I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Since I was a small child, I had always been interested in ideas of justice, distribution, and the way we treat each other. That’s what led me to study philosophy, and in turn, the practice of law. Early on, I knew I wanted to help people, and being a lawyer seemed like the best way for me to do just that.
I grew up in a small Michigan farm town of about 400 people. My family has lived in that same county for over 8 generations now, but I ventured out. There were no lawyers in my family, and I was the first one to go to college.
I went to Western Michigan for undergrad and my first graduate degree, so Kalamazoo was a big step up from that. The town has more than 50,000 people. That was the hardest transition for me. From there, I went on to law school at Michigan in Ann Arbor, and now I have lived in Chicago for the last 12 years.
Tell me about your work at Holland & Knight?
I practice in two separate practice groups – commercial litigation and professional responsibility law. As a commercial litigator, I work on all kinds of contract and tort disputes. In my practice of professional responsibility law, I lead the Chicago team. Together, we work on all types of professional responsibility issues, including the formation or dissolution of law firms, partnership and fee disputes, sanctions issues, confidentiality and privilege problems, and we represent lawyers in front of the ARDC.
How did your idea for the Attorney Defense Initiative come about?
This has been my pet project for the last few years now. Our profession is a very difficult one. We have the statistics to prove that. We know that people in our profession suffer from anxiety, depression, and substance abuse at higher rates than almost every other profession.
One of the things that I had seen in my professional responsibility practice was that the lawyers who suffered from these types of issues tended to get in trouble more on the licensing side. Because of their mental health and substance abuse issues, they often aren’t able to adequately handle the disciplinary proceedings, which frequently led to harsher sentences for them.
To me, this seemed like a bad cycle. I believed that, if we could help these people, we could put them on a path to recovery or stabilization.
We’ve helped a lot of lawyers and it has been an extremely fulfilling thing to do, and I think it has been a great service to the profession.
How else are you involved in the legal community?
I do a lot of work for the Chicago Bar Association. I love the CBA. I think it’s a great group of attorneys who encompass the best of what we think of the profession, supporting some of the causes and community initiatives we should be behind as lawyers. I’ve served and remain active in several committees including their Finance, CLE, Professional Responsibility, Membership Committees, as well as the CBA’s Judicial Evaluation Committee. I also co-chaired CBF and CBA’s Pro Bono Week last fall.
I also teach professional responsibility at Northwestern each fall semester. I love professional responsibility law and am very passionate about it. So, I enjoy imparting some of that onto the next generation of the profession. I think one of the most important things we can do as lawyers is act as a trusted pillar in our clients’ lives, and I want newer attorneys to understand the way that their professional responsibility obligations should guide them in their career pursuits.
I’m also active in the Association for Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL), and I spend a lot of time writing and speaking on ethics issues in our profession.
Why is mentoring so important for lawyers?
Mentoring is one of the most important things we can do as lawyers. I have been lucky to benefit from both sides of it as the mentor and mentee. At this point in my career, I see my role as helping young litigators navigate their way through the profession.
The modern-day role of a mentor in a young lawyer’s life cannot be underestimated. The profession has changed so much.
One of the things I frequently see is students coming out of law school and starting their own law firms. That from both a professional responsibility side and the side of what we want the profession to evolve into, bears some risk. I believe that it is our responsibility to help these younger lawyers in the ways that we can.
Working at Holland and Knight my entire career, I’ve always had this group of lawyers around me. I was a summer associate and have been here ever since. They were the ones who taught me how to be a lawyer. In more and more circumstances, new lawyers starting out on their own don’t necessarily have someone who they can ask their questions to. Therefore, to the extent that we can, we must mentor new attorneys.
How does civility play into your practice?
Professionalism and civility in the law go hand-in-hand with professional responsibility. For instance, take civility. You can be a lawyer in a case who is cooperative and civil with the other side. In fact, you can do all of this while still representing your client to the best of your ability. Or you can be somebody who is not.
For example, the practical implications of incivility result in significant and often unnecessary costs and delays in litigation. Those kinds of disputes, if we were able to work them out amongst one another in a professional manner would make litigation less expensive, more efficient, faster, and a better experience for our clients.
Being uncivil, to me is a way of cutting off our nose to spite our faces.
What is one piece of advice you always offer to new lawyers?
Being a good lawyer requires a lot more than being good at the practice of law. You must be good at relationships. You must also be a politician, a marketer, a writer, reader, and a good listener, on top of being a good lawyer.
Outside of the profession, how do you like to spend your time?
I volunteer with the Make-A-Wish-Foundation of Illinois, a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I also am also very involved in our community as the political director of the 44th Ward Democratic organization. My partner is running for Attorney General in the state of Illinois, which takes up a lot of my time.
Finally, I also have a dog and two cats that require a great deal of my time and affection. But yet, I love them dearly.
Trisha Rich has served on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism since 2017. Since joining the Commission, Trisha Rich has been greatly involved in the Commission’s Education and Mentoring Committees.