In our last “Meet our Mediators” blog post, we interviewed Carl Schwait. Now we hear from Shelley Leinicke, who joined our team last summer. We all understand the value of reading and writing in our profession, but some of us actually elevate both in real and practical ways, rather than just paying lip service to them. I am ashamed to admit I’m more on the “lip service” end of the spectrum. Shelley clearly is not, reading almost anything at any time and in any place, and writing in a way I can’t hope to emulate. Perhaps that is why she was drawn to the law and rose to become one of Florida’s preeminent trial and appellate practitioners. Combine this with her desire to learn, make connections and immerse, and it becomes clear why she is effective as a mediator and why she lists travel high among her interests, and it is reflected in her desire to learn the language of those places where she loves to spend time.
Closer to home, she instilled in her family a love for reading and an understanding of the value of education. Read on to see how this and her affection for rescue animals have come together, too.
I began practicing law in 1977 as a litigator, but spent the majority of my legal career an appellate lawyer, including participating as part of the trial team with litigators throughout the discovery process and during trial. My practice involved working with lawyers throughout the state on a wide variety of cases that frequently involved complex facts and nuanced evidentiary, legal and procedural issues. This background, as well as the fact that appellate lawyers must evaluate every case independently and differently than trial attorneys, is proving to be an excellent training for being a mediator. Like a mediator, the appellate practitioner comes to a case with a broad, record-based view that is not affected by the credibility and demeanor of witnesses and helps trial counsel and clients consider the effect of a trial court’s broad discretion in many rulings and the standards of review that will apply if a case is tried rather than amicably settled through negotiation.
What did you most like about your prior career?
I loved the opportunity to work with excellent lawyers on very challenging cases and the ability to constantly learn something new. Because I frequently fielded calls from lawyers during a five-minute trial recess asking for case law on some esoteric evidentiary point, I eventually started a notebook outlining the research results from these sometimes frantic calls. This notebook was always at my fingertips, especially when sitting “second chair” in trials. I also enjoyed working with trial lawyers to discuss and develop strategy on discovery or litigation issues. Trial transcripts, depositions, and conversations with lawyers or clients gave fascinating insights into topics such as aviation, medicine, human factors, construction, the design and manufacture of products, fire science and engineering.
What is your favorite part of being a mediator?
Mediation allows me to use skills and experience in a new way as a neutral. I firmly believe that clients should be encouraged to try to resolve their disputes through negotiation rather than leave their fate to a judge and jury. Mediators can help parties and their counsel to look past the heat of the moment, evaluate a case with a more objective eye, and reach an immediate resolution so that the parties can return to their everyday lives. While it’s often said that a good mediation settlement leaves everyone a bit unhappy, I have yet to see that actually happen. What I have seen both as a mediator and as a participating attorney when I was practicing law, at the successful conclusion of mediation everyone lets out a sigh of relief that the case is resolved, that there are no unknowns or what-ifs about the result, and that everyone can move on.
What are the traits of the greatest lawyers you have known?
When I began practicing law in 1977 I had the privilege and good fortune to work for Idus Wicker. A fundamental tenet of his litigation philosophy was to “always do gracefully that which you can be made to do anyway.” What a gift for a young lawyer! Discovery squabbles melt away, civil practice – in all senses of the word – is maintained, and lawyers can focus on the truly important aspects of representing their clients. It’s been a great way to practice law.
Throughout my practice, every great lawyer has been unfailingly courteous. Each one of them has recognized and understood that courtesy to all counsel, all opposing parties and the court is wholly consistent with vigorous and outstanding representation of their clients. I recall an occasion early in my practice where I was tasked to telephone one of the biggest names in the plaintiff’s bar and extend a very minimal settlement offer. I was expecting an indignant response. In fact, the response that declined the offer was most polite, respectful, and courteous. He, like other great lawyers, recognized that counsel must be professional and must not take on any animosities of the clients.
An unfortunate recent tactic by many attorneys today is the routine filing of motions for sanctions without first trying to resolve the perceived discovery problem with opposing counsel or giving a heads-up that the motion is coming. I’ve heard it described as intentionally trying to keep opposing counsel off-balance. The great lawyers do not engage in “gotcha” litigation tactics.
What is something about you not too many people are aware of?
I love the opportunity to give back to the community! This spring I trained one of our dogs, a little rescue Yorkshire Terrier named Marley, to work as a therapy dog. We visit patients at a local hospital and soon will be starting to participate in “pawsative reading,” a program for elementary school children who need help improving their reading skills. I have been a member of the Rotary Club of Fort Lauderdale for many years, and have most recently been serving on a scholarship committee that awards financial need college scholarships to academically outstanding students.