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Lessons of a Young Lawyer
By: Shannon M. Luschen / August 31, 2020
Throughout law school and before, I always knew I wanted to work and practice in family law. So, when I officially became an Illinois licensed attorney in November 2019, I started my career working as a family law associate attorney at Feinberg Sharma, P.C. At that time, I was focused mainly on trying to immerse myself into the hectic and intimidating atmosphere that was the Domestic Relations division. Somehow, everybody knew everybody here. How could I break in and make my mark?
Flash forward four months to February 2020 - I find myself sitting in a federal courtroom in a hotly contested Hague Convention case against three formidable Washington D.C. attorneys. We were fighting for our client and her two children to return home to Slovakia after they had been abducted by their father to the United States. As I sat at counsel table with Joy Feinberg and Rueben Bernick – two highly respected and formidable attorneys in their own right – I thought to myself, how did I get here? It seemed I had blinked and suddenly I was thrown into the big leagues.
When my office got the initial phone call from our would-be client in November 2019, just a short while after I became a licensed attorney, I was immediately thrown onto the case. Soon, I was sifting through thousands of pages of documents, fielding phone calls and emails from representatives at the State Department and drafting motion after motion. Despite knowing next to nothing about the Hague Convention or international kidnapping cases, I plunged into the challenge headfirst by reading everything I could about our case and the challenges before us. With the help of the more seasoned attorneys in the office, I gradually became more acquainted with the issues and was able to help prepare for the battle that undoubtedly loomed ahead of us in federal court. It would be an uphill climb – that could not be denied – but our team was resolved to climb it. And climb we did.
At every turn, it seemed like there was another curve ball we had to face – from the Judge pushing up our trial dates to our trial getting continued for 4 months due to COVID-19. What would have frozen me in my tracks only seemed to motivate and drive our fearless leader, Joy Feinberg, forwards on a relentless climb. As a young, inexperienced attorney, it was impossible not to be inspired by her leadership and dedication to our client and cause.
Ultimately, the truth prevailed, and we won our case after seven days of trial – the children were to be returned to Slovakia. After several unsuccessful last minute appeals from the father, including attempts to stay the Judgment which made its way all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, it seemed at last I could finally take a breath and reflect on the momentous journey I just embarked upon. It is not every day that an attorney, particularly a young attorney who has not even been practicing for a year, gets to partake in this kind of trial experience in federal court. Further, the lessons I learned extended far beyond the case law I researched. For one thing, I witnessed first-hand the tenacity and perseverance it requires to take a case from start to finish, especially in light of insurmountable odds and formidable opponents. Those traits are not something that is taught in law school; they can only be earned through practical experience and hard work.
Lastly, this experience helped me realize that we as attorneys never stop learning. When faced with a new and unfamiliar roadblock, we took the time to problem solve as a team by researching the questions or asking our colleagues. Whenever I felt stuck, I was reminded there was always a way to move forwards – you might have to get a little creative, but you will always find the way.