In the upcoming July issue of Virginia Super Lawyers, we'll feature a story on Susan Brewer, CEO of Steptoe & Johnson. She's the first woman to lead a major West Virginia firm, and while we offer a look at that role in her story, below are a few more nuggets from her interview that didn't make it in.
Now that you're CEO, what is your caseload?
What I'm doing now is some professional liability defense where I will defend doctors, nurses, hospitals other health care providers in negligence cases as well as lawyers who have been sued for malpractice. That's really my specialty.
What do you enjoy about this practice?
I enjoy working with other professionals, because the cases are always very interesting. Every case is different. I always learn from the cases, which I like because that helps me understand how to teach the case to the jury. When I have to learn the case myself and learn the issues I always have to remember how I did that so I can provide that same learning opportunity to the jury.
How many cases have you taken before a jury?
Over 100. I've had a very active litigation career.
What is your courtroom style?
I try to be the same kind of person whether I'm in the courtroom or someplace else. I'm not a complicated-enough person to have different personalities. I'm not. I think you just always have to be upfront with the jury and upfront with the judge on what the strengths and weaknesses are of your case. Do the best that you can with the facts that you have. So I guess have a sort of get-along style. I try to get along with everybody: Being a zealous advocate for my client, without leaving bodies lying in the path.
What do you think of the pace of women's progress in the legal community?
Women are making progress. It is perhaps slower than some would like, but I still think the progress is occurring. There are time periods where women have to put their career on hold, especially if they want to have children or need to stay home for a period of time. And that's true of some men.
It's true that law schools have been pretty much 50/50 men and women for a number of years now, so some would argue that they should be 50/50 in leadership roles but that just hasn't happened yet. But it's coming in a slow and deliberate process and that's OK because it's still going in the right direction.
Last year we interviewed Robert Rubin, litigation director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and the resulting profile, "Remembering the St. Louis," appeared in the 2010 issue of Northern California Super Lawyers magazine. Rubin was such a fascinating interview, however, that we couldn't fit it all in. Here's part of what was left out.
If you could change any aspect of a law right now, what would it be?
This isn't terribly grandiose but I would certainly legalize the 12 million undocumented immigrants with an essential wave of the wand.
These are people who had been tacitly invited here. Over the last year illegal immigration entries are way down. People don't come when there aren't jobs. They come when there are jobs.
Going back to [California's Prop. 187], when I was on the campaign trail [in 1994], I used to debate a guy who always used this metaphor: "What it's like is you're having a party, and people crash the party and want to eat your food." Finally I said, "Know what? That's not the metaphor. This is the metaphor. You're having a party. But you don't want to clean up and you don't want to bring the kids, so you hire... See those people standing on the other side of the fence? You say, 'Come on in here. Serve our food. Clean our dishes. Take care of our kids.' And they say, 'OK. Would it be okay while I'm doing that if my kid goes to school?' And you tell him to take a hike."
That's the reality of the illegal immigrant.
These are folks that we have tacitly invited that are part of the fabric of our society. [But] as soon as there's a downturn in the economy, they're the problem. That's why we lost 187. Pete Wilson was able to convince the people of California that the loss of aerospace and defense industry jobs, which were substantial, were caused by illegal aliens. I don't know any illegal alien who went to work for the aerospace industry. But he convinced people of that. Why? Fear.
And the fear is understandable. In the early '90s this state was in bad shape and people were legitimately scared. You don't lose your job, with tuition to pay and food bills to pay, without being scared. I get that. But rather than provide real solutions, you get demagogues who go out there and beat the drum of nativism. And people say, "Ah ha! That's why I'm hurting! It's not because of the change in the economy, it's not because of anything the government did, it's not because of anything private industry did. It's because of José. And if we get rid of him, my problems will be over."
Read part one of our post on Ethan J. Wall and social media here.
It's a fact that the law follows life, says Ethan J. Wall, an intellectual property litigator at Richman Greer in Miami and a Florida Rising Stars listee; and given how much social media has changed lives in 2011, no one should be shocked that it's changing the law, too.
"Even if attorneys think that social media is a fad and it's not for them they need to be mindful of it," Wall says, "because it will be relevant to their clients. This [area of law] is a bit of the Wild West."
Take defamation. In 2009, grunge icon Courtney Love allegedly made disparaging comments about fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir on her Twitter account. "She was sued for defamation and libel and slander," says Wall. Instead of the case setting legal precedent, though, Love settled in March. She also shut down her Twitter account.
There's fraud, too. "If you're posting your résumé on LinkedIn and you're dishonest about what your background is," Wall says. "Or you've got clients involved in real estate posting information about a particular listing that turns out to be untrue, that might create individual legal liability."
And employment litigators take heed. Wall brings up a case recently settled by the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of a woman who claimed she was wrongfully terminated by a Connecticut ambulance company because she made negative comments about her boss on Facebook. "The case was the first by the National Labor Relations Board to assert that employers break the law by disciplining workers who post criticisms on social-networking Web sites," wrote The New York Times. "If your company has a social media policy that prohibits or restricts all types of communication--including protected work communications--then you may very well have a faulty policy," says Wall.
Social media is also changing discovery.
"Social media sites look like plunder to attorneys," says Wall. "They're online treasure chests of information about your cases. So attorneys rightfully want to find out this information."
Requests for productions, interrogatories and subpoenas, he says, can be directed toward social media evidence. "As an opposing partying you have your traditional means of discovery--like asking them for all social media messages that concern a particular topic that's narrowly tailored to the case, and can use it in your proceedings--as long as you can overcome a lot of the evidentiary hurdles such as hearsay, authenticity, etc."
But preservation is another challenge. "It is the nature of social media that it can be changed at the drop of a hat," says Wall. "So when attorneys draft litigation hold letters, or are monitoring their own client's use, they need to know what type of information might be on some key player's, or relevant person's, social media sites, and begin to address those issues of preservation."
Of course, ethical rules still apply in the Wild West, he warns. "If someone's social media site is public, it's just like any other website; attorneys can go on there and grab information. But what we're finding is that when attorneys are looking at nonparties, that they are trying to gain access to private pages to gain information, and that's where a lot of these ethical issues arise."
And what about order in the court? Wall cites the 2009 case Diehl v. Stoam Holdings in which a juror Tweeted while the case was still proceeding. The juror wrote that he wasn't doing much that day besides the fact that he "just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of someone else's money!" He then instructed his Twitter followers not to buy products from Stoam because the company might "cease to exist." "All this happened prior to the jury reaching the verdict," says Wall. "So the defense counsel learned about this and filed a mistrial."
The legal community has taken notice. In early 2010, the Judicial Conference of the United States updated its traditional rules that ban jurors from talking about an on-going case outside of deliberations; they added provisions addressing email, cell phones, social media sites, text messages and Internet research, according to the ABA.
"Attorneys should be aware of these types of issues," says Wall, whether that's asking for jury instructions on social media use, or, he adds, "just being mindful that their clients aren't sending text messages or social media messages to witnesses on the stand." He pauses. "Yes, that's happened before as well."