Like many people these days, I have more than one day job. I am a lawyer, a mediator and an adjunct law school professor. I complain about each of these jobs, but I really love my work because I truly enjoy learning about people and in each of these jobs, people share their stories with me.

I have a small law practice in a sleepy coastal Massachusetts community where people feel free to drop by with their papers and say hello to their lawyer at the same time. For years, one of my landlords collected his rent each month in person so we could have a nice chat and catch up. While these intrusions may not enhance my efficiency, there is great charm to life as a local lawyer. The first will I drafted was for a recluse who never left the second floor of her home. She executed her will hanging over a windowsill, while her witnesses gazed up from her lawn.

I’m not sure how I ended up concentrating mostly in family law (divorce, custody, etc.) because most people predicted after my first career as a nurse, I’d end up doing personal injury law. I think knowing how to talk to people in physical pain taught me how to help people who were wrenched with heartbreak.

I am passionate about my work, even after 30 years, particularly about the protection of children. I consider it a privilege when someone trusts me to represent them regarding what matters most to people: their family.

The writer in me can’t help but see each client as someone who presents a story unfolding. I am fascinated by the behavior of people and the follies we create.

When I present a case in court before a judge who has heard a hundred cases before me, my job is to tell the judge the story of my client in a way which is more compelling and distinguished from the masses he hears before or after me. When I interrogate a witness at a trial, I am really just asking questions to a person who is telling the court his story through his testimony.

Lawyering can be just another kind of story-telling, a writer’s dream job. And while some lawyers complain about sitting, waiting to be called in court, I listen to every single word uttered in every case before me. I am never bored. If you ever run out of ideas, run to the nearest family court, and bring a notebook. You can’t make this stuff up.

Not long into my legal career, I decided that many people could be spared the expense and agony of litigation and resolve disputes privately at mediation. I started a parallel practice, mediating mostly family matters. Because I continue to have a law practice and represent clients in court, I am able to share the realities of what might happen in court if my mediation clients don’t settle, the ultimate reality check.

Mediation offers people a private forum where they retain their dignity and right to self-determination. As a mediator, I listen to the stories of people, hearing their pain, their anger and sadness. It’s rewarding to be able to facilitate agreement between people who otherwise might duke it out in court, neither getting much of what he or she wants.

Between litigating and mediating, I am up to my knees in conflict. I welcome the relief and challenge I get teaching law students Mediation. I am stimulated mentally, not allowed to fall behind the times, and always learn more each semester from my students than I teach them. Plus, I get to go to the big city a couple of times a week.

The writer in me is thrilled to have day jobs which are rich in material and remind me daily that everybody does have a story.

© 2021 C. Michele Dorsey
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