Reflections on a Mentor

Seth RosenbergMinami Tamaki LLP Senior Associate Seth Rosenberg wrote this piece for The Recorder, which published it in mid-July as part of their “Mentors 2010” series.

Mix in Jerry Spence, Yogi Berra, a Zen Master of your choosing, and a healthy dose of ’60s-style rebellion and you have my mentor and friend, Berne Reuben.

Berne and I began working together in 2004. At that time, Berne had just left his solo practice of 100 years and I had just become a plaintiffs’ personal injury attorney three years out of law school. He had little experience working closely with young attorneys and I was a little-too-cocky young attorney (many would say a “lot-too-cocky”). Things did not look good … and they were not good in the beginning. There were squabbles. We did not see eye-to-eye.

But two things changed everything. First, I consumed significant helpings of humble pie. And, second, I quickly realized that Berne Reuben was one hell of a trial lawyer. I then decided that I just needed to become a sponge and soak up everything Berne had to say. And Berne can talk. Indeed, one of his favorite sayings (and now mine is that the best part of the law is “T&T” (“thinking and talking”). We spent hours T&T’ing over cases we were working on together and separately. And, like any great mentor, he was always available to talk (except on his day off — Friday, or mornings, or days after he played music at night with his friends, or… ) In these T&T sessions, Berne taught me wonderful “Yogi Berra-esque” sayings that I recite all the time:

“You’ve got to know what you don’t know.”

“Just because defendant says A doesn’t mean you say B.”

“It’s all about documents and witnesses.”

“You have to be yourself.”

“Voir dire is everything.”

Over time we became a fantastic team, working on the mundane and the bizarre, and getting great results. I was second chair in a wrongful death trial with Berne where the family of the decedent was suing a professional wrestling school. In that trial, Berne used one of the aforementioned sayings to perfection. Before trial, defense counsel moved to have the effect of the release the decedent signed to be decided solely by the judge. And just because defendant said A, we did not say B; we agreed with counsel’s request. So, the jury never knew there was a release, the judge found the release ineffective, and we received a $1.3 million judgment for the decedent’s family. Classic Berne.

Berne and I no longer work together but we T&T often. I tell Berne I miss working with him, and, in Berne’s style, he tells me he misses me doing his written work

My mom has a wonderful saying: “A friend is a gift you give yourself.” That saying is certainly true about mentors like Berne and others who have helped me to where I am today. From the bottom of my heart, to Berne and all of you, thank you.

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