People Who Helped Me Become a Lawyer – Part 2

This is a continuation of the list I started in my post of May 16, 2013, and which you can see here.

Terry Funderburk. I started attending Wahlert High School in Dubuque, Iowa as a freshman in 1974. I had been a very mediocre junior high wrestler, but I enjoyed it, and I went out for the Wahlert wrestling team. Terry Funderburk was a first year coach, and the Wahlert wrestling team had fallen on hard times, and Terry had a challenge in front of him.

Terry did a great job in getting people to come out for the team which gave Wahlert the numbers to at least be able to compete at every weight level. Terry was also excellent at teaching wrestling skills, and motivating young people to try their best. The team was 8-4 that first year, and I believe always had a winning record during Terry’s years.

I ended up being six feet and 1.75 inches tall, and I currently weigh about 190 pounds. (My exact height was the key to a basketball competition at Loras College, but I am not sure that the story will ever fit into a blog about Iowa Workers’ Compensation). However, when I was a freshman at Wahlert I was only about five feet four inches tall, and I weighed 95 pounds. The lowest weight in Iowa high school wrestling at the time was 98 pounds, and to my great surprise I ended up winning the internal team competition to wrestle varsity. Unfortunately, the other teams we competed against had much better wrestlers at 98 pounds. I believe my final record was 3-10-2, and I was pinned in quite a few of those losses.

Throughout my struggles Terry was very positive and encouraging, and he did help me improve as a wrestler.

I learned some good things from being a bad wrestler. I learned that sometimes things are not going to work out, and you are going to not only fail, but you are going to fail in public. I learned that everyone fails sometimes, and the most important thing is how you respond to that failure. The key is to learn from your past mistakes, and not let them scare you off from competing. In Iowa workers’ compensation a fairly high percentage of the cases go to trial and you need to be willing to fight cases out to do a good job for your clients. Thankfully, I’m also much better at the law than I was at wrestling.

Sr. Joanne and Don Knefel. Sr. Joanne taught me writing when I was a junior at Wahlert. I had always enjoyed writing, and people generally thought I was pretty good at it, but Sr. Joanne really gave me a strong background in all the basics that I have continued to work on for the last 36 years.

After Wahlert High School, I attended Loras College where I graduated in 1982. Don Knefel taught a variety of writing classes during my four years at Loras, and I took many of them.

As I discussed above, I think I had an excellent grasp of the fundamentals from Sr. Joanne, and Don Knefel really helped me in sharpening my writing skills and abilities. I also got to be pretty good friends with Don, and his encouragement of my writing really helped my confidence, which is critical when it comes to writing.

As a side note, these blog posts are not my best writing. I certainly try to do a good job on the blog, but working on my clients’ cases comes first. Writing is important in all areas of the law, but I think it is particularly important in Iowa workers’ compensation cases because of the nature of the procedures. Work comp trials only last three hours, and a lot of the evidence is admitted in the form of reports and records rather than having them presented by live witnesses. Additionally, either closing statements are not used, or they are very short.

Therefore, the post-trial briefs that the parties file after the case is presented are really critical to tie together all of the evidence in the case and explain why your side should win. I use a lot of the writing lessons from Sr. Joanne and Don Knefel every time I am putting together a post-trial brief, and I think their classes give me a nice advantage.

Richard “Doc” White. Doc White taught political science at Loras, and I took a lot of classes with him. Don White worked at projecting a colorful image, and he was extremely successful in his efforts. There are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Doc White anecdotes. An example would be an intermural softball championship game which was very hotly contested, and included a boisterous and somewhat profane crowd. Doc White walked out to the pitcher’s mound and launched into a 10 minute speech about the value of sportsmanship. Everyone stopped, listened attentively, and changed their behavior for the rest of the game. Doc White was also an excellent teacher, and really brought the importance of political science to life. I was a psychology major at Loras College, and my plan was to get my Ph.D. in psychology, and work as a counselor. Doc White specifically suggested that I consider becoming a lawyer instead. Since I’ve been practicing for 27 years, and have generally enjoyed the law, I am going to have to rate that as some of the best advice I ever received.