Don't Know Much About History?

Talk to Ed Mannino, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania in his spare time

Published in 2004 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers magazine

By Debra L. Wallace on May 31, 2004


After graduating first in his class with an American history degree in 1963, Ed Mannino was forced to choose between doing what he loved, which was teaching American history, or going on to law school. “I told my father how much I loved history and that I wanted to teach it,” he says. “My father replied,‘You really ought to go to law school.’ Being a good child, I went to law school and became a lawyer.”

Not a bad decision. Now age 62, Mannino has been practicing law for 38 years and is known for his expertise in complicated banking cases and product liability litigation. After co-founding his own firm with partner Jim Griffith, Mannino came to Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld as a partner in 1998, and has received many honors, including being named to The Best Lawyers in America and being deemed one of America’s Leading Business Lawyers.

Mannino may be one of Philadelphia’s most successful attorneys, but his love for American history has remained constant over the years. He has often fantasized about returning to his first love, teaching. Four years ago, when a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania took another teaching job at the last minute, Mannino’s chance had come.

Bruce Kuklick, friends with Mannino for more than 40 years, is a Nichols Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.Kuklick recommended Mannino for the suddenly open post. Mannino passed the vetting process that made sure he had the background and skills, and spent his summer vacation reading every American history book he could get his hands on. He now teaches the American survey course (from the Civil War to the present) and has also taught a summer seminar on the American Supreme Court.

“What’s fascinating about Ed is that despite his success with the law, he has continued his interest in history,”Kuklick recently said. “Many of the most compelling conversations that I have had about the American past have been with Ed. I have also used some of his ideas and interpretations in my own teaching. Ed still regards history as his calling, with law an also-ran.”

Mannino’s approach to teaching is to explain how history can be useful and predictive. “I like to show how multiple influences determine historical events, including economics, race, gender, religion and social attitudes. For example, the Civil War was caused by many factors, not just slavery. Economics and the Protestant Second Great Awakening were two such factors.”

One student, 21-year-old Emily Michelle Wise, says Mannino encouraged her to write an oral report on the mass lynching of 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans, her hometown, at the end of the 19th century. “What makes him really stand apart as a teacher is the passion that he brought to each night’s lecture, because of his genuine love for the history of America and for the evolution of American law and politics.”

Last year, though he logged the most billable hours in his career, Mannino never missed a class or a legal proceeding, nor has he ever missed either in his entire career.

How does he do it?

“You’ve heard the saying if you want a job done, give it to a busy person.There’s some truth in that. Juggling college and a full workload taught me how to organize my time so I may accomplish what I want to do,” Mannino explains. Here are some of his tricks: he sleeps seven hours a night, wakes early to read books on history, philosophy and religion, avoids working on weekends, never has lunch away from his desk and stays away from cocktail parties and television watching. He makes use of his 45-minute train commute, and works strictly between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. so he has family time with his wife,Toni O’Connell, and grown children, Robert and Jennifer.

“You’ve got to pay attention to the people in your family, your work and your hobbies,” he says.Then, as he often does, he illustrates this with a story. He tells about the time he was trying to watch one of the Final Four games in college basketball, much to the chagrin of the family pet.“Our dog Chaco, comes up to me in the den, I pet him and he gives me a bark. I turn away to watch the game. He comes back half an hour later, stands between me and the television set, looks me straight in the eyes and pees on my feet,” he recalls with a laugh. “I wasn’t paying attention to him and he let me know it wasn’t okay.”

This kind of vividly visual story is what juries have found charming and appealing about Mannino. “Teaching is an extension of what I do on a daily basis,” he says. “I think everything I do is related to education, whether I am teaching a jury or teaching students. In trying cases to juries, I try to tell the story by introducing the key facts, and let them connect the dots to reach the right conclusion.The collective wisdom of the jury is usually right, and my job is to get the story out and before them in simple terms they will understand, using word pictures to bring home the points.”

In his most recent memorable case, David Still v. Regulus Group, Mannino defended a corporation against charges that it wrongfully fired its founder and chairman and gave him no money for his stock.The defense contended that he had to be removed from the company because he was destroying it with alleged sabotage and lies.

“I believed if I showed the jury what happened they would be able to understand the dynamics of the situation. I had them think about all the people who have had a bad boss at work. I also gave them word pictures — for example, this was a guy who would go to a board meeting, take off his shoes and socks and stick his dirty feet up on the table.He was a person who when he got really angry took a baseball bat, went into his office and smashed all of the things that were on his desk.Those little vignettes tell you more about a person than the technical information.

“I believe that you can’t be a good lawyer unless you truly believe in your case,” says Mannino. “ I really care whether I win or lose, not for ego gratification, but because I have represented people for years and years, and if I lose a case I feel I’ve let them down.”

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