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  • Wisconsin Lawyer
    May
    01
    2013

    Final Thought: Great Mentors

    Richard J. Sankovitz

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    Mentors shape and uplift for a lifetime, and even beyond, the careers of attorneys who follow them. Done right, mentorship benefits us all.

    plant growthThanks to a great mentor, the late, great Terry Evans, I began learning how to be a judge long before I even had an inkling I would like to be one. His untimely death cut short the lessons I had been taking from him, but his lessons live on, or at least they will as long as I remain committed to living them.

    I think about him this year especially. It will be 30 years ago in June that I began as one of his law clerks. (I think about him all the time, of course, but an anniversary tends to amplify the melody always playing in the background.)

    Every day of the year in which I worked for Judge Evans, he put on a clinic in the art of judging. His knack for getting to the point. How he made plain the law and his rulings. His curiosity and pragmatism. Helping lawyers and litigants keep their differences in perspective. His camaraderie with people, no matter their station in life. His love of fairness and his love of the game. Add to all that his wit and his aplomb, and it was one of the most enlightening and entertaining years of my entire career.

    Judge Evans was eulogized by many, including Tom Shriner (himself a world-class mentor to civil litigators in Milwaukee). Tom reminded us of one of Judge Evans’s most endearing qualities: “Terry Evans showed us that just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you have to be grumpy.”

    Judge Evans didn’t invent the art of judging, of course, but he perfected it. And he often attributed his skills to a mentor of his own, another renowned judge, Myron Gordon.

    Richard J. Sankovitzgov richard.sankovitz wicourts Hon. Richard J. Sankovitz, Harvard 1983, is a Milwaukee County circuit court judge.

    All of which goes to show what an opportunity mentors have to shape and uplift for a lifetime, and even beyond, the careers of those who follow them.

    Commensurate with such a rich opportunity, it seems to me, is a two-fold obligation. First, attorneys who cherish the profession and owe their place in it to a mentor owe it to our newest members to pass it along. Somewhere there may be another Terry Evans eager to learn the craft, if only he gets a good start. Or another Myron Gordon or Tom Shriner. Or another of the other great mentors I’ve had, like Kitty Brennan and Diane Sykes.

    The need is clear. A recent Young Lawyers Division survey showed that more than 80 percent of new lawyers seek a mentor, but only 30 percent actually find one.

    Here’s the second obligation: If we have been mentored well, we owe it to our mentors to honor that gift, by continuing, even after they’re no longer with us, to put into practice what we learned from them. As Tom Shriner put it at Judge Evans’s memorial, invoking George Eliot, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.”

    I’m no Terry Evans, of course, but as long as I emulate him – and share what he taught with those to follow – his mentoring will endure.

    Tell Us! Who was your mentor and what did she teach you? Email us at org wislawmag wisbar wisbar wislawmag org.