I was honored to attend the swearing in yesterday of Jeff Schreiber, my newest protégé under the South Carolina Supreme Court’s Pilot Mentor Program. For the first time since I volunteered for this program in 2009, I will have known my protégé before he or she (mostly she) became my protégé. This is because for the past couple of years Jeff has worked for my close friend, Anthony Lamantia. Unlike past assignments, in which the Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization assigned me a protégé, here Jeff and I agreed to work together.
During the past few years I’ve gotten to know Jeff as a friend as well as a legal colleague. I think our friendship demonstrates great things about the practice of law in general and the South Carolina Bar in particular. While Jeff and I have many things in common–married family law attorneys with young children in the household, trying to balance career, wife, children and personal interests–what we have most in common is that we are prolific bloggers. And this great similarity is also the source of our greatest difference. While my blog sometimes reflects my generally liberal political views (when I blog on sociopolitical issues), Jeff moderates a conservative/libertarian political blog, America’s Right. While law school, clerking, family and bar exam study have made Jeff a less prolific blogger than he used to be, his blog still gets over 20,000 visitors a month (in contrast, my blog just started averaging 10,000 visitors a month).
Despite extremely divergent political views we get along great. Jeff and his family have socialized with me and my family. Jeff and I both, along with friend and liberal political blogger William J. Hamilton, III, played hooky from work on January 20, 2012 to attend Stephen Colbert’s “Rock Me like a Herman Cain: South Cain-olina Primary Rally” at the College of Charleston. One thing the law teaches is “how to disagree without being disagreeable,” so both of us are able to engage in spirited political debates without the vitriol and name calling that is making contemporary American politics unworkable and gridlocked. Too few Americans understand how to be a vigorous advocate for justice while remaining civil and respectful or realize how justice and peacemaking are often the conjoined components of dispute resolution. Ironically, this lack of understanding is often the reason our clients need a lawyer’s assistance and the reason the most intractable cases develop that way.
South Carolina’s Pilot Mentor Program also highlights something wonderful about the South Carolina Bar. Like Jeff, I am a refugee from Pennsylvania, where I hated the practice of law. The bar there was much less collegial than the South Carolina bar and there was little formal or informal mentoring from my senior colleagues in the Pennsylvania bar. Often young attorneys such as myself felt our seniors treated us more like resources to be exploited than like inexperienced colleagues to be nurtured.
In contrast, the South Carolina Bar has been extraordinarily nurturing to me and many of my contemporaries. I moved here in 1992 knowing no one and having a personality that could charitably be described as brash (in contrast to the typical Southern demeanor which is more gentle and mannerly). If there was ever an attorney who should have been shunned for not fitting into the prevailing culture, it should have been me. Instead many wonderful attorneys gave me guidance and sent me overflow work without asking anything in return. When Mr. Lamantia moved here from New Jersey a few years ago, he experienced a similar legal culture that enabled him to quickly develop a solid family law practice. Like me, Tony loves being a South Carolina attorney.
My mentoring younger attorneys is the logical outgrowth of the warmth and generosity I encountered when I was starting my practice here in 1993. My mentors asked for nothing from me and I believe the only honorable payback is to mentor younger attorneys with the same generous spirit with which they mentored me.
For nineteen years I have been a member of the South Carolina Bar. It has been one of the great experiences of my life. We have a great bar and I am looking forward to helping my friend Jeff develop into an exceptional attorney who upholds our high professional and ethical standards and helps people resolve their disputes fairly and expeditiously.