ILNews

DTCI: Early mentors influenced me as an attorney

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. November, 2014, I was charged with OWI/Endangering a person. I was not given a Breathalyzer test and the arresting officer did not believe that alcohol was in any way involved. I was self-overmedicated with prescription medications. I was taken to local hospital for blood draw to be sent to State Tox Lab. My attorney gave me a cookie-cutter plea which amounts to an ALCOHOL-related charge. Totally unacceptable!! HOW can I get my TOX report from the state lab???

  2. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

  3. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  4. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

  5. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

ADVERTISEMENT