Mentoring promotes professionalism

Mentoring promotes professionalism

December 19, 2020 dltbsyjqzoag 0

first_img December 15, 2002 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular News Mentoring promotes professionalism Mentoring promotes professionalism Associate EditorThere she was in the men’s room, surrounded by urinals, chasing a male lawyer for some withheld documents in a discovery dispute in a big commercial case.Call it Katherine Clark Silverglate’s moment of reckoning.After four years of lawyering at a large national firm, she didn’t like the distrusting, ruthless, hardened, go-for-the-jugular trial lawyer she had become.“I think I scared the man to death. He said, ‘I will give you anything you need if you will just leave!’ I saw myself as not knowing how to cope, turning into that stereotypical bulldog lawyer crap,” Silverglate recalls.She wasn’t herself and she didn’t like it. Raised by an Irish mother who grew up in a convent, Silverglate had gone to Catholic schools, and once had a very sheltered, idealistic view of the world. Then, to her horror, she found herself turning into a cutthroat lawyer. She wasn’t happy. She just wasn’t going to do it anymore. Even though she was making a lot of money, she quit her job.A friend working at another firm was moving, and called Silverglate to persuade her to go for her job. At that new job at that new firm in Miami, a seasoned lawyer named Mike Nachwalter showed Silverglate by example how it is possible to be a good lawyer and a good person at the same time.“My mentor made all the difference,” says Silverglate, now a happy, inspired lawyer with 15 years experience, involved in Bar activities, passionate about the profession.“In my fourth year of practice, I quit. I couldn’t figure it out. I was too stupid to know I needed someone to help me.”Now, as vice chair of The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism, Silverglate is busy spreading the gospel to law students about the importance of linking up with a mentor in the Bar’s E-Mentoring Project. She got a 100-percent sign-up response when she gave her one-hour dramatic monologue to about 160 students at St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami. After the first of the year, she will make her presentation at Barry University, Coastal University, and the University of Miami law schools, eventually hitting every law school in the state.The project pairs law students with experienced lawyers willing to share stories and give advice via e-mail. The goal is to provide a safety net for young lawyers before they leave law school, before they pass the bar, and before they take on the responsibility of representing the interests of clients in Florida.Admitting she always wanted to be an actress, Silverglate dons 36 hats to make her point in her lecture called “The Many Fabulous Hats a Lawyer Wears.”“I go into different characters with each hat, all the different things we are as lawyers: We are counselors, we are priests, we are firemen, we are policemen, we are teachers with our little rulers, we are magicians pulling rabbits out of our hats,” Silverglate explains. “I walked into lawyering without a clue about that fact. I came out of the first four years shell-shocked. I thought it was just figuring out legal principles and applying them. I was unprepared for reality.”Then Nachwalter came into her life and changed everything.“Michael found me and said, ‘Listen kid, you need to learn from someone.’ He took me under his wing. He mentored me. He showed me there is more to being a lawyer than making money. And that it is a privilege to be able to enter people’s lives the way lawyers do to make a difference. He helped me focus on the bigger picture and what a wonderful contribution lawyers make. Michael loves being a lawyer, and he believes in it. You can’t fake that. He nurtures the young lawyers in their lives.”From Nachwalter’s perspective, it was no big deal, just returning the favor of what an older lawyer once did for him when he was starting out in the profession 35 years ago.“You get a diamond like Katherine, you don’t have to do that much mentoring, just a little polishing,” said Nachwalter, a former member of the Bar Board of Governors.“She’s a very smart, hardworking lawyer. And I feel that all lawyers have a responsibility to the profession to do to young lawyers what lawyers did to us.”In Nachwalter’s case, his mentor was Hugo Black, Jr.“He’s a great lawyer. What he did with me, I did with Katherine. He gave me a lot of responsibility and was always there if I needed to talk.”While Silverglate was very smart and very capable, Nachwalter said, she was overly aggressive.“I told her: ‘You can be a nice person and a tough litigator.’ There is a Rambo technique of litigation, but I have never been a believer in that,” said Nachwalter, who once read an excerpt about the goodness of milk and cookies in the afternoon from “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” by Robert Fulghum, when a Board of Governors’ debate got a bit too heated.“What we do as lawyers is tough, and we try to win. That doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk in the process,” Nachwalter says.With Silverglate, he said, “She had some doubts. You get into this profession and your head goes around when you are a young lawyer. I thought she had it, and I’m proud to say I was right.”Nachwalter put Silverglate on the same case with him, gave her assignments, and worked arm-in-arm.“He would just let me go as far as I could. Sometimes, he’d pick me up by the scruff of the neck, say, ‘Look at what you did’ and make me figure it out,” Silverglate recalls.Sometimes, Nachwalter would actually sing to her: “Birds gotta fly.”“I didn’t know I was ready to fly,” Silverglate says. “He knew I was ready to fly.”That realization hit during a case that came down to a battle of actuarial experts testifying about lost reserves of insurance companies. Silverglate spent a week with one of the best actuaries in the country in New York, soaking up everything he told her like a sponge. When it came time to cross-examine the other side’s expert, well, as Silverglate tells it: “I kicked butt.“As it was happening, I recognized that I had been put in that position by someone who cared enough to know when it was time to fly and let me go.”While she “kicked butt” in the case, she still was able to maintain her kindness as a person, her love of the law, and a desire to become involved in Bar activities to help better a noble profession.That is the gift of mentoring, she says, that she wants to spread around to other young lawyers before they have to learn these lessons the hard way, like she did.The e-mentoring project is the brainchild of Michael Josephs, chair of The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism.“Mentoring is at the heart of maintaining a professional environment in Florida,” Josephs said. “We knew when we wrote this program a few years ago that it would eventually catch fire.”Originally, the program was introduced as the Mentor Attorney Professionalism Program, a CLE program for mentors and a voluntary project for young lawyers.“The problem was, we couldn’t convince young lawyers that they really needed a mentor,” Silverglate admits. “So we rethought our approach and decided that our mission was under-served by waiting until a lawyer has actually started to practice without the guidance of a mentor. Our mission is now fully-served by making sure that each and every law student in the state of Florida has the opportunity to be matched with a mentor.”Silverglate credits Elizabeth Honkenen, a young associate at the Kenny Nachwalter firm, with suggesting they transform the mentoring project into e-mentoring, as has been successfully done in a Dade County Bar project with high school students. Silverglate also thanks Russell Jacobs, a Dade County lawyer, who volunteered to pair the mentors with mentees, and 11th Circuit Chief Judge Joseph Farina, who penned a letter and recruited 600 qualified mentors.Co-chairs of the Bar Subcommittee of the Commission on Professionalism—John Berry, executive director of the Michigan Bar and former director of The Florida Bar’s Legal Division, and Ross Goodman, a Pensacola lawyer, also were instrumental in creating and supporting the e-mentoring project.“We’re going to be working closely with the law schools and learning from projects that they are already doing and doing well and trying to coordinate with them,” Berry said. “Many of them have tried mentoring efforts in the past, some have good efforts going now. Our effort will be to coordinate and provide resources help and ideas to make it even better.”Silverglate also thanks her husband Spencer Silverglate, who, as a managing partner of a law firm, has “wholeheartedly embraced the concept and is making sure that we do more than teach people how to make money but how to treat people well.”last_img

 

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