September 2016 Bar Bulletin
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September 2016 Bar Bulletin

Crossing Over: Bicycling for Work and Life

By Jessica Cutler

 

Bicycles have always been a positive part of my life. Growing up on Bainbridge Island, I rode my bike to friends’ houses, to swimming practice and to school. Riding helped me find happiness and academic success.

When I was 12, my parents took me on a bike-packing trip through Pennsylvania. Discovering mountain biking at age 17 correlated with me pulling my grades up from less than 2.0 to nearly 4.0 as I shifted my social circle from nihilistic punks to outdoorsy academics. Rediscovering road cycling at age 24 helped me overcome a period of severe depression and that led to me finishing college and attending law school.

Throughout law school, I commuted by bicycle nearly every day and would ride with my friends on the weekends for fun. In my final year of law school, I joined a local cycling team and discovered that, not only did I love riding bikes, I was actually quite good at it. I raced my 3L year and continued to train and race, often instead of studying for the 2009 bar exam (I passed).

I continued riding and racing through my first post-law school job — a grant-funded truancy-prevention position with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office — and began to excel at the sport without losing the joy of the simple act of riding a bicycle.

In 2011, I started my own part-time family law practice. I enjoyed building my fledgling practice with the assistance of my KCBA family law mentor, but I was also finding myself enthralled by the freedom to ride and work on my own schedule. By late 2011, I had hired a cycling coach and was working 20 hours a week in the office and training 15 to 25 hours a week on the bike.

After winning several local races in early 2012, I took a leap of faith and entered a professional race despite the fact that I was still an amateur rider. To my amazement, after four days of racing with pro riders, I finished third overall. I received a phone call from a pro team the next day asking if I would ride for them the following week at a race in New Mexico. After that race, I was offered and accepted my first professional racing contract.

Making the choice to balance my legal career with a professional racing career was not an easy decision. While I did enjoy practicing law, I realized that being offered an opportunity to become a professional cyclist at age 32 was truly once in a lifetime. I loved racing my bike and knew that I would only physically be able to race at the professional level for a few more years. With the assistance of family, friends and colleagues, I plunged head-first into racing and structured my practice in such a way that I could continue to serve my clients.

Since 2012 I have focused most of my energy on racing bikes and balancing a part-time legal career. I am a road racer from February to September, and I race cyclocross (a hybrid of road racing and mountain biking) from September to January. I’ve raced across much of North America and even did a week-long tour in El Salvador. I was honored to race with the U.S. National Team in Belgium and Holland.

There have been highs and lows throughout the years. I won a national championship in 2013 and crashed more times than I care to remember. I’ve barely spent an uninterrupted month at home in the last five years, often only coming home for a few days at a time before heading out to another block of racing.

In the last year since I made the decision to retire from professional racing, I’ve worried about how and when I would return to, and focus on, my long-term profession of practicing law. I knew that I would miss the cycling world terribly when I finally hung up my cleats. I certainly find fulfillment from practicing family law, but the cycling community is my community and I wanted to find a way to merge my profession with my passion.

Here enters Washington Bike Law. I have known its founder, Bob Anderton, for nearly 10 years, since interning for his office in law school. In a moment of pure serendipity, just as I was deciding to wind down my professional cycling career, John McHale, another Washington Bike Law attorney and occasional bike racer, had decided to become a King County Superior Court judge. Bob offered me an associate position with his office — along with mentorship and training from himself and John — and I cannot imagine a more perfect opportunity to combine my chosen profession with the sport and lifestyle that I love.

Since I announced my retirement from sport, I am often asked if I am nervous about the transition from racing to more traditional employment. To be completely honest, yes, I am very nervous, but not because I fear a huge lifestyle change. I’m filled with nervous energy about the possibilities that this position brings and a deep competitive desire to prove myself by helping my bike clients.

I’m nervous because I’ve ridden so many miles on Washington’s roads and have seen how dangerous the streets can be for both bicyclists and pedestrians. Now I am finally in a position to effect change at both individual and institutional levels; to me, this feels like a huge and wonderful responsibility.

There are few things that I love more than seeing people enjoying the simple pleasure of riding a bike; working with Washington Bike Law to make bicycling safer and more accessible will motivate me every day to work hard and never stop advocating for my clients. I have ridden tens of thousands of miles around Washington and am familiar with most every bicycle route in our state. I’ve seen far too many bad drivers and poor infrastructure, and have felt frustrated by the inability to change this and saddened that other people are discouraged from riding their bikes for pleasure or simple transportation.1

I am, however, filled with optimism for the future of cycling in Washington, especially given the Court of Appeals’ recent decision in O’Neill v. City of Port Orchard holding that bicycles “are a mode of ‘ordinary travel’ and therefore, the City has a duty to maintain its roads for bicycle travel.”2 Working for Washington Bike Law empowers me to help individual cyclists who are injured and to do my part to work toward making our roads safer for everyone.


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