What qualities are essential in a good lawyer? What are you especially good at?
Eric Uhl: I think it’s essential for a good lawyer to be responsive to his or her clients’ needs first and to promptly and efficiently address those needs. I try to focus on what my clients need and help them to get from point A to point B in as efficient a path as possible. A good lawyer should be proactive and help the client get results that advance the client’s business interests, and not simply tell the client that it can’t do this or that it can’t do that. I try to be prompt in getting back to clients, which they really appreciate. I also think it’s important to be part of the client’s team, analyzing issues from the perspective of my clients and trying to advance their bottom line. I like to think in terms of “we” and “us,” rather than “you” and “them.”
Richard Tucker: That’s an interesting question. I think depending what your area of practice is depends on what different qualities are more important for one lawyer over another, but what I think for me personally you have to be a people person. I deal with a lot of people and first impressions, I go out and meet an employer that I’ve never met before who has a claim filed against them and I have to work with them. So I think you have a people person and by that I mean a good communicator.
I think you have to have a thick skin. There’s an old saying the reason people hire a lawyer is so they have somebody to blame when things go wrong. I think you have to be honest. I know that sounds trite, but I think you have to be as a lawyer you’re only as good as your word and if you lose your reputation for being a truth teller you don’t have much. And I think you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get dirty to get the job done.
Doug Currier: One is the ability to engage in critical thinking. To look at both sides of an issue and then be able to sort of draw a conclusion as to what really is the best answer. And another way of saying it is to not only sort of understand your clients argument but understanding the other sides argument and being able to look at things from different perspectives. Being able to be comfortable on your feet by that I mean sort of comfortable talking to a large group, talking to a judge or a jury. To being able to think quickly on your feet. Being able to have the confidence and strength in your positions. So that you can look somebody in the eye and say that this is really where it should come down, its really the right answer. Because there’s such opportunity for you know the complexities of the situation overwhelm you, attention to detail and then I think a strong work ethic because to do this you have to be willing to work hard.
And the last thing I think really is a need to care. You’ve got to really care, I mean I lose sleep over my clients’ matters all the time. I think that if you don’t have that, I don’t think you’re going to be as good a lawyer.
Anne-Marie Storey: I think the qualities necessary for being a good lawyer depend on the type of law that person practices. For instance, a litigator would need different skills than someone who worked in a corporate office or engaged in alternative dispute resolution. For my practice, which is employment law, some qualities that I believe are necessary include spotting issues that the client may not have thought of in responding to a particular problem, processing and analyzing a lot of information quickly, and being able to communicate clearly.
Margaret Coughlin LePage: Good lawyers have to have the ability to sift through large quantities of information and determine what is relevant to a particular situation. To do this, they need to have strong reading comprehension skills and they need to be good listeners. Analytical skills are also essential. Lastly, they need to be able to advocate for their clients by in writing and orally.
Hiring the right people is critical to any business. What have you learned over the years about how to choose employees? Do you have a system or other protocol that your firm follows, or do you have a client that handles hiring particularly well?
Margaret Coughlin LePage: The clients who do the best job hiring take the process slowly, conducting several rounds of interviews and assessments to make sure that it’s a good fit, from both sides’ perspective.
Anne-Marie Storey: To some extent, hiring probably does come down to luck in finding that perfect person. In order to have the best chance at a good result, employers should start by formulating the job description to be sure they understand what the position actually requires and to be able to clearly articulate those expectations to the applicant. Employers should follow through with background checks and take legally permissible (and required) steps to ensure that the person is the right fit for the job. After that, it can come down to whether an employer feels a connection to a particular applicant.
Richard Tucker: I think hiring employees is a lot like hiring a lawyer or choosing a doctor, you should try to be an educated consumer. I know of people who’ve hired people for clerical positions who didn’t give them a typing test. Had no idea a person manage a word processing program or input data to a computer so I think you have to be a careful interviewer, you have to do testing to the extent its necessary depending on the position that you’re having filled and then I think its as much a match of personality, having a feel for that person having the right stuff if you will to fit in your organization. I think it’s a lot easier for a larger organization to hire than it is a smaller one. Smaller organizations are greatly impacted by the addition of one or two people where thats not necessarily the case accepting key positions for larger employers but I think it’s got to be a careful, thought out process, not just a rush to fill a need. It’s better to wait and find the right person than hire the wrong one.
Eric Uhl: There is no substitute for conducting thorough background checks and checking references and prior employment sources. Employers sometimes feel constrained in conducting in-depth pre-employment checks for fear of asking impermissible questions. Other times, the need to fill positions quickly short-circuits the background check process. In addition, former employers sometimes are hesitant to provide anything more than the most basic information (dates of employment, salary) to prospective employers. In those cases, the prospective employer should ask the applicant to sign a comprehensive waiver and release form to encourage the former employer to provide complete information about the applicant’s work history and qualifications. In short, prospective employers should do everything they can to get “the rest of the story.”
Doug Currier: We tell our clients that the best way avoid wrongful termination or cases of employment discrimination is to pay more attention to who you hire. Too often we situations where companies hire someone and it’s a bad choice. Often times there were signals that they missed that would have told them that maybe this is not the right person for the job, or they just do enough diligence to figure out if this is someone who’d be a good fit. So one of the things we talk about is, don’t just accept that there’s no meaningful references that out there. Think more creatively about how to find out information about the person. For example, ask to see copies of their performance evaluations with their previous employer. Be more intelligent about the questions you ask, questions like, “What do you consider to be you’re successes at your last job and what were the things that you weren’t as successful at? What are your weaknesses as well as your strengths? Were there areas you think you could improve? Tell me a situation where you face conflict in the work place, how did you resolve it? Sometimes a person’s answers will start to expose some horrific problem they had with some of their coworkers, and by the time they get done describing it, you know you realize this is someone who can’t work effectively with others. Trying to have more than one meeting with a person so that you can see a consistency of presentation. That way you have a better sense of if they just happen to have it together for a half hour or if it’s something that they regularly and routinely can present well.
Finally, if it’s appropriate, figure out a way to test their capabilities to get a sense of how they do. We regularly hear from clients that put a good system in place about how much difference is made for them. Also, resist hiring out of desperation. I often hear, “We really needed someone so we hired this person; we had a sense they had a problem, but we hoped it would work out.”
Many of us in business get frustrated with all the laws and regulations we have to deal with. Do you, too? If you could undo any one Maine law or streamline any regulatory body, which would it be and why?
Anne-Marie Storey: Yes, I find the laws frustrating as well, particularly since I am also a business owner. I can also understand the frustration at how often the laws and regulations change, making it hard for many employers to keep up. If I had to pick any one law to “undo”, it would be the portion of the Maine Human Rights Act that awards attorneys fees to a successful employee, simply because it is unfair to employers who are forced to defend claims that appear meritless. In lieu of repealing that portion of the law, I would add the same provision to apply to employers, so that an employee who pursues a claim and loses would be responsible for payment of the employers’ attorneys’ fees.
Eric Uhl: The federal Fair Labor Standards Act presents many challenges for Maine employers, and it could really use a good overhaul. To make matters worse, Maine has its own set of statutes and regulations that govern overtime, minimum wage, and work time standards. In addition, these state statutes and regulations sometimes contradict the federal standards. I would advocate revising these very outdated wage and hour standards to meet the needs of employers and employees in the modern workplace.
Richard Tucker: Because 60 to 65% of my practice focuses on workers compensation defense and representing employers and insurers, I would say yes, I do get frustrated with all the laws and regulations. Being selfish, I would make some significant changes to the Maine Workers Compensation Law and how it’s implemented, but I will say that the people who work for that agency are dedicated people and the overwhelming majority want the system to work. I think we’re at this very moment looking at for ways to make the system work better, that is to deliver benefits to injured workers as quickly as possible to prevent injuries and to allow employers to maintain safe work places while growing and building Maine’s economy.
Doug Currier: I’ll give you one example. Under the federal civil rights laws there are caps on damages that are available to employees and they’re respected nationwide. Two years ago, Maine chose to increase those caps for the employees. So now someone suing for discrimination in Maine can get a bigger level of compensation in damages than someone can get in a different jurisdiction. My experience is most employers really do want to do the right thing and that’s one law where it seems as though they should change it back to where it was. Make it consistent with the federal law, and employees will still be adequately protected—and we don’t have to then explain to businesses that want to come to Maine, oh, by the way, just so you know, if you get sued, there’ll be more pressure on you to settle because the potential exposure is greater in Maine than if you do business in some other state.
Margaret Coughlin LePage: The Maine drug testing statute is the most burdensome and restrictive statutes of its kind in the country. Companies that have multi-state facilities are very frustrated with the hoops they have to jump through to get approval to implement their standard testing policy in Maine. Other employers, who are not interested in having applicant testing or routine employee testing, are frustrated when they learn that they cannot require, or even permit, an employee to submit to a drug test when there is substantial evidence suggesting the employee has come to work impaired because they do not have a preapproved policy in place.
You’re a high-powered professional who could live anywhere, but you choose to live in Maine. What keeps you here?
Richard Tucker: I’m incredibly luck to have landed in Maine. Although I was born here and my family was all from here, I grew up in the Big City, in a suburb of New York and New Jersey, but I was lucky enough 25 year ago to meet Harold Alfond on an airplane and he hired me to go work for Dexter Shoe Company. I went back into private practice in the late ‘80s. Why do I stay? It was a great place to raise my kids. My youngest is graduating from high school this year. I like the people; I enjoy the outdoors. I’m lucky enough to live on a beautiful place on a body of water outside of Newport and I like the flexibility of being able to go to Portland or Boston or New York or Chicago or wherever and travel, but always get to come back to home where it’s a little more quiet and peaceful. As they say on the billboard, “The Way Life Should Be.”
Eric Uhl: Maine is a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family. There is a great sense of community in our town, and we love the recreational opportunities in Maine. My wife and I feel very fortunate to have found such a great place to live and to have fostered so many outstanding friendships.
Anne-Marie Storey: My husband and I initially moved here because my family was here. We have both lived in many other areas but we both feel that Maine has a high quality of life and is a good place to raise a family. We feel fortunate to be a part of the greater Bangor community.
Doug Currier: The things are what brought me keeps me here, too. I love the ocean, I love the quality of life, I like the fact that its easy to get from point A to point B. When I get to the big cities with all the traffic, I find I have to concentrate to get across the street and I don’t know how they can deal with the traffic all the time. But part of in the professional say is that Maine is a small state and as a consequence most people realize that we have to work together and so people are attorneys that I have case with are good people who are will zealously, aggressively represent their clients, but they’re not jerks about the way they go about it. When I compare notes to attorney’s working in bigger cities where people don’t know each other, the bar’s not as close, and it’s a much less attractive work environment. And there’s a real value to that, and I think it’s more productive and it’s better for our clients.
Margaret Coughlin LePage: I came back to Maine after four years in Seattle because my family is all on the East Coast. I stay here because of the unparalleled quality of life, coupled with the ability to practice in a sophisticated legal environment.