Conrad & Scherer Senior Partner, Irwin R. Gilbert, Announced as 2022 DBR FL Legal Awards – Best Mentor
Conrad & Scherer Senior Partner, Irwin R. Gilbert, was recently announced as a winner of the 2022 DBR Florida Legal Awards for Best Mentor. The DBR Florida Legal Awards run annually and help highlight professionals for their excellence in a given field of work. Acknowledging and commending these highly respected professionals for their work in the office or community is an honor for everyone involved.
Read below for insight on how Mr. Gilbert assists in mentoring young attorneys and those within the legal field.
Before becoming an attorney more than forty years ago, Irwin Gilbert had a knack for helping others. While in government service, he was the “go-to” officer to help his comrades with important life skills. While in law school, he worked as a teacher for inmates at Attica Prison.
Since then, he has mentored countless young attorneys, teaching them essential real world skills. His approach to mentoring is a two-part process: war stories to “illuminate past experiences” and team brainstorming to help develop critical thinking skills.
“It’s like developing a muscle,” he explained. “I teach them skills that they apply, refine and make their own. Young lawyers have to adapt those skills to themselves and own them… that is the definition of success.”
Gilbert describes one situation when he sent three young associates out to gather information from witnesses. One returned defeated, unable to secure any information. The witness threatened to summon the police. “I showed him how to approach people in a non-confrontational way and use simple yes/no questions. The next time, he had fairly good success, and the police were not called.”
In the courtroom in front of judges and taking depositions are two additional areas Gilbert has found are key mentoring opportunities. “It’s all about how to persuade,” he recalled, describing one situation involving an out-of-state judge and a highly contentious adversary determined to paint him and his associates as “bad people.”
Gilbert mentored his associate by explaining, “You have to learn to remain focused on doing your job and wait for the opportunity to level the playing field. If we just keep doing our job, the judge will see that we’re being professional, and we will be treated fairly.”
Gilbert recalls his own mentor who taught him invaluable deposition skills. “My mentor was the master of the ‘we’re just folks talking’ approach. You could imagine him walking casually down the road just ‘having a normal, safe conversation,’” he quipped.
“I spend a lot of time with young associates on this critical area of the law,” he said, explaining that he focuses on how to listen, read the witness, and know how to get the witness talking.
Since joining Conrad & Scherer in 2019, Gilbert has mentored nearly a dozen associates and law clerks. He values the challenge of understanding the skill levels of his proteges and designing the processes to advance those skills.
Name a secret ingredient or two for effective mentoring?
Being a good listener helps me, as a mentor, to understand where the mentee is and what his or her perceptions are. Then, I can be more effective in providing guidance and advice.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and why is it so valuable?
I strive to set an example of how to prepare, remain focused and be unflappable. My goal is to set the tone and help everyone on my team get to the end zone.
Which leadership skills were the most difficult for you to develop?
How do you teach negotiating skills?
I help my mentees to fully understand a client’s definition of success and appreciate the secondary consequences of the opponent’s demands. I also teach them to make sure the client has thought through the consequences of agreeing to the opponent’s demand(s) and begin by asking opposing counsel: “What is it that you really want?” I teach this approach by example.
When trying to obtain buy-in for something new or sustaining, what tactics work for you?
First, I teach that one must truly understand the topic well enough so you can explain it. Second, it’s important to recognize negatives and be prepared to explain those. Third, you must be prepared to show how advantages plainly outweigh risks.
Do you have any quick tips for re-energizing an overworked team?
Take them out for dinner, send them home to sleep and tell them we are starting early the next day.
What are the best ways for people to stay connected to a key mentor over time and locations?
If you build a personal relationship with your mentor and make it clear that you are always available, you will have no difficulty staying connected.