Vol. 41, No. 8
In and Around the Bar
The CBA’s Golden Book of Anecdotes and Wisdom—From Attorneys, For Attorneys
CBA senior attorneys (65+ years) are sharing anecdotes, advice, and guidance related to the practice of law with their junior colleagues. This is well-earned knowledge that might benefit less-experienced attorneys and provide guidance for new attorneys as they transition from law school and begin their legal career.
Send your contribution(s) by e-mail to email@example.com, using "Golden Book" in the subject line, or by U.S. mail to: Golden Book, c/o Leona Martínez, The Colorado Lawyer, 1900 Grant St., Ste. 900, Denver, CO 80203. The "Golden Book" collection of retrospections and advice is an ongoing effort, and submissions will continue to be printed in The Colorado Lawyer and posted online at www.cobar.org/index.cfm/ID/22110.
I have two stories from my early days of practice. The first follows along with what many other older attorneys have said: Be nice to office staff and court staff.
When I was starting out with a firm in Colorado Springs in the early ’70s, the firm also had taken on G. Russell Miller as of counsel. Judge Miller had been on the District Court bench for more than thirty years, starting when the Fourth Judicial District extended from Kansas to the Continental Divide and [judges] used to ride circuit to the outlying counties. As a result, he knew all of the court staff in all of those counties. Russ, as he eventually asked me to call him, had very little office work to do and seemed to enjoy my coming in and asking him for advice. Being low man on the totem pole, I often was asked to handle cases that involved out-of-county appearances. Russ asked whether he could come along, and of course I was delighted to have him as a sounding board, and to listen to his reminiscences. He introduced me to the court clerks from Burlington to Fairplay and points in between, asking them to take care of me, and telling me about their likes and dislikes and any hot button issues to avoid, either with courthouse staff or the judge. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to call the clerk in one of those rural courthouses by name, ask for some procedural advice, and be able to use that to smooth the way for subsequent cases. As the older clerks retired, they would put in a kind word for me with their successors—and so it went for forty years.
Thanks, Russ! You made me a better lawyer.
—Michael R. Bromley, Colorado Springs
• • •
My other story, also from the early ’70s, comes from my first argument in front of the Colorado Supreme Court when it was still in the State Capitol Building. The case involved a challenge on behalf of my client to the constitutionality of the new Dissolution of Marriage Act, based on our claim that the petitioner lacked minimum contacts with the State. Heavy stuff for a young lawyer.
In addition to the frightening prospect of having to confront seven of the finest legal minds in the state, it was my first time speaking into a microphone. I introduced myself and launched into my argument. I noticed Chief Justice Pringle looking at his colleagues and throwing up his hands. He interrupted me to say, "Counsel, we can’t understand a word you are saying. Slow down. I know you have a lot to say and only fifteen minutes to say it—and you are not going to get to all of it because we are going to interrupt you with questions. But we all have read the briefs. And for God’s sake, back away from the podium and stop trying to swallow the microphone." He looked at his colleagues again and said, "We will start your time again," and punched the button on the timer.
Somehow, that made things much easier. I think it was the concept of slowing down, and the sudden realization that I did not have to try to recapitulate all the points made in thirty or forty pages of written argument, and that oral argument primarily was an opportunity for the Court to ask questions that the justices had within (or, as I subsequently learned, sometimes outside) a framework presented by counsel. The comment about the microphone and the act of starting the time again made me realize that justices on the bench were human beings who had been young lawyers themselves, and they understood my nervousness. And yes, we did succeed in getting the relevant portion of the statute declared unconstitutional and gave the legislature some work to do to rectify it the following year.
—Michael R. Bromley, Colorado Springs
I began practicing in Fort Collins in 1972. One of my first cases was a hotly contested post-decree family law matter. Representing the other side was Arnie Newton, an experienced and well-established Fort Collins attorney. As a rookie, I expected a rough ride and I attacked with guns blazing, facts be damned! Arnie saw what was happening immediately, and never over-reacted. He was calm and entirely reasonable. We were able to settle the case fairly and quickly, much to the benefit of both of our clients.
When we were done, I went to see Arnie and asked him to critique my performance in the case. He had some constructive criticism and finished with a line I have never forgotten: "No one has ever really learned to practice law until the time comes when your client accuses you of representing the other side!" That began a mentor relationship with Arnie that culminated in a lifelong friendship that lasted through his years of practice and as a Larimer County District Court Judge.
In a number of cases over my years of practice, I have had clients question my loyalty to their cause when I have told them something they didn’t want to hear. Every time that happens, I think of Arnie and wonder whether he would have thought that I might have finally learned to practice law.
—John P. Frey, Fort Collins
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