This year marks 50 years since I joined my first law firm. In the decades since my legal career began, I’ve witnessed vast changes in the profession’s methods and technologies. In some ways, my work now bears almost no resemblance to what it was in 1965. Yet for as drastically as the particulars have evolved, much of what is essential to law practice has remained the same, and many of the lessons I learned over the years continue to guide me today. I can trace the very beginnings of my career back to 1956, when I graduated from Mount Saint Joseph high school in Baltimore, MD. Knowing that I was contemplating entering law, my school mentor—a retired Xaverian Brother—suggested I take a typing course. He understood that lawyers would have to physically type their pleadings and papers, though neither of us could foresee the burgeoning computer revolution, which would require mastery of the keyboard across nearly all disciplines. I discovered that typing was like riding a bicycle: once learned, you never forget how to do it. So, while my contemporaries scoffed at computers, I embraced the nascent technology. That typing course was probably the single most significant moment in my entire academic career—perhaps even my professional lifetime. My fluency with a keyboard turned out to be an incomparable asset in the rapidly-technologically advancing world. In 1960, I graduated from Loyola College in Baltimore with a BS degree in political science. Three years later, I graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law with an LLB degree. Following my education, I served two years in U.S. Army as a tactical officer assigned to the officer candidate school at the Army’s Artillery and Missile School in Lawton, Oklahoma. Because of my law school education, my higher-ups assigned to defend criminal defendants who had been charged with crimes pursuant to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. One of my first assignments was defending an individual charged with multiple counts of criminal theft and robbery of military property, as well as misprision of a felony. Quite honestly, back then I had no idea what that final charge entailed. With a little research, I discovered it was defined as “failing to report to the authorities the commission of a felony.” As we prepared for the hearing, I completely discounted the misprision charge. In my mind, I reasoned that if the robbery and theft counts were dismissed, my client couldn’t be found guilty of the misprision charge because there was no proof that a felony had been committed. As the song goes, wrong again. The three-member panel found my client not guilty of the theft and robbery counts and guilty of the misprision count. That was my first practical trial learning experience. I learned to leave nothing to chance. It was another valuable early lesson, and one that has stuck with me throughout my litigation practice. In 1965, I joined Wright, Robertson, and Dowell—a small estate and tax firm. There, I handled general matters outside of other lawyers’ estate and tax areas. At the time, the firm had a mimeograph machine and all manual typewriters. The only electric typewriters in town were possessed by the secretaries of the federal court judges. Those secretaries also had the only phones in town equipped with what we called a “squawk box”: a wide-range intercom you could use to speak with anyone, immediately, with the push of a button. However, in order to speak into it properly, you needed get on your knees because it sat on the edge of the judge’s desk and had poor reception and transmission qualities—sort of like the first cell phones. The next decade saw our small firm merge with Townsend Parks, a local litigation firm. In 1974, Wright and Parks was born. I became managing partner of the new group. The same year, the first fax machines made their way into the commercial world. I figured this instrument was the wave of the future and so I ordered one. Of course, fax machines are long outdated now, but imagine how drastically they changed our workflow then. Before 1974, a client would call you with a task and you would say something like “send me the contract and I’ll get back to you.” The follow-up process usually took two days, which gave me two days to think about the task: an important (and sorely missed) period of deliberation. Suddenly, with the advent of fax machines, client lead time went from two days to three hours. With today’s electronic devices, that communication time has been cut further—to two minutes. Though I’m still tempted to shoot from the hip, I’ve learned my lesson the hard way: always put your mind in gear before you put your reply in motion, and never write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see published on the front page of the New York Times. In 1995, Buddy Potler and I founded Scaldara & Potler, LLP. As a result of our involvement in several prior law firm mergers, we were wise enough to set up all of leases for facility, hardware, and software so they all came due for renewal at the same time. Because of our age, the arrangement gave us the opportunity to explore a merger or dissolution depending on the circumstances at the time. Fast forward to 2007, when Offit Kurman showed up at our doorstep. Offit Kurman gave our younger partners and us the opportunity to join a growing firm without incurring the five-year personal liability obligations usually attendant in law firm operation. Needless to say I view that decision as one of the best professional decisions I’ve made in my legal career. On moving day, I brought my laptop computer with me. Then, a laptop was a rare sight at the firm; now it is the norm. Whether you regard its progress bad or good news, technology continues to expand at warp speed. I consider it good news and embrace it. After all, without the farsighted encouragement of that Xaverian Brother so many years ago, I may not have been able to type this out. I will be forever grateful to him, as well as all the mentors, teachers, and colleagues who enabled me to practice law in the 20th and 21st centuries.
ABOUT John Scaldara
Mr. Scaldara has coordinated and managed mass tort litigation for manufacturers, distributors, and their insurers, throughout the United States. He was one of the first lawyers in the country to design and implement computer database programs for the management of mass tort litigation using a secure website for the notification of claims and transmittal of pleadings and papers to primary, umbrella, and excess insurers. Also, he has designed and implemented product defect warning programs directed to end users of potentially hazardous products. Mr. Scaldara has negotiated coverage in place agreements with major insurance carriers and insurers. He has successfully worked with both liability and insurance consultants in projecting clients’ long term liability exposure and insurance coverage related to that exposure. He has also assisted consultants in the preparation of client claims filed against national and international liquidating insurers. You can also connect with Offit Kurman via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn. WASHINGTON | BALTIMORE | FREDERICK | PHILADELPHIA | WILMINGTON | VIRGINIA