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DTCI: Summer associates: Find your 'Bill Wooden' mentor

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DTCI-Misha-Rabinowitch-sigRoughly this time of year, 18 years ago, I sat in Bill Wooden’s office listening intently as he provided the information that he believed was necessary for me to complete a time-sensitive research project. Admittedly, as a newly minted summer law clerk, I was intimidated and nervous, but I was excited to “hit the books” and report to Bill the results of my hard work. The anxiousness of the moment was more than I anticipated because when I sat down at my desk to digest Bill’s instructions, I could barely remember the issue and I had no clue where to start.

I toiled in the library for what seemed like an eternity, then several hours later I returned to Bill’s office, statute book in hand (hoping – no praying – that it was the right one), and said sheepishly, “Bill, I have some questions about my assignment.” I remember his response as if it were yesterday. Clearly pressed for time, Bill, bow tie and all, leaned back in his chair, peered across his desk over his half glasses, scowled, and said, “Son, I don’t have time for questions, I need answers.” Immediately, I started to sweat, but somehow I came up with an answer that apparently pleased him, although I recall leaving his office not entirely confident that what I told him was accurate.

I know that Bill was not the first, and will not be the last, senior partner to intimidate a young law clerk, but the lessons of that day, and the days and years thereafter as I watched Bill in action, live with me to this day. Lessons such as: make sure you ask the right questions up front; don’t wait until it’s too late. Remember that although lawyers may not have all the answers at hand, they must react and respond quickly and confidently, all the while realizing that words have consequences.

Bill passed away in February, but his legacy endures. He was humble and loyal to his clients, his partners, and the practice of law. For Bill, being a lawyer meant much more than a job, it was an art that required serious thought and reflection, precision, and compassion. He worked tirelessly for his clients and put firm above himself. A fierce advocate, he was at the same time dedicated to practicing his trade and treating others with the highest level of professionalism. He was proud to be considered a “lawyer’s lawyer.”

In 1994, Bill was the recipient of DTCI’s Lawyer of the Year Award, but his humility and disdain for lawyer advertising and self-aggrandizement probably made it difficult for him even to accept the honor. In fact, I’m not sure he would approve of this article. Bill’s steadfast belief was that if you did good work, clients would follow. Perhaps times have changed in that regard, but the premise underlying his belief — the importance of providing high-quality legal service — is time tested.

So my simple message to the 2011 class of summer associates and, for that matter, all young lawyers, is to find your own Bill Wooden — a mentor who in your eyes sets the bar for what a lawyer should be. Try not to get lost in message delivery. Lawyers by nature are busy and often not the best communicators. The lessons you learn may not be immediately obvious, but they are there. Build relationships with your mentors, not just because in the short term doing so may land you a job, but because in the long run it will make you a better lawyer and, more important, a better person.•

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Misha Rabinowitch is a partner in the Indianapolis firm of Wooden & McLaughlin LLP and is a member of the DTCI Board of Directors. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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  3. We as lawyers who have given up the range of First amendment freedom that other people possess, so that we can have a license to practice in the courts of the state and make gobs of money, that we agree to combat the hateful and bigoted discrimination enshrined in the law by democratic majorities, that Law Lord Posner has graciously explained for us....... We must now unhesitatingly condemn the sincerely held religious beliefs of religiously observant Catholics, Muslims, Christians, and Jewish persons alike who yet adhere to Scriptural exhortations concerning sodomites and catamites..... No tolerance will be extended to intolerance, and we must hate the haters most zealously! And in our public explanations of this constitutional garbledygook, when doing the balancing act, we must remember that the state always pushes its finger down on the individualism side of the scale at every turn and at every juncture no matter what the cost to society.....to elevate the values of a minority over the values of the majority is now the defining feature of American "Democracy..." we must remember our role in tricking Americans to think that this is desirable in spite of their own democratically expressed values being trashed. As a secular republic the United States might as well be officially atheist, religious people are now all bigots and will soon be treated with the same contempt that kluckers were in recent times..... The most important thing is that any source of moral authority besides the state be absolutely crushed.

  4. In my recent article in Indiana Lawyer, I noted that grass roots marketing -- reaching out and touching people -- is still one of the best forms of advertising today. It's often forgotten in the midst of all of today's "newer wave" marketing techniques. Shaking hands and kissing babies is what politicians have done for year and it still works. These are perfect examples of building goodwill. Kudos to these firms. Make "grass roots" an essential part of your marketing plan. Jon Quick QPRmarketing.com

  5. Hi, Who can I speak to regarding advertising today? Thanks, Gary

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