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May 01, 2016

Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer's Soul

Melanie Bragg

Serving Others Serves Me

As the summer intern season is upon us, I reflect on the importance of mentor/mentee relationships in the law and how the mutually beneficial relationship between those being mentored and the mature mentor ultimately benefits the public by producing well-trained young lawyers and elder lawyers who are still sharp and on the cutting edge of their game. It creates a legacy for the older lawyers. And it produces symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationships that serve as a bridge in the profession.

TRAINING: The mentor/mentee relationship is valuable because it helps train a new generation of lawyers and it keeps experienced lawyers on top of their game.

Often the mentor/mentee relationship occurs organically. It can occur unconsciously in the natural course of a law practice. Or it can be a purposeful and meaningful exercise. And its importance cannot be understated. I urge you to view your work in training the millennial law students you hire as a serious venture, one that will ultimately benefit you and your practice in the long run.

Right after spending a year at the 14th Court of Appeals as a briefing attorney, I opened my law practice. Then a few weeks later I was in two bad car accidents. Because of a series of events, I landed in the law office of Madeline Sitzes and found an amazing mentor who taught me law office processes that I still practice and teach my law clerks today. My antidote for my recovery was work. Madeline and I spent many late evenings in the office, and she shared her knowledge of process—how to put files together, how to keep records for orderly billing, how to handle workflow, to name a few. And all of those valuable pieces of information I needed to run an efficient law office were not taught at law school, nor did I learn about it at Pennzoil Company where the secretaries did everything. The basics of running a law office were things she taught me gladly, and I in turn pass them down to those who train under me.

LEGACY: The mentor/mentee relationship ensures better lawyers for the future and creates a legacy for the mentor.

I don’t know about you, but things are changing in my law office. Almost everything about the way I do things has changed dramatically in the past two years. But the basics of the old ways still remain a template in the law firm. I love doing new things at Bragg Law PC. These days I welcome new ideas of how to do things more efficiently, and every day presents new challenges, new technologies, new needs from clients as our economy changes, and the need for creative solutions is at an all time high.

I need that young energy of my law clerks to help me stay on top of my game, and they in turn need the knowledge of my experience. My feedback on how to increase their common sense gives them the confidence to “fake it as they make it.” I put myself in their position and teach them how to problem solve in new ways. And as that occurs, I learn new ways to do things.

RELATIONSHIP: The mentor/mentee relationship creates a relationship that bridges the generations and provides an orderly transition in the profession.

As I begin to grow more mature in my practice, I find myself doing new things all the time, and it’s as if I haven’t hit a comfort zone yet; there is always something new and different to learn. I can honestly say I am as excited about my law practice now as I was 30 years ago. My advice is to avoid complacency. Be open to new things.

My law clerks keep me young, and my ongoing relationships with my past employees make me so proud when I see how great they are doing and what good they do in the world. It’s as if I am a little piece of something wonderful that is being passed down to the benefit of others.

When I was in Key West the other day for our Joint Spring meeting with GLSA, I stayed at an Airbnb for the first night so I could experience the feeling of being a local in Key West. The place was on the water and had the feel of an old lake house with quaint features and a cool breeze. I was outside working on this post when I decided to meditate. I went to my Oprah & Deepak 21 Day Meditation Experience app on my iPhone, went to the Desire & Destiny 21 Day Series, and chose day 15, How Can I Serve? It turned out to be the best meditation for what I was doing at the time, and the day’s Centering Thought was Serving Others Serves Me. It very nicely flowed into this eReport article because much of what we do as lawyers is serving others and by doing so we are indeed served.

In these many years I have been involved in the ABA, I have met countless lawyers who are service-minded and care truly about the people they represent and employ. It is an honor to be among the best of the best here in the ABA and in the GP Solo Division. We work hard and we play hard. The mentor/mentee relationship is one of reciprocal energy that is mutually beneficial to all and I am glad that we are doing it—either consciously or unconsciously, as the case may be.

As you embark on your summer, I ask you to think about how serving others serves you. What relationships can you serve as a mentor and which do you serve as mentee? Sharing ourselves with others changes us and changes the world . . . . Have a great summer friends. Would love to hear from you at [email protected].

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Melanie Bragg

Melanie Bragg has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Houston’s fiercest attorneys in her representation of children, the elderly, and mentally disadvantaged people. Her firm, Bragg Law PC, is a general civil firm in Houston, Texas. She also writes and produces legal education programs through Legal Insight, Inc. (founded by Bragg in 1993). Her writing credits include Crosstown Park, an Alex Stockton legal thriller, HIPAA for the General Practitioner, chapters in How to Capture and Keep Clients, 2nd Edition; Effortless Marketing: Putting Your Unique Qualities to Work, 2nd Edition; and The Conscious Lawyer: How the Practice of Mindfulness Will Increase Your Bottom Line, as well as the upcoming book, Defining Moments: Insights into The Lawyer’s Soul, to be published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Flagship Division. When she is not writing, Melanie devotes her time to her work as Secretary of the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice (GP SOLO) Division and to sharing ideas with fellow authors. She is interested in your feedback and ideas about how solos, small firms, military, and government lawyers can lead richer, happier lives and thereby improve the delivery of legal services to the public. Melanie can be reached at [email protected].