Many of us are visual learners. When preparing your client for deposition, consider writing out the main facts, theories, themes and so forth on a dry erase board or large pad. It will be a running list that you will add to and refer to throughout your meeting and that will facilitate the learning process.
Title: Aggrieved HMO Member May File Maryland Consumer Protection Act Case Against HMO for “Balance Billing”
In Scull v. Groover, Christie & Merritt, P.C., Slip Op. No. 71 (Md., Sept. 30, 2013), the issue was what, if any, remedy an HMO member has when a health maintenance organization (“HMO”) “balance bills,” i.e., charges an HMO member a fee for covered services in addition to those allowed by an HMO, in light of the Maryland Health Maintenance Act prohibiting such activity. In particular, does the HMO member have an implied private cause of action against the health care provider under the HMO Act? In addition, while there is an explicit private cause of action under the Consumer Protection Act, are medical billing practices exempt from that Act under exclusions for the “professional services” of medical practitioners?
Here, the Court held that an HMO member who has been billed by a provider for a covered service does not have an implied private right of action under the HMO Act. But, the HMO member is not precluded from bringing a lawsuit under the Consumer Protection Act.
This case arose when the Plaintiff, an attorney, received a bill for an x-ray exam from the provider for $121.00. To arrive at that charge, the bill indicated an initial charge of $242.00, with credits in the amounts of $91.73 and $29.27 for “Adjustments” and “Insurance Payment,” respectively. The bill stated that the provider was unable to collect from his insurance due to the Plaintiff having “other primary coverage.” The provider’s billing agent advised the Plaintiff that the HMO had reversed the payment it had made to the provider, and that he should submit his claim to Medicare. The HMO, however, informed Plaintiff that he was covered for the x-ray exam and that payment had, in fact, been made to the provider. Plaintiff relayed this information to the provider’s billing agent, who adjusted his account to a $0.00 balance. Nonetheless, Plaintiff received a second bill from the provider for $121.00 months later. Plaintiff paid the bill. Three (3) months later, however, Plaintiff received a check back from the provider for $121.00 explaining that the provider conducted an audit and found a credit owing to Plaintiff. Plaintiff did not cash the refund check, because in his view, the provider had refunded the money only because it knew he was an attorney and was attempting to moot any potential litigation which would challenge the provider’s alleged practice of balance billing.
Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the provider alleging that the provider illegally “balance billed” him, an HMO member, in violation of the HMO Act, and the “balance billing” was an “unfair and deceptive practice” in violation of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. The Complaint sought certification as a class action on behalf of all HMO enrollees who were balance-billed by the provider in the last three (3) years. The provider filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The trial court dismissed the Complaint without prejudice. Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint omitting the cause of action under the HMO law and elaborating on the Consumer Protection Act claim. The trial court dismissed Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint with prejudice. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part, and reversed in part.
While the Court of Appeals agreed that there was no implied private right of action under the HMO Act, it held that medical billing is not a “professional service” exempt from the Maryland Consumer Protection Act; and accordingly, the Plaintiff may pursue a claim against the provider under that law. As to the HMO Act, the Court held that the Legislature did not create an explicit cause of action in the HMO Act for HMO members against health care providers for violation of the balance billing prohibition, and the Court did not find any implied cause of action there either. In terms of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act claim, the Court noted that it does not apply to “professional services” of individuals in certain occupations, such as “medical practitioners,” but the Court reasoned that the billing practices of a professional corporation that employs physicians are not “professional services” exempt from the Act. Thus, the Act’s exclusion for professional services does not require dismissal of an action alleging billing practices that are unfair or deceptive because they violate the prohibition against balance billing in the State HMO law.
The provider argued for the first time at the Court of Appeals that the Plaintiff’s claim under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act also failed because no consumer goods or services were involved, its invoice was not an attempt to collect a consumer debt, the invoice was not unfair or deceptive, and Plaintiff suffered no injury or loss. The Court noted that on its face, the invoice involved appeared to be a “consumer debt” but acknowledged that the remaining issues raised by the provider with respect to the elements of a Consumer Protection Act claim would require factual elaboration on remand.
Submitted by: Marisa A. Trasatti & Colleen K. O’Brien, Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (Baltimore, MD)
After your client’s deposition, take the time to debrief her. What did she think about the deposition? The questions asked? The lines of questioning? How they were asked? How did the prep sessions help her? What did she find most useful about the prep sessions? Were the prep sessions lacking in any way? Find out your client’s impressions about her deposition so you can learn how you can improve your prep sessions for your next deposition.
Continuing the presentation of the Ten Commandments of Leadership for Lawyers--Why It Counts---a paper prepared by me and Connie Lewis Lensing of FedEx. The first four commandments were that training will create better lawyers, better people, a better ethics/professionalism environment, and more business. Here is the fifth commandment:
You will create a better environment in your law firm. Creating a successful law firm, one in which people want to join and stay, is a lot about culture and the example you set. If you teach leadership, you are telling others that leadership is important. In a culture where leaders are developed and recognized, people feel empowered, more open and incentivized to treat others right. All of that promotes better teamwork and collaboration, which builds trust and respect for others. This helps at many levels—within the law firm leadership structure, within individual practice groups, within specific client teams and in the relationship between lawyers and the support staff. Effective leaders cause everyone around them to raise their game. As John Adams stated, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Nurture that environment.
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Dismisses Complaint Alleging International Trafficking of Illicit Pharmaceutical Drugs
In Unspam Technologies, Inc.v. Chernkuk BND PHP, No. 11-2406 (4th Cir. May 3, 2013), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed a decision by the district court dismissing claims of an international conspiracy for lack of personal jurisdiction. In reaching its decision, the Court found that the plaintiffs failed to allege facts sufficient to invoke the Court’s personal jurisdiction over multiple international defendants. Furthermore, the Court held the plaintiff’s claims to be speculative and conclusory.
In 2007, plaintiff John Doe (“Doe”) tried to buy prescription drugs from an online pharmacy called “Canadian Pharmacy;” he never received his purchase. Instead, Doe he received voluminous amounts of spam mail. Plaintiff Unspam Technologies, doing business as Project Honey Pot (“Honey Pot”) tracks and identifies spam emails in an effort to combat the trafficking of spam mail. Honey Pot claimed to have processed spam emails from online pharmacies associated with a global conspiracy to sell illegal prescription drugs over the internet.
Doe and Honey Pot (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) commenced an action to enjoin defendants Andrey Chernuk and Boris Livshits — two (2) pharmacists allegedly behind “Canadian Pharmacy” — along with several international banks in Azerbaijan and Latvia from attempting to sell prescription drugs online. Plaintiffs alleged that a Russian-based internet payment systems provider called Chronopay conducted illegal prescription drug transactions through various international banks, and solicited the elicit sales through entities like “Canadian Pharmacy.” Plaintiffs joined four international banks allegedly involved in Chronopay’s scheme. Plaintiffs’ complaint alleged that Defendants’ conduct constituted an international conspiracy, and brought claims under the False Marketing Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, and the Virginia Computer Crimes Act.
Defendant banks filed motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and ineffective service. The district court granted Defendants’ motions with respect to Bank Standard and Azerigazbank, both of which were located in Baku. The court granted Plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint, but Plaintiffs failed to do so. After dismissing the two (2) Baku banks, the court ordered Plaintiffs to show cause as to why the remaining international Defendants should not be similarly dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the remaining individual Defendants, and the district court granted the remaining Defendant banks’ motions to dismiss. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal from the district court’s orders dismissing the Defendant banks.
The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit examined whether the district court had personal jurisdiction over the Defendant banks. The Court noted that the concept of personal jurisdiction had evolved in recent years in order to accommodate the internet. The Court found a three-part inquiry was necessary to determine whether a defendant is subject to jurisdiction in a State due to its electronic transmissions:
(1) the extent to which the defendant purposely availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the State; (2) whether the plaintiffs' claims arise out of those activities directed at the State; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be constitutionally reasonable.
Unspam Technologies, Inc.v. Chernkuk BND PHP, No. 11-2406 (4th Cir. May 3, 2013). The Court found that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any of these three (3) criteria. Furthermore, the Court held that the facts that Plaintiffs did allege were conclusory and speculative. Namely, the Plaintiffs provided no plausible basis to connect the banks to the spam emails specifically complained of in Honey Pot’s complaint. While the Court acknowledged that Plaintiffs provided logical possibilities of wrongdoing, the complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to show that Defendant banks participated in the alleged conspiracy. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s order dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Submitted by Marisa A. Trasatti and Wayne C. Heavener of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes
Title: Florida Appellate Court Upholds Multi-Million Dollar Compensatory and Punitive Damages Awards Against Tobacco Company
In Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Alexander, 2013 WL 4734565 (Fl. App. Sept. 4, 2013), Plaintiff Dorothy Alexander (“Mrs. Alexander”), the wife of a smoker who died from smoking-related lung cancer, filed claims of strict liability, fraudulent concealment, conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment, and negligence against cigarette manufacturer, Lorillard Tobacco Company (“Lorillard”). After a three (3)-week trial, a jury found in favor of Mrs. Alexander on all claims and awarded her a total of $20 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages, while finding her husband twenty (20) percent comparatively liable. Judge Peter R. Lopez of the Circuit Court of Miami–Dade County remitted the total compensatory damages to $10 million, such that Mrs. Alexander was awarded $8 million in compensatory damages after computation of comparative fault. Lorillard timely appealed to the District Court of Appeal of Florida for the Third District.
Mrs. Alexander filed suit against Lorillard based on the death of her husband, Coleman, from smoking-related lung cancer. The complaint included claims against Lorillard for negligence, strict liability, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment, and sought compensatory and punitive damages. During the trial, Mrs. Alexander, a former nurse, testified that Coleman began smoking in sixth grade and smoked one (1) to two (2) packs of cigarettes each day. She explained that she tried to convince Coleman to stop smoking; and up until 1985, Coleman told her that he believed smoking, particularly smoking filtered cigarettes, was safe and that he did not think the tobacco companies would make a product that would kill people. Coleman specifically told Mrs. Alexander that he had switched to Lorillard’s Kent cigarettes in 1958 because he believed they were safer than other brands because of their filter design. Sometime in 1985, however, Coleman began to believe that smoking was harmful, and he tried but was unable to stop smoking because he was addicted to cigarettes. The plaintiff's addiction expert confirmed that Coleman was addicted to cigarettes. Mrs. Alexander was Coleman’s nurse and primary caretaker until his death in 1995. She stated that by the time of Coleman’s death, he was incontinent and could no longer move or breathe without help.
The jury found against Lorillard on all claims, but found Coleman twenty (20) percent at fault and returned a verdict awarding Mrs. Alexander $20 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. Lorillard moved for a new trial on several issues and also moved for remittitur of the compensatory and punitive damages awards. The trial court denied all motions except for Lorillard’s motion to remit the compensatory damages, which it remitted to $10 million. Lorillard appealed on grounds of error, claiming that it was entitled to a new trial on compensatory damages rather than the remittitur that it sought and received post-trial.
On appeal, the Florida appellate court relied upon the Florida Supreme Court decision in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 945 So.2d 1246, 1263 (Fla. 2006), which held that although the class-action case filed against tobacco companies and tobacco industry organizations by smokers and their survivors could not proceed as a class-action lawsuit on the issues of individual causation and apportionment of damages, certain findings on common liability would stand and would be provided res judicata effect in subsequently filed individual cases. Id. at 1254–55. Thus, once Coleman was established as a member of the Engle class and Lorillard as one (1) of the tobacco industry Engle defendants, the following findings were given preclusive effect: (1) smoking causes certain cancers and medical conditions; (2) nicotine is addictive; (3) Lorillard placed cigarettes on the market that were defective and unreasonably dangerous; (4) Lorillard concealed or omitted material information concerning the health effects and addictive nature of smoking; (5) Lorillard agreed to conceal or omit this information with the intention that the public would detrimentally rely on the information; (6) Lorillard sold or supplied cigarettes that were defective; (7) Lorillard sold or supplied cigarettes that did not conform to the representations of fact made by Lorillard; and (8) Lorillard was negligent.
Applying these criteria, the appellate court concluded that the record was “replete with evidence of Lorillard's conduct,” which the jury and the trial court could find “sufficiently reprehensible to warrant the imposition of sanctions in the form of the $25 million punitive damages award.” The court affirmed that Mrs. Alexander provided more than sufficient evidence to show Lorillard’s conduct, both individually and as a member of the tobacco industry, of continuous, repeated, and aggressive attempts to discredit the scientific research revealing the harmful and addictive nature of cigarettes and to cast doubt on the validity of the scientific research by mounting advertising and public relations campaigns. According to the court, there was also evidence of more than a half-century of Lorillard’s “indifference to or . . . reckless disregard of the health or safety of others.” On these grounds, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s verdict and held that the punitive damages award of $25 million was not constitutionally excessive under the Engle-progeny cases with similar facts.
Submitted by: Marisa A. Trasatti & Jhanelle A. Graham of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes
How do you become a great lawyer? Study one. Watch what he does. Listen to what he says. They are great because of what they do and you can become great by emulating them. But how do you choose the right role model? Consider the following when picking a mentor.
Pick someone like you. You should pick someone with whom you’re compatible, someone who shares your interests, goals and values. Your mentor is going to pursue his goals and values. If you share those interests, you’ll learn how to pursue them too.
Pick someone you like. Pick someone you can call a friend, someone you can laugh with and whose company you enjoy. If your mentor is the greatest lawyer in the world but is just as big of a jerk, you’re not going to want to be around him, much less learn from him.
Pick someone who has time. A mentor has to have time to be a mentor. Make sure you pick someone who will make time for you, who won’t see you as an imposition on his time and on his resources.
Pick someone who is committed. In addition to having time now, make sure he will have time tomorrow, and the day after that, and the month after that and the year after that. Being a mentor is a long-term commitment. It’s more than a passing fancy.
Pick someone who is senior. For a mentor to really be a mentor, he has to be someone who has been tested, someone who’s already gone through what you’re going through now and can advise you on how best to confront those challenges.
Pick someone who wants to leave a legacy. Someone who wants to be a mentor is someone who wants to leave a part of himself behind, to pass something of himself to others and in the process reach for immortality. There are lawyers who want to leave a legacy. These are the lawyers you want to seek out as mentors.
Pick someone who does what you want to do. Find a mentor who specializes in your practice area. If you want to become a great real estate lawyer, you’re not going to learn how to do that from a great litigator. To learn the ins and outs of a given practice area, to know who the players are, what to say, what to read and what to do, you need to know the person who has the answers to these questions, someone who practices in the area.
Pick someone with a sense of humor. Being a lawyer is a tough job. To do it day in and day out requires a tough skin and a good sense of humor. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and at your mistakes. A good mentor can laugh at himself, not at you.
Pick a good teacher. A mentor is someone who is going to teach you how to be a good lawyer, how to be like him. It’s one thing to be a good lawyer, it’s another to explain to others how to be one.
Pick the best. Given the choice between the best salary and the best mentor, ten times out of ten pick the best mentor. Find the attorney with the best reputation, the best skills, the best character, and beg him to hire you. You want to learn from the best there is.
You’re not going to learn how to be a lawyer on your own, at least you won’t learn how to do it well. You owe it to yourself to find someone who will teach you all the forks and bends in the road and who will walk down that road with you until it’s time for you to walk on your own.
Interesting decision from the N.J. Supreme Court yesterday. Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Co. v. New Jersey Property Liability Insurance Guaranty Assoc., 2013 N.J. LEXIS 902 (Sept. 24, 2013).
While the issue concerned guaranty funds, the context is long-term pollution. So, the court ruminates about Owens-Illinois.
In particular, the Supreme Court wrote that: “The inability of science to pinpoint the onset and to measure the extent of environmental injury or damage over a continuum in time required a paradigm different from the approach in the traditional property-damage case.” See p. 25. This suggests that where science can pinpoint the facts, traditional principles control. If science can pinpoint the endpoint of damage, that endpoint should be recognized.
The Supreme Court also said that Owens-Illinois is a developing body of law:
"In Owens-Illinois, we did "not attempt a universal resolution of all issues of coverage for gradual release of pollutants or toxins." We also observed that we did "'not expect that this case will be the "last word"'" on the subject, noting that "'[e]nvironmental liability insurance law, like any other area of law, will have to develop over time and trial courts must be flexible in responding to new fact situations.'" …. In all of those cases, we adjusted and refined the common-law continuous-trigger and proration doctrines enunciated in Owens-Illinois."
Seepp. 26-27 (citations omitted).
The case is interesting in that it allows arguments to restrict Owens-Illinois.
D.C. Court of Appeals Holds Trial Court Should Not Have Dismissed All of Condominium Purchasers’ Claims Against Developer After Unit Allegedly Flooded-Wetzel v. Capital City Real Estate, LLC
This appeal focused on whether the trial court properly granted the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss as to the Plaintiffs’ multiple-count Complaint. Plaintiffs, the condominium unit purchasers, sued the Defendant, a real estate developer, after their condominium unit allegedly flooded. The flooding, which occurred in a 3 to 6 month period after the purchase, allegedly caused extensive damage, mold costing thousands of dollars to remediate, and destroyed the first flood area of the unit.
The purchasers filed a Complaint against the developer for fraud, violations of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Act (CPA), violations of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCPPA), breach of contract, breach of express warranty, and strict liability. The trial court dismissed all of Plaintiffs’ claims after the Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss. The appellate court reversed in part, holding that the trial court erred in dismissing the fraud, DCPPA, and strict liability claims, but that the trial court correctly dismissed the CPA, breach of contract, and breach of express warranty claims.
Plaintiffs’ fraud claim should not have been dismissed. Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleged that the Defendant made several false representations, including that (1) the property was free from structural defects, (2) Defendant had secured proper permits for renovation of the property, and (3) the exterior masonry had a life of fifty (50) additional years, and that Defendant misrepresented the quality and character of the property’s walls. The Complaint alleged that Defendant knew the property’s true nature and actively worked to conceal this truth to sell the Property to an unsuspecting buyer at a price far higher than what the Property was actually worth. The Complaint alleged that in reliance on the representations, the Plaintiffs purchased the Property. Finally, the Complaint alleged that Defendants’ alleged misrepresentations resulted in damages including the thousands of dollars spent on mold reclamation, the cost to repair the structure, loss of use, and diminished value of the property. In accepting the allegations as true, the Court held that Plaintiffs sufficiently pled their claim for fraud.
Another count of Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleged that Defendant violated the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCPPA). The complaint stated that Defendants’ misrepresented the approval, certification, and characteristics of the basement walls; concealed previous long-term and extensive, uncorrected water damage; represented that the basement and walls were of a quality and grade that they were not; misrepresented that the basement and walls were free from defect; failed to disclose the material facts that there was damage to the basement or walls, there had been previous water damage, and there was no permit to build the deck; and misrepresented that the exterior masonry had a life of fifty (50) or more years. Additionally, the Complaint alleged that Defendant actively advertised and marketed the allegedly defective property as if it were in newly restored condition without defect; intentionally misrepresented the property in several statements while having complete knowledge as to the true condition of the property and the true nature of the permit status; and misrepresented the condition of the Property in advertisements it published in an attempt to sell a subpar piece of Property. Plaintiffs alleged they relied on those misrepresentations in deciding to purchase the property. Overall, the complaint alleged that Defendant made no fewer than 98 misrepresentations in violation of five (5) separate provisions of the DCPPA. In light of the allegations that Defendant was actively involved in renovating the property, and, as a professional developer, was aware of its defects, the complaint stated a legally viable claim under the DCPPA.
The District of Columbia follows the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (1965) as to strict liability. Real estate is a “product” within the meaning of the Restatement. Further, not just the seller, but any party integral to the producing and marketing enterprise that placed the defective product into the stream of commerce may be found strictly liable. The Complaint alleged that Defendant, an experienced developer with significant experience in buying, renovating, and selling renovated real estate, knowingly put a defective product into the stream of commerce by advertising and allowing the property to be purchased by Plaintiffs. Additionally, the Complaint alleged the condominium unit was dangerous, which ultimately rendered a substantial portion uninhabitable, i.e., not reasonably fit for its intended purpose. Finally, the Complaint alleged that the defect was the direct and proximate cause of Plaintiffs’ injuries which included a level of mold growth that resulted in unacceptably hazardous air quality, resulting in loss of use and personal injury. Because Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleged facts, that, if proved, asserted a claim for strict liability, the dismissal of this claim was erroneous.
The Plaintiffs’ claims for breach of contract and breach of express warranty though, failed. The Plaintiffs’ claimed that Defendant “fail[ed] to accept responsibility” for necessary repairs, in breach of the express limited warranty in the Purchase Agreement and Public Offering Statement. Although the Complaint alleged that Plaintiffs signed an agreement with Defendant that included a limited repair warranty, the limited warranty referred to was not signed by and did not involve the Defendant. The documents were signed by the Plaintiffs and the seller—not the developer Defendant. Therefore, Plaintiffs did not make out a claim for breach of contract or breach of express warranty and those claims were properly dismissed by the trial court.
Finally, the CPA claim was properly dismissed because it applied only to actions to enforce rights arising from a consumer credit sale or a direct installment loan. Since the Complaint did not allege that Plaintiffs had financing with the developer, the CPA claim failed and was properly dismissed.
Therefore, the appellate court reversed in part, holding that the trial court erred in dismissing the fraud, DCPPA, and strict liability claims, but that the trial court correctly dismissed the CPA, breach of contract, and breach of express warranty claims.
KEY WORDS: Wetzel v. Capital City Real Estate, LLC, fraud in purchase of real estate, motion to dismiss, defendant liable for strict products liability in sale of real estate, CPA, DCPPA, District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, District of Columbia Consumer Protection Act.
DESCRIPTION: Trial court erred by dismissing some, but not all of condominium purchasers’ claims against real estate developer after unit flooded.
SUMMARY: In Complaint filed by purchasers against real estate developer after condominium unit flooded shortly after purchase, trial court erred in dismissing the fraud, DCPPA, and strict liability claims, but correctly dismissed the CPA, breach of contract, and breach of express warranty claims.
Submitted by Marisa A Trasatti and Colleen K. O”Brien, Semmes, Bowen & Semmes,
Everybody talks about mentoring these days. Firms have mentoring programs. Bar associations have them. And they come in all forms, including e-mentoring. But do they work? Why, you ask, do you need a mentor? The better question is how you’ve survived without one. What are the benefits of having a mentor? The following are a few.
You get to learn from others’ mistakes. As a young lawyer, you’re going to make your share of mistakes. Sometimes, the fear of making a mistake can be paralyzing. How do you avoid making them? Talk to a mentor who has made them and learn from his mistakes. In the practice of law, there are many potholes to fall into. Your mentor can help you steer clear of them.
Mentors take the mystery out of it. Countless times each day you will be called upon to make decisions. Sometimes, you’ll know what to do. Many times, you won’t. Usually, your mentor will. Mentors can take the mystery out of what to do and what not to do. You get advice that works. Mentors can tell you what they did when confronted with the same problem. They have tested their theories, and they can tell you first hand, from their own experiences, what works and what does not.
You know someone has your back. Being a lawyer can be lonely. Sometimes you feel it’s you against the world – against the opposing party, against opposing counsel and sometimes against your own client. It’s good to have someone looking out for you, watching your back.
You learn the rules of the game. There are a lot of rules that come with being a lawyer, most unwritten. How do you find out what these rules are and how to play by them? You learn from someone who already knows them. A mentor can teach you the rules regarding such things as how to argue a motion or how to deal with opposing counsel, and he can help you comply with these rules rather than accidentally trip over them. You have a sounding board.
As young lawyers, you have a lot of questions that need to be answered. You have conflicts to resolve, problems to face and issues to address. You have ideas, sometimes based on fact, sometimes based purely on instinct, on how to confront these issues. Instead of simply trying out our hypotheses, to see if they are right or wrong, it is worthwhile to sound them off someone who has confronted the same or similar issues and can listen to your approaches, help you weigh the pros and cons and assist you in making thoughtful, rationed decisions.
You get a backstage pass. Mentors pull back the curtain and take you where the action happens. They take you to meetings with clients, conference calls to discuss strategy and access to their own thinking and reasoning. Mentors give you access to their legal worlds, where the big decision makers make the big decisions, and you’re their to witness it, experience it, learn from it.
You get connected. Mentors can help you get plugged into bar and trade associations. They can introduce you to people, get you involved in committees and assist you in your ascendancy to power.
You learn about the Firm. You want to know how your firm works – how it really works? Who does what, who expects what, what makes the partners happy and what their pet peeves are? Your mentor, someone who has been at the firm and who has seen first hand what kind of lawyers stay and which ones go, and of those who stay, which ones prosper, can provide you great insight on how to get along in the firm.
You learn how to network. To develop clients, you must develop relationships with potential clients. Before you can develop a relationship with someone, you have to meet him. How do you do that? Do you go to a trade group or bar meeting and simply walk around, stick your hand out and say hello to whomever you see? A much better approach is to go with a mentor, someone who knows that organization and the people involved. Someone who can introduce you to others and that can help you get your foot in the door.
These are just a few reasons to get a mentor. Mentors help you cut through the red tape, the self-doubt and your innumerable questions. Take the time to find a mentor and start working on a relationship that will affect, for the better, the rest of your career.