Industry the December 2016 issue

My Game Changers

These people have made a difference in my life.
By Scott Sinder Posted on November 28, 2016

At the end of this year, I will celebrate a milestone of my own (that many of you may mourn)—25 years of working for The Council. That anniversary, and the loss of Jay Fishman in August (see “A Candid Conversation” in the October issue), have spurred me to put together my own list of those who have been game changers for me. I hope you will tolerate my indulgence.

You have taught me your business, focused me on what matters and allowed me the privilege to work for you and with you in an effort to make the industry better for you and your clients.

Judge Zita Weinshienk. I clerked for Judge Weinshienk right out of law school. She has never practiced law, despite graduating at the top of her class from Harvard Law School and finishing first on the Colorado bar exam. At that time the only job she was offered was as a legal secretary. Imagine that. The best of the best was offered a secretary’s job.

So she took another route. She was a Fulbright scholar, a court clerk and then a magistrate. From there she climbed her way up the boys club ladder.

She taught me how to really be a lawyer—how to parse a statute or regulation; how to write effectively; that the law is a tool to be deployed (I hope wisely); and that how you conduct yourself in the course of your work can and should matter. She set the bar for me, and I strive each day to try to get as close as I can to her high standards.

Ann Kappler. Ann was my predecessor as The Council’s general counsel. She was and is my closest mentor. I learned how to do what I now do from her. That is, to educate and advocate. And together we learned about the business of practicing law. No one is a better listener, and no one understands and deploys the power of silence more effectively than Ann. It can be a confessional tool; a tactic to gain a second-mover negotiation advantage; and so much more. 

Ken Crerar. When Ann decided to leave the law firm where we practiced, I was not yet a partner. There was a food fight at the firm over who would inherit Ann’s clients. In the midst of the tumult, Ken sat me down and said, “You are my lawyer.” For a young lawyer with no clients, there may be no more beautiful four words than those, and I firmly believe that everything I now do professionally is anchored in Ken’s (some would argue ill-advised) decision. I also take my management cues from Ken. I want to work with “owners” and not “employees.” Anyone in the firm, company or trade association, I have learned, can be an “owner.” They just need to own what they do. And change is good. No one moves the cheese around more than Ken, and we are all the better for it.

Tim Columbus. Ken and Mr. Wood (more on him below) introduced me to Tim, who brought me over to his firm when I became The Council’s GC. Tim makes the practice of law fun for everyone around him and, perhaps most importantly, for himself. That has made it so much easier to come to the office every day for the last 17-plus years. In a vein similar to the famous Bill Parcells’ adage that you are your record, Tim preaches that you are your choices. Choose carefully.

Jay Fishman. Even though it was not unexpected (although the timing was still somewhat of a shock to me), I deeply felt the loss of Jay. I had the good fortune to do a few projects directly for him, and when he would call, I would stand at my desk in an effort to direct all of my focus and energy to our conversation (as I also do if Hyatt Brown calls). Jay always was deeply focused and engaged, and I wanted to measure up. And when his life did not go as he had planned, Jay leaned in. Jay raised more than $30 million to fight ALS—“that damn disease”— even though he knew his own life would not be saved by his efforts.

I went to a benefit in part in his honor 10 days before he died. He was the final speaker. He spoke from the wheelchair to which he was bound with a breathing apparatus tied to his head. But his voice was strong, and if you closed your eyes and just listened, he was who he always was. It is that voice and the engagement behind it that I will carry with me.

Joel Wood. I went to see Joel at his home the day his son, James, was diagnosed with Duchenne, a form of muscular dystrophy. There is no worse day in a parent’s life, and Joel wore the misery. But he, too, has leaned in. The foundation Joel and his wife, Dana, created has raised millions and has helped to generate hundreds of millions of dollars more in an effort to find cures for muscular dystrophy. Those efforts are bearing fruit. New medications that Joel’s foundation helped develop, for example, are hitting the market, and they can and will make a difference. And they will spawn even greater difference makers. If a day comes when things do not go as planned, I hope that I, too, can find the strength to lean in.

Any list like this is going to be under-inclusive. My wife, Jodie, and our family, for which she is the core, give everything meaning for me. Every single member of The Council’s tremendous staff also really belongs on this list as well as many of my other colleagues past and present. And, at some level, you are all game changers for me. You have taught me your business, focused me on what matters and allowed me the privilege to work for you and with you in an effort to make the industry better for you and your clients. It is an opportunity I plan to continue to cherish as long as you (and Ken) will allow it. For that, I am very thankful.

Happy holidays.

Scott Sinder Chief Legal Officer, The Council; Partner, Steptoe & Johnson Read More

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