Young lawyers gain immeasurable knowledge from the wisdom of their elders. From the State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference 2018, On Balance guest hosts Samantha Meinke and Syeda Davidson of the Young Lawyers Section interview members of the bar who reached 50 years in the practice of law in 2018. They hear valuable insight from these master lawyers about what they valued most in their careers, their most challenging learning experiences, and what work-life balance advice they have to offer young lawyers. This episode includes interviews from Leonard Suchyta, Bruce Neckers, Susan Howard, and L. Brooks Patterson.
Leonard Suchyta is the former chief patent counsel for Verizon and its predecessor companies.
Bruce Neckers was president of the State Bar of Michigan from 2001-2002 and is a partner with Rhodes McKee in Grand Rapids, MI.
Susan Howard was a referee for the Ingham County Friend of the Court, an adjunct professor for Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and was the first woman to serve as chairperson of the State bar of Michigan Representative Assembly and on the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners.
L. Brooks Patterson former prosecutor and long-time serving chief executive of Oakland County, MI.
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference 2018 Young Lawyers Learn from the Masters — Part 1
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast, where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice with your hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent, here on Legal Talk Network.
Take it away, ladies.
Samantha Meinke: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on the Legal Talk Network. I am Samantha Meinke, sitting in today for JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent. With me today is Syeda Davidson, who is Immediate Past Chair of the State Bar of Michigan’s Young Lawyers Section and an Associate Attorney at Burgess, Sharp & Golden Law Office in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Syeda.
Syeda Davidson: Thanks for having me, Samantha.
Samantha Meinke: Today, we’re bringing you a very special edition of the On Balance Podcast from the State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference in Grand Rapids.
Each year at this event the State Bar of Michigan honors members of the Bar who have reached 50 years in the practice of law at a banquet called the Golden Celebration. This year we thought it would be very special to hear a member of our Young Lawyers section interview some of these master lawyers to find out what they like best about practicing law, what was most challenging, and what they think young lawyers should know about finding balance between the practice of law and everything else in life.
So, without further ado, here’s Syeda Davidson interviewing Leonard Suchyta, who is the former chief patent counsel for Verizon and its predecessor companies.
Take it away, Syeda.
Syeda Davidson: Thanks so much for sitting down with me, Mr. Suchyta.
Leonard Suchyta: Good morning.
Syeda Davidson: What do you value most about your experience as a lawyer?
Leonard Suchyta: I think what I value most is that what I bring to my client is a knowledge of my areas of the law and when I listen to him or her and I listen to what they seek to accomplish, I then wrap that up with my knowledge and offer to them alternatives, apprise them of the issues that they should be concerned about and the fact that they can end up with a much better transaction, deal or result simply because we have considered all of the available options available under the law.
Syeda Davidson: Very thorough it sounds like.
Leonard Suchyta: I enjoy it.
Syeda Davidson: Good.
Leonard Suchyta: I think you just listen and then you apply what you know that the client may not have even considered.
Syeda Davidson: It’s important. What has been the greatest learning experience of your career?
Leonard Suchyta: Listening. I think very often lawyers jump on in and they think they’ve got all the answers, I would just sit there, let the client talk, let the client tell me what he wants, let the client tell me what he’s concerned about. Once I have all of this, I can then apprise him of what he should do.
In fact, sometimes all the client wants to do is simply get an assurance from me that his understanding is the correct understanding and his approach is the correct approach. So simply, listen first, talk second.
Syeda Davidson: That’s actually a really good segue into the next question. What advice do you have for someone like me, a young lawyer, just setting out on practicing law for how to balance a successful career with everything else he or she wants to accomplish?
Leonard Suchyta: I think that’s your hardest question, I’ve not been successful at that. I think what you find is you have the demands of the client whether they be self-imposed, whether they be client-imposed or whether they be imposed by statute, regulation or court order. And then you have your own family concerns and your own personal concerns, and as I said I don’t think that I have been successful because there are many issues of family and my own personal wants and desires that have had to have been put aside and I had to respond to a client situation. You almost have to look at it on a case-by-case basis or you continue to try, but I’m not sure you’re ever going to be successful.
I think one of the things that certainly helped me was that my spouse was a lawyer as well and what happened there is she understood what I had to do, I understood she had to do, and I think one of the nicest things that you could look at, it’s three o’clock in the morning you’re writing the brief and someone walks up with a cup of coffee and says, I think you need it. But at the end, have I really been successful in this balance? Probably not, but I think I’ve really given it a good shot and effort.
Syeda Davidson: That’s a really good answer, really insightful. Is there something that you would do differently if you could do it over again?
Leonard Suchyta: No. I think I really love the practice of law, I am probably as excited now as I am fifty years later when I first started, a new case comes in and the horse runs out of the barn and you’re off and running. I love with the practice of law.
Syeda Davidson: It’s evident while you’re answering these questions as I’m looking at you that you love what you do, just from watching your facial expression.
Leonard Suchyta: I do. I do.
Samantha Meinke: All right. I think that’s all the time we have today with Mr. Suchyta. Thank you so much for joining us for this interview.
Joining us next is Bruce Neckers, who is President of the State Bar of Michigan from 2001 to 2002, and he’s a partner with Rhoades McKee, here in Grand Rapids.
Bruce Neckers: Thank you, pleasure to be here.
Samantha Meinke: Great. I’m going to turn it over to Syeda, who is going to interview you now about your 50 years in the practice of law.
Syeda Davidson: Thanks so much for sitting down with me, Mr. Neckers.
The first question I have for you is, what do you value the most about your experience as a lawyer?
Bruce Neckers: Well, it is a wonderful way to make a living. If you think about what we do especially as a trial lawyer as I’ve been my entire career, we deal with interesting situations, interesting people in intellectually stimulating environments and more importantly, in fact, most importantly, in the process we get to serve the needs of people who really need our assistance sometimes at times where they are in most need. So, it has been just a wonderful way to make a living but so much more than that.
Syeda Davidson: It sounds like you’ve really enjoyed your time as a lawyer?
Bruce Neckers: And I still am enjoying it by the way.
Syeda Davidson: Good. What has been the greatest learning experience of your career?
Bruce Neckers: Well, when I went to law school there was an entirely different environment than the one that were existing in at the present time. When I first came to my firm the first day that I was there the photocopy machine arrived for the first time. When we merged our firms in 1987, we had one fax machine between us, we had no mag cards or anything other than electric typewriters.
The practice of law has changed so dramatically that it is actually the practice of law that has been the greatest learning experience for me, and then of course the very interesting and sometimes difficult situations that people find themselves in when they come to a lawyer for assistance has made this just a really interesting and wonderful way to participate in some of society’s biggest problems.
Syeda Davidson: Do you feel comfortable giving me an example of maybe some of those problems that you’ve had an opportunity to encounter?
Bruce Neckers: Well, I started off as a criminal defense lawyer, that’s all I wanted to do when I left law school was to participate in the criminal justice system, and as a defense lawyer you are really the only person between the incredible forces of the government and somebody who has been charged with crime, and I tried murder cases and I tried armed robberies and bank robberies and every kind of criminal situation because in those days we tried a lot more cases than we’re trying at the present time.
So to say that you have tried a murder case to a group of citizens and participated in the system of justice the way it was designed to work is, I mean, I can give you examples of particular cases that I was involved in, but that part of the process, and I haven’t done criminal cases in a long time, but many civil cases have the same kind of aspects to them.
People are in their hour of really desperate need. They need somebody to protect them, and when you have the skills and the ability and the desire to do that, that really is a rewarding experience in a different way than just economics.
Syeda Davidson: Thank you for that answer, it was very insightful, and thank you for the criminal defense work that you’ve done, it’s really important.
Bruce Neckers: Well, it is.
Syeda Davidson: What advice do you have for a young lawyer who’s just starting out trying to balance their career with their personal life?
Bruce Neckers: Well, the practice of law has changed and so has society. When I got out of law school, I had debt of $3,000. I paid it off at $35.19 a month. The people that are getting out of law school today are coming out with huge debt. On top of that we have a different societal construct than we did at that time. Most of my friends were the sole breadwinner in the family, most of our wives, and it was almost all-male at that time, didn’t work. It gave tremendous freedom to us because I knew that I had somebody that was caring for my children and so forth.
Today, people do not have that opportunity because so many people are two-income families, they have children that they have to take care of, but the most important thing that I’ve found in the practice of law is that I always had to have something that I was doing that made me feel like I was fulfilling the commitment that I had made when I came into this profession in the first place.
Even if all I am doing is mundane kinds of things at work. If I am a part of some sort of a nonprofit and using my skills, sometimes my legal skills but other times just being a part of the community made me feel really good about how I did think.
So, to a new lawyer coming in I would offer try always to have something in your life which is different from the practice of law, and then I’m a family first guy, so you can’t lose the responsibilities that you have for your spouse or your children or whoever it is that you’re a part of in your life.
So, those are the kinds of things that I would suggest, and then I think for people like me, 50 years on in the practice of law, the technological revolution in this country is just plain amazing and we have to be really careful that it doesn’t alter as it already has the way in which we relate to people.
I get emails from people. I resolve disputes with people I’ve never talked to, I’ve never seen face-to-face, that didn’t happen in the old days. And I think that folks that are coming into the practice have to be careful to maintain a relationship with other people because otherwise you’re just a technician doing things on the Internet or by email and that’s just not a good way to do it.
Samantha Meinke: I think that’s all the time we have for the interview today. Thank you so much, Mr. Neckers, for coming in and joining us and for all the insights you shared with us today.
Bruce Neckers: Really happy to do it, and thanks for having me.
Samantha Meinke: Next up, we’re listening to Susan Howard, who was a Referee for the Ingham County Friend of the Court, an adjunct professor for Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and the first woman to serve as Chairperson of the State Bar of Michigan Representative Assembly and on the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners.
Take it away, Syeda.
Syeda Davidson: Thanks Samantha. Thank you so much for sitting down with me, Ms. Howard.
Susan Howard: Thank you.
Syeda Davidson: What have you valued most about your experience as a lawyer?
Susan Howard: It’s hard for me to say, but I guess, I would have to say that I’ve gotten to know a lot and a huge number of people that have been very influential to me and plus I’ve just enjoyed knowing them. I was able to do a lot of work through the American Bar Association that brought me into touch with so many people doing so many things, so I would say that in general it’s just the connections that I’ve been able to make, plus I truly enjoyed it.
Syeda Davidson: And kind of in connection with your answer about the American Bar Association, you were the first woman elected to any leadership role for the State Bar of Michigan, is that right?
Susan Howard: It is true.
Syeda Davidson: And can you talk with me about how you got to that point and what that experience was like for you?
Susan Howard: How I got to that point was actually being elected was I was active in a number of other areas in the State Bar, but a friend of mine encouraged me to go further and so I ran for clerk, which is the lead-in to the Chair of the Representative Assembly and I did not win the first time I ran, but the second time I ran I did, and that was my experience and there were several people that were really part of that, one was Mike Stroupe who’s no longer alive and believe it or not one of the people who was very supportive of my efforts in this Representative Assembly was former Governor, former Chief Justice, Governor Williams, I just call him Soapy, but he was very important influence to me.
Syeda Davidson: Sounds like it was a great experience?
Susan Howard: It was an incredible experience.
Syeda Davidson: What has been the greatest learning experience of your career?
Susan Howard: Having to work with judges. It took a lot of learning to probably didn’t get quite enough actually, but it took a lot of learning to know how to deal with people in authority, maybe not my strongest point.
Syeda Davidson: That’s true for many of us. What advice do you have for a young lawyer who is just starting to practice about work-life balance?
Susan Howard: About work-life balance, try to make sure that you are able to do something other than go to work every day and keep your nose to the grindstone. We were talking about a friend of mine on the way when we were driving here today, my friends and I were talking about a friend who’s retiring from his job today and how is he going to handle retirement and I thought back to when I sort of inadvertently retired and I thought, holy cow, you never get used to it, it’s just — if you’ve been so focused, and I realized that when I did retire from the court I kept thinking I have no identity other than this.
So make sure that going into it as a young person, make sure that you have some other identity, make sure that you have some other interest that can keep your family going, keep your friendships going.
Samantha Meinke: I think that’s all the time we have for our interview today, so we’re going to say thank you so much to you, Susan Howard.
Susan Howard: You’re welcome.
Samantha Meinke: Next up Syeda is going to interview L. Brooks Patterson, a former prosecutor and longtime serving Chief Executive of Oakland County Michigan, the Michigan County with the most attorneys in the State incidentally.
Welcome Mr. Patterson.
L. Brooks Patterson: Thank you. Nice to be here.
Samantha Meinke: Take it away, Syeda.
Syeda Davidson: Thank you, Sam. Thank you so much for being here with me, Mr. Patterson. Can you start by telling me what you have valued most about your experience as a lawyer?
L. Brooks Patterson: Well, during the years I was prosecutor for 16, and locking up to bad guy was very rewarding. It was the sense that I was doing something important for my community and it was great years.
Plus, I just think being a lawyer is a certain prestige factor that you’ve gone through that school, graduated and now a practicing attorney. I tend to think that the practice of law is it doesn’t get the respect sometimes that it deserves, all the lawyer jokes. I think it’s a very rewarding profession.
Syeda Davidson: Can you describe what has been most rewarding for you?
L. Brooks Patterson: Yeah, I can try. The most rewarding for me again go back to those years when I was prosecuting attorney was the way we set up the office and the way it was able to assemble a very, very good team. They all went on eventually in the private practice and were seasoned lawyers, but I like best about my experience when I argued once before the United States Supreme Court and that was quite a thrill, quite an experience.
I had a second opportunity but I pass it on to somebody else so they could have the same opportunity I had. Won that case by the way, reversed the Sixth Circuit, eight to one, so it was a good day, but that experience I can still see the justices come out from behind the curtains.
Syeda Davidson: That’s amazing. What has been the greatest learning experience of your career?
L. Brooks Patterson: Oh boy, greatest learning experience, just going to law school, I guess. I learned a lot about leadership, certainly in my job now is kind of the exact, I got close to 4,000 employees, I’ve got some really innovative programs we’ve started three-year budget with only county in America that has a three-year budget so I can look out a little bit and I can have a planned role as kind of 17:57 not a panic position.
But I think being able to direct the staff, assemble the staff, people say, why is your administration so successful, because we are, and I said, it all happened between November of 1992 and January of 1993. Those two months of when I assembled my team, and after that the heaviest part enough to motivate them and get out of the way.
Syeda Davidson: So you’re saying that the secret to your success is assembling a great team?
L. Brooks Patterson: Absolutely, and then I am not trying to micromanage them, get out of the way, let them do what they do best.
Syeda Davidson: That’s good advice. What additional advice do you have for a young lawyer about balancing a successful career with everything else he or she wants out of life?
L. Brooks Patterson: Well, let’s go back to the time when I spoke with you, graduation your commencement from law school, I used the example of Wayne Gretzky who was number one scoring hockey player in history I guess and they asked him what is your secret to success? He said, I don’t go where the puck is, I go to where the puck is going to be. I remember counting the class, go out there and go to where the puck is going to be. Anticipate, make your move and you’ll have a rewarding career, which you can balance it as much as you want. You can pull some all-nighters, there’s no question. And getting ready for that Supreme Court argument I pulled a lot of late hours, but the reward is of course in the moment that you achieve success.
Syeda Davidson: I do remember receiving that advice, and it is a good advice.
L. Brooks Patterson: Okay. I remember the president of the law school saying after I spoke, he got up 18:29 and he said, it’s obvious if we don’t screen our speaker’s remarks beforehand.
Syeda Davidson: And Mr. Patterson, you made reference to when you were a commencement speaker at my law school graduation. One of the things that I remember is that you told a very funny story about when you were a young prosecutor making an opening statement.
L. Brooks Patterson: Oh yeah. That might be my first circuit court trial and in your mind you go over and over your opening statement when you’re getting dressed and in shower and so forth. So I have my mind made up what I was going to say. I looked at the jury, got up, walked over to them I said, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve read about crime in the newspaper, you’ve seen crime stories on TV, today will give you chance to do something about it, and the Judge holds the trial, calls me to the bench said, Brooks, you’re lucky, I don’t declare a mistrial, but he gave a curative instruction right there, and they did do something buzz, I recall.
Samantha Meinke: I think we’re out of time for this interview today, but I want to say thank you so much, Mr. Patterson, for joining us today. We’ve really appreciated having you.
L. Brooks Patterson: Well, thank you, and I appreciate the probative question makes me think about, well, I’m here for 50-year anniversary, so I have been in this for quite a while, but delighted to be with you. Thank you.
Samantha Meinke: Thank you all for joining us here on the Legal Talk Network for another edition of the On Balance Podcast from the State Bar of Michigan.
Thank you Syeda for joining me today.
Syeda Davidson: Thank you so much for having me, Sam, it’s been a pleasure.
Samantha Meinke: You can find the podcast in the Apple Podcast app or online at legaltalknetwork.com.
I’m Samantha Meinke standing in for JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent. Until next time, thank you for listening.
Outro: Thank you for listening to the State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast, brought to you by the State Bar of Michigan and produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network.
If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com, subscribe via Apple Podcasts and RSS. Find the State Bar of Michigan and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn or download Legal Talk Network’s free app in Google Play and iTunes.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network or the State Bar of Michigan or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.