When I started with Teague Campbell in July of 1999, Bruce Hamilton was a partner at the Firm. For anyone that doesn't know Bruce, he is one of the most thoughtful, caring, and intelligent men I know. Furthermore, he is a legal scholar in the world of workers’ compensation and most folks practicing in this area come to him with difficult questions about difficult cases. When I started at the Firm, he was always willing to take the time to talk over cases with me and helped me become the workers’ compensation practitioner I am today. Bruce is known throughout the State as one of the premier workers’ compensation lawyers and I strive to emulate him. Not only do I want to be known as a legal scholar like he is in our practice area, but I want to be the type of person he is. Like him, I want to be respected not only for my legal knowledge but for being a good person with a kind heart. I could not have asked for a better mentor in my 25 years at Teague Campbell.
Clark Smith, Past President NCADA
As I write this column, we are in the season of epiphany awaiting the arrival of the three wise men. At the same time, I have been reading about and thinking about lawyer mentoring programs, one of which is sponsored by our Young Lawyers Division. It occurs to me that all of us need wise men (and wise women) who serve as role models for us in our lives and especially in our professional lives. We can learn many things from college and law school that, but so many of the principles and characteristics that become so important in molding who we are, are not the result of academia, but are in fact the consequences of being fortunate enough to have had good role models at the appropriate stages of our lives when impressions are made.
As I further reflect on the importance of mentors or role models, it is abundantly clear that I have had the benefit of “three wise men” in my life who have definitely influenced me considerably. They are my father, David C. Smith (not a lawyer, but a physician), Dean Carroll Weathers (Wake Forest Law School), and Walter F. Brinkley (my senior law partner, my uncle, my friend, and my mentor).
My father, who at 88 years of age is still very sharp mentally, lives in a retirement home. For 45 years, he practiced general medicine as a sole practitioner in Lexington. He was of a vintage when he had only one nurse, and the two of them together ran his office. He made house calls every night and made rounds to the local hospital every morning and every night. I often accompanied him to the hospital and on house calls, sitting in the car while he saw his patients.
This was my first lesson in learning patience, no pun intended. My father worked hard and long hours. He taught me dedication to his practice, his profession, and especially to his patients. He taught me about sacrifice. There were many times, when he had to forgo attending special functions and family events because of sick patients who needed him. He seldom took vacations and did not surround himself with luxuries. He was conservative, frugal, humble and unassuming. He could communicate with any patient on their level be they farmer, mill worker, engineer, school teacher, lawyer, clergy, or other professional. He also treated all of his patients with dignity and respect.
By observing his demeanor, I learned to value these various characteristics as worthy and desirable.
My father was a very calm person even in the presence of trauma or crisis. He moved slowly, he was thoughtful, he was decisive, and yet his demeanor brought a calming influence on those around him.
My father instilled in me the importance of service. First was service to his country. He had served in the United States Army during World War II at a time which interrupted his medical training. He had no regrets about this interruption in his life and his service to his country. He also taught me the value of public service. He was a member of a local planning board for a number of years, he was a member and President of his Rotary Club, he was a founder of Hospice in our area, and he was active in any number of other civic and public service organizations. He also taught me commitment by demonstrating his commitment to his profession, his family, his church and his God.
My father taught me the value of having interests outside of his profession. He had a wonderful workshop and was a good woodworker and craftsman. When I was a young boy, he decided to build a boat. For well over a year, I would assist him in our basement workshop in building a boat which when completed was 12 feet long, seated 8 people, was coated with fiberglass, and which served our family for many, many years. I learned the value of planning and patience and attention to intricate detail in watching and assisting my father working on this project. I also learned that a hobby is a great outlet and source of relief from the stress of professional life.
Finally, my father taught me about building trust and giving another person the opportunity to prove themselves. I especially remember his guidance after I first started driving.
He would never tell me that I could not go somewhere or do something, but he would always reason with me why my desires were not always good ideas. After discussing the risk and the benefits, he would leave the decisions to me.
Somehow his persuasiveness always made me choose his decision over my own. He would give me opportunities to build trust, and if I did not let him down, he would give me additional opportunities. He motivated by positive means rather than negative. He has always been my friend, and I go to him whenever I need advice or comfort, and he has never disappointed me.
My father has taught me many things about life and how to approach it. He has had a great influence on my own life and the person I have become. I am indebted to him for his being such a wonderful role model for life in general.
Dean Carroll Weathers is well-known to many of the more senior lawyers in this state. He was dean of Wake Forest Law School for a number of years. I had the good fortune of getting to know Dean Weathers through his daughters (Jane Weathers of the North Carolina Bar Association and Katherine Weathers Peetree of Winston-Salem) while I was an undergraduate at Wake Forest University. I had the opportunity to visit in his home and to get to know him before I attended law school. By the time I enrolled at Wake Forest Law School he had retired as dean, but was still active on the faculty and taught several courses, including ethics. Dean Weathers was always a perfect gentleman. He had the utmost respect for everyone he encountered. He treated everyone as if they were the most important person he had ever met.
Dean Weathers was a very civil man. He impressed me with his etiquette and sophistication while at the same time being very approachable and down to earth. He was highly intelligent. He was well-versed in many areas of the law, but also well-read and knowledgeable about any number of topics outside the law. The scope and range of his knowledge and discussions always amazed me.
He was truly a renaissance man in that he could talk about law, religion, politics, athletics, world events, history, art or almost any other topic, and he would be knowledgeable and up-to-date in his discussions. He commanded respect by the way he treated the people around him. I remember vividly one occasion in which I was visiting in his home when the subject of a popular bumper sticker arose. The bumper sticker had profanity on it, and Dean Weathers lamented the fact that Wake Forest students and alumni would even consider placing such an inappropriate bumper sticker on their car.
I was mortified because I had the exact bumper sticker on my car! I was very careful as I backed out of his driveway that evening to keep him from seeing the bumper sticker on my back bumper which I knew would have disappointed him greatly. As soon as I got out of his sight, I removed the bumper sticker in deference to his strong opinions about it.
Dean Weathers was genuinely interested in the people he encountered and valued the worth of each individual. I was continually amazed at his ability to recall the names and information about people he had known. Many, many lawyers went through Wake Forest Law School while he was dean, but I watched him at many football games when past students would come up and speak to him. He could recall each student’s name and could usually tell the name of their spouse, the name of the group they practiced with, and the town in which they practiced. He could do this for literally hundreds of students, and it was effortless on his part.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Dean Weathers was his sense of integrity. He was the closest to perfection of any human I have met. He would not ever deviate from the highest principals and expectations. If there was ever any doubt of any action with respect to ethics or morality, Dean Weathers would advise against it. Those of us who had the privilege of being under his tutelage have coined the word “Weatherized.” We often acknowledge that the standard to uphold is to ask in any question of ethics: “What would Dean Weathers do?” If we followed this advice, we knew we would reach the correct decision, and we had been “Weatherized.”
Dean Weathers taught me an utmost respect for people, for the law, and for ethics, and I still to this day think of him whenever I have a question regarding professional responsibility. I have never been misguided by following his advice and example.
The third wise man who has greatly influenced my life is Walt Brinkley, the senior partner in my law firm. Walt is also my uncle. As a small child, I learned about generosity from Walt. He was a wonderful tennis player. After using a can of tennis balls for one match, instead of discarding them, he would save them and give them to me so that I could use them for practice.
Walt impressed upon me early in my career as a young lawyer the importance of dealing fairly and ethically with all lawyers and judges. He advised that in a small town practice such as we were in, that we would constantly be working with other lawyers for the rest of our careers.
He pointed out that it was shortsighted to take advantage of another lawyer in a single case when I would be dealing with them again and again in the future. Walt always had the utmost respect for Judges. Even if their rulings were against us, he never complained and never said anything negative about any judge or a ruling any judge had made. He viewed the judge as the embodiment of justice, and they are never to be criticized or treated except with utmost respect.
Walt has always served as an example of integrity and dedication to highest ethical standards. There have been many times when an ethical dilemma arose where we would discuss among the members of our firm the correct action to take. While there could often be differing opinions, Walt always took the high road and always insisted on the highest adherence to ethics and professional responsibility. He has turned down many lucrative cases because of potential or perceived conflicts of interest. In any situation, Walt will always advocate for doing what is right rather than what is lucrative or expedient.
Walt taught me that in dealing with others, candor, respect and truthfulness work better than an adversarial demeanor. I have observed Walt and other lawyers in many instances. Walt has always conducted himself admirably and with restraint. I have observed the adversarial attorneys in dealing with him, and they are disarmed because he will not allow their tactics to change the respectful way in which he treats them.
Walt has always been well-prepared in any situation. He worked hard and would always have notes and outlines of what he was going to do or say. When he spoke, he seldom had to refer to his notes, but he had prepared them and written them prior to speaking, and had them committed to memory.
Walt treated all people with dignity. He had clients who were wealthy and powerful, and he had clients who were penniless and pitiful. He treated all of them alike. He took on many clients because their causes were worthy when he knew he would never receive any compensation for his services, but that did not deter him in any way from being just as aggressive in working on their behalf as for the wealthiest clients.
Walt also treats office staff and courthouse personnel with utmost dignity and respect. He is the first person in our office to learn the names of new staff and to talk to them about themselves and their family. He brings gifts to them when he travels. He remembers the names of their spouses and children, and is genuinely interested in who they are. Many times in our partnership meetings, he has reminded us that members of our staff are the most important persons in our office, and that they should be treated fairly and with respect.
Walt has impressed upon me the importance of service. He has by his own example, taught me about service to the public and service to the profession. He has participated in and led virtually every major service organization in Lexington. He has long been active in our bar association and served as president of the NCBA in 1974-75. He has served on the Board of Law Examiners, the board of Legal Services of North Carolina and many other professional associations. He has instilled in me the idea that being a lawyer is a privilege and that privilege carries with it an obligation to serve the profession and an obligation to lead when called upon. It is Walt’s example, especially in service to the North Carolina Bar Association which resulted in my getting involved in bar association activities immediately upon graduation from law school. It is his constant encouragement and interest that has kept me involved through the years and that led to the opportunity of my serving as president.
Walt has demonstrated extreme loyalty. I have seen him stand by the side of clients who have been abandoned by others in the community. I have seen Walt remain loyal to lawyers who have transgressed and who have been ostracized by other members of the bar. I have seen Walt remain loyal to persons in this community who have taken unpopular positions on issues. I have had Walt remain loyal to me in situations where I have made mistakes or used poor judgment.
Walt is able to overlook the shortcomings of others and maintain commitment to them and remain loyal to them regardless of their personal failures or shortcomings.
Walt Brinkley has been a shining example of an excellent litigator and bar leader to many. I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work beside him on a day-to-day basis and observe him in virtually every circumstance of law practice. By his example, I have learned to recognize the characteristics of greatness. I hope that having been subjected to this, a small portion has rubbed off on and has been retained by me.
Three wise men: David Smith, Dean Carroll Weathers, Walt Brinkley. Each of them has had a profound influence on my life, my father since my infancy, Dean Weathers during the formative years of college and law school and beyond, and Walt Brinkley throughout the years of my professional career.
I dare say that these three men collectively have had much more influence on my life than all of the years of education and study. A person is able to pick his schools, especially his college and law schools, but it is largely serendipity that determines who our life’s mentors will be. One thing is extremely certain in my mind. Appropriate mentors are pivotal in instilling skills, personality attributes, demeanor and integrity.
I would encourage every lawyer, especially those that are just beginning their professional careers, to seek out a mentor whom they can observe and learn from. By doing so, you will become a better citizen, a better lawyer and a better person. If you do not have someone you can ask to serve as your mentor, please contact staff at the NCBA, and they will be happy to assist with placing you under a mentorship through the YLD program.
If you are an older lawyer, please consider becoming a mentor to a younger lawyer. The rewards can be great as you realize what a difference you can make in guiding a young lawyer along his or her career path.
My epiphany is that we tend to mirror those people who surround us. Let us be sure to surround ourselves with those whose reflection is bright and shining and a source of direction such as the star that the three wise men followed many years ago.