Melissa the Drill Sgt.

Among my family members and friends, I am usually the quietest, most introverted, person in the room. I do not enjoy idle chit chat as a way of passing the time, nor do I enjoy telling (not to mention listening to!) long winded stories with off the point digressions. When I have something to say, it is usually important and I say it using as few words as possible. All of this being said, I am not a wall flower, a push over, or someone of whom others take advantage. My dad instilled in me a strong self respect and he taught me to never let anyone push me around. Dad’s training came in handy on the playground, as well as in my life, in general. My clients, most of whom are men and all of whom are highly successful attorneys, find out, soon after we begin working together on a case, that I am pretty tough. Often, they talk and talk, seemingly endlessly, while I listen to everything they say, without interrupting their stream of consciousness thoughts about their case. When they stop to breathe, and ask for my opinion, I always have something to say. In addition, when we work together while conducting a mock trial, focus group, or other research related to their case, the attorney quickly learns that it is I, not he, (or, in some rare instances, she)who is in charge of the research process. Prior to the research day, the attorneys who retain Magnus have decided how long they will speak to our research participants about their case. Once this decision has been made, the entire research day is built around it. For example, when an attorney informs Magnus that he/she will require 1 hour to argue the case, this results in a much shorter mock trial than when the attorney requires 4 hours to present the case (keeping in mind, of course, that our client’s time is doubled, to allow the opposing side’s case the same time allotment). This means that, in order to ensure our time schedule is met, I have to measure the time of each attorney’s presentation. I provide reminders of time remaining, in the form of large signs that I hold up in the attorney’s view, to ensure our schedule is maintained. One of my favorite clients of all time was the late Henry Latimer, who had been a judge prior to the time I met him. As usual, I timed Henry’s presentation, and after he was finished, I gave him some pointers about how to improve his presentation to the next mock jury. He politely listened, then smiled and said, “Melissa, you really remind me of the Drill Sgt. I had when I was in the Marine Corps.” I was flattered, to say the least, and I replied, “Thank you, Henry.” He burst out laughing and explained that it is never a compliment to be compared to a Drill Sgt. in the Marines! We enjoyed many years of working together after that time and, to this day, I still laugh to myself when I reflect on what some of our clients must think when the drill sergeant in me emerges. Like I said, I may be quiet, but I am no push over!

The “Melissa as drill sergeant” is one of the most lasting stories in the history of Magnus.  Henry Latimer was such a gentleman, but he was tough.  As a former Marine, and former judge, he was a master of handling difficult cases and clients.  He quickly became a favorite of ours and was a pleasure to work with on some challenging cases.  I think it was after working with Melissa a few times that he made this comment – he’d seen how she takes control of the trial research project to get the job done.  It is tough for anyone to manage the clients, and the mock jurors, and to keep things running smoothly, and on time. Melissa does all of this.  Other than the screaming and yelling for which drill sergeants are known, that isn’t a bad description of how she presses the troops onward.  However, around Magnus, not the drill sergeant, she’s the general.  She’s the one in charge – she’s the one who makes the big decisions. I think it might have seemed to her to be a demotion when she first heard she was a sergeant, until she understood what Henry Latimer meant.  Being tough and direct is critical in running a business of any sort, but in the litigation support world, where the clients are super demanding it is a requirement.  Many clients want to interject with their suggestions about matters on which we have more expertise and experience.  Some have even rearranged the furniture which had been set up to our preferences and needs (not to mention in our contract with research facility).  We don’t mind entertaining suggestions, but sometimes it goes too far.  In any event, standing up to the client, to get the best outcome for that client, can be delicate.  Ultimately, Melissa excels at this whether she is a drill sergeant or general officer!

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