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This article was published in the Summer 2016 edition of the Oregon State Bar's Litigation Journal.

What’s the secret to professionalism? Senior U.S. District Court Judge Owen M. Panner once noted that it’s simply a matter of “looking back to the future.” At the time, I did not know what he meant. Now I do.

Judge Panner simply meant to practice over the course of one’s career in the manner in which one would like to be remembered at the end of one’s career. In short, “look back to the future.”

I had the privilege of serving on the Advisory Committee for the Section of Litigation of the American Bar Association. The committee of five selects the future leadership for some 60,000 members of the Section of Litigation nationally. In performing the due diligence for one of the candidates for chair of the section, judges, opposing counsel, and clients listed the following as the candidate’s qualities:

1. Trial skills

  • “Gifted” first-chair trial lawyer;
  • “Superb” trial lawyer;
  • “Nice touch” with both witnesses and the court;
  • Ability to conduct an “aggressive” cross-examination and yet be “likable”;
  • A “strategic” thinker;
  • “Savvy” in the courtroom;
  • An “extraordinary litigator.”

2. Personal qualities

  • Approaches everything he does with a “contagious enthusiasm”;
  • A “joy” to work with;
  • “Responsive, creative, and delightful”;
  • “Patient demeanor and a willingness to listen to all”;
  • “Bright, articulate, and quick-witted”;
  • “Capable of ‘disagreeing’ without ‘being disagreeable’”;
  • “Razor-sharp intellect”;
  • “Passionate.”

3. Professionalism

  • “Bigger than life”;
  • “Quick-witted, practical, and professional”;
  • A “lawyer’s lawyer”;
  • A “solid guy”;
  • “A credit to his profession”;
  • “His word is his bond”;
  • “An example for our profession.”

4. Leadership

  • “Ability to listen to others and build consensus”;
  • A “good sense of self”;
  • “Comfortable with himself”;
  • Charismatic, enthusiastic, and energetic in his practice;
  • A “peacemaker”;
  • Has a “strong work ethic, a passion for the law, and a love of lawyering.”

I couldn’t help, at the end of conducting these interviews, concluding that this candidate knew and understood professionalism. He had been looking back to the future his entire career and had conducted each year, month, week, and hour of his practice in the manner in which he had hoped to be remembered at the end of his career. Professionalism is simply “writing your eulogy day by day.” It is simply, as Senior Judge Owen M. Panner noted, looking back to the future.

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