more. Get a booster shot if I need it to for the vaccine. But professionally, just hoping to continue to develop my skills, I’m really excited to hopefully get a trial. I haven’t had a trial yet in my first year, so hopefully a trial, though if it’s not obviously in the client’s best, you know

Susan Reff: What that means. That means you’re really good at either. First of all, picking the good cases to take that clients are reasonable and probably going to consider settling. Or, you know, you can see the forest through the trees and get your client to a good settlement agreement. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have skills,

Joy Kathurima: Doesn’t have the skill sets. Yeah, yeah. But yeah, I’m excited to just continue to hone my lawyering skills and continue to like, fill my personal life with fun things and fun adventures.

Susan Reff: And hopefully all the judges by the end of next year can pronounce your name.

Joy Kathurima: Yes, hopefully I’ll have appeared in front of all. Yes, enough of them for them to be like, yes, know who joy Katherine is. So or at least they know how to say Katharina.

Susan Reff: And when you get to be my age people you went to law school with are now judges.

Joy Kathurima: Yeah, so that I don’t know how to say my name. So we’ll go for the best for that.

Susan Reff: Yeah. Well, this has been really fun, like our contrasting, you know, experiences, but really a lot of the same stuff.

Joy Kathurima: Keep some of it is sad that it’s still going on, but yeah, hopefully it’ll continue to evolve and change as the times continue to change.

Susan Reff: Well, we know that we are working for change. Yes, we can’t always make others right.

Joy Kathurima: Can only control yourself as what my therapist? Yeah, yeah. There we go again. Your own actions? Yeah. Mm hmm.

Susan Reff: Well, thanks, joy. I really appreciated talking with a twenty one years combined lawyering. Yeah, such a good conversation. Awesome. Thanks. Thank you.

Announcer: Thank you for listening to the lady lawyer League Podcast. Be sure to like and subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts, if you would like to learn more about our firm, Hightower-Reff Law, please visit us at HR Law We’ll see you next week.

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