Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.
When I went to law school I pictured myself working as corporate counsel, advising companies in their daily operations. I had plenty of experience with how corporations worked, how they made decisions that had successful or disastrous results, the type of legal advice a corporation needs on a daily basis to run its operations and how to work well in house.
After graduating from law school and before I landed my first job as an associate, I played a very minor role in the Wal-Mart gender discrimination class action suit. I am sure you have read or heard about the group of female employees who sued Wal-Mart for allegedly failing to pay, train or promote women on an equal basis with their male co-workers.
News about this case is of vital interest to me. In spite of my brief role in it years ago, I feel that this is my case, that whatever happens in the course of it affects my life. This type of litigation affects all of us closely and it is so large that its outcome is likely to impact all of our lives.
The class is now at over a million plaintiffs – a jumbo class action with a possible cost to Wal-Mart of over $1 billion in damages. The numbers are huge, the possible effect could be wide-ranging. The coming ruling by the Supreme Court with regard to the size of the class could set the standard for many other class action lawsuits.
My contribution to this case was minimal as is that of hundreds of people who have worked and now work on this suit, but all of us have had a hand in something important. Even hearing the names of the plaintiffs evokes strong emotion – having read their depositions and knowing a little of their personal stories, I am mesmerized when I learn about where they are now and what has happened to them over the last ten years. I can also picture the events unfolding for the defendant corporation and how this litigation must be affecting their operations. Building a business takes an enormous amount of energy, time, money and some luck and all that can be brought down in a moment, as we saw with the failure of some of the financial giants.
My first job as an associate involved extensive litigation. I tried probably two dozen cases in my first year, I was exhausted, strengthened, in the depths of despair and exhilarated all in the same day. I slept very little and felt great. A 20-hour workday was routine, the work had a lot of drama. After a couple of years of this, I was ready to move into a more sedate pace with my civil practice. I did not miss being in court almost every day and sometimes in several courts in different parts of the Chicago metro area.
But I am reminded of why I went to law school, how the sudden realization over lunch with a friend changed my life, how I saw, in a moment of absolute certainty, that this is what I wanted to do with my life. Because nothing makes change happen as much as the law, and there is drama and privilege in being an advocate in the courtroom.
The drama of litigation is compelling, but litigation, for me, is like the old story of the snake charmer. I can’t take my eyes off it, even knowing that the result unfolding in front of me could be fabulous or disastrous. I have a more peaceful life now but I also think often about how profound an effect court decisions have. I carry on an internal debate on a daily basis about what I should be doing with my time, skills, talent and training.