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“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Yogi Berra
I have been involved with employment law since 1980. I starting while I was in law school as a law clerk to the late Robert E. Holland, Esq., who represented the City of Boston and other Massachusetts municipalities in labor and employment matters. Robert Holland (Bobby) was an inspiration to myself and others. He was incisive. “Bobby,” a Boston native (from Southy), made it a point never to say any more than necessary to accomplish his goal. In one famous incident he represented a municipality in an arbitration involving the termination of an incapacitated firefighter. In the cross examination of a medical expert who was testifying for the union, he asked, (with his south Boston twang) “If you were in a burning building, high up on the fourth floor, who would you rather see coming up the ladder to rescue you, Fireman Brown (who was incapacitated) or Deputy Chief Owens (who was fit for duty). The city won that one.
In another incident, I was with him in federal court listening to him argue a motion. It was his motion, so he was first to argue. When he was finished in about five minutes or less, the union lawyer then went on at some length. In Bobby’s words, he “made a speech”. When it was over the judge looked at Bobby and asked him if he had anything further. Bobby just said, “No.” After the judge took the motion under advisement I asked Bobby why he did not respond to the union lawyer, and he said, “When you’ve made the sale, take the samples and go home.” A week later we received written notice that the judge decided the motion in the city’s favor. He was an awful smoker and died prematurely of lung cancer at 58. I still miss him.
It was reported to me by his secretary that he had a copy of my book, You Could Be Fired for Reading This Book, on his desk when he died in 2004. He had some famous friends, including Barney Frank and Tip O’Neil. I know that it was because of my association with Robert E. Holland that my first op ed piece, written while I was still in law school in 1982, was accepted in the Christian Science Monitor. He taught me that understatement and directness are the most powerful tools of persuasion. Let your listener fill in the blanks. Although Bobby represented mostly management, he went out of his way to represent underdog individual employees. Sometimes they were whistle blowers. Sometimes they were just people who had been treated unfairly. He did not always win for them. But that was the side of him I most admired and tried to carry on.
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