President's Message September/October 2019

A Mother’s Advice
David N. Bazar, Esq.

President, Rhode Island Bar Association

“…in order to help your clients, you have to know and understand the law. Beyond knowing the law, a good attorney listens well and is responsive.” 
Be a good lawyer. My late mother gave me that admonition when I passed the bar exam. As my father will tell you, when my mother told you to do something, you did it. So what did she mean by “Be a good lawyer”? My mother was a serial entrepreneur so I only had to look back at the lessons she taught me to know what she meant.

In the early 1970s, she opened several retail stores that sold only Panasonic electronics. At that time, Panasonic made everything from AM ball radios to high-end stereo systems with televisions and toaster ovens thrown in for good measure. The Panasonic tag line was “just slightly ahead of our time,” and so was my mother. She designed the stores with a futuristic tunnel entrance and abstracta system displays. She opened stores in the Wampanoag Mall, Midland Mall, Wakefield Mall and the Auburn Mall.
One day, when my mother had me restocking the back room, she pulled me aside and told me to watch a particular salesperson with a customer. After the sale had been completed, she asked me why the salesperson was so good at her job. My initial response was because she had a very deep knowledge of the product line. That was important but not the right answer. My mother pressed me. She wanted me to go through the whole conversation the salesperson had with the customer. Then it struck me. The most important part of the encounter was that the salesperson listened to the customer. She understood what they wanted and why.

My mother’s next venture was to buy an inn in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. An oil crisis and snow drought in 1973 forced the inn in New Hampshire into an SBA foreclosure. While my father was out of the country on business, my mother drove to Waterville Valley for the auction. The next day she picked my father up at Logan Airport. He asked her “Who bought the inn?” “You did,” she replied.
I went from working in an electronics warehouse and driving a truck between stores, to working as a dishwasher at the inn on weekends. My mother hired a full-time innkeeper since her time in New Hampshire was limited. Again, she pulled me aside and asked me to watch the innkeeper with guests. Later, she asked me why he was such a good innkeeper. My reply was instantaneous, “because he listened.” No, it was more than that. Not only did he listen, but he also cared. Not only did he know how to provide a great experience for the guests at the inn, but because he cared about each guest, he ensured that each individual had the best stay possible.

When my mother told me to be a good lawyer, I knew just what she meant. Listen to your clients and care about them. I have had the opportunity to work with many lawyers who really know the law. Leonard Decof once told me that to prepare for a medical malpractice case, he not only had to know the law, but he also had to know the medicine involved as well as the doctors did. He also had to know his client. Just as that salesperson had to know the product line, in order to help your clients, you have to know and understand the law. Beyond knowing the law, a good attorney listens well and is responsive. Simply stated, to be a good lawyer, you have to listen to my mother.