Ferenbach to new attorneys: Find a mentor, give back, find a balance, avoid scandals

Three years of hard work at law school followed by three months of anxiety awaiting the results of the Nevada Bar Exam culminated in a night of recognition for scores of new lawyers that passed the July test Friday in a swearing-in ceremony at the Rio. With all seven Nevada Supreme Court justices on hand along with prominent attorneys and judges, the new admittees also heard from retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

But the message they should have listened to most intently came from Cam Ferenbach, the highly respected president of the State Bar of Nevada, a shareholder in the prestigious Lionel Sawyer Collins firm and a 30-year veteran of the profession. Ferenbach quoted a comment he read in the local legal tabloid Wild Wild Law, (www.wildwildlaw.com) in which a lawyer bemoaned the fact, in his opinion, that all the profession does is bill clients and then complain about the “same crappy product” that comes with “assembly line lawyering.”

Ferenbach urged the new attorneys to avoid the anonymous attorney’s professional unhappiness by following these guidelines:

Find a mentor: Look for an experienced attorney whose judgment you respect, he said, one that’s well respected and enjoys what they’re doing.

Find a mentor to help you face the challenges that come when conflicts must be balanced. Not just professional conduct rules, but also to support the constitutions of the U.S. and Nevada.

“You can advance your own interest,” he said, “as long as you remember those interests are subject to the court and client.”

Mentors will also help you avoid crossing ethical lines. When you do, he said, you damage the system. “We succeed because we follow the rules.”

Ferenbach acknowledged following rules can become a blurry line to young attorneys, who also “have a duty to aggressively represent the client.”

“It takes time to develop good judgment,” said Ferenbach.

Pursue a practice that suits your personality: “You’re all different people and have different backgrounds,” he said, before recounting a period in his career when he was a public defender in Maricopa County, Ariz. “I had difficulty relating to clients,” said Ferenbach. “I had one who threw grapefruit at police so he could spend a few days in jail.”

Ferenbach acknowledged the current economy makes it difficult to find a dream job, but urged admittees to wait for opportunities to arise. (One unemployed new lawyer lucked out. Judge Frank Sullivan hired him on the spot to be his law clerk for the next year.)

Make time for yourself: “Get involved in community activities and pro bono activities” said Ferenbach. Giving back is something Ferenbach has practiced, so preaching it shouldn’t have bothered anyone.

“We’re the only profession that has that (giving back) as a core value,” he said.

Ferenbach also advised the new attorneys to spend time on their personal well-being, whether by taking vacations, exercising or spending time with family.

He also warned that finding a healthy balance between work and personal time is “easier said than done.” Perhaps finding the right mentor would simplify things.

Protect your reputation: Because one error in judgment “can ruin everything.” The State Bar -- and Clark County Bar, which hosted the event -- both want you to succeed and they want you to avoid the pitfalls that tend to ensnare young attorneys.