My Friends John
by Mark Fogg
I am lucky to have two close friends named John. One has been a mentor to me, and I have been a mentor to the other. One is about 12 years older than I am, now retired from the formal practice of law. The other has been practicing about 14 years fewer than I have. Both have had a profound effect on my view of our profession and what it means to be a mentor. Both have helped me realize what a great gift it is to be a professional lawyer in this life.
I met my first friend, John, when I was a young, Deputy District Attorney in Denver while Dale Tooley was District Attorney. John’s wife, Mary Anne, worked in the victim assistance unit. He was a general practitioner at Holland & Hart, working in areas such as insurance regulation, corporate transactions and real estate. He started calling me "Brother Fogg" when I met him back in 1979, and he still refers to me that way today.
John was never my mentor in substantive or procedural law. John taught me the art of being a good mentor. He advocated the importance of a hands-on approach to mentoring. He emphasized the extraordinary amount of time it takes to help generate good habits in a new lawyer.
No lawyer graduates from law school with aspirations of becoming an uncivil, unprofessional or marginally competent lawyer; yet, without good mentors and role models, the day-to-day decisions and practice patterns can slowly develop into habitual behaviors, which reflect poor practice, incivility and unprofessional behavior. John never subscribed to the philosophy of a young lawyer being thrown into the fire without ample, frequent guidance. John took the time. He valued the mentor relationship and saw it as one of the great and unique blessings of being a lawyer, to be able to have these meaningful relationships as part of one’s career.
He was and still is legendary as a role model volunteer within the bar association. He did not limit his mentoring to legal issues though. In addition to standing as DBA president and on the Second Judicial District Nominating Commission, he has served on boards for adult literacy and the National Council on Alcoholism and had worked in the Denver Public Schools tutoring program for 20 years. Even now he sits on the board for the DBA Waterman Fund, which assists aged, infirm or otherwise incapacitated lawyers with financial aid. He recently volunteered to be a mentor under the new DU Law School program. John never gauges his successes by how many times he is in "On the Move" or how many attorney achievement lists he’s on — ego needs of which I am often guilty. Rather, he’s lived the old adage that, true happiness lies in a life of service to others.
As with all good mentors, John continues to teach us without fully realizing the positive effect he has on us. He is not in good health. He suffers daily, sometimes greatly, yet he continues to give of himself for the benefit of others. In fact, the day I asked him whether I could include him in this article, he had just spent a Saturday morning facilitating a round-table discussion for lawyers and judges at the annual DBA Bench-Bar retreat.
My other friend, John, started working in my firm as an associate attorney in 2000. He had been a Deputy District Attorney in Florida right before he started with us. So, I had a kindred spirit with this fellow ex-prosecutor, and I understood the difficulties in transitioning to a civil law practice.
John and I also shared something else. We loved to develop and discuss the strategy of a case, like a chess game, to get the best result possible for the client under the circumstances. John proved to be one of the most enjoyable mentor relationships of my career. He would always think through a problem on his own before coming to me, and would suggest a course of action, which we would discuss. Sometimes, we disagreed, but often times, he made good and novel suggestions that I never thought of. John always approached a case constructively, rather than destructively. On top of all this, John is just a very nice person.
Along these lines, he taught me, or perhaps reminded me, of a fundamental concept that may have gotten buried within me. After 25 years of practicing in a sometimes tough, adversarial system, I needed a younger lawyer to remind me: "Don’t assume the worst about other lawyers." Too often, we perceive the undelivered fax, the failure to respond to phone calls, the sharp word or the nasty letter to be part of a grand strategy of evil intent to cause us harm. We forget that 99 times out of 100, these are usually the product of another lawyer being as haggard or frazzled as we are, or just someone having a bad day. Like us, the other lawyer is trying to represent his or her client well and provide for their family. Anyway, as John puts it, to be reactive throws off the strategy.
It is important to remember that the rewards from a good mentorship are not a one-way street. We mentors constantly learn from those we guide — the development of new technologies for example. Our mentees also remind us to look at ourselves and our profession with fresh eyes.
My second friend, John, has left our firm and works as general counsel for Denver Public Schools. He had a need to be even more constructive than what the adversarial system sometimes allows. He has been an immense help to us with several bar association programs that are being developed in conjunction with DPS.
The bar association recognizes that not all new lawyers have good access to forming mentorships with other lawyers. We are presently studying potential mentor programs. Nancy Cohen is currently heading a task force with others to see what might be effective. A recent survey went out to numerous lawyers, seeking input on such programs. Should you like to share any ideas about this, please do not hesitate to contact me.
I also encourage you to be active in the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association and other local bar associations of which you may be a member. These associations are a great place to develop mentorships within sections, programs and volunteer work.
I hope that during your career you will be, or have been, blessed with good mentor relationships like I have had with individuals such as John Castellano and John Kechriotis. These kinds of relationships are a cornerstone of our profession.