Best Lawyer Q&As




Every year, the national polling firm Woodward/White performs an exhaustive search for the country's top attorneys and publishes their names in its comprehensive volume, "The Best Lawyers in America." The 2012-2013 list has just been completed, and we listed them in our November 2012 issue. You can search the database and see who was chosen for this year's list by clicking here.

We also interviewed five prominent New Hampshire attorneys who appear on this year's list - their Q&As are below.

Cathy J. Green

Green & Utter
Criminal Defense: White Collar

What makes a great attorney?
All really great attorneys love what they do. It is this passion to serve clients and to make a difference that distinguishes them.

Did something specific attract you to your specialty of law?
Criminal defense provides a lawyer with the opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of their clients, while facing new challenges every day. So much of criminal defense is judgment - in this area of the law there are rarely "right answers," so a lawyer's ability to communicate and make hard decisions is critical.

What do you do to relax?
When my kids were growing up, my non-work hours were consumed with their activities. Now that they are grown, I am very involved with the UNH School of Law (I chair the board of trustees) and with the NH Public Defender program (I am president of the board of directors). My husband and I try to take one big trip a year - last year we went to Southeast Asia.

What's something you learned in law school that has guided you through the years?
I had some great professors and mentors who encouraged me greatly. In particular, Judge Hugh Bownes of the federal court and Jim Duggan, who was a public defender and became a NH Supreme Court justice, inspired and challenged me.

Do you have a personal motto?
I have two. My grandfather lived by the motto "Carpe Diem," which means "Seize the Day." I strive to live that motto. The motto "Make a Difference" guides me as well.

Can you briefly share your most memorable moment as a practicing attorney?
There is not one moment. While victories are sweet, the most important and meaningful moments are when I realize that I have had a real effect on a person's life. As a criminal defense lawyer I am privileged to be able to have this type of impact not infrequently.

Do you have a word of advice for anyone who might need your help now or in the future?
Since I practice criminal defense, it might be to not need my help in the first place. A serious mistake that people do make once they get in trouble is to not deal with it head on and hope that somehow it will go away. People should get a lawyer - and if they can't hire one, we have a great public defender system, one of the best in the country.

Morgan A. Hollis

Gottesman & Hollis
Land Use & Zoning Law

What makes a great attorney?
A great listener. An attorney must provide counsel and represent his or her interest the best he or she knows how. A great attorney will listen to the client first, and also listen to the opposing party, look at the problem or situation (as in actually view the scene) second and provide advice or take action third. Every attorney must take the time to understand the client's issues and objectives and understand the opposing party's issues and objectives and then plot a strategy with the client. A great attorney is always one step ahead of the other party.

Who most inspires you?
I am inspired by attorneys who work hard and diligently for their clients. The attorneys can be young or old, work for a private firm or work for the public sector, but every time I run into an attorney who is diligent and doing the best to represent their client and attempting to solve their client's pressing problem, I am inspired to continue in this profession.

Did something specific attract you to your specialty of law?
Believe it or not, I have always been interested in the fact that people hold property rights dear to their heart and that the right to own and use property seems to be a foundation unique to this country, right on a plateau with other rights, perhaps more well-known, such as freedom of speech. In law school, the interplay between an owner's property rights and the impact of the use of one's property on the neighborhood and the regulation of such use and such rights by the government, fascinated me. When you throw in the constitutional protections, the whole situation makes for a giant boiling pot looking for legal solutions and I have generally ended up representing to the property owner.

What do you do to relax?
Active sports: skiing, biking, tennis, golf and sailing, many times by myself, just to be outside, exercising and breathing in some fresh air.

What's something you learned in law school that has guided you through the years?
A professor told me to first try to understand the purpose behind a law or regulation and how it came to be passed and then interpreted over the years. He advised that sometimes a slight change in interpretation resulting from a more current application of the law puts an entire doctrine in a new and uncharted direction and lawyers should not be afraid to look to be the impetus for that new direction.

Do you have a personal motto?
The same as the Boy Scouts: Be prepared. Also, be thorough.

Stephen H. Roberts, Esq.

Hoefle, Phoenix, Gormley & Roberts, P.A.
Environmental Law

What makes a great attorney?
Listening is far more important than speaking. You have to understand the needs and goals of a client before you undertake the measures designed to achieve those goals. Many misunderstandings could have been avoided if people listen to each other. A great lawyer listens and asks questions to clarify the issues so as to develop a full understanding of what is needed.

Did something specific attract you to your specialty of law?
I have long had an interest in learning about areas outside the traditional legal arena. In 1984 I became involved in an environmental case that required the use of geologists, hydrogeologists and various engineering disciplines. I enjoyed working with the scientists/engineers to address the contamination questions in the case - and that interest soon led to more work in the environmental field.

What do you do to relax?
I live on a farm, and there is never a lack of things to do. The practice of law can often have a glacial pace; the time frame between an action and a subsequent reaction can be months. Cases can take years to resolve. When you cut a field, there is an immediate satisfaction; it is done, and you can enjoy it without delay. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting down and having a beer after the fields are cut.

Do you have a personal motto?
Not a motto per se, but an attitude: Don't take things too seriously. Life is too short to go through it with a "half-empty" attitude. Enjoy the incredible blessings that we have, and have a positive attitude. A sense of humor can defuse a tense situation, if done properly. There is no law that states that lawyers can't use humor in their practice.

Do you have a word of advice for anyone who might need your help now or in the future?
Don't wait until the last minute! Lawyers can solve many problems, but they can't fix problems that are past the point of correction. It is usually more efficient and more effective if counsel are involved at the beginning of the process - usually cheaper as well.

Melinda S. Gehris

Hess Gehris Solutions
Alternative Dispute Resolution

What makes a great attorney?
There are some traits I have observed in every great attorney I have had the opportunity to work with. Great attorneys are good listeners. They understand the unspoken messages and know how to explore with clients their real interests and desires. Great attorneys know how to represent clients in the legal system to meet as many of those needs as possible. They also recognize when the legal system can't meet a client's needs. Great attorneys also continue to learn. To be great and get great results, attorneys spend a lot of time developing their skills and knowledge. They hone their craft with every new matter. Without a doubt, great attorneys put their clients first.

Who most inspires you?
What a tough question! It depends on what I am doing. Most days, my parents top the list. They taught my sister and me many important lessons, but two top the list. First, they taught us how to be happy. I continue to follow their example and find things that make me happy. The second lesson from my parents is how easy it is to make a positive difference in someone else's life. That is as simple as giving directions to a stranger, or working for positive change.

Did something specific attract you to your specialty of law?
Yes, the ability to work with people to best meet their interests and needs in and outside the confines of the law.

What do you do to relax?
Visit with friends, read, garden, listen to baseball, do needlepoint and cross-stitch and hang out with my husband and our pets.

What's something you learned in law school that has guided you through the years?
One thing I learned is that there is more than one way to look at any situation. Perspective matters and opposing sides may have legitimate point of view.

Do you have a personal motto?
I have more than one. The most relevant to my work are: make a positive difference for someone else; and do the best you know how to do.

Do you have a word of advice for anyone who might need your help now or in the future?
I am a firm believer in finding the process of solving problems that fits the people and the conflict. Sometimes the legal system is the best answer. Sometimes, direct interest-based negotiation works. In so many situations, working with a third party neutral to have constructive conversation is the best way to work toward a solution. If they [consider their options for problem solving] and ask questions about mediation, arbitration, facilitation and team-building, they may find just the right solution.

Philip R. Waystack Jr.

Waystack Frizzell
Personal Injury Litigation

What makes a great attorney?
Good listening skills, the ability to communicate with any client and a passion for making things right.

Who most inspires you?
The many attorneys in New Hampshire who dedicate their professional lives to public service have always inspired me greatly. Examples such as lawyers who provide legal services for the poor and disabled, lawyers who defend indigent people charged with crimes and the government lawyers who prosecute those cases come quickly to mind.

Did something specific attract you to your specialty of law?
At my first trial, I remember feeling excited about the dynamic environment of the courtroom. I felt comfortable as soon as I began to examine a witness. In the 37 years since that trial, I have worked to develop a kinesthetic sense in the courtroom so that I can see, hear and observe what every person is doing and saying, including the judge, the witnesses, opposing counsel, the jury. If our perspective in the courtroom is more complete, I think that we are better able to be effective for our clients.

What do you do to relax?
I enjoy walking/hiking in the desert, golfing, hunting and watching the New England Patriots.

Can you briefly share your most memorable moment as a practicing attorney?
No single moment, but having a satisfied client at the end of the case is always memorable.

Do you have a word of advice for anyone who might need your help now or in the future?
Call sooner rather than later.

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