My favorite person and mentor is George Simpson IV. He is a terrific boss and mentor. As a young insurance defense attorney, it was challenging to identify a Black partner to glean wisdom from and that made the beginning of my litigation career very difficult. George took me under his wing and immediately began teaching me to fish. As we worked together, I began to trust my lawyer instinct and loved litigation at a time when most associates were looking to transition out of litigating altogether. He was not just focused on career advancement, he mentored the whole person, extending beyond work to understand my values, relationships, and personal strengths. When many employees, and attorneys as well, are seeking opportunities to change firms and organizations or leave the legal field altogether, George has mastered the art of better mentoring for young attorneys. I hope he knows he is an outstanding attorney and mentor.
This question is easy for me to answer. It's hard to overstate how much I learned from watching my former law partner Steve Thomas. As 1) an Advocate, I learned from Steve that often it is the calm, understated, and graceful speaker who persuades judge or jury - which as a dramatic sort of fella, I really needed to learn. As 2) a Professional, Steve taught me to value membership in organizations like the NCADA and not just to sit on the sidelines but to get into the game - by serving in leadership roles and contributing what I could to the betterment of our association and our profession. And finally, as 3) a Citizen, Steve modeled for me what being a lawyer in one's local community ought to mean - leadership within the local bar, service through participation both in non-profits and in the political system, and commitment to family, faith, and friendships above all.
Everyone should have a Steve Thomas. If you can, be a Steve Thomas to some David Hood noob out there in your own corner of the world.
Sammy Thompson:Brady Yntema:
One of my many mentors was Willis Smith, Jr. who taught me the power of short, declarative sentences unencumbered by unnecessary words. In the fall of 1971, I watched him in one afternoon write a brief to the North Carolina Supreme Court. He covered all the issues in eleven pages. Every word was precise. Every sentence was to the point. Every paragraph was persuasive. In December of that year, he and I were defending a wrongful death case. Willis was killed on a Saturday when the small plane he was piloting was slammed into by an Eastern Airlines DC-9. One month later, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in his favor based on his brief.
While I have been fortunate to have had many mentors inside and outside the legal profession, the one person who truly taught me how to be a professional in any field was Dr. Jo Watts Williams at Elon University. Dr. Williams was Elon’s first vice president for development, but had a long history in education and a true mission in helping young people find their “true self”.
One night in my early days as a first semester freshman at Elon, I thought it would be cool to join a small group of other students in throwing water balloons out of our third floor dorm room windows at unsuspecting passersby, one of which just so happened to be an Elon security officer (that water balloon came out of my dorm room window). Long story short, as a result, I was assigned to 10 hours of campus service in Dr. Williams’ office to help prepare for an upcoming fundraising event. After serving my time, Dr. Williams approached me and said “while you came to us in trouble, I think you have some room to shine.” Fortunate for me, she allowed me to work as her part-time assistant, which turned into a four-year experience during which I was able to watch and learn how a true professional operates.
During my time with Dr. Williams, she took great interest in my grades and on-campus activities to make sure (in her words) “I was living up to my potential.” In doing so, she taught me how to embrace challenges and appreciate the difference that one person can make in any community. When I told her that I was going to apply to law school, she smiled and in her unassuming way simply said “whatever you decide just don’t forget to pay attention to the details of life and those around you.” I have tried to apply a lot of the advice Dr. Williams gave me through her leadership, and when presented with an opportunity or difficult situation I still often ask myself “what would Dr. Williams do.”