Friday, January 1, 2010


In four months I've come to realize how little I actually understood what it must be like to live in poverty. I always knew that being evicted would suck, but I just thought, well they'll just have to get a new place. Somehow it never occurred to me that if one is being evicted for not paying rent, they almost surely aren't going to have enough money to put down a security deposit on a new place. I also didn't fully appreciate how awful a money judgment can be for someone. Should our clients ever get a good paying job or come into some money it doesn't really help because they owe so many people money.

I did a lot of complaining about the job market and my struggles finding a job, but it really was nothing when compared against what my clients' go through on a regular basis. For one I had food and shelter during the time I was looking for a job. I had family I could live with for free if I couldn't find a job. And any job I found, no matter how much I complain about my low public interest salary, pays far beyond what my clients could hope to make.

I got all this because of my privileged upbringing. Sure I worked hard in school and I like to think I'm pretty smart, but without my family there is no way I'd be here. No way I would have worked multiple part time jobs to put myself through school. No way I would have been able to handle raising a child while going to school. I'm not only privileged, I'm weak.

As 2010 starts I'm trying to get a better understanding of what life must be like for my clients. I've decided to see if I can go an entire month without buying anything but food and necessities (i.e. toilet paper). Should be easy, but I love to shop, have a new house to decorate and have been reading books and magazines like crazy. Now I don't think this will give me any real insight into what my clients go through (after all I'm still going to be buying fresh local food and organic products whenever possible), but it will hopefully make me think more about the things I buy and the money I spend. Maybe make me appreciate how much I have.


Vinnie said...

Try setting a good no frills food budget and then subtracting the water bill from it and getting through the month. Its a challenge.

mellancollyeyes said...

You might enjoy reading "Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenrich. While it does have a bit of a liberal bent to it, it's a good read. In case you're not familiar with it, the short summary is that Ehrenrich attempts to live on minimum wage in 3 different cities and finds that she simply can't make ends meet. And she makes an excellent point that she's trying to do it under the BEST circumstances--she's well-educated, she's single, she's got no criminal record, etc, etc.--and still can't make it work. It's definitely interesting.

I'm impressed w/ your ability to recognize and empathize with the struggles your clients face. I think too often many attorneys lose that understanding and stop realizing that a $300 fine is a LOT of money when you have no money, that getting to this or that court date is almost impossible when you don't have a license to drive, etc., etc. And then they forget how to serve clients the best that they can because they can't understand what's best for the client. You're worlds ahead of many lawyers for being able to realize you've been blessed in life.

Petition For Review said...

I read Nickel and Dimed years ago. I much prefer the book I just finished "The Working Poor, Invisible In America" by David K. Shipler. It dones't really have much of a political bend at all, just outlines how much pvoerty sucks.

So far I've been pretty good with my challenge. I've only spent $2 on non food items. I've been tempted to buy so many things. I think I've probably saved myself a couple hundred dollars because of this.

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