2015.70: Okay, Stan. Okay.

 Posted on August 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

(Go to the bottom of the post and click play.)

When I first read this, I have to admit, I had an ego reaction. Hey, I'm in my 40s!:

(That's an interview of Stan Schneider by Brandon Ball in the Summer 2015 HCCLA Defender.)

It's not the "you're not like Dick and Dan" that bothered me - I bring different skills to a practice of law that is different than it was when Dick DeGuerin or Dan Cogdell were my age.

It's the "leaders" comment that poked my ego.

Maybe Stan is being uncharacteristically inaccurate in his words - maybe by "leaders" he simply means "great lawyers." Dick DeGuerin, Dan Cogdell, Kent and Randy Schaffer, Jack Zimmermann, Jim Lavine, Mike Ramsey: all (and more of that generation whom Stan hasn't named - Tyrone Moncriffe, Katherine Scardino, Candy Elizondo, Lonnie Knowles, as well as these guys) are great lawyers who have gotten great results for their clients.

If by "leaders" Stan means "great lawyers," then I would argue that Stan needs to look around to see that this generation has its great lawyers. Not like Dan and Dick - not white dudes, for one thing, and products of a different time - but great lawyers nonetheless, who have quietly racked up victories that compare to anything Dan and Dick accomplished at that age.

Except for Jim Lavine (who was mentored by Jack Zimmermann), the lawyers Stan named all were mentored by Percy Foreman or Racehorse Haynes. If each of them had paid it forward, there would be a cloud of great lawyers making their own names at the criminal courthouse.

Mentoring makes the next generation great. If there is indeed a deficit of "amazing" lawyers in their 40s, the blame is squarely on Stan and those he names. Can you name one lawyer in her 40s mentored by each of the lawyers that Stan lists? I doubt it; I know that I can't. If I have my memealogy right, Percy mentored Racehorse, and Racehorse mentored Dick and Dan and Jack and Mike. Dick mentored Neal Davis; Dan mentored Rob Swofford (who's out of the game); Jack mentored his daughter Terri; Mike mentored Chip Lewis. I'm sure Kent and Randy have mentored associates as well.

I don't think "leaders" means "great lawyers." Being a great lawyer - or even an amazing lawyer - is not the same as being a leader. A lawyer can rack up an impressive record of wins without inspiring the next generation of lawyers to greatness.

The 20th Century raised a few stars in the Houston criminal-defense firmament. Those stars have for the most part failed (as evidenced by Stan's concern) to elevate the next generation. The media, also, do not make stars of criminal-defense lawyers as once they did. But I would argue that while it has fewer stars, my generation of Houston criminal-defense lawyers has at least as many leaders as the generations that came before us.

I have not seen the stars that Stan listed seek out opportunities to mentor young lawyers. They sometimes hire associates, and train them up, but I don't believe they look for opportunities to mentor protégés if their mentorship will not directly benefit them. That is, they'll mentor their associates, but not outsiders. Mentoring makes the staff better, so being mentored is a benefit of being hired.

For the leaders of my generation, by contrast, mentoring is a raison d'être. They mentor young solos not because there is anything in it for them, but because they want the whole criminal-defense bar to be a little better.

I see two contrasting (but not mutually exclusive) memetic strategies: the old strategy of mentoring one or two associates at a time; and the new strategy of mentoring as many people as you can.

My own criminal-defense mentor, Jim Skelton, subscribed to the new strategy. He was always available to answer questions, and he had young lawyers over to his house on Wednesday afternoons for brainstorming sessions. I learned from watching him, and I've tried to pay it forward to as many young lawyers - in Houston and anywhere else - as will listen.

The old-school strategy produced a short list of stars; the new strategy will produce an army of instigators.

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