- This month’s newsletter is about mentoring and the law. You’ve had an extensive career primarily in complex tort litigation and for the ten years prior to becoming a special master as a partner at Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia. In addition, you served as Chairman of a hearing panel for the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Each of these roles lends itself to mentoring. What is the value of mentoring generally? And what are the specific benefits of it in the legal profession?
Answer: Mentoring in the legal profession is tremendously important in my view. When a young lawyer graduates from law school he or she has a broad exposure to many areas of the law, but little practical experience and virtually no knowledge of the factual areas they will encounter, particularly for litigators. Harry Philo, a great trial lawyer from Michigan, who was one of my mentors, always emphasized the importance of sharing with other lawyers in order to assure the best possible representation for clients coming into the legal system. This includes sharing knowledge of medicine or engineering or creative methods of case presentation. I have always tried to follow that credo in mentoring associates, helping other lawyers, speaking at seminars and so forth.
- Did your view of the role of mentorship in the law evolve as you transitioned into being a law partner? A special master? If so, how? How does mentoring associates compare with mentoring law clerks or even other special masters?
Answer: The role of mentoring obviously became more important as I learned more and assumed first chair roles in cases with assistance from associates and paralegals. As I developed more focused knowledge in product liability, medical malpractice or specific types of cases like TBI or carbon monoxide poisoning there was also greater call for me to speak at seminars or write articles which is another way of mentoring. Since coming to OSM, I have tried to mentor law clerks. I have also been committed to a collegial exchange of ideas and past expertise with other special masters. There is also the role of guiding less experienced lawyers who are trying to learn the law, medicine, and folkways of the Vaccine Program. I have used status conferences with new lawyers to explain procedural requirements, the need for particular types of experts, and even why a certain case is unlikely to succeed in a way that the lawyer can understand and can explain to his or her client.
- You’ve often mentored young people who want to become lawyers about the possible career paths. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about being a lawyer? In turn, what do you think the best advice you’ve ever given about being a lawyer?
Answer: It is difficult to isolate a single piece of advice that I received as a young lawyer but as you are asking that question, I would say the advice to never exaggerate the facts or the law of a case by one iota. Your credibility depends on that. I think that was good advice then and is today.
I tell young lawyers or prospective lawyers that when we qualify for a license to practice law, it is important to understand that we are being given a sacred trust that requires us to work hard, to give honest advice, to be creative, and to understand the extent to which lay people rely on our judgment. As lawyers we need to remember that the difference between people obtaining justice, or not, is often in the quality of the lawyering they receive which often requires extensive preparation and mastery of the facts and the law of each case. This is particularly true when cases are complex with a great deal at stake. After that it is important to understand that life as a lawyer involves being willing to learn new things constantly and be prepared for change which happens frequently.
- What role does the Bar play in mentorship, either formal or informal, in the law and the courtroom?
Answer: The Bar plays many roles such as in conducting seminars in relevant subject areas and in providing opportunities for social interaction with other lawyer and judges. Sometimes the best mentoring occurs in informal conversations at Bar events.
- What is the role of special masters in promoting and using mentorship in the courtroom generally as well as in times of crisis, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer: I think it is important to assure that lawyers on both sides have the opportunity to fairly present their cases and represent their clients. It involves understanding some of the pressures of practice and the need to be flexible in these unusual times.
Rapid Fire Round!
- Mac or PC?
Answer: I have always been a PC user.
- Top-three on your Spotify/I-tunes playlist?
Answer: Hard to say, probably some Bruce Springsteen or Willie Nelson songs
- Philly Cheesesteak or Ben’s Chili Bowl half smoke?
Answer: Philly Cheesesteak of course.
- ‘Nova hoops or Seventy-Sixers?
Answer: ‘Nova hoops for sure.
- Stay-at-Home Binge: books or television?
Answer: Both, as well as newspapers and magazines. I read the New York Times every day and try to keep up with significant developments in medical literature in relevant areas too. We have been glad for the availability of television series on the cable networks which have provided significant entertainment.
The Bar Association provides its members numerous educational opportunities and opportunities for practitioners to meet and interact with the judges of the Court and colleagues from both public and private practice for these purposes. Our members work closely with the Court’s judges to develop programs, contribute to revisions of the Court’s Rules, and organize a broad range of educational and other activities.