Leadership Lessons With Attorney Amy Abdo

An experienced trial attorney, Amy Abdo is well-versed in all phases of litigation, including bench and jury trials, arbitration, mediation, administrative proceedings and investigations.

We recently had the pleasure of talking with this remarkable litigator, and even more outstanding person.

You’re a former member of Fennemore’s Management Committee, and one of the highest-profile attorneys at the firm. After a year like no other, and as the pandemic still lingers, what’s does the current state of litigation look like – and moving forward?

We are seeing an uptick of in-person proceedings, but the backlog in civil litigation is unprecedented. Pre-pandemic, virtual proceedings were a limited exception to the rule of in-person proceedings, but virtual proceedings are now commonplace and here to stay. Virtual proceedings bring many pros and cons depending on the circumstances.  For example, many virtual platforms allow one to create multiple private rooms and share screens, which lends well to mediation. Virtual proceedings, including mediations, arbitrations, and court proceedings, can be more efficient, economical, and convenient—especially for out-of-state clients.    

But with the benefits come drawbacks. For instance, we are using virtual platforms to take depositions and appear in evidentiary hearings on a regular basis. Although this can yield significant cost savings, there are important dimensions absent from virtual proceedings and depositions, particularly for depositions of, or proceedings involving key witnesses.  Making eye contact and observing the mannerisms and body language of witnesses, jurors, judges, opposing counsel, and opposing parties are of tremendous importance to the judicial process, but these critical elements are diminished in (or even absent from) virtual platforms. Experienced trial lawyers know how to use these elements as cues to advise clients and assess the effectiveness of a given strategy or approach.

Relatedly, although virtual platforms play a critical role in keeping the wheels of justice turning during the pandemic, they have not adapted to the unique needs of the legal process. At present, there are few safeguards to prevent witnesses from exchanging messages with counsel (or anyone else) during a deposition, which can undermine the reliability of the witness’s testimony. And don’t get me started on the time I virtually deposed a witness who was lounging in his bed, or the interview opposing counsel insisted I conduct through the video camera of an iPhone. Perhaps I’m old school, but two adult males sharing an iPhone cheek-to-cheek isn’t my idea of an effective interview. 

Our legal system cannot endure further erosion of the important aspects of effective lawyering through the use of virtual platforms. Don’t misunderstand me, virtual platforms are here to stay and helpful in a pinch, but without needed innovation and tailoring to the legal field, they leave much to be desired. As lawyers, we must be mindful of these shortcomings to best serve our clients.

Without naming clients, are there any intriguing cases that you’re currently working on or local and national litigation trends that you’d like to share with us?

I find every matter intriguing in a unique way. I am grateful that the success of my practice allows me to be selective of my clients who are always of the utmost integrity.  They are honest and want to do right by their business partners, colleagues, clients, employees, and others. I also work with a wonderful team, and we share a passion for the challenges we face.

There are many interesting trends in litigation, but more intriguing is the constant advantage I find through unrelenting integrity. As a litigator, having the facts and law on my clients’ side is an obvious benefit, but nothing beats the power of integrity. My cases are stimulating no matter the facts because of the caliber of clients I represent.  I always practice from a place of integrity, and my clients share that commitment.  I find strength in knowing I can help my clients win without resorting to deception, deceit, or dishonesty.  We have a great track record of exposing deceit and deception by our adversaries and their witnesses.

What would you tell your younger self – or perhaps a 1L currently in law school contemplating a career in the legal profession as a litigator?

Always be responsive, work your tail off, but don’t forget to pay yourself back.  A perfect balance does not exist, and you will never find it even if you search forever.  What matters is finding the perfect imbalance—whether it’s work, family, friends, or personal time, be where you’re needed when you’re needed, and always give 100%. Be accountable and take responsibility for your mistakes. Learn to own it with your colleagues and especially your clients, and be creative in offering solutions to overcome your shortcomings.  Never, ever let the fire in your belly burn cold or you will miss out on life’s greatest opportunities, and pay it forward every single chance you get. And—NO MATTER WHAT!—never compromise your integrity for anyone or anything. Just wait; you’re in for the ride of a lifetime.

Who is your hero – or the person who has had the greatest impact on your life and career?

My mom and dad deserve all the credit. I often think of my parents when I’m in challenging moments, and that gives me strength.  They raised me to be strong and stand up for myself and never let anyone derail my path.

My mom is a saint and is as kind as the day is long. She had seven kids in seven years and does everything with grace, discipline, strength, courage, kindness, encouragement, love (including the tough kind), and so much more.  She is the best listener, and to this day dozens of lifelong family friends turn to her for trusted advice and guidance.  In fact, the best compliment my childhood friends have given me is that my advice is “perfect and was spoken just like your mom!”  She always reminded me that despite my petite stature, I have a voice that is meant to be heard, and I draw strength from that in my practice.  When I grow up, I want to be just like my mom! 

My beloved dad had such an impact on my work ethic, confidence, and self-esteem.  My dad was a surgeon, but he juggled his busy practice to be present for sporting and other events and family vacations.  Before self-help and motivational speakers were a dime a dozen, my dad invested in his children’s future by taking us, at great expense, to see John Molloy speak about his best-selling book Dress for Success, and Zig Ziglar about his book See You at the Top.  He was always finding ways to prepare us for success.  My dad instilled self-motivation and initiative in his seven children, and it was especially important to him that his four daughters had the tools to climb the ladder of success without relying on anyone else.  He ensured we grew into confident and independent young women.  

My dad also taught me to make my health a priority. One of my dad’s greatest gifts to me is my passion for exercise. When I was about 12-years-old, he introduced me to running and we ran many races together across several cities.  To this day, exercise is an important part of my daily routine.

My mom and dad made many sacrifices to give us the best childhood anyone could ask for.  They didn’t have the newest or coolest cars like my friends’ parents, but they did have the (coolest!) kids who experienced all of what life has to offer.  My parents taught us the importance of family, and I am thankful to have close and loving bonds with all my siblings and their families.  Following my parents’ example, I do not miss my kids sporting or other events even if they are at 3:30 on a workday.  Just like depositions or client meetings, my two daughters’ games and other activities have an important place on my calendar.

You’re one of the kindest people I know – an extremely fit workout warrior and proud Mom. What’s your secret to “having it all?!”

Thank you for the compliment! My secret is simple: determine what is important to you and fully commit to making it a priority. Once you know your priorities, get organized and remain loyal to your personal commitments. Learn to recognize and be honest about your limitations, and know when to say no. And if you fall off, forgive yourself and get going again!

What’s the worst – and best – piece of advice that you’ve ever received?

I worked as a summer associate at an Orange County law firm after my second year of law school. About three weeks into the summer, a female senior associate told me to keep my head down and work, meaning keep quiet and don’t share my opinions.  My first thought was that I had already blown it, and my second thought was, “How in the heck can I do that?”  I asked about her advice during a lunch with my mentor, a well-established and successful partner.  He disagreed with the advice and told me what he most enjoyed about working with me is that I have a voice and the confidence to be direct and share my untested creativity.  Even more, he told me to never take the associate’s advice without running it by him. Now, decades later with state lines between us, he is one of my favorite humans on the planet. 

What do your kids teach you?

You can always find more in the tank if you dig deep enough. My two amazing daughters constantly demonstrate the commitment and courage to carry on no matter the size of the obstacles in their path.

Here’s to Amy and all of the outstanding litigators who find “the imperfect balance” – making an impact on our clients’ businesses, while also making a positive impact on their families, friends and communities where we live and work!

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