GPSolo Magazine - January February 2005
Voices of Experience
What is your background, and what inspired you to become a lawyer?
My interest in a legal career was launched while I was still in elementary school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I read a lot of biographies of this nation’s leaders and noticed that many of them were lawyers. It seemed to me that law was a profession that put one in an excellent position from which to lead.
What are the biggest changes in law practice you have observed through the years?
I’ve spent my entire legal career as a judge advocate. Judge advocates must increasingly rely on individuals with specialized knowledge in order to deal with the ever-expanding universe of practice areas, statutes, regulations, and case decisions. The Air Force JAG Corps has confronted this challenge by developing a robust LL.M. program in which we send at least 20 attorneys each year to school for specialized training.
What early lawyer experiences have helped you in your career?
In 1989, when I was a little more than three years out of law school, I was assigned as lead counsel on a capital murder case. Our defense team worked well together, and I learned a great deal from the case. Fortunately, my client was found not guilty of premeditated murder and, as a result, was not eligible for the death penalty.
Whom do you most admire?
I most admire Jesus Christ because he showed no fear. He was a true revolutionary who was willing and able to confront the religious establishment of his day, set an example, and bring about change. Also, Nelson Mandela. I was amazed when, after his release from 27 years in jail, he focused on reconciliation as opposed to retribution.
Who or what got you started with ABA and/or GP|Solo Section involvement?
I’ve been a member of the ABA my entire legal career and have been actively involved since 1991. Major General Tom Fiscus, the current Air Force Judge Advocate General, was President of the Judge Advocates Association (JAA) at the time. He gave me an opportunity to represent the JAA on the council of the ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division when the Division was founded. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and went on to get involved in the Young Lawyers Division, where I chaired two committees and headed a YLD Task Force on Minority Bar Passage. I’ve been hooked ever since.
What was the best professional advice you ever received?
To learn as much as possible about my client, my client’s culture, and the culture in which I operate as an attorney. For example, as an Air Force officer, I found out as much as possible about the Air Force, Air Force commanders (who tended to be my clients), and the Air Force JAG Corps. This cultural orientation has allowed me to provide high-quality advice and to have that advice accepted by clients because it’s presented in a manner that they understand and that reflects their needs.
What can the ABA and/or GP|Solo Section do to be a good home to young lawyers?
The ABA and the Section need to continually look for opportunities to provide young lawyers with practical information—tools for their tool bag. Young lawyers benefit tremendously from practice tips on such things as the drafting of agreements, effectively using visual aids, and preparing for mediation sessions.
What personality trait has served you best through the years?
I do my best to take an interest in people with whom I come in contact—the administrative staff, the cleaning staff, as well as paralegals and lawyers. Doing this has made it easier for me to get the cooperation of others.
What advice would you give new lawyers?
• Get to know the culture of your firm or practice setting and do your best to get to know your client’s culture and needs.
• Work on your listening skills. Make sure you listen carefully to ascertain your client’s objectives. Don’t take this for granted!
• Build and maintain relationships. To be effective we need effective relationships with subordinates, support personnel, clients, superiors, and with our families.
• Strive for balance on a daily basis. We can have the world’s greatest practice, but if we’ve obtained it at the expense of our integrity, our families, our health, or our spiritual well-being, we’ve gained nothing at all.