Michael Conway, a partner at Foley & Lardner, was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1973. Other than an 8-month stint as a Watergate lawyer for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in Washington, he has been a litigator concentrating on commercial, media and First Amendment and federal tax litigation since 1974 first with Hopkins & Sutter, and since 2001 with Foley & Lardner.
What do you find the most interesting about your practice?
As a trial lawyer, I am always learning new things. In my legal career, I have learned how investigative journalism uncovers and reports important news about everything from terrorist plots to medical practices, how major airports and airport terminals in Denver, Miami and Chicago are planned and built, how corporate mergers are negotiated and valued, and how President Richard Nixon committed offenses leading to his resignation. The people I have met, and hopefully helped, are fascinating. In what other career could I met and worked with Muhammad Ali or Sam Donaldson. The legal system is a daunting challenge for most people and helping people protect their legal rights in our system is ultimately the most interesting aspect of my practice.
What makes a good lawyer?
Good judgment makes a good lawyer. Many lawyers have mastered the technical aspects of practicing law and are very good at it. But that just makes them good technicians. What clients need is sound advice and good judgment. Good lawyers see all of the possibilities and most importantly the consequences of selecting one option or another. Our clients frequently seek our help during times of intense personal or professional uncertainty and stress. A good lawyer remains clear-headed and able to assess the client’s predicament in an objective fashion. This allows counsel to provide practical, understandable, prompt advice and helpful guidance. Prompt is important — the best advice in the world is of no benefit if it comes too late.
What is the biggest legal news right now, and what is its impact?
The biggest legal news is the challenge of providing meaningful training and career paths to younger lawyers. With the necessary emphasis in all law firms on more rigorous business practices and client development, the key mentoring role — which has been a hallmark since Abraham Lincoln studied law in a law office — tends to be minimized or even discarded. When I began practicing law, I not only had mentors and role models, but more experienced lawyers took the time for hands-on training. Today, it is much tougher for a younger lawyer to have the opportunity to participate in a jury trial or argue an appeal or event interact directly with an important client. The impact will be serious and adverse on our profession. Newer lawyers are not only be stunted in their professional growth, but also have less chance to receive the training and appreciation of the craft of a trial lawyer from accomplished lawyers in the field.