To say that we got where we are without the help of others would be a lie, no matter who you are. Whether it was a teacher, friend, family or an unexpected lesson learned from someone whose path you never crossed again, there is some part of us all that is the product of the people around us.
Law school teaches us that we learn from others: other cases, other courts, other legal arguments. Precedent provides guidance; lawyers and judges pave the way for future law and litigants. As a law student, your professors prepare you for understanding substantive law and mastering the art of critical thinking. What you aren’t taught is what it’s like to be a lawyer or how to earn respect in your profession. You aren’t taught what is appropriate at judicial receptions, how to speak in public, or how to properly handle the difficult client or contentious opponent. Instead, you watch and learn from those around you. There is no doubt that whether you are fresh to the profession or celebrating the end of a successful career, you have someone to thank.
On September 30th, the Bar will recognize attorneys who have been one of “those people.” “Those people” are the ones who showed you how to act in court, how to lose with grace, and how to befriend the bailiff. They gave the wise counsel of showing up on time, being prepared, and thanking the judge for an adverse ruling. They are the people who looked up from their work to talk to you about your case and not only listened to your argument but provided constructive criticism. They answered your questions after careful thought and didn’t make you feel as if you were wasting their time.
For me, “those people” were many. Some were nameless opposing counsel whose style and abilities I admired and strived to adopt in my practice. Some were attorneys in specialized fields who answered a call to talk about a strange set of facts. Some were attorneys in my office who explained how to argue to win and how to funnel young-lawyer energy into good legal argument. Some were the attorneys who were held up by this Bar as leaders, who set an example of how to lead positively and with passion. As I look back over the years, I realize how many different people helped to shape how I practice and who I am. For many, they don’t even know that they were one of “those people.” However, at least one made a conscious decision and for that I thank him.
It is not that he gave me answers, but rather that he explained why. It was the counseled critique of a letter, a speech, a conversation; always focused on detail and ways to improve. It was trusting a young lawyer to meet with clients, and not allowing the waiter to take his plate until I was finished, ever the gentleman. It was the gentle urging that I could do whatever I wanted, and knowing that he truly believed that, always. It was the sharing of stories from his years in practice and service as a state senator, a wealth of information that he offered freely and that had nuggets of life lessons woven in them. It was his work ethic and his commitment to excellence. Perhaps more than anything, however, it was twenty-two years of praise and reinforcement that I was headed down the right path and that I was doing a good job. “That person” for me is George Rubin and I dedicate this article to him.
As we prepare for the Mentors Who Matter luncheon, I hope that you will honor those people who have made a difference in your life. Invite them to lunch; write a special thank you. Just as important, make a conscious decision to be one of “those people” for someone else.
Making time for questions; Explaining why even when the person doesn’t know enough to ask the question; Never losing sight of the big picture, you were there once; Teaching demeanor, persistence, patience, and all of the other things that don’t come in a book; Offering guidance but not insisting; Remembering, above all else, that you can make a difference.