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DTCI: Be a good lawyer, but also be a good mentor

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By Libby Valos Moss
As I sat in my office trying to decide on a topic for this article, I reached out to my colleagues. Our conversation quickly turned toward the value and importance of a young associate having a good mentor. We tend to get so caught up in our own cases and running our law firms that we overlook the importance of teaching new lawyers. I have been fortunate to have had some great mentors during my career. The following is my list of things I have learned over the years in striving to be a good mentor.

1. Teach advocacy along with civility. While you must advocate zealously for your client, you can do so while being polite, professional, and without making it personal. We all want our new lawyers to learn to be good advocates, but a good mentor can teach one to do so with respect and civility toward opposing counsel.

2. Give praise for a job well done. It can be much easier to point out all the mistakes someone made and overlook the accomplishments. Praising a younger lawyer can go a long way to boost confidence. You do not have to throw a party, give an award, or shout it to the world; a simple “nice job” will do the trick.

3. However, when a mistake has been made, talk directly to the new lawyer about a problem, not behind his or her back. It is so easy to be disappointed with the way a new lawyer has handled something and – instead of talking to him directly – complain to your colleagues. While it may not be the most comfortable conversation, the new lawyer will learn to appreciate your being forthright and direct. He cannot learn from a mistake if he doesn’t know a mistake has been made.

4. Give criticism in a respectful manner. I hear too many horror stories from my colleagues and former classmates about partners yelling, throwing tantrums, and being condescending toward younger associates when pointing out mistakes. Chances are, the new lawyer will only remember the way you acted instead of what was done wrong and how it could be done differently. Your goal should be to teach, not to intimidate, which will certainly result in a better work product the next time you assign a project.

5. Encourage creative thinking. When teaching young associates, don’t just tell them what to do. Sit down and brainstorm with them to identify the problem and assist in reaching a solution that is good for the client. Allowing associates to talk and think through a problem will go a long way toward teaching them independence and that not all lawsuits and/or problems are to be resolved in the same fashion.

6. Teach humility. In the world of law, you will lose some and you will win some. Nobody likes a bad loser or a bad winner. Either way, do it with grace.

Whether you agree with my list or not, try to be a good mentor. Someone may even thank you some day.•

____________
Ms. Moss is a partner in the Indianapolis office of Kightlinger & Gray and sits on the board of directors of the DTCI. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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