California Lawyers Association

Know Your Value and Rise to the Challenge

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May 2024

By Betty J. Williams
CLA President

When I was 15 years old, I started working at a McDonald’s restaurant for $3.35 per hour. After several months, I received my first raise of five cents per hour, for which I felt quite proud. That is until I told a friend’s father about my raise, who wasted no time pointing out that this raise would only amount to about $2 per month. My friend’s dad was very successful in business, and of course he was right. Although he extinguished my joy, he helped me quickly realize the financial value of my time.

At my next job, I was employed part-time in the office of a local appliance and camera store. I don’t remember what my starting pay was, but I didn’t want a repeat of what happened at my first job with a mere nickel raise after several months. So, I asked for a 25-cent raise every quarter for at least the first year, after which I asked for annual raises. I received all the raises I requested during my four years at the company.

Advocate for Yourself

This experience taught me to move beyond the discomfort of asking for what I needed from my employer, making sure I was also giving my employer 100% of my best efforts. It’s crucial to recognize your worth and advocate for yourself.

As I got older, other things mattered more to me than money, namely time. When my children were young, I knew I didn’t want to work late or have an inflexible schedule. Having my own firm solved a lot of issues concerning my hours and wages by creating a business model that allowed similar flexibility to all the attorneys and staff. Nowadays, and post-pandemic, it seems many firms offer flexibility in remote working conditions. 

I mentor a few new attorneys each year through the Taxation’s Section Odyssey Program and by connecting with other young attorneys through CLA events or introductions from colleagues. One thing is consistent with everyone I talk to: how to get the work-life balance they want and the pay they desire.

Your time on this planet is too brief to work hard for a company you don’t like, to receive poor wages, or to suffer your version of bad working conditions.

Advocate for Others

As licensed professionals, we have more opportunities than many other workers in our state. In addition to improving our own circumstances through a change in employers, career paths, or opening a solo practice, we can also set an example or speak up for other workers who don’t have the same opportunities. Just as we need to recognize the value of our time and efforts, we can open doors through our representation and advocacy for those who have a much softer voice, or no voice at all.

Legislative Day, 2024

The importance of this work came into focus at last month’s Legislative Day. The recipient of CLA’s Senator of the Year Award, Senator Susan Rubio, discussed hardships she survived personally, as well as those in her community. After describing the abuse she survived, and observations of problems in family courts where children have been harmed or worse, she said, “What happens to me, informs me,” in reference to which law to tackle next, or which cause to promote, namely getting judges to prioritize child-safety cases, and making domestic violence assistance information available on the back of student identification cards. Senator Rubio is a living example of someone who uses her role in society to improve laws for others.

Similarly, the keynote speaker for CLA’s Legislative Day, Luis Céspedes, talked about his childhood working in the fields and going on strike with the United Farm Workers when he was just 15 years old, alongside César Chávez, to his role today as Judicial Appointments Secretary, Office of Governor Gavin Newsom.

Two days later, I saw Secretary Céspedes at the California Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) Judicial Luncheon, where he gave a different but equally inspiring keynote speech. Secretary Céspedes has opened doors and helped countless people throughout his career fighting for civil rights, equal justice, and diversity and inclusion.

Terrance Evans

CLA has other examples of such champions, including our own Terrance J. Evans, CLA Vice Chair of the Board of Representatives. He gave an inspirational award acceptance speech at the CABL gala where he and Joseph West won the David Cunningham Corporate Community Service Award. This award is just one of many Terrance has received for his exceptional work in civil rights and his efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion in California and throughout the United States. As of this writing, Terrance has given 21 DEI presentations this calendar year; he is the epitome of rising to the challenge, endlessly sharing his time and talents with countless others.

If you need help as a newer lawyer or even a seasoned lawyer in a new situation, there are ample experienced attorneys at CLA through its Sections and Committees that can help. If you are able to use your voice to help our profession, our colleagues, our clients and our communities, there is a place for you as well! Consider getting involved with our Access to Justice Committee, Civic Engagement & Education Committee, Diversity Outreach Advisory Council, or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, or one of the initiatives of the California Lawyers Foundation. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. CLA is here to support and empower you!

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