Collaborate for Justice
By Benjamin S. Wagner

 

Mentor (Noun) [men-tawr]
1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
2. an influential senior sponsor or supporter.

Collaborate (Verb)[kuh-lab-uh-reyt]
1. to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor

Community (Noun)[ kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē]
1. a unified body of individuals

--All derived from Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2017.

 

As Trial Lawyers, we embrace the power of advocacy and seek a greater mastery of courtroom skill and presentation. We must, however, always aspire to be more than that. Obtaining justice for our clients requires that we seek to understand not only their legal claims, but how to seek justice as they define it.

In an earlier column, I spoke of the need for every one of us to embrace advocacy as our most powerful tool inside and outside of the courtroom. When I reflect upon my experience practicing law, I realize there are many ways to harness the power of advocacy for both our clients and our own professional goals. There are several things we can do, but chief among them is that we should strive to be mentors.

When you look at the how one defines the word mentor, it means to act as a counselor or a teacher. The definition also suggests though that for one to be a mentor one must also be capable of having and dispensing wisdom to our clients and to one another. This does not necessarily mean that we always be capable of relaying technical expertise. Instead, being a mentor often instead relies upon knowing how to integrate our own lived experience into representing our clients.

As Trial Lawyers, this directly applies to how we can, and should, work together for our clients and toward the betterment of our skills and professional development.  We do this in a few ways.  First, we become mentors to less experienced lawyers.  In addition, we work with our partners or colleagues to collaborate on cases. Both collaborative approaches can ultimately result in co-chairing opportunities. 

That role, however, is not limited to the insight we provide to others, it obligates us to always be receptive to what we can learn in return. Even the most senior member of this organization can improve their craft by listening to their friends, families, colleagues – and even junior associates.

In my personal experience, collaborative trial experiences, when possible, create not only the best potential for positive results for our clients, but also maximize the opportunity to learn from one another.  Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to try cases with a talented array of individuals at our firm.  In each trial, I learned a great deal from my trial partner, including my trial experiences with Dan Rottier, Rob Jaskulski, Molly Lavin and Jesse Blocher.  I believe my trial partners made me a better trial lawyer during each trial.

I have used this space to speak about harnessing the power of advocacy in pursuit of our shared mission. Mentoring, whether as a mentor or mentee, makes it easier for us to fulfill our duty of championing and protecting the 7th Amendment. I would like to add a third concept to how we may take full advantage of the opportunities WAJ presents: community. WAJ seeks to provide a community where we as Trial Lawyers can work together to hone our skills in the ongoing fight for justice.

One of the lessons I have learned by trying cases with fellow members and partners is to never try a case alone. Not every member of this organization practices in a big firm or a big city. But as a member of this organization, we are all members of our trial lawyer community. The WAJ community means no member of our organization ever must try a case alone. I do not mean this to be taken as something that one can or should strive to make literally true. Our business is tough; our business is competitive; and resources can be scarce – what it does mean is that no member of our organization lacks the ability to get a second opinion or bounce ideas off one another. Whether it is our listserv or our CLE programs, there are always opportunities to leverage your WAJ membership in ways that improve not only your legal practice, but many others’ as well. You benefit and your clients benefit by seeking the perspective and wisdom from our membership.

Let your membership in this WAJ serve as a constant, aspirational reminder that we should always take the time to answer the phone call of a colleague with a question to ask or a favor to seek. Our collective wisdom is what will always be our strongest tool in our fight to secure justice for our clients.

This year marks the 60th Anniversary of this organization’s founding. In my year as President, we worked hard to ensure that our community remains strong. Without opportunities to be mentored and to mentor others, I would not have been able to formulate that vision that I have tried to implement as President. My perspective and ability to take on this role would have been weak had I not been mentored along the way by many, many others, including Dan Rottier and Bob Habush.

Throughout this year, our leaders and members ensured that WAJ continues to champion and preserve the 7th Amendment in Wisconsin. We have worked to improve and reposition our advocacy in court rooms by revaluating and revamping our seminars and programming. In the statehouse we have pursued new relationships and alliances in the legislature so that we may have an easier time advocating for our cause in the future. Throughout the year, I have found inspiration in the principles laid out here: advocacy, mentoring, and community. I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve as President of Wisconsin’s Trial Lawyer association. I hope that the progress we made over the past twelve months will pay dividends in the next 60 years.

 

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