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Guiding Principals

A Look Inside Some Inspired Mentor Relationships Shows How These Pairings Build Careers—and Confidence

A correction has been made to this story.

Posted Jun 1, 2005 6:40 PM CDT
By Jill Schachner Chanen

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Around the hallways of Salt Lake City's Parr Waddoups Brown Bee & Loveless, it’s not uncommon to find a line forming outside the office of name partner Clark Waddoups. That’s where firm lawyers— associates and partners alike—wait to get a bit of advice from a man many call their mentor.

Waddoups, they say, has that rare ability to teach and inspire. It’s a quality that few lawyers possess, but one that many desperately seek out in a profession founded on the notion of apprenticeship. Finding that one true mentor—a teacher and kindred spirit—is no easy proposition. But when a match works, it can become a truly inspirational relationship.

Waddoups on mentoring: Sometimes it’s easier just to pick up your kids’ rooms than to get the kids to do it. The same is true with lawyers. Sometimes it’s easier just to write the brief yourself or go to court yourself. But you have to say to yourself that the future of the practice is in these young people. And if you are going to turn the firm over to them, you have to say that part of the job is to train them. Not just the skills, but everything that goes with it: credibility, preparedness, diligence.

McHugh on Waddoups: He is the Jedi lawyer. Nothing rattles him. Bombs could be going off, opposing counsel could be screaming, and he never gets rattled.

Durrant on Waddoups: He is intellectually strong and does not allow himself to be pushed around or walked over. But at the same time, I’ve never seen him be belligerent with opposing counsel or an opponent or belittle them. To me, it is inspiring to see that someone who elects to practice in that kind of style, with an unflinching commitment to honesty and professionalism, can be so successful in the practice of law.

Parrish on Waddoups: Clark was always willing to explain things, to talk strategy. He didn’t just tell me what to do. When I was a young lawyer, we talked things through and strategized so that together we could come to a conclusion.

Around Chicago, Michael W. Coffield is legendary for his talents in the courtroom and his generosity outside of it.

But Susan K. Rodgers barely knew a thing about the man who was opposing counsel on a case 12 years ago. She did note that he seemed to have a keen insight into her mind when he sensed her professional unhappiness and offered to lend an ear. Rodgers learned that when Coffield offers to help, his word is gold. Since that first conversation, the doors he has opened for her have never closed.

Coffield on mentoring: When I started Coffield Ungaretti, bringing young trial lawyers in, my role as senior trial counsel was to train them and bring them up to speed as trial counsel. I had had a lot of help that way, and as I told Susan, the deal was to pass it on. What you did was to pass on being kind and an active listener with a good ear for other young lawyers.

Rodgers on Coffield: When I was first meeting with him, he was in a great position of power. He had tried the Exxon Valdez [case], and I was a young lawyer. But he had great confidence in my skills. ... Even now that I am not a trial lawyer, he is still supportive of what I do. Having someone of his stature take an interest really inspires you to succeed. You cannot complain to him. He is always saying, “How are you going to change it? How are you going to fix it?” He has always inspired me to change my own luck.

When Anastasia Yu Meisner first worked at the OregonState Bar, itdid not take long for her to discover Stella K.Manabe—the only other Asian woman working there. But it wasn’t until they attended a painful seminar on racism together that they began to appreciate their shared experiences.

Meisner on Manabe: Where we really bonded and where Stella really helped me was when I became active in the Oregon Minority Lawyers Association.We have been able to talk and formulate policy for it. We look out for one another and constantly talk. ... Stella is strong at the core. She can weather all kinds of is-sues that can elicit really strong emotions like anger, happiness, joy and bitterness.Sometimes, life can be pretty bitter, and people come to her with that. But she keeps moving forward.

Manabe on Meisner: I have learned the value of infusing power in politics in what we do in terms of increasing and retaining diversity in this profession.

Anastasia is politically connected. She has strategies and implements them in terms of where the power lies, where she can be useful and what can be useful to her. I see very strong women in the profession having that same thing. I’ve learned at very close range how someone does that. I do not have that in me. But I’ve learned that from her, and that is important.

It was only natural that Corliss Lawson would eventually seek out W. Muzette Hill, despite the fact that they worked in different cities. When Lawson joined the Atlanta office of Lord, Bissell & Brook, she was the only black lawyer there; Hill, then in Chicago, was the only black partner in the entire firm. Even with their similar backgrounds, the two say the odds of two similarly aged women forging a relationship in a competitive atmosphere were stacked against them.

Lawson on Hill: In all the firms I was looking at there were probably only one or two other minorities that were partners or about to make partner. ... You knew it was going to be lonely, but having Muzette share her experience with me about how she was treated at the firm, the opportunities she was given and the kind of work she was doing, that swayed me.

Hill on Lawson: Once in a while, you feel like you’ve found a winner. When you find that person, you are enriched. I’ve been vastly enriched by this rela tionship. I’ve learned a lot about what the mentoring experience is all about. It’s kind of unusual for women, especially those who started out in the same firm, to have this kind of thing work out and not let competition get in the way. ... A lot of people see mentoring as some sort of skipping through the daisies, Karate Kid sort of thing, and it’s not. This relationship has gone through some watersheds that could have ended our relationship had things not worked out. She does not always take my advice. She mentors up. There are things I’ve advised her to do that she did not do, but I’ve come to see that she was right.

Kevin O'Keefe knew Kenan Kersten by reputation long before he had ever met him. Working with him on a state bar committee finally provided O’Keefe with the entrée he needed to call on Kersten for professional advice and, eventually, to work on a case with him.

One successful pairing led to another and another, forging a deep professional friendship between the two. Even though O’Keefe has left the practice of law and moved across the country, he still does not make a move without first turning to Kersten. “I may only call him once a year,” he says, “but I still remember his phone number off the top of my head.”

O’Keefe on Kersten: When you grew up wanting to be a lawyer since you were a little kid like I did, you did not en vision yourself trying to make friends with the guy with the fanciest television ad. You thought that it would be amazing to work with the best guys who knew how to work a jury, build rapport with their colleagues and be extremely well-respected. That is what would be great. And that is Kenan. He’s taught me not to be afraid to ask people questions. He also told me to take chances. When I was going to start my own business, I consulted with Kenan. He told me that I had nothing to lose. I said, “What do you mean? I have five kids, a house and I could just stay here at this firm.” He said, “Yeah, but you have nothing to lose. If it does not work, you can just start over.”

Kersten on O’Keefe: Our friendship and our professional relationship was probably developed more deeply because of the preparation for and completion of the jury trials. ... There is a certain satisfaction to being helpful to an attorney who truly appreciates the helping you are giving. It’s a compliment and very satisfying.

Correction

Because of an editor's error in "Guiding Principals," June 2005, page 42, mentor Clark Waddoups' firm was not correctly identified as Parr Waddoups Brown Gee & Loveless. The Journal regrets the error.

Jill Schachner Chanen, a lawyer, is a legal affairs writer for the ABA Journal.

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