This week in Young, Hungry and Commited, virtual office NYC attorney Vivian Sobers fears being a legal tourist.
I live in constant fear of being mistaken for a New York City tourist. I know it is an irrational thought, but it’s true.
I am pretty sure us New Yorkers can identify a tourist from a good fifty feet away. They all have the same posture: feet planted securely in the middle of a busy sidewalk, a slightly arched back that leads to a giraffed neck. Their mouths are agape and eyes almost painfully wide-open while they marvel upwardly at the big shiny buildings.
It’s not that I even mind that tourists always seem to be set in a catatonic suspension directly in my walking path. I can deal with that. It’s the craned necks looking toward the sky. It’s the fact that when you look up, you are not looking at what is in front of you.
Why do tourists always look up?
There is a certain sense of egoism in only looking up. It communicates, not so subtly, that anything around you is less important that what you are looking at.
The upward gaze is the quintessential tourist identifier. New Yorker’s see that gaze and immediately begin to get mad.
Because tourist is the ugliest of the four letter words. Locals use the word in such a negative connotation that George Carlin should had added it to his list.
What is a legal tourist?
Here is the thing. It’s not just that I live in constant fear of being mistaken for a New York City tourist. I never want to be a legal tourist.
I just shuddered thinking about it.
To put it another way, I am afraid of being considered a novice. Or even worse, being called a “new attorney.”
In the same way that we New Yorkers can identify a tourist, lawyers can identify a new lawyer from a mile away.
When I started my practice, I took every measure to avoid doing anything that could make me look like I just started my own practice. My mantra was fake it til you make it.
When I would walk into court, I never looked up. I walked briskly and confidently to whatever room I was scheduled to be in. This was much harder than it sounds, because half of the time I had no idea where I was going. Do you know how hard it is to walk with a purpose when you don’t really believe you have one?
Taking it one step further, I never stood still and looked up. I knew this would give me away. I couldn’t bear the thought of another attorney coming up to me and asking: “Can I help you?”
So, I walked purposefully with a hard, straight-forward stare. This lasted for about a year. Literally, it took me an entire year to mentally overcome my insecurity.
How I became a tourist:
Two weeks ago, I was in court as usual. The docket was running very late. Really late. So, I started walking around. This time, my gaze was drawn upward at the ceiling. As I craned my neck upward, I saw something intensely beautiful. The ceiling at 60 Centre Street is reminiscent of a cathedral. It makes me wonder why they don’t show it in Law and Order. Dun. Dun. Dun.
The biggest shame is that it took me a year to notice something so beautiful and inspiring. While I was battling my own insecurities and looking straight forward, what was I missing by not looking up? It had to be more than this particular ceiling.
Like a true tourist, I took out my cell phone and snapped a picture. It was the act of taking a picture of this particular ceiling that made me realize: I am not a legal tourist.
I didn’t care if someone saw me taking the picture. I didn’t care if someone might ask me if I needed help or if I was lost. Something so small, like taking a picture of a beautiful ceiling, in a beautiful building, let me know that I was no longer insecure.
I still hate tourists, but I don’t mind being mistaken for one sometimes. Just don’t mistake me for a tourist in Times Square.
My name is Vivian Sobers. I am young, hungry, and finally secure. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, I am committed to replicating my success for many years to come.
Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.