Part 2 of this installment from the State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference 2018 holds even more wisdom from master lawyers with long years of experience. In this episode of On Balance, we hear the continuation of interviews with members of the bar who reached 50 years in the practice of law in 2018. Guest hosts Samantha Meinke and Syeda Davidson of the Young Lawyers Section interview Carolyn Williams, Joseph Golden, and Susan & Ed Haroutunian about what they valued most in their careers as lawyers, their most challenging learning experiences, and what work-life balance advice they have to offer young lawyers.
Judge Carolyn Williams is a retired Kalamazoo County probate judge and the first African American president of the Michigan Probate Judges Association.
Joseph Golden is a partner at Burgess, Sharpe, and Golden in Clinton Township, MI, has been president of the National Employment Lawyers Association, and is currently secretary of the Macomb County Bar Association.
Susan Haroutunian is a member of the State Bar of Michigan Representative Assembly and is of counsel at Haroutunian, Licata, Haroutunian in Detroit, MI.
Ed Haroutunian is a member of the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners and is a partner at Haroutunian, Licata, Haroutunian in Bingham Farms, MI.
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference 2018: Young Lawyers Learn from the Masters – Part 2
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 for joining us today Syeda.
Syeda Davidson: Thanks for having me Sam.
Samantha Meinke: First up today we are going to talk to the Honorable Carolyn Williams, a retired Kalamazoo County probate judge and the first African-American President of the Michigan Probate Judges Association. When she and her husband moved to Kalamazoo, they tripled the population of African-American attorneys in the city.
Welcome Judge Williams.
Judge Carolyn Williams: Thank you for having me. Over to you Syeda.
Syeda Davidson: Thank you Sam. Thank you so much for sitting with me today Judge Williams. I would like to start by asking you what you have valued the most about your experience as a lawyer.
Judge Carolyn Williams: Well, I think the most important thing that I got out of being both an attorney and a judge was the opportunity to meet a number of interesting people, deal with a number of challenging issues and hopefully set an example for others who might consider entering the legal profession, which at the time I entered had a very small population of women and people of color.
Syeda Davidson: And you did kind of touch on that today as they were assembling all of the 50 year honorees for a photo, you made an observation and what was that observation?
Judge Carolyn Williams: Well, I looked at the array and I saw that there were two women already seated and no people of color. It reminded me so much of the law school that I attended where there were very few people like me. I think there were two women and two African-American women in my class, 35 in the law school, this is George Washington Law School in Washington, DC and there were 11 African-American men. We all of course knew one another because we had to gather in self-defense, no, just kidding.
Syeda Davidson: Can you talk with me a little bit about what that must have felt like?
Judge Carolyn Williams: As a night student, I think we were all pretty focused on doing the work, so it wasn’t a big social environment at all. So it felt like my undergrad, which happens to have also been George Washington University, where there were also fewer. So I just had a goal and I was focused on that and the rest was sort of ancillary to getting through the process.
Syeda Davidson: Great. Thank you for sharing that. What has been the greatest learning experience of your career?
Judge Carolyn Williams: I think the most important thing to think about and this is what I would tell the new judge school students, you look in the mirror every morning and you say, my first name is not judge. You are serving the people who come in front of you and each of them is entitled to be treated with courtesy, respect, because they have — they may have issues, but your job is to help them resolve those issues.
Samantha Meinke: Such an important message. Thank you for sharing it. And lastly, I will ask you, what advice would you have for a young lawyer about how to balance a successful career with everything else he or she wants to accomplish in life?
Judge Carolyn Williams: That is a real challenge, especially when it comes to marriage and parenthood. Having a network of supportive friends, having a partner hopefully who is flexible about your need to maintain involvement in your profession, having employers who are flexible about, for example, flex time or part-time work, which is something I was able to do when my children were young.
And finally, having a sense that you have a career which can go beyond your immediate issues that you are trying to deal with. So you may have to put off some of your goals, but ultimately work on them when you have got the time and the energy to do so.
Samantha Meinke: I think that’s all the time we have today to talk to you Judge Williams, but thank you so much for taking a moment to join us. We really appreciate it.
Judge Carolyn Williams: It’s been my honor.
Samantha Meinke: Next up we have a very special guest. Syeda is going to interview Joseph Golden, who is a partner at the firm where she works, Burgess Sharp & Golden Law Office in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Joseph Golden has been President of the National Employment Lawyers Association and is currently Secretary of the Macomb County Bar Association, and I am guessing that might have something to do with how Syeda ended up becoming a leader at the State Bar of Michigan as well.
But over to you Syeda, I will let you hash that out.
Syeda Davidson: Thank you Sam. Hi Joe.
Joseph Golden: Hi Sy.
Syeda Davidson: Joe calls me Sy. Thank you for being here. Can you tell me what you have valued most about your experience as a lawyer?
Joseph Golden: Probably the most important thing is the ability to make changes. I think that the platform that you have as a lawyer, if you have the inclination to think outside the box and think about something new and how you can help people; I am in employment law, so my interest is the rights of the individual primarily. And the field is wide open.
The field started probably in 1980, so it’s a brand new area of law relatively. And the opportunity to create new issues and to test them and to have a platform in the courtroom is something that unless you are a lawyer you really don’t have those opportunities and something you need to take advantage of. The idea is to leave this place better than you found it and being a lawyer it gives you a great opportunity to do just that.
Syeda Davidson: And kind of piggybacking on that answer, you were one of the first employment law practitioners when that area was arising. Can you talk with me about that?
Joseph Golden: Sure. I had a yellow pages ad in 1978. I had a little box in the yellow pages that said representing the rights of employees. At that point it was the only reference to employment law in the entire yellow pages, and of course there was no Internet to speak of so everybody found attorneys through the yellow pages. And all you had to do was look in the yellow pages attorney section to see all the multicolored ads of all the people who were advertising there. So that was an opportunity.
And we were trying to find back in 1978 exceptions to the employment at-will doctrine, because that’s how we were going to get started, getting into court with these various exceptions.
So the state Supreme Court helped us out tremendously because I think it was June 10th of 1980, they came down with Toussaint v. Blue Cross Blue Shield and created — and it was the seminal case in the United States, created policy issue in terms of implied contract of employment.
And from that point on for the next 10 or 11 years my practice was basically statewide, because it was the state cause of action. It was based on contract, and it gave us an opportunity to get into court with regard to the rights of the individual employee and what was fair and unfair in terms of that relationship.
Syeda Davidson: Excellent, such an important case law precedent for you to work with. What has been the greatest learning experience of your career?
Joseph Golden: I think the one thing that I learned that I have carried with me all the time is what made me a trial lawyer. In 1984 I had my first Toussaint related case that had came to trial in Oakland County and I asked the jury for money, and they gave it to me. And that was the first time in my entire legal career that I had put together the case from scratch and when it was over I asked the jury to compensate my client and they did it.
And I figured wow, this is something brand-new for me and I was determined from that point on that I would never shy away from the courtroom, not only did I love it, and of course when you have a little success it lends itself to wanting to be back there as often as you can.
So the bottom line was, it was an opportunity to be a full-fledged trial lawyer in a brand-new area of law, where you were trying five or six cases a year back then; I haven’t tried a lawsuit now in probably seven years, but back then, because everything was a challenge and the law was so new, you were trying five or six cases a year.
So that really changed my legal career and my perspective and how I felt about the courtroom, which some people I know are afraid of and shy away from, but for me that was the ultimate in terms of being a lawyer.
Syeda Davidson: And talking about learning experiences, one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was from you Joe, when you told me in terms of being a trial lawyer that it’s nice if they like you, you know what I am going to say next?
Joseph Golden: I sure do.
Syeda Davidson: You want to finish it.
Joseph Golden: I sure will. It’s nice if they like you, it’s even better if they respect you, but unless they fear you, you are never going to get the best out of your case and do the best for your client.
Syeda Davidson: And that’s advice that I carry with me today. Kind of continuing with the advice piece of it, what advice do you have for a young lawyer regarding work-life balance?
Joseph Golden: I understand previous comments in terms of trying to balance out the life that you have as a lawyer with the life that you have as a family member, as a spouse, as a parent. My advice is that within the context of your professional life, not your life outside of the law, but within the law, relationships are the most important thing that you can ever consider; relationships with your clients, with people who do what you do and most important, the people who you may battle with all day long across the table.
Those are the people that if you can form a relationship with them, and it used to be easier, it used to be AAA used to have receptions and there used to be ways where you could leave the bargaining table or leave the animosity or the advocacy behind and have a more cordial relationship, which ultimately would help you when you got back to the issue of lawyering.
So I would say that the most important balance is the balance that you have in terms of not going into your office and closing the door, but having an ongoing relationship with the people with whom you have to deal as part of your professional life.
Samantha Meinke: I think we have reached the end of the time that we have today. I am so sorry to cut this off Syeda and Joe. This has been such a pleasure. Joe, thank you so much for your time today.
Joseph Golden: My pleasure.
Samantha Meinke: Next up Syeda will interview Ed and Susan Haroutunian, who are both celebrating their golden celebrations this year and they are married to each other, so we are very lucky to have them.
Both of them are leaders at the State Bar of Michigan. Ed is a member of our Board of Commissioners. Susan is a member of our Representative Assembly. They are law partners at the same firm; well, Susan is actually Of Counsel at Haroutunian, Licata, Haroutunian in Detroit and Ed is a partner at the same firm in Bingham Farms.
Welcome Ed and Susan.
Susan Haroutunian: Thank you.
Ed Haroutunian: Thank you very much.
Samantha Meinke: I am going to turn it over to Syeda, who is going to carry on the interview at this point. So take it away Syeda.
Syeda Davidson: Thank you Sam. Thank you both so much for being here with me. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in addition to celebrating the golden anniversary of your practice of law, you are here at the annual meeting celebrating something else, aren’t you
Susan Haroutunian: Yes, we are. Our daughter was just appointed judge of the Redford 17th District Court and we are very proud of her.
Syeda Davidson: That’s wonderful.
Ed Haroutunian: In addition, I don’t know if you know or not, but at the end of this year Susan and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.
Syeda Davidson: Oh my.
Ed Haroutunian: So 2018 is a real special year, as was 1968, which was also a very special year.
Syeda Davidson: That’s wonderful. That’s a big year for you. I would like to ask each of you what you have valued most about your experience as a lawyer.
Susan Haroutunian: I think the thing that really sticks with me most over all of these years are the people that I have had the opportunity to work with and the level of camaraderie and goodwill that has been present the whole time. And it’s been a real pleasure to be a lawyer. When you start you don’t know exactly what you are going to find and I have found that it’s really a very positive experience.
Ed Haroutunian: Susan said what I wanted to say and she said it quite rightly. The people that you bump into, and I will tell you that being on the Board of Commissioners, my term expires next year, but being on the Board of Commissioners I have found that the people on that Board are some fantastic people and although it’s a real honor to have been elected out of Oakland County to be on the Board, the real importance is that I have had the opportunity to meet some people who are what I consider to be outstanding lawyers.
And more importantly, they are outstanding people, outstanding human beings and that’s something that I think Susan and I have agreed on over the years that we have been very fortunate in our practice to be able to bump into people like that. And that’s something that is not measured particularly in dollars and cents, but it is in terms of relationships with people and to that extent we are very fortunate.
Syeda Davidson: Excellent answers. What has been the greatest learning experience of each of your careers and we can start with you this time, Ed?
Ed Haroutunian: Okay, the greatest learning experience, I will tell you the thing that comes to my mind is this that younger lawyers need mentors, and I had that experience, and some of those experiences were not good, others were outstanding and I learned a tremendous amount.
But the concept involved is that you have to learn from older lawyers who have been around and you have to see what they do. And the important part is that it’s not a matter of just being the sponge, it’s a matter of that young lawyer deciding for himself or herself which attributes he or she sees are things that you want to really grab a hold of and go forward with, because some things you will say, you know, that’s not for me. And you say okay and you go forward.
But there are many things, many things that you will latch on to. And I think the only way that a young lawyer gets that experience is to be able to see and hear an older lawyer deal in the work setting. And once you see that you begin to get the impression of one, in terms of procedures, I mean there are some procedures that the younger lawyers don’t think about, but that they turn around and will say look, I think we should go the same way. Other times they look at procedures and they say, you know, those procedures are not really good. Why? Because that lawyer has made an independent decision, the young lawyer, to say I don’t want to do it that way. I have found that that’s the attribute that for me was very, very important.
Syeda Davidson: And how about you Susan?
Susan Haroutunian: When I was in law school there weren’t very many women in law school at the time, there were only a few of us. And lesson number one was the professors and my fellow students, which were all male for the most part, few women came in before I graduated, were very, very supportive and very nice to the female students and treated them well and made school a good experience for them, where it could have been horrible. So that was number one.
Number two is when you are out there, people will come at you with whatever style they use and some people are bullies, and the main thing to remember is don’t take it personally. These people would approach you in the same way whatever your race, religion, ethnicity, anything, gender, they will approach you the way they do and it is not personal, it is up to you to see past that and deal with it and learn to deal with it, but you don’t need to take away feelings of personal attack in it.
Your job as a lawyer is to represent your client and work with what situation you find yourself in, what people you find yourself working with and to make the whole situation work the best it possibly can for your client, and in that if people want to try and push you around, they can try, but they aren’t going to succeed if you hold on to yourself and realize that this is a tactic. They are trying to find your weakest spot and go for it. So keep your chin up and just deal with what comes at you, that’s been it.
Syeda Davidson: That’s a very insightful answer. And the two of you are married and you practice law together, so what advice do you have for a young lawyer about how to manage work-life balance?
Ed Haroutunian: First of all, I want to mention that in Susan’s law school class, there were only five women, just for the record, and the issue of work and private life balance is difficult. For me, I spent a lot of time at my work, particularly when my daughter was growing up. Now, sometimes I regret that. However, my job was to go out there and earn money. Susan’s job was to stay with our daughter, and by the way, we made that agreement after our daughter was born and we talked about it, who should be out there earning money and who should be staying with the child. And that’s how we did that.
I had the second chance when my daughter came and we practiced together, so that was a second opportunity for me. So I was blessed. I had both sides of it.
Syeda Davidson: Thank you for that answer.
Ed Haroutunian: Yeah, thanks.
Syeda Davidson: And how about you Susan, would you like to weigh in on that?
Susan Haroutunian: Yeah. Well, we all get kind of worked up, both of us do because it’s a real shift. Krista is forging ahead of us and that’s a good thing, makes you proud as a parent, but whatever the child is doing, if the child is moving in a good direction for them, it’s a wonderful thing.
Growing up, when we started out with Krista, Edward was in the best position in terms of a job, so I stayed home and started taking care of her and he kept doing what he was doing. I dipped. I helped. I did all kinds of peripheral things in terms of work, so I never left it completely, but my focus was on being a mom and I think that balance works differently for every person, every couple.
It is difficult to justify working sometimes for a mom. It’s difficult to justify not working. I found that being a lawyer is who I am. I use those skills everywhere all the time. And so in my case, where I was not necessarily employed all the time outside, in all of my interactions in the neighborhood, in the school, just being out there and meeting people and people wanting information and answers, I did my thing, I did it continually. And that really made me feel good because I didn’t end up feeling trapped. It was an ongoing process for me.
So work-life balance is what you make it and its individual and you just do the best you can and hopefully the whole family survives all right.
Ed Haroutunian: Let me add one other thing and that is that Susan’s involvement in terms of the practice, there were a lot of times where I couldn’t figure out exactly how to go in a certain situation, so I would come home and I would relate the — give the facts and say to Susan, how do you think this ought to be approached. And she in effect would analyze it herself as a lawyer and frankly she would come up with the answer. To me, this was an invaluable thing for me to have, because I could talk to her, where in many respects I couldn’t talk to somebody else.
And in one particular situation it was literally a psychological approach with regard to an opposition counsel. It was not a court setting, it was a transaction setting and she came up with the answer specifically in terms of how to handle it and it was invaluable to the process. I just want to make sure I added that.
Samantha Meinke: Thank you so much for your time today. Unfortunately, we are out of time. We have to send you on your way to the golden celebration, but it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you today Susan and Ed. Thank you.
Ed Haroutunian: You are very welcome.
Susan Haroutunian: 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 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 am 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.
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