mentoring

Some defense lawyers can’t be friends too…

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Last week something unpleasant happened.
I lost a friend.  Not a great one.  But a friend nonetheless.
I met him when he was still a law student and was one of his mentors.  He clerked for our firm.   Then a bit later he worked with us for a year.  He stayed in our building after that, working for another lawyer who was renting an office from us.  We kept in touch.   His boss moved his office.  And we wished them well.  A bit later,  I heard  he had quit and decided to take a job with a defense firm.  No shame in that.  You gotta do what you gotta do.  Especially when you have student loans and the economy isn’t that great.  Plus being a defense lawyer might be the opposite of what I do now, but I used to be one.  And my best friend in the whole wide world is one.  So am not prejudiced against defense lawyers.
Over the next year, heard some unflattering comments about how he was acting towards people he used to be colleagues with.  Figured he was probably trying to prove himself tough in his new gig.
Last summer ran into him and invited him to grab lunch one day.  We walked up to Tup Tim Thai and had a nice time.
My first experience with him as defense lawyer on a case was last week. I was in trial (still am) on another case.  Time does not stand still on other cases just because you are in trial.  He was covering for a lawyer I had been dealing with, who had gone on vacation.  John had emailed to confirm that a deposition would not be going forward because we had moved for a protective order.  Plus I had a conflict since I would still be in trial.
He sent an email telling us essentially – too bad.  Not only were they going forward with the deposition, but if we did not appear, he would “seek terms for the failure to appear to a properly noted deposition.”
This threat was made without ever having spoken to me about this case.
Many years ago – mainly when I was constantly fighting Allstate – I would ask the court for terms.  In fact, the beautiful painting above my desk was bought with sanction money I was awarded by a Judge against Allstate.  Back in the day when Glenn Phillips used to work for them.
Maybe I’ve mellowed with age … but I rarely ask for terms.  [Note:  there is a difference between requesting terms and threatening someone with the seeking of terms.] I save them for when someone’s been really bad.  Otherwise, asking for terms isn’t very nice.   Courts rarely grant them.  Plus you end up ticking off the other side.
His was a silly threat.  There was after all, a pending motion regarding the deposition.  Plus I was in trial and had a direct conflict.  There wasn’t any basis to actually haul me before a Federal Judge who would then punish me.
Still, it was a threat.  From someone with whom I’d had a friendship for several years.  so, I unilaterally broke up with him online.  Have to say, it was a swift and easy process.  First I unfriended him.  Then I went on a twitter rant.  Here are some of them:
  • As I was reading his obnoxious email, I felt a PING in my heart. It was the string of our friendship breaking.
  • And so I did what any modern American would do. I unfriended him. Instantly on Facebook
  • This is the first time, I’ve ever ended a friendship emotionally and then confirmed by the delete key. It is somehow affirming.

Photo:  Me and the former friend back when he used to work for my lawfirm.

Paul Luvera’s special timer

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Paul Luvera tried a huge case a few months ago.  And won.  At the age of 78. (Here’s his bio).

I have admired (borderline worshipped) Paul over the years for his skill in trial.  Several times I’ve gone to watch.  What  struck me, was the way he so gracefully prowled the courtroom floor.  And owned it.

For the past almost 30 years, our state trial lawyer’s annual convention has featured the Luvera Seminar.  Paul moderated the program based upon ten minute presentations.  If you went over – DING.  The timer went off.  If you didn’t do a good job – ouch.  And even if you did a good job – one never knew how Paul would react.  All of this fear, uncertainty, and mastery combined to create a highly anticipated program.

The first time I spoke at the seminar, it was on spoliation of evidence.  My focus was not simply to survive the experience.  I wanted to impress Paul.

Over the years, Paul has sent me books and quotes or articles he thinks I’ll like.  He is always learning and thinking and wanting to grow more.

This year, Paul decided to end his seminar reign.  The association invited me to take over the permanently named Luvera Seminar.  This is what Paul initially wrote:

“…I was very flattered regarding the name of the program and thrilled you were doing the program at the convention in my place. I told Gerhard (the Executive Director) you had that ability to run the program with observations and advice that people would like. You know  that I admire your continuing search to improve your skills, your  courage in meeting challenges and your potential for even  more greatness as a trial lawyer. I am not one for false praise and  you have been on my short  list of attorneys from whom I expect great things  even with a glass ceiling  in this profession.”

Today in the mail was a package from Paul.  A vintage yellow Sunbeam quartz timer with a note:

“Hi Karen –  Hanna Reisner, the first Executive Director of WSTLA gave me this timer more than 25 years ago to time talks.  I pass on this gift which I used at all of the convention Luvera seminars, or if you prefer, for cooking at home!”

Sometimes I need to pinch myself.  This is one of those moments.

Photo:  Mailing wrapper of Sunbeam timer and Paul N. Luvera’s note.

P.S:  Here’s his blog.

Tale of the ski bunny: why copying your mentor doesn’t always work

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Flashback.

We are up at the mountain.  John, my then husband, his best friend Dale, and me.  Our mission – teach John to ski.  He is a basketball player. This means skiing has not been encouraged over the years by his coaches. 

After finding gear that actually fits, we mosy on over to the base of the lift.  Dale and I are shouting out instructions and words of encouragement. 

Predictably, not long into it, John topples over.

I say – just flip your leg over, keep your ski tips pointed slightly up and parrallel and then using your poles just pull yourself up.

He can’t.

I get down on the snow next to him, do the manuever and pop up.  See, do it just like that, I say.

He can’t.

Over and over this pattern goes.   Dale by now has left the scene (traitor). 

John is starting to sweat and finally tells me to go away and leave him alone.

I ski off in a huff.  From the lift watch him take his skis off, stand up and put them back on. 

As you can see  by the picture, I had been skiing pretty much as long as I’d been walking.  I was experienced and had good technique.  I was not just giving verbal instructions, but got down and demonstrated.  Multiple times.  And John was extremely athletic.  So what was the problem.

Well, for starters on a good day, I was almost 5’4.  And John was 6’8.

Among other things, my skiis and poles were two feet shorter.

Here’s the point.

We humans learn through emulation.  We identify someone who has a skillset we admire.  And then we try to follow their example.

The trial lawyer culture is premised on this learning model.

But at the end of the day, imitation will only get you so far.

Photo:  Baby Karen in heart ski suit, no gloves, wooden skis with interesting straps and apparently, snow boots.

The legend of the little fighting Chinese mother lawyer psychic – MFK@80

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Mary Fung Koehler is 80 today.  So far, these are the lives that she has led:

  • Child number 7 of 11 to immigrant parents
  • Worker in the family Chinese restaurants in Chicago during the depression
  • 3rd female  to graduate from the University of Illinois in chemical engineering
  • Employed as a chemical engineer
  • Married to Jim and a wife for almost 3 decades
  • Mother to Karen, Debbie, Susan, Jennifer and Gregory
  • Law student when pregnant with Susan, Jennifer and Gregory
  • Practicing lawyer in Lake Forest Park for 2 decades
  • Real estate agent
  • Predictor of IQ’s – the most famous being that Greg’s dog Izzy’s IQ was higher than that of George W. Bush.
  • Dowsing fanatic  and  believer in all things intuitively magical.

MFK taught us to stand our ground.   To fight for what is right.  And that women were just as capable as men, if not better (she was and is a bit of a female chauvenist).

Happy Birthday Mom!

Photo:  MFK on graduation day from UW Law School in 1968 standing in front of our garage.  I was 8, Debbie 7, Susan 3, Jenny 1 and Greg was 7.5 months in utero.

The secret life of a mentor

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“Hi, I heard from so and so that you would be a good person to talk to about (fill in the blank with something about the pracitce of law).  Do you have time to talk to me.”

Regardless if I do or don’t, I never say no.  And always do it in person.

Whether it is a 7:30 am breakfast at CJ’s, lunch, or a visit to the office, when young people seek me out personally to ask for advice or input, I believe eyeball to eyeball is the best way to meet.

Over the years I’ve probably done this a hundred times.  At least.

It started when I was part of the University of Washington mentor program in the 1990s.  It was interesting when they asked, because I was an not an alumni of the law school though I went there as an undergrad.  The first person I mentored didn’t even want to be a personal injury lawyer.  But she was female and Asian and based upon that we were matched.  In retrospect, the forced matching didn’t really work all that well.  To truly mentor, there needs to be a connection that’s based on more than demographics.

The mentoring kicked into higher gear after I became a trial lawyer of the year and president of the trial lawyer association.  That’s when I invented the early morning breakfast routine.  That way I never had to say no.  Many people met me at 7:00 or 7:30 at The Shanty for blueberry pancakes with fake butter and sugar syrup.

As many guys as gals seek me out.  Most are either in law school or recent graduates. Some are still in college.  Some have been out practicing in other fields and want to change directions.   There are defense lawyers, those who had taken a break usually to have children and looking to re-enter, children of lawyers who know me, friends of my children, out of towners, and those who have taken classes that I taught at the U of W.

Here are some secret and not so secret tips for being a good mentor.

  • The first time you connect, aways meet in person
  • Do not spend the whole time talking about yourself or telling stories
  • Don’t be a mentor unless it can be about more than you
  • Don’t try to match yourself to someone who simply looks and acts like you
  • Make sure you have something in common before you meet
  • Ask a lot of questions
    • Why they wanted to become a lawyer
    • What their strengths are
    • What their challenges are
    • What they are hoping for
    • What are they worried about
  • Listen to their answers
  • Give thoughtful, caring input
  • Input doesn’t mean act like a know it all
  • Input doesn’t mean tell them what to do
  • Sometimes the best input after they answer a question, is to ask another one
  • Humor is good
  • Let them ask you questions then answer all of them if you can.
  • If you are not genuinely interested, then don’t do it
  • Don’t wait until you have time.  You have to make time.
  • Don’t expect to get anything back (but you will)
  • Always pay for the meal
  • Share your less than perfect self – let them see that you are human
  • Do not judge them – your job is to be a sounding board and an encourager
  • You already are an inspiration to them.  That’s why they sought you out.  No need to do any additional puffery.
  • Listen to the good, bad, and ugly stories they have to share about things like how they are being treated by their bosses (all of whom you know); then don’t ever repeat them
  • Cloak what they say with full confidentiality
  • For every bad thing they share; share a bad thing that you’ve gone through and are better for
  • Refer cases to them
  • Feel free to blur the professional  lines by inviting them into your real life
  • Introduce them to others who can be friends or professional connections
  • Let them talk to your kids
  • Let them be mauled by Nala

Photo:  Liz, Ada and Olga having breakfast at my house.

 


Check out a recent interview by Super Lawyers about my blog. Yes, I'm a lawyer. But I'm also a human being. I have a doggie named Nala, three daughters, eat brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts for breakfast, and wear jeans as often as possible when not in court.
Favorite Quotations

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
— Nelson Mandela


Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've to say, and say it hot.
— D. H. Lawrence


Why slap them on the wrist with a feather when you can belt them over the head with a sledgehammer.
— Katharine Hepburn


Truth, when not sought after, rarely comes to light.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.
— Langston Hughes


There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.
— Jane Austen


Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality. — Edgar Allan Poe


If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, wouldn't you, at any time? And you would achieve nothing! — Margaret Thatcher


Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
— Dr. Suess


Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.
— Abraham Lincoln


If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. — Desmond Tutu


True eloquence consists in saying all that is required and only what is required. — La Rochefoucauld


No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. — Aesop


The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free. — Oprah Winfrey


If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative. — Woody Allen


The soul never thinks without a picture. — Aristotle


To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. — William Shakespeare


Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. — Muhammad Ali


Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. — Stephen Hawking


It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. — Apache proverb


People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost. — Dalai Lama


How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
— Anne Frank


Learn to laugh; it is a discipline to be mastered. Let go of the everlasting burden of always needing to sound profound. — Richard J. Foster


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. — Albert Einstein


Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain. — Helen Keller


Remember that lost time does not return. — Thomas á Kempis


If thou faint in the day of adversity thy strength is small. — Proverbs 24:10


Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. — Gertrude Stein


It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom. — Albert Einstein


The right of trial by jury shall be preserved. — 7th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution


I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees. — Ludacris


And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more.
— Erica Jong


Words are chameleons, which reflect the color of their environment. — Judge Learned Hand


You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefullness, But still, like air, I'll rise. — Maya Angelou


The moment that justice must be paid for by the victim of injustice it becomes itself injustice. — Benjamin Tucker


He who keeps his eye on results cannot give himself wholeheartedly to his task, however simple or complex that task may be. — Howard Thurman


An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. — Mahatma Ghandi


Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr


The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. — Flannery O'Connor


We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles. — Jimmy Carter


To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. — Simone Weil


It is not the level of prosperity that makes for happiness but the kinship of heart to heart and the way we look at the world. — Alexander Solzhenitsyn


It is high time that the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service. — Albert Einstein


The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. — Elie Wiesel


I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. — Bill Cosby


The time is always right to do what is right. — Martin Luther King Jr.


I had rather attempt something great and fail, than to attempt nothing at all and succeed. — Robert Schuller


It is very easy to break down something. You can take a stone and throw it through that window; that is easy. Try fixing it, and that takes longer. It takes longer to help someone who has been broken. That’s the work you’re doing. — Desmond Tutu


How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. — Annie Dillard


Mine honor is my life; both grow in one; Take honor from me, and my life is done. — William Shakespeare


To straighten the crooked you must first do a harder thing – straighten yourself. — Buddha


A thought is an idea in transit. — Pythagoras


Fall seven times, stand up eight. — Old Japanese proverb


No generalization is wholly true, not even this one. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.


Of what use is eloquence? He who engages in fluency of words to control men often finds himself hated by them. — Confucius


There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. — Martha Graham