Once in a while you meet someone who makes a lasting impression on you. It’s very trendy today to speak of these people as mentors or role models. When the name Rabb Emison comes to my mind, I immediately think of the word “great.” Rabb Emison was a great person, a great resource, and a great member of the legal community. With his recent passing, we have truly lost a valued member of the legal profession and Indiana society.
Tucked away in his practice in Vincennes, Rabb Emison was the epitome of civility and professionalism in the practice of law. He carried himself with dignity and was ramrod straight in his appearance and in his demeanor.
Rabb Emison was a caring thinker. He frequently shared his thoughts through his submissions to “Res Gestae.” His writings were thoughtful, inspiring, and a real lesson plan for those starting out in the legal profession. Here are a few snippets of his comments.
On service to the community:
[T]here is a lot for lawyers to give in public service. The rewards go to the people and you have a good time in the bargain.
Rabb Emison, Fair Comment, RES GESTAE (Sept. 1991). The Indiana Bar Foundation has published a booklet with nearly all of Rabb Emison’s “Res Gestae” columns. For a copy, contact Jerry Zeigler at Ewing Printing in Vincennes, Ind., www.ewingprinting.com, (800) 982-2415.
Why you may ask, should I be concerned with more than the welfare of my client and seeing that I am compensated for doing a job well done? Why should I be concerned for people I do not know and matters that will likely be forgotten? There is a short answer to those questions. You are a lawyer.
Id. (Sept. 1992)
The distinction between a professional and a tradesman . . . is that a professional gives away a percentage of his time.
Id. (Mar. 1995).
On the importance of mentoring:
Find a mentor. Selection of a role model is a natural adaptation. The mentor will supply a standard for judgment and style, more than rules. Judgment and style, like a smooth golf swing, is better learned by imitation than by words. Your selection of a mentor, someone whose manner you admire, will probably be because the person’s style is similar to your own. No one knows how judgment is developed. Perhaps like music in the movies, it just appears at the appropriate moment.
Rabb Emison, President’s Message, “Res Gestae” (June 1987).
He mentored the entire Indiana bar by dispensing sage advice to the young and old lawyer alike:
Your reputation is to be made in your first five years. It is developed by trustworthiness, punctuality, and style. Sacrifice during this period to develop a good reputation, and it will be a lifetime benefit. If you develop a flawed reputation, it sticks with you. And you deserve it.
With your client, always exhibit concern. This is being prompt, returning calls, making reports and listening. The client knows a problem exists and is aware that it may not be solved. You are not to be faulted for failing to solve all problems, but you should be faulted for indifference to the client. Today, you can be sued.
Stand your ground when you are right. Any experienced lawyer is a good bluffer and bluffs best against the new lawyer. In my rookie year, I spoke up in a trial conference. The adversary had failed in essential proof. When I pointed this out, first the opposition, then the judge, then – of all things – my lead counsel looked at me as a Creature from the Deep Lagoon. I was embarrassed and shut up, although I was right.
Enjoy your practice. You will have sweet victories, and, on occasion, your heart will be broken. If you have served your client well, you will have succeeded.
Before diversity was a buzzword, Emison called for diversity in the practice of law:
This bar association should stir itself to see that the percentage of minority lawyers fairly reflects the population. As we are a proud profession, participating in the government, all voices should be fairly represented.
Id. (Oct. 1987).
In the future, our Bar will reflect more of the changes to be seen in our profession. If Indiana is to participate in a cosmopolitan world, the practice of law here should be receptive to all comers. The opportunity to practice is, of course, equal to all, but the Bar has a role in encouraging any applicant to believe in a welcome.
Id. (Feb. 1987).
Last but not least, he stressed the importance of enjoying the practice of law:
What can this mean to lawyers? [discussing Vietnam War] Lawyers are combatants, and for them, too, humor is a leavening force to stress. A trial lawyer has good reason to remember that work done with loyalty to a cause does not require being grim. Each of us knows lawyers whose approach is a gut shot rather than consideration of the issues. LET UP. That approach is boring, tedious stuff. Competent, admired lawyers know a dose of humor, to quote a lyric, is the “spoonful of sugar [that] makes the medicine go down.”
Rabb Emison, Fair Comment, “Res Gestae” (Dec. 1995).
Take time to smell the flowers along the way.
Id. (June 2003).
Emison certainly took his own advice.•
Jeff Crabill is an attorney with State Farm Litigation Counsel in Indianapolis and is a member of DTCI. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.