President's Message September/October 2017

Pay It Forward
Linda Rekas Sloan, Esq.

President, Rhode Island Bar Association

I appeal to your hearts by reminding you that someone once took the time to teach you when you were a new attorney. I am asking you to
pay it forward by taking the time to offer advice or even
train a new lawyer.
Let me introduce myself. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan with a different name than I have now. My father, a career Navy man was serving in Taiwan where he met my mother. We were subsequently transferred to Hawaii, then to Groton, Connecticut.  We settled down in my Dad’s hometown of Coventry, Rhode Island to be close to his family and where my three younger sisters and I were raised. I went through the Coventry public school system, then Providence College, followed by Boston University School of Law.  My husband, Jeff, calls me a chronic volunteer. I have always felt that when asked to do something, if you can, you should; or as my fellow Rotarians would say: “Service above self.”

When I think back to the beginning of my career, newly licensed and fresh out of law school, I realized that I knew a lot of law but I really didn’t know how to practice law. I was terrified but I found myself surrounded by more experienced attorneys who took the time to show me the ropes. The attorneys at Olenn & Penza taught me how to be a real lawyer. As I was working on cases, I met other attorneys. I adopted those whom I deemed wise as my advisors and mentors (whether they knew it or not). Many of these attorneys freely offered guidance, or at least looked over my shoulder, and from time-to-time provided feedback and encouragement. I then participated in the Bar Association’s New Lawyers Committee to expand my network. I learned how to be a professional by example and by association with leaders of our bar and our legal community.

I suspect most new lawyers have the same fear of not knowing how to practice law and many do not have a law firm to teach them. Newly licensed attorneys are facing challenges we did not, including massive student loans. It is our responsibility as learned professionals to ensure that the next generation of young lawyers have a strong and vibrant Bar Association to provide those same opportunities, practice tips and sage advice that I received. Some of you may be thinking, “I had to do it the hard way so young lawyers should too.” It doesn’t have to be a gauntlet. There is no need to make it any harder than it already is. So, what I hope to accomplish in my year as the Bar Association president is to convey the following message: “pay it forward.”

I have had some wonderful mentors who have shaped my career and I will be forever indebted to them for the lessons learned. For example, I met Mark Sylvia from the New Lawyers Committee and from getting to know him, he offered me a job in a completely different practice area.  Chris Montalbano, an icon in real estate title insurance, called me one day and said, “I think you’d be great working at my title company.” Although I had no experience, he was willing to take a chance on me. 

When I was thinking about starting my own firm, Ted Orson (who would be considered a competitor) said to me, “Whatever you need, if I have it, it’s yours.  You may have all my forms and I will help you in any way I can.” When Mark Comstock asked me to come back to the title insurance industry after being in private practice, he gave me a chance to come back to something I love and often pushes me out of my comfort zone to grow. When I met John Comery he said, “You are the future of the title industry, and my goal is to give you all of my knowledge to help you become the best underwriter in the state.” Freely offered, even though he works for a competitor!

Judge Silverstein once said to me: “Instead of working for Receivers, you should be a Receiver.”  Attorney General Dennis Roberts has been a wonderful friend and advisor to me as has Judge Licht, both of whom are the fiercest feminists I know, always pushing to advance women to leadership positions.
Many people encouraged me to get involved in Bar governance. When I was active in the Thurgood Marshall Law Society, Judge Clifton encouraged me to accept leadership positions. The point is, that at many points in my life, others graciously reached out and impacted the course of my life and career.

Search your memories for a time when someone helped you and remember how that made you feel. I appeal to your hearts by reminding you that someone once took the time to teach you when you were a new attorney. I am asking you to pay it forward by taking the time to offer advice or even train a new lawyer. Go out of your way to encourage a woman lawyer. Reach out to an attorney of color and ask them to take a leadership position. It just may shape the path of their career, and it is simply the right thing to do. I love and live by the words of Richard Branson that a true leader trains people well enough that they could leave, but then treats them well enough that they won’t want to.

I say to you that if this little girl from Taiwan can become President of the Rhode Island Bar Association due to the guidance and encouragement of the many mentors named above (and others that I just do not have the space to acknowledge), think about the impact you can have.  Let’s invest in others so that they, in turn, can do likewise. We can do more together by “paying it forward.”  It’s the right thing to do.