Lessons Learned

Each year, the Labor and Employment Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association Labor gives awards to two students from each of the Twin Cities law schools for Excellence in Employment and Labor law. Last night I attended the annual meeting of the section, where I had the honor and privilege of introducing the two UST law students who received awards this year.

The Keynote Speaker for the evening was the Honorable Mark Bennett, a federal district court judge from the Northern District of Iowa. Although I had a very long day that included almost no breaks, I found his talk both enjoyable and wise.

Early in his talk, the judge shared that at the end of December of each year, rather then making New Year’s resolutions he knew he would shortly either forget or break, he reflected on and listed five lessons learned from the previous year. If he had said nothing else, I would have considered the evening worthwhile just for that suggestion, which I plan to implement and suggest to others.)

The judge shared a number of the lessons he had learned over the years, including several relating to professionalism. I will share three as he presented them, that is, directed to employment lawyers, but each is easily adaptable to other professions. Each strikes me as a sound lesson of good behavior

Be proud when you help another employment lawyer. Be all the prouder when you ask another lawyer for help.

Lawyers of the highest ethical standards never mention it.

There will be adversaries you dislike – don’t let that affect your tactics, judgment or ethics.

The most admirable lawyers do solid work every day, not dazzling work occasionally.

One of the other comments Judge Bennett made that resonated had to do with the importance of communication. He quoted George Bernard Shaw that the “single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” and talked about the fact that lawyers on opposing sides no longer speak to each other. In the early days of his own practice, upon taking a case and learning who his opposing counsel would be, he always called the person. Tried to iron things out. Saw what could be dealt with by agreement before any judges or other third parties were involved. Today, he lamented, that doesn’t happen. The predictable result is longer disputes, more animosity and more cost. The lesson from that is pretty clear.