March/April 2001
Interview Archives
Michael Daly                                                              
Mike is an attorney in Maine, officially retired December 2000.  He was interviewed March 9, 2001 in Brunswick, Maine.
Retirement and Retrospection
Q:    Where did you receive your law degree?

A:   At George Washington Law Center, George Washington University in the District of Columbia in 1969.

Q:   After law school what did you do?

A:   I moved to Virginia. I knew I had to take a Bar exam right away and I knew I was facing a draft obligation.  I didn't know how I was going to deal with that. I had had a part time job through my second and third year and I stopped most of the way through my third year and started a Bar review course while I was in my last semester of law school. I took the Virginia Bar exam in the summer of 1969 in the Roanoke Hotel. Everybody got rooms, stayed there in the hotel and took the exam.

Q:   Was the exam difficult?

A:   It was my first experience taking a Bar examination.  They gave you thin little booklets like you used in second grade. Little blue books. And they were probably 8 inches by 6 inches with big thick lines. And they gave you short questions.  The rule was that you could write on one side of one page for the answer, but not to go to page two because "we won't read it."  They wanted short answers where you figure what the issue was and write in an answer. I think each session was like that. This was before the multistate exam.

Meanwhile I was considering going into the military and I was considering joining VISTA.  I went back to a summer job that I had had after my first and second year, which was working for the Department of Labor.  It wasn't a law-related job.  I collected labor statistics. It had me traveling around the country each summer. It was good because it got me out of D.C. and I made some good friends there. I went back to that job, worked out of the Philadelphia region, and waited to hear the results from the Virginia Bar and waited to hear whether I had been accepted into VISTA. Sometime during the summer I heard that I had passed the Virginia Bar exam. And finally I got word that I could go into VISTA.

Go to Top                                                  VISTA 1969                                                  Go to End

Q:   Can you explain what VISTA was?

A:   VISTA was a domestic program modeled after the Peace Corp in which people joined for one- year commitments, and they went into the low-income areas and worked in various anti-poverty programs.  A lot of lawyers joined and worked for legal services projects. The program paid a very small stipend, like a couple hundred dollars a month to live on; but this was thirty years ago.

I remember going to Richmond, Virginia and being sworn in around Oct. 7th; and a week later I was in New York at some hotel on the Upper West Side beginning VISTA training.  We were a group of lawyers there to attend six weeks of training. I'd say there were thirty of us.  It was a draft deferrable job.  I think twenty-eight out of the thirty needed the draft deferment.  One guy didn't; and the other person was a woman.

I had a Volkswagen Beetle.  And I had all my clothes and junk in my little Beetle.  One night, when I was staying in this hotel on the Upper West Side, somebody broke into my car.  The thief looked all through my car and found 50 cents he thought was worth taking.  And the next day that 50 cents was all I could find missing.

Another guy in the group and I were assigned to New Bedford, Massachusetts.  This was around Thanksgiving. And we headed to New Bedford in our Volkswagen Beetles. We were assigned to this legal services program. The local bar association did not like the idea of the legal services program adding two lawyers. They had never had VISTA lawyers before. The local bar association said, "You can have the two VISTA lawyers but they can't go to court unless they're members of the Massachusetts Bar," which we weren't.

So we spent our time working in various welfare rights projects, tenant organizing, really community organizing, and trying to provide assistance to people in economic development-type programs. We tried to organize people to advocate for their rights. It was very very Sixties. 

Q:   How long were you in New Bedford?

A:   I was there a little over a year and my friend stayed six months.  I decided to stay in Massachusetts.  I moved to Boston, took a Bar review course, and took the Massachusetts Bar examination at the end of 1970; and I passed.

Q:  Did you get a job in Massachusetts?

A:  No. I started looking around for jobs and I wound up moving to New Hampshire to work for another anti-poverty program.  It was that age of when I had gone through being a VISTA lawyer and I didn't want a private firm.

Q:  Public service was still on your mind?

A:  Yes.

Q:  What about the draft problem?

A:  I was well past it by then. A draft lottery was held some time at the end of our VISTA training. Some of these guys drew high numbers, were given their VISTA assignments, and then never showed up.

Q:  Where did you work in New Hampshire?

A:  I was hired as an economic development planner for a model cities agency in Manchester, New Hampshire, where I tried to produce more jobs for low-income people. I still was not interested in practicing law.  I stayed about six months.  I didn't like it and went to an anti-poverty program in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which needed a housing attorney.

In Portsmouth I worked on trying to produce legislation that would improve tenants' rights, like rent control and tenant organizing.  I worked on a couple of suits: a welfare rights suit challenging a flat grant for rental units; and a suit challenging a tax increase, that would have been passed from the landlords to the tenants.  We fought the first suit in the New Hampshire Supreme Court and were successful, although the legislature simply changed the law.  We challenged the second suit in the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and that was successful too. I worked in Portsmouth about two and one-half years. I never obtained my license to practice law there.

Q:  How did you end up practicing law in Maine?

A:  I was living across the river, in Maine.  I had had ties to Maine from my childhood. My mother was from Maine. This was 1973 or 1974, and we were in the era of the multistate exam. And for the first time I did not take a Bar review course.  I borrowed notes from other lawyers, who had taken the Bar review course, and I studied on my own.  I took the winter Bar exam in Bangor, Maine.  During that time there were gas shortages, when you couldn't get gas.  I had enough gas to get to Bangor, and I got off the highway and barely made it to a gas station. I took the exam in February 1974 and I passed.

I tried to practice for a year in Ogunquit, Maine. I opened a practice on my own with little or no contacts in the town and just had no success in trying to develop a solo practice. I didn't even get court appointments because the judges gave all of them to their friends.

And then in 1976 I answered an ad that I saw in The Maine Times from a lawyer wanting an associate; and it turned out to be my partner, Harold Shapiro.  He had been the mayor of Gardiner, had lived there all his life, and had been practicing law in Gardiner for a number of years. He had one associate, who was leaving, and he hired me to take the associate's place.

Go to Top                                      SMALL PRACTICE 1976                                         Go to End

Q:  When you got to Gardiner, did it fit?

A:  It seemed to fit. I was busy. I learned an awful lot of law. It was a small town, still is, about six thousand people. The closest courts were in Augusta. Maybe four years earlier we had made the transition from municipal courts in each town to the district court system, as we know it now.  I wound up doing a lot of practice in Augusta district court, and in Waterville, Wiscasset and Bath, to some extent.

Q:  What kind of law?

A:  A general practice.  In a small practice you are really looking at the client as "your" client.  You look at the practice as serving the client's needs. If a client comes to you, you say to yourself, "If I serve this client, he or she will be loyal to me and will have other needs."  There will be title searches. There will be wills. Estates will be probated. The client may go through a divorce. The client may have a worker's compensation injury.  That has been my partner's philosophy.  A good philosophy.  And, now that we are closing, clients are saying, "What are we going to do now that you're leaving?"

Q:  Have you seen many changes in the practice of law?

A:  There have been a lot of changes. When I started out, the courts were somehow not that busy. You didn't wait eighteen months for a jury trial in superior court. In superior court I sense that we have a system that is overwhelmed with criminal cases, and that pushes the civil cases to the back burner.

Q:  Do you think it is a result of an increase in population?

A:  I don't know.  Maybe there is more crime being committed. There's a lot more cases being prosecuted, it seems to me. There's a lot more pretrial litigation in civil and criminal matters, a lot more motion hearings and suppression issues being raised, which slows the whole system down. And, in some of the counties, such as Lincoln and Sagadahoc, we don't have fulltime superior court justices.

Maybe the biggest changes are in the district courts. The district courts used to be places that didn't seem to have the volume of work that they have now. The volume seems to have exploded in the last three or four years. And it seems that the district court judges are called upon to handle more and more types of cases. We never had a child protection caseload like now.  We never had the whole protection from abuse system. And every divorce with children has changed so much with the family division, which is much more conference-oriented, mediation-oriented than before, multiple- trips- to- the- courthouse- oriented.

Q:  Does this say something about society being less civil than it used to be?

A:  I don't know. We're trying to find ways to reduce the number of contested trials. We're steering people more toward a settlement of their disputes. Sometimes I think it's steering them to settle by sending them to the courthouse.  These ideas seem to be good but I question whether the whole family division system is producing the results that it was touted for. I think the whole process of getting a divorce is getting not only more expensive and inconvenient for the client but also longer to complete.

Q:  My thoughts are that you didn't have many divorces back thirty, forty years ago. Divorce is a relatively new occurrence.

A:  That's right. We just switched to no-fault in 1972 and that led to more divorces.

Q:  That doesn't explain the numbers of criminal matters.

A:  I don't know. My observation of district court judges is that the job is a very very frustrating job. I don't think that the changes we have seen have helped their caseload.  It is maybe a reaction to the fact that people are trying to navigate their way through the system without attorneys and that the system had to change for them.

Q:  What has the challenge been for attorneys in the business realm?

A:  I think there are more and more lawyers. I don't know how many there were when I started, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were twice as many now. More and more people want to move here. It's a great place to live as long as you can get yourself through the winter every year. I think it's harder and harder to make a living for smaller firms.

Our firm never worried about the bottom line. We were practicing law in so many different areas that we felt that each area of the law would produce income to meet our needs and our overhead.  The fluctuation in a small firm like ours was not something we could control. We might settle a half a dozen good-sized personal injury cases one year and then only one the next year. We just didn't worry about it.

Q:  Has your job satisfaction stayed the same?

A:  I don't think so. I think that's one of the reasons why I'm retiring now. I'm tired of it. I don't find it as fulfilling. I find that there are more frustrations. There's more paper work, fewer trials.  There's a lot more that's being settled, and that's good; but, I've had fewer and fewer cases that I find are worth litigating.

Go to Top                                                LESS RESPECT                                             Go to End

Q: Do the clients treat you with the same respect?

A:  I don't think there is as much respect for the legal system as there was years ago. People are frustrated with the system.  They tend to say it's the fault of the lawyers, and they tend to think that lawyers charge too much. And yet so many aspects of our system are due to legislative changes.  People don't stop to think that the legislature is overwhelmingly non-lawyer.  Lawyers don't make the laws in this state.  For example, you get a complete change in the workers compensation system; and nobody seems to stop and ask how these poor injured people are going to find representation, when the legislature almost eliminated their right to a lawyer.

Q:  What would you say to a graduating law school student?

A:  I don't have the background of working for a big firm. You'll have more security and more starting income if you start at a large firm, but the work may not be interesting. If you want to practice law I think you are better off going to a small firm where your feet will be put to the fire right away. You'll get a varied experience trying many different things. You'll find out which areas of the law you want to practice and which areas you don't. It lets you zero in and move into an area where you may develop some expertise and stay.

People who have gone into big firms could say just the opposite. They could say that they developed expertise in one area and did interesting work, and that it prepared them better for specializing in that area and practicing on their own later on. There are obviously pros and cons to both.

One of the great things about the legal profession is that it enables you to use your mind. That's also one of the pitfalls of the profession.  You go into it thinking that you're going to be using your mind all the time, and you're really not. You've got to find an area of the law where your mind is engaged more of the time than doing routine things. The other great thing about the legal profession is the amount of independence and autonomy you can have, especially as a solo practitioner or a person in a small firm.  I've always had a great deal of independence.

I think that those graduates that never go into practice are better for the academic experience of law school. It teaches you to analyze. You could go into other professions and be much better off for having had three years of legal education.

Q:  What about the trial system, does it work?

A:  I think so. I think that to lay people it looks like technicalities are deciding cases instead of the merits and equities of the cases.  I really don't feel that way. I feel that a trial is a search for the truth. The rules of evidence are not technical loopholes. I think of them as being pretty straight- forward. They say that we are going to allow into evidence that which is relevant and reliable and we're going to exclude evidence that is irrelevant, immaterial and not reliable. And I don't see cases that are determined on lawyering. I think the judges see to it that the cases are fairly decided.  It's not one lawyer out-lawyering another.

Go to Top                                          SEARCH FOR TRUTH                                       Go to End

I think that clients think it's a game. And I don't blame them because it is so arcane and so obscure to non-lawyers. It seems like we speak in a different language that they don't understand. Maybe it would be better if we tried more cases.  Outside of the courtroom, litigation has become so cumbersome and time-consuming and, therefore, so expensive, that one can only get the justice that one can afford to pay for.  It's hard for people who don't have a lot of means to go up against insurance companies that can litigate, for instance.

One of the things I like about Maine is how down to earth the juries are. You don't get outrageously high dollar verdicts for injuries that don't really merit it.  That doesn't happen here. They scrutinize a lot. People are more down to earth here.

Q:  The practice must have treated you well enough to retire at this age in your life?

A:  I don't know about that. I just got tired of it and found that there were other things that I wanted to do. I don't want to wait until I'm sixty- five to hike the Appalachian Trail.  I don't necessarily see as what I'm doing as a permanent retirement. I don't necessarily say that I won't practice law again or that I'll never work again.

Q:  What are you planning to do?

A:  I have been thinking very seriously about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I want to do that.  I have a tentative plan to begin in two months or less, maybe somewhere around May 1st. It's a little bit up in the air because I have had some minor foot surgery.  I'm still in the recovery mode. A great many people start the end of March, beginning of April.

Q:  Is there a lot of traffic on the trail?

A: There is a lot of traffic on the trail.  I would imagine that close to a thousand hikers start.  I think it's something that's burgeoning. Only ten to twenty percent, a couple hundred people, manage to finish in a year.

Q: It sounds like a marathon.

A:  It does. Last summer and fall I met people who were finishing and I learned from them about paring things down.  It's nothing to hike fifteen to twenty miles per day. I remember meeting one guy who had started at the end of March and he said that it rained the first twenty-eight out of thirty days.

Q:  What is a favorite book?

A:  I enjoyed the book, The Appalachian Trail.  It was written in 1974 before hiking the trail was popular. It is a series of stories about people who hiked the trail, some who have become famous for having hiked it.

Q:  The book is edited by James Hare.

A:  Yes. Published by an outfit in Pennsylvania, the Rodeo Press.

Q:  Anything else?

A:  When I do try a case, the psychic lift I get from the experience is very rewarding, almost no matter how it comes out. I have had a couple of cases that were a lot of fun to try, where the juries saw that the fairness, equity and justness were on my clients' side.  Those were very rewarding experiences.

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"I was in New York at some hotel on the Upper West Side beginning VISTA training. It was a draft deferrable job."

"In a small practice you are really looking at the client as 'your' client.  You look at the practice as serving the client's needs."

"I don't think there is as much respect for the legal system as there was years ago."

"I feel that a trial is a search for the truth."
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[Editor's Note: Mike hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 2001.]
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