“Remind me to tell you about the great, new upcycling project that involves Arizona Attorney Magazine.”
And so began a dialogue with a driven attorney who decided to get off the bench and offer some legal advice to people who needed it. The work Lora Sanders does is certainly admirable; I’ll get to that.
But I must admit that I was intrigued by her mention of the magazine and upcycling in the same sentence.
I wrote about Lora in my October Editor’s Letter in Arizona Attorney Magazine (see image below). There, I described how she meets in a coffee shop—Songbird Coffee & Tea House in downtown Phoenix—to answer what questions she can and refer those she can’t.
In a minute, I will share with you my Q&A with Lora. I hope it inspires a few other attorneys to get a coffee and offer some advice.
But first, let me explain the magazine upcycling.
In a labor-intensive process, Sanders said that the magazine pages are removed (after being read first, she assured me!) and rolled tightly into jewelry beads. They then could be fashioned into bracelets and sold to assist parents who must set life and job aside to accompany children during long hospitalizations.
I’ve never been so pleased to hear that people had ripped up the magazine. Arizona Attorney—that’s how we roll.
Here, finally, is my conversation with attorney Lora Sanders:
Me: What is the general timeline of Café O’Law? When was your first “seating,” and how many have you had?
Lora: I began Café O’Law several years ago, in 2010, and we would meet irregularly, every few months, often at a friend’s former restaurant. I was trying to develop an appropriate format (speakers? breakout sessions? networking?), but also spending the summers in Sweden, so it was an evolving project. The name came from my meeting clients and potential clients all over the Valley at coffee shops, usually because it was more convenient than meeting at my office, or they required a meeting time outside of conventional business hours. So there I was with my cafe au lait at Café O’Law.
Summer 2013, I was gradually preparing to resume a more active family law practice, as my husband was finishing his book. I was already meeting people at the Songbird, so I asked Jonathan & Erin [Carroll, the owners] whether I could plan a regular meeting there. I decided to make it a casual one-on-one question & answer meeting, just like any other brief consultation. We have met perhaps a dozen times, but just resumed at the Songbird in June 2013.
On a broader, more personal note, all four of my grandparents were immigrants and I often think how astonished and amazed they would be (especially my grandmothers) to see the life I lead and to know that I graduated from law school. My father, who would have been 100 this year (he died at age 94), put himself through college, graduate school, and law school (eventually amassing more than 300 college credits) as the child of non-English-speaking immigrants—the real American success story. I am always mindful that, no matter how many complaints we have about our country, its government, or bad people, this is an amazing nation and it is still the land of opportunity.
Me: When are your next few seatings scheduled?
Lora: We always meet on the first Mondays of each month, from 4-7 pm at the Songbird. So, Monday, October 7, November 4 and December 2.
Lora: I have met with, exchanged emails and Facebook messages with dozens of people, just this summer.
Me: Have other lawyers been involved?
Lora: Yes, I have had several attorneys, some of whom are friends, or have introduced themselves to me, meet with me, and chat or meet with some people who have questions more specific to their practice. I would rather not mention anyone, without naming all, but I am happy for any attorney to join me; I am always glad to know more attorneys for referral of potential clients and questions.
Me: And those paper beads! Do you craft them yourself? What do you do with the beads, how are they sold, and what organizations benefit?
Lora: My friend, Julie Vu, and I were discussing volunteer projects last spring. She told me that her young daughter wanted to get involved in volunteering, but was too young for most of the projects that could be found at handsonphoenix.org and volunteermatch.org. I told her about In2books.com, which I participate in every school year. You are paired as a mentor with an elementary-school reader, the child selects the books and you read them together and exchange emails through the teacher. E-volunteering at its best! Julie has young twins, one of whom had a lengthy hospitalization after birth. She told me about spending many long, lonely hours at the hospital, and that she would like to raise money to help those parents who are similarly situated and provide them with some company and things to do.
So I came up with the Arizona Attorney paper beads project, to be crafted into bracelets. To date, I have crafted the beads. We are just getting under way and Julie and I will host some bead-making/bracelet parties and we will work on how they will be sold, funds raised, etc.
Me: What made you decide to launch Café O’Law? Why do you enjoy doing this?
Lora: My original inspiration was an attorney in the San Fernando Valley, CA, named Kim Pearman, who operated a hot dog stand called “Law Dogs” for 25 years, selling Plaintiff Dogs, Police Dogs, etc. I lived in L.A. in the 1970s and 1980s, and everyone knew about Mr. Pearman, who would dispense free legal advice with a hot dog. (Here is an article on Pearman from a 1984 People magazine.)
He was out there every week, without benefit of email or smart phones. He even took on the pro bono representation of certain clients. I thought that what this man did was absolutely heroic.
As an attorney, it is easy to forget how difficult it is for people who have not been to law school to negotiate their way through the endless stream of forms, statutes, procedures, regulations, applications, leases, contracts that are a regular part of our lives. On one difficult case I was working on, after spending two hours on the phone trying to get some guidance from public officials, one very nice woman said to me, “I’m sorry; I can’t help you. You will have to hire an attorney.”
I am happiest when I can put someone’s mind at ease, and offer them that small bit of reassurance, or send them to a resource that can take care of a problem.
Me: What benefit do you think questioners get from the conversations?
Lora: It is a very casual and comfortable way to ask questions in a non-threatening environment, without the cost and uncertainty of seeking out and hiring a lawyer. The true benefit is that an individual does not have to determine what type of lawyer or professional can guide them, or worry whether it is worth the investment of their time and money to ask for advice or guidance. I believe that the most common legal mistake made by people, that I see, is waiting too long to ask for advice. I understand completely that people do not want to spend money unnecessarily, but it always hurts me when potential clients come to me in a panic with a disaster that has been forming for a period of years, or tell me that they are due in court next week or next month, and they have never even consulted with an attorney.
Me: If other lawyers are interested in doing this kind of thing, what advice would you give them?
Lora: Utilize social media and let your clients, former clients and friends know that you are willing to offer this service or something like it. Volunteer your time and energy to any kind of volunteer project that interests you, not just as an attorney. Be grateful. As an attorney, in spite of hardship or hard work, remember that you occupy a position of great privilege, so use your talents and gifts where you can, for good, not just for profit. Finally, take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself so seriously.
Me: Could other lawyers participate with you, or start their own Café O’Law, or both?
Lora: Yes, and yes! I am happy to hear from any attorneys who would like to attend a Café O’Law meeting, or start their own. I do not have a designated website and I do not anticipate getting involved in any large scheduling or organizing project; however, I am always open to suggestions. I have lived in Arizona since 1987, and I love the downtown Phoenix energy and long-awaited, growing sense of community. If any attorneys have ideas for a similar event or variation in their neighborhoods, they should contact me. If they would like to host Café O’Law sessions at the Songbird, but on a different date or time, that would probably work as well.Follow @azatty