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DTCI: Early mentors influenced me as an attorney

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DTCI donald smithHow did I turn out like this? After practicing law for 32 years, I decided it was time to look back and examine the reasons that I behave certain ways.

As a second-year law student, I was fortunate to land a job as a law clerk with the management labor law firm of Roberts Ryder Rogers & Neighbours. My clerkship then turned into an associate position upon graduation from law school. Not only did I learn to practice law, but I also learned how to act like a lawyer. The mentors that I had at that firm and the things I learned from them continue to affect me today.

Why have I not embraced “business casual attire?” I never saw Bill Roberts at work without his suit jacket on. I admire the man to this day and continue to honor him by wearing a suit and tie to work each day.

Why don’t I pound the table and scream at my opponents? As a new associate, I carried Henry Ryder’s briefcase into collective bargaining negotiations. We were in the middle of heated negotiations with the Teamsters Union and the union rep was getting frustrated with the company’s proposals. The rep declared to his negotiating committee, “We’re done!” He stood up to lead his “troops” out of the room. Instead of meeting fire with fire, Henry calmly reminded the rep, “Harry, you know that’s not our final proposal.” Henry’s reasonable tone and demeanor completely deflated the rep’s bravado, and he embarrassedly slipped back into his chair. If Henry had not diffused that situation with his calm demeanor, I would bet the union would still be out on strike today.

Why don’t I demonstrate frustration when witnesses throw curve balls from the witness stand? Jack Rogers took me to arbitrations. I fondly remember a case in which the grievant, terminated for stealing from his employer, appeared at the hearing wearing a Boy Scout uniform. Jack’s first question during cross-examination was, “Are you going to a Jamboree this afternoon?” I am convinced the arbitrator did not hear another word the witness said (and I know it was not my stellar post-hearing brief that won the case for us that day).

Why do I avoid seeking extensions of time? Owen “Bud” Neighbours gave me some practical advice when I was considering getting an extension of time for filing something. He said, “Avoid seeking extensions of time. A good lawyer is not going to be any less busy 30 days from now.”

Why do I try to treat everyone with respect? D. Reed Scism consistently showed that he genuinely cared about people. For four years, our offices were separated by a common wall, and I never heard him raise his voice, but I often heard him genuinely act interested when his secretary would tell him a story about her family.

Why do I use subheadings in long letters and briefs? The recruiting partner, Greg Utken, suggested that the reader would appreciate it, and it would be more persuasive if I included subheadings to provide him with a road map for my argument. I owe Greg not only for teaching me the benefit of using subheadings, but I also owe him for hiring me, selling me my first house, and most importantly, introducing me to my bride.

Why am I not satisfied with just doing work for my current clients? No matter how many clients John Neighbours had, he was always looking for more. He was particularly successful at “working a room.” While I sometimes got stuck in a conversation and did not know how to move on gracefully, it was fascinating to watch John move from conversation to conversation. He was very successful in turning those conversations into business.

Why am I envious when an attorney cites cases from memory? David Miller worked at the National Labor Relations Board before he came to work for the firm. I marveled at his memory when asking me to do research on some obscure point of labor law. He would tell me, “You should find a case on that in Volume 267 of the Labor Reporter.” He was usually correct. I wish I had that recall.

I publicly thank my mentors for training and teaching me in the early years of my practice. Their impact on me continues. Although I am still a work in progress, I sincerely believe I was taught by an extraordinary group of men. Thank you, gentlemen, for mentoring me. (And special thanks to my secretary, Debbie Richards, for teaching me the proper etiquette for dictating, including her explicit instruction to turn off the dictaphone before sneezing, coughing or belching!)•

__________

Mr. Smith is a partner at Riley Bennett & Egloff in Indianapolis and is a director of DTCI. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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