I practiced commercial litigation for about nine years, and there are three cases that changed the course of my career.
Nine years ago, I was a baby lawyer. I graduated in the top of my class, and I thought I knew something about the practice of law. I could draft a mean memo, and I knew exactly how to start an appellate argument: “May it please the court!”
My first week, my supervising partner asked me to help a homeless Seattle girl access $1300 that had languished in a court fund for 11 years. Her name was Jennifer (I still remember her last name too, but confidentiality and all those lawyerly things…). She wanted to be a journalist; she needed an apartment. The apartment needed a deposit. I didn’t know how to petition a court for release of funds. I didn’t know that a civil docket was miles long, and that my hearing would be set along with 50 other cases. I trembled when I had to get the order releasing funds signed by a real judge in front of 50 other lawyers who tittered a bit when I entered my appearance, “May it please the court, my name is Regan Beatty.” But I won. My success? A young woman in Seattle got an apartment. She emailed me months later to tell me that she was writing for a website and doing well. I hope she still is.
A couple of years later, I really did know something about practicing law. I could lift the stay in bankruptcy and file a lawsuit. I even knew how to answer interrogatories: “Objection. Interrogatory No. 1 is overly broad and unlikely to lead to discoverable information.”
I didn’t know what a guardian ad litem was. I had no idea how to make a home visit or what questions to ask. I did know that I had been assigned to a little girl named Kayla, and she was 4 years old. I visited her grandparents and her parents. I met her mom, her dad, her aunt, and her dog.
One rainy afternoon, my law-student husband and I set out to find Kayla’s new home. (I made my husband ride along because I was nervous.). We got lost, and I called for directions. “You’re going to pass a tree that got knocked over by the creek. Make a right at the tree, and we’re the next driveway.” We spotted the toppled tree, its branches scraping the car as we made our right turn into the driveway of a double-wide mobile home.
Kayla had a toddler bed and her own room. Her mom had cleaned for our visit. The upholstered kitchen chairs squished when we sat–the water hose draped over the porch rail evidence that while Kayla’s mom had tried, she didn’t quite grasp the finer points of homemaking. It was a decent home. And she was loved.
I appeared in front of the judge without a script because I didn’t know quite how to report on this one. Kayla’s mom and dad loved her. So did her grandparents. They all wanted her to be in school, and they could all provide for her in a general sense. My final report? “Grandma and Grandpa just don’t like it that their daughter trailer-ed up.” The judge guffawed. He hooted. And he signed off on my report indicating that Kayla’s mom and dad were fit parents living in a double wide just past the toppled tree on a dirt road.
My success? About a year after my meeting with the judge, counsel for Kayla’s grandparents, who had petitioned for guardianship, called me to let me know that Kayla was doing well. That grandma, grandpa, mom, and dad had reconciled their relationship. Things were looking up, and the guardianship proceeding was going to be dismissed with no hard feelings.
I stopped doing pro bono work after that. I just didn’t have time. I was getting closer to a partnership vote at my firm, and billable hours were calling me. I filed some corporate bankruptcies and some foreclosures. I defended some really fun fraud actions and worked with some really great clients and some shameful ones.
About two years ago, I foreclosed on a ranch just outside of Purcell, Oklahoma. I filed my Petition. Service of process was tricky. My defendants refused mail; they ran from process servers; they moved. The Postmaster in West Virginia called me personally and asked me to stop sending packages to one address because the resident believed I was a terrorist sending packages laced with Anthrax. I remain convinced to this day that the terrified homeowner was in fact one of my defendants trying to avoid service one more time.
Eventually, the defendants hired local counsel in Purcell, and I finally got a Motion for Summary Judgment set for hearing. Per standard operating procedures, I appeared in court wearing my steel-grey, power pinstripes with my three-inch heels. The judge wore cowboy boots. Opposing counsel walked in wearing bib overalls, checked his mailbox in the court clerk’s office (yes, really) and greeted the judge by his first name.
And just like that, this tall building lawyer had been taken down more than a few notches. Opposing counsel ethically and artfully delayed foreclosure on a 180-horse operation for nearly two years. We got a judgment, called out the sheriff, and put a receiver in place. We negotiated a sale. We fought an emergency temporary restraining order and two bankruptcies.
Ultimately, we won. I succeeded for my client. My success? A Missouri bank now owned a 200+ acre reining horse ranch. A rancher moved his wife, his five-year old son, his 18 personally-owned horses, a couple of trucks, some tractors, and a toy John Deere ride-on to a rental property inside city limits. He started to look for work. I looked out my window from the 17th floor and socked away the pleadings in in a form file. I won. I did the right thing for my clients. But ultimately, I questioned if I had done the right thing for myself.
I left private practice for a number of reasons, two of whom will occasionally be roaming the halls at OCU wielding Crayons and Hot Wheels. But in large part, I left private practice with the ultimate goal of making a difference for myself, for my children, for my husband, and for someone else. That someone else turns out to be you.
OCU was my college home. It was my law school home. And I’m thrilled to call it my career home now. My office is on the second floor, and I look out over the tree tops. (It’s Oklahoma, trees are shorter here; skies are bigger.). Call me, email me, stop by and say hello. My success? When you’re satisfied knowing that you’ve made a difference and that you’ve used law school to become exactly who you know you can be. I’ll do everything I can to help, and I can tell you from experience that the view from the pro bono office is beautiful.
Regan S. Beatty, Pro Bono Coordinator
Law Career Services