Q&A with Linda Woolf

Published in 2009 Maryland Super Lawyers — January 2009

Linda S. Woolf graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School in 1985, worked for three years at Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, and was one of 16 lawyers who jumped ship in 1988 to start Goodell, Devries, Leech & Dann. She is now its managing partner.

 

Super Lawyers: What drew you to the law?

Linda Woolf: Its logic and orderliness and use of language. I was an English major with a writing concentration. I don't know if you've seen Avenue Q but one of the songs is "What do you do with a B.A. in English?" I considered becoming a paralegal, but, having taken a look at that, I realized it would not be satisfying for me. I wanted to do it at a higher level. So I went to law school.

 

So, despite the English major, becoming a lawyer didn't have anything to do with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maybe it did. I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 11 or 12 years old.

 

Perfect age.

I was Scout's age. [Atticus] is still my favorite fictional lawyer for all sorts of reasons. I think it's more his struggle between being a father and being an advocate. Balancing those things.

 

Why commercial and insurance litigation?

When I was studying, I had a strong interest in contract law and business law. But I also liked, I would say, the adversarial nature of litigation. So this is the perfect combination. I don't think I would've been well-suited to be a transactional lawyer. I understand what they do, and a lot of what I do is pick up or deal with the fallout of the negotiations and deal-makings that go awry. That's the part I like. Being an advocate for one side.

 

So is it more the advocacy or the adversity? You mention both.

I think it's more the advocacy. Certainly it's both. No litigator can stand to lose. That's our bad days. But it's advocating for a client—that's the driver there.

 

Once you started practicing, how did it differ from what you expected?

The necessity to do the mundane tasks related to defending cases. It's not something you are taught in law school. [But] it's my view that it is absolutely necessary for young lawyers to do everything they may ask an underling to do—so that they understand it.

 

Was it initially disappointing when you did these tasks?

No. In fact, there were some real rewards. You're asked to do what could be a tedious document review, but you might find a document that turns out to be the important document in the case.

I can remember a time, less than a year and a half out [of law school], when I found such a document. Sat there and looked at it, and thought, "This can't be what I think it is." And it was. It was a large commercial case tried in federal court. And this was an economic analysis that put all the pieces together in a way that we would not have had had we not found it in the other side's documents. It was literally in a storage unit full of boxes that we went through for days.

 

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

It was when I was a brand-new lawyer at Semmes. One of the senior lawyers there, Rudy Rose, took me aside and told me, "What you do in the first 90 days here will stay with you for a long time. If you do great work, it will stand you in great stead even if you stumble a little later. If you screw up, it will be a long time before you live that down."

I call it "The First 90 Days Rule." It has broad applicability.

 

Have you passed it on?

I've given that advice to associates. I actually passed it along to Rudy's son, who was an associate here, years later. I have a daughter who's about to start college and I recently told her exactly that.

 

What are some of your more memorable trial moments?

I had a cross-examination of a bad-faith expert in a large, major-coverage matter [in U.S. District Court in 1995].

I had done a lot of investigation about him and I had deposed him and I was well-prepared for the cross-examination. And at the end of it the judge essentially invited us to move for judgment on the bad-faith claim—literally didn't even wait until the end of the plaintiff's case—and threw that claim out based upon the cross-examination. That's one of those crosses you remember.

 

You've been practicing for 23 years. What are the big changes you've seen?

Certainly the conglomeration of law firms.

And I guess the emphasis on the business end of running a law firm. I may be saying that because I'm the managing partner here, and that's part of my daily routine, but lawyers, instead of being just advocates, or perhaps idealists, also have to be businesspersons.

 

How long have you been managing partner?

Since 2005. I like the overall view I have of the firm and its practice areas. It's very easy to become so absorbed in the day-to-day workings of your own practice that you lose sight of what your partners are doing. I have, at least in a general sense, an idea about what all of my partners are doing, and that's something I would not have if I was not in this role.

 

How do you unwind?

By playing with my dogs and working with my horses.

 

Horses? How many?

Three. I feed them and turn them out and ride them and clean up after them.

 

Is that good practice for the law?

That's right. [Laughs.] I shovel it with the best of them.

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