Lawyer kudos


fastcase logoYesterday, I was pleased to see the announcement of some high legal honors. The occasion was the naming of this year’s Fastcase 50.

Not sure what that is? Here’s how the company describes the honor:

“The Fastcase 50 for 2015 highlights entrepreneurs, innovators, and trailblazers—people who have charted a new course for the delivery of legal services. In law firms—including some of the nation’s largest—with new delivery models, legal tech startups, legal publishers, academia, and the judiciary, these pioneers are giving the world a first look at what’s next for law and technology.”

The complete list is here (and how helpful that it includes links to the honorees’ Twitter accounts, where applicable!):

It would be easy to assume that such an honor is part of the legal research company’s marketing outreach. Because, of course it is that.

But Fastcase clearly puts substantial thought into locating folks who are on the forward edge of legal innovation. The “winners” do not occupy one narrow niche of the legal profession that might benefit the Fastcase bottom line. As I read about this year’s Fastcase 50 honorees, I could see that they are thinkers and doers who run the gamut in our profession. Many are practicing lawyers, while others are judges, law professors, entrepreneurs, and general rabble-rousers. Because, holy crap, the profession needs its rabble roused.

So I have three suggestions:

  1. Look now at the list of this year’s recognized folks. I was pleased to see how many I have previously spotted (and followed) in past years as cool thinkers worth knowing. And then there are the others, whom I look forward to learning more about.
  2. Then click the links at the top of that page to read about the Fastcase winners going back to 2011. I think you’d agree that, troubled as it may be, the legal profession has a deep bench of talented people who are committed to making it flourish.
  3. Choose at least five of those innovators to begin following, on Twitter and anywhere you can. (I followed more than five, but my capacity to engage with awesomeness may be greater than yours. Just sayin’.)

And if you have suggestions for other legal innovators I should be following, tell me at @azatty or at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. Let’s build that deep bench, and a farm system, to boot.

Congrats and thank you to everyone at Fastcase, including its innovative CEO Ed Walters and its President, Phil Rosenthal.

Fastcase 50 header logo

Jodi Weisberg delivers the humorous goods at the 2015 lawyer-comedy competition (photo by Ruth Howe, Rotary).

Jodi Weisberg delivers the humorous goods at the 2015 lawyer-comedy competition (photo by Ruth Howe, Rotary).

I’m happy to report out the following news I received about an annual lawyer-comedy competition. (No, not comedy about lawyers; comedy by lawyers.)

In the past I’ve written about this annual competition. You can read my coverage here and here.

Congratulations to Jodi Weisberg, Bob Howard, and Matt Storrs.

Jodi Weisberg won the 2015 annual John O’Connor Comedy Competition. She is the only two-time winner of this contest, which began in 2011. She has been performing stand-up comedy for more than a decade.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and the Rotary 100 Club, began this competition in honor of John O’Connor, who had a wonderful sense of humor, and was a past President of the Rotary 100 Club.

“It is always such an honor and a thrill to perform for Justice O’Connor and her family,” said Weisberg. “It is a wonderful feeling to make her laugh!”

Weisberg won the competition in 2011, was a judge in 2012, and not allowed to compete in 2013-14. She was invited to perform this year. Bob Howard placed second, and Matt Storrs took third place.

First place prize was $2,500, and Rotary donated $2,000 to the University of Arizona, where Weisberg received her M.S. and J.D. degrees.

John and Sandra Day O'Connor in their Paradise Valley home (undated photo)

John and Sandra Day O’Connor in their Paradise Valley home (undated photo)

Bowman and Brooke chair Paul Cereghini in front of a Yamaha Rhino.

Bowman and Brooke chair Paul Cereghini in front of a Yamaha Rhino.

Over a month ago, I had a terrific conversation with a law firm leader whom I’ve come to know over the years. Paul Cereghini is at Bowman and Brooke, where he is the firm’s national chairman. Much to my chagrin, I am just now getting to report out on what we discussed and some news from the firm.

The honor that has come his way is a highly specific one: Paul is “the only lawyer based in Phoenix to chair a national law firm that was not based in Arizona.” (The 180-lawyer firm has 10 offices in seven states.)

When I talked with Paul in early May, I congratulated him but also chuckled at the legalistic specificity of that achievement. Nonetheless, Phoenix should be pleased at his accomplishment, which reflects well not just on the firm but on the city.

The news release interested me for reasons beyond city-pride, though. I also noted that Cereghini has been with the firm since joining right out of law school, and he is only the third chair in the firm’s 30-year history (Dick Bowman headed it up as managing partner for 23 years, then David Graves served as chair until early this year.)

Both of those accomplishments are noteworthy, and the first—staying with one firm from law school graduation through senior partnership—is increasingly rare today.

When Paul Cereghini took the associate job on Feb. 1, 1985, Bowman and Brooke was just opening its doors. On that day, he joined seven partners and six other associates in the new law-firm venture. And this spring, he became the firm’s third chair. Quite a career arc.

Cereghini said he expects to maintain his full trial practice—and pointed to the firm’s operations and leadership structure as reasons why that will be possible. When the firm moved away from a managing partner structure, he said, they adopted a chairmanship and took on professional nonlawyer staff leaders for other duties that used to occupy the managing partner’s time.

“Where other law firms might have their chair scale back,” said Cereghini, “we have a solid administrative side with a COO.” That person oversees the day-to-day activities of departments such as IT, facilities management and HR.

That structure frees Cereghini up to focus on his practice and the parts of leadership he enjoys most: “strategic planning and vision in the formation of strategic plans for the firm and administration.”

He also said that he enjoys lateral recruiting, finding people who “mesh with the culture of the firm.”

Cereghini said that those new firm lawyers have to embrace the organization’s core values: “collegiality, support for each other, sharing foxholes together.”

He also spoke about the firm’s product-liability and automotive practices, which have involved clients like Honda, Toyota, and Riddell. In March, a California jury returned a defense verdict of 12–0 in a defective products case arising when a woman was injured while riding in a Rhino ATV, manufactured by Yamaha. Bowman represented Yamaha, and Cereghini was lead trial counsel in the case. The claim in the case had been $16.7 million, plus punitive damages. According to the firm, “The trial involved the last active matter in the California JCCP Rhino litigation that at one time had more than 275 matters.”

In products-liability cases, Cereghini said, the landscape continues to shift. Federal court efficiency via the increased use of multi-district litigation (MDL) has changed the way such cases are defended. That means high-profile products cases may keep attorneys involved in multiple places simultaneously. And the fastest-growing areas in the field, he said, are in drugs and medical devices, and in consumer products.

Proud of his firm of trial lawyers, he said they continually to seek opportunities where younger attorneys can advocate before a finder of fact. He said that two dozen attorneys in the firm are first-chair qualified.

Asked if he can name a favorite element of trial practice, Cereghini ponders before mentioning the cross-examination of experts.

“That is probably the most fun I have in a courtroom. It lets me put in my case during the plaintiff’s case.”

Cereghini recalled that when he started at the firm, he had a unique opportunity: He was able to try two cases in 18 months with partners Dick Bowman and Jeff Brooke. “I received a tremendous education.” According to the firm, Cereghini has defended cases in 40 U.S. states.

As the firm prepared for its 30th annual meeting, Cereghini praised those who laid the foundation.

“Dick Bowman taught my generation how to be trial lawyers. And now, my generation has done the same.”

NOTE: The original post was edited to reflect the fact that Paul Cereghini is “the only lawyer based in Phoenix to chair a national law firm that was not based in Arizona.”

An April 3, 2015, Arizona Forward event at the Arizona Supreme Court gathered advocates and legal experts to addr4ess access to justice issues.

An April 3, 2015, Arizona Forward event at the Arizona Supreme Court gathered advocates and legal experts to addr4ess access to justice issues.

Our offices will be closed for the Fourth of July holiday on Friday, July 3. But before I head for the hills, I’ll share one more post for this week, this one written by my prolific colleague Alberto Rodriguez.

His piece is in regard to a noteworthy event held earlier this spring. Arizona Forward was a gathering of people and organizations committed to access to justice. Held at the Arizona Supreme Court on April 3, 2015, speakers included American Bar Association President William C. Hubbard.

Now, the event organizers have released their report, which Alberto summarizes for us here (more event photos are at the end of this post; click to enlarge and to view them in a slideshow):

Speakers at the April 3, 2015, Arizona Forward event included (L to R) State Bar CEO John Phelps; ABA President William Hubbard; Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales; State Bar Governor Jeff Willis; and State Bar President Richard Platt.

Speakers at the April 3, 2015, Arizona Forward event included (L to R) State Bar CEO John Phelps; ABA President William Hubbard; Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales; State Bar Governor Jeff Willis; and State Bar President Richard Platt.

Legal professionals and community leaders are one step closer to solving the shortage of accessible legal services in Arizona. Arizona Forward, a day-long conference held in April that focused on finding new and better ways to deliver legal services, has released its findings, which included the following.

To move Arizona forward in the future delivery of legal services to its citizens, the significant changes in demographics, economies and technology must be considered by leaders from all sectors of the community-at-large.

  • (We) need to consider further augmentation of the legal services profession, beyond licensed document preparers, to include greater use of non-lawyers and paraprofessionals.
  • (We) need to communicate more effectively to those who need legal services about access to the legal system and recognize when legal advice is needed.
  • (We) must harness technology in every imaginable way to reach and assist those in need of legal services.

The underlying theme in the report was the need for increased communication. Advancements in technology will help to tackle this communication barrier. As technology continues to advance, it will play a key role in ensuring that it provides the gateway in linking those who need legal services to those who can provide it. Mobile and virtual technology are two elements being considered.

As Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales has said, “Having meaningful access to legal services is vital to fulfilling the promise of justice for all. The goal of Arizona Forward is to find new, innovative solutions that advance justice for all Arizonans.” That first step was taken, and the first goal met by the State Bar of Arizona, the Arizona Supreme Court, the American Bar Association and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU, who co-sponsored the event, along with community leaders from across the state, was to identify the issues and offer attainable solutions.

For more information on Arizona Forward and to read the report, click here or contact Carrie Sherman at 602-340-7201. To learn more about the nationwide initiative led by the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services, click here.

Bob McWhirter's Bill of Rights book featured at the State Bar 2015 Convention #azbarcon

Bob McWhirter’s Bill of Rights book featured at the State Bar 2015 Convention #azbarcon

When Bob McWhirter writes an article or book, I’m inclined to want to read it (or to be the editor who gets to publish it!).

His latest work—an illustrated history of the Bill of Rights—has captivated readers and even won a design award.

(Go here for the paperback version, or here for the hard-cover version.)

But reading his work only offers a glimmer of the joy Bob takes in excavating history. For that, you have to see him be interviewed. A recent PBS Horizon program offers that chance.

Here is Bob being interviewed by Horizon host Ted Simons. Ted was clearly charmed by Bob and his book; he even chuckled when Bob inadvertently used the word “pissed” on the otherwise-buttoned-down program.

Screen-grab of Bob McWhirter on AZ PBS's Horizon.

Screen-grab of Bob McWhirter on AZ PBS’s Horizon.

And after you watch that, you can read an op-ed Bob penned for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In it, he explores (as he does in his book and in previous articles for Arizona Attorney Magazine), the close connection between guns and race in American history and current events.

Screen-grab of Bob McWhirter and interviewer Ted Simons on AZ PBS's Horizon.

Screen-grab of Bob McWhirter and interviewer Ted Simons on AZ PBS’s Horizon.

Hon. Don Kessler receives the 2015 Sarah Herring Sorin Award from Barbara Burke, center, and 2015 AWLA President Lisa Bossard Funk, June 26, 2015, Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix.

Hon. Don Kessler receives the 2015 Sarah Herring Sorin Award from Barbara Burke, center, and 2015 AWLA President Lisa Bossard Funk, June 26, 2015, Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix.

An hour after the Supreme Court released its historic opinion legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, the AWLA made historic news of their own, honoring a man for the first time with its Sarah Herring Sorin Award.

On Friday, June 26, the highest award of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association went to Judge Donn Kessler of the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The Biltmore Resort room was packed with a capacity crowd of members and others. Attorney Barbara Burke introduced the honoree, known for his support (and employment) of largely female clerks. He also has chaired or co-chaired the AWLA’s monthly luncheon for years, and has been tireless in mentoring judicial candidates.

Well respected as a mentor, Judge Kessler is “one who lifts up women and men attorneys,” said Burke.

Barbara conveyed kind words about Donn expressed by others: “When Donn is in your life, you are so lucky.” And “He is awesome, a leader and mentor.”

Judge Kessler sounded a theme of mindfulness in his acceptance remarks. A longtime advocate of meditation and balance in life and law practice, he said, “Mindfulness has made me grateful for things.”

For example, to loud applause, he said, “I am grateful for the United States Supreme Court this morning.”

But more needs to be done for marginalized individuals, he urged.

“A half century after 50 percent of law school classes were composed of women, now only 17 percent of law firm equity partners are women.”

Generous to a fault, Judge Kessler praised his many clerks, past and present, who have drafted the first versions of his opinions. While other appellate judges shifted uncomfortably in their seats, Kessler said that many drafts he’s received have been essentially ready for publication the moment they were written by the clerks.

“So I always try to add ‘the Kessler paragraph or sentence,’” he said. That way, when he later engages in dialogue with his fellow panel judges, they can focus on that portion. “‘We can take that out,’ they say,” likely unaware that it’s the judge-drafted portion. The self-effacing Kessler told his story to warm laughs—and some uneasy grimaces.

Judge Kessler said he will probably retire in two years, and hopes young lawyers and clerks always understand that he is a supporter and a sounding board. Urging a successful life and practice, he said, “I want you to run with it.”

Finally, he reminded the audience that appellate judge is the second-best job he’s ever had. For the best position, he recalled his work as a deputy attorney general in Hawaii, where he learned important lessons.

The Hawaiian-shirted Kessler described making his oral argument before a judge. As he went “toe to toe” on an important issue, “the judge was just not buying my argument.” Finally, a colleague tugged on his jacket and muttered, “Move on to your next argument!”

He did, and the judge exclaimed, “You win on that one!”

Your next argument, or your next chapter—and helping others with theirs—may be a recipe for a mindful life, Judge Kessler suggested.

Hon. Patricia Norris and President-Elect Lisa Loo share a decisive moment, June 26, 2015, Phoenix, Ariz.

Hon. Patricia Norris and President-Elect Lisa Loo share a decisive moment, June 26, 2015, Phoenix, Ariz.

More news from the Convention will be in this space Monday. But as #azbarcon 2015 draws toward a close, I share a great photo snapped by the Bar’s Rick DeBruhl. Above you’ll see a historic moment: When Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Norris (L) acquiesced to the urging of President-Elect Lisa Loo to … serve as a Convention Co-Chair for next year’s Convention!

Thank you in advance, Judge Norris, for giving of your time and talents in the coming year!

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,018 other followers