Volume 20, Number 1
Jan/Feb 2003


Voices of Experience

Mary Ellen Hanley

Too many mentors? That's an oxymoron for law students and new lawyers setting up practice. In the coming months, GP Mentor will give you the benefit of experienced voices from general practitioners, solos, and small firm members who'll be able to tell you what they know now that they didn't know then.

What is your background, and what inspired you to become a lawyer?
My Brown University undergraduate degree was a B.S. in science, cum laude with high honors in physics. A course at Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island, when I was a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, inspired me to become a lawyer.

What influenced your decision to pursue a general practice/solo/small firm career?
When I joined my Seattle law firm in 1963, I had no particular civil law specialty. After eight years of mostly commercial, tax, and estate planning/probate, I gravitated to construction law, which became my specialty for the remaining 25 years of my practice.

What are the biggest changes in law practice you have observed over the years?
Doing computerized legal research, control/analysis of discovery and billing, and the ever-increasing use of paralegals.

Whom do you most admire?
Among the many lawyers I greatly admire, Dennis Archer.

What was the best professional advice you ever received?
Keep your correspondence and legal briefs succinct, with careful attention to grammar.

What was the worst professional advice you ever received?
Never trust opposing counsel.

What is your greatest source of professional pride?
My contribution in aid of JAGs through the Military Law Committee of the GP Section and the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance to Military Personnel.

Who or what got you started with ABA and/or GP Section involvement?
Being a guest at a meeting of the Military Law Committee during a midwinter ABA meeting in Seattle in the early 1970s.

What can the ABA and/or GP Section do to be a good home to young lawyers?
Keep up the excellent work, and make GPSolo subscriptions available to young lawyers who are not yet members of the GP Section.

What personality trait has served you best over the years?
A fierce determinaton to give every assignment my very best.

What area of general/solo/small firm practice did you like most and least?
I liked the opportunity to grasp and utilize knowledge of civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering in my law practice. I disliked the required evenings and weekends in the office that kept me away from my family.

What is the one thing you cannot stand regarding the law/lawyers?
I cannot abide pompous lawyers who substitute rhetoric for thorough preparation!

What advice would you give new lawyers?
Be prepared, be prepared-and then some.
Never use a yellow pad when addressing the bench
Keep your briefs shorter than the maximum allowed by court rules

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