The Patio

Posted on January 04, 2024 in Uncategorized


By former Regent Ken Smith

In 2015, life was full of new opportunities, but I will admit I was all out of fire and in a bit of a rut. I was starting my own firm as a solo practitioner, which was great but lacked excitement. I had been asked to join the National College of DUI Defense, and I was headed to the Summer Session for my first out of State CLE. However, I just felt stale and I have to admit I viewed the Summer Session as a good trip to a new city for some mandatory continuing legal education hours. Maybe I could even sneak in a few good meals and pick up a trick or two. All these are very good things, but I just didn't feel that same fire for the law, and I wondered if I would ever get it back.

The week before the CLE, some nice lawyer from California named Virginia Landry called me out of the blue. She was one of my group leaders for the Summer Session. She was kind, gracious, humble, complimentary, and interested in my practice and me. She wanted to welcome me, and she spent a great deal of her day talking to me about the NCDD, the Summer Session, and encouraged me to meet her and the others from our group on the patio.

Ginny made the patio seem like this huge deal, and I still remember thinking to myself that even a country boy like me has been on a patio before and wondered why a slab of concrete outside of a hotel was such a special place. After our call, I pulled up Google and did some digging. This humble, energetic lawyer from California is Orange County's DUI Queen®. Now I had to find out about this patio… she might know something I don't.

I called Hunter and Rhea that week about the College and read through the materials and mock case. I heard more about the patio from them. What was so special about the patio? The materials were very helpful, but this was still just a CLE to me. I'll admit that I was not open yet to what the NCDD and its members would offer.

So, I showed up in Cambridge for the CLE, checked in and went downstairs at the Charles to an insanely good lobster dinner. I met lawyers at every stage of their career from all over the US. It was the 20th Anniversary of the College and it was all hands-on-deck with legends from everywhere. Everyone was talking about the darn patio.

For those of you who don't know me, I grew up on a farm and my suits come with cowboy boots. Every time someone mentioned the patio, I kept picturing the Cambridge equivalent to Granny Smith's front porch: a place where big things would happen, but I couldn't really picture the patio. It made no sense to me. Sure, I would see everyone on the patio and it sounded like great fun, but it had no meaning to me. I changed my plans that night and went out onto the patio. I am glad I did. I began to see why the patio was more than concrete outside the Charles, and I began to see why the NCDD is more than a College but is the amalgamation of its members.

The next morning, I showed up early in my khaki shorts, fishing shirt and hat. I plopped down in the back row just as I had perfected in law school and started eating a surprisingly good breakfast burrito. Maybe it was the copious amounts of coffee, courtesy of Mimi Coffee, but the next 15 minutes finally opened my eyes. In stark contrast to my casual approach to this simple CLE, lawyers began to sit around me dressed for court. To my immediate right sat Joe who I thought said he was from St. Louis. To my left, Don Ramsell. On the other side of Don was Jim Nesci and then Tommy Kirk. Mimi Coffee sat on the other side of Joe.

It wasn't too long before I realized that no suits were required, and that all of these people were faculty, here to teach. After a sigh of relief, I took my phone out in the hall and did a quick Google search on these names. It finally clicked… I was excited, tuned in, and I was in the right place.

I listened to the faculty as they presented, and I began to wonder how I was asked to be a part of this College? I felt behind the curve and lucky someone let me slip in as a member. But, it was more than learning about science or trial strategy. I was more impressed by how these faculty and other members treated one another. I saw nothing but the highest level of professionalism and collegiality.

Early that very first morning, I heard the faculty admire Tommy Kirk's command and presence, as well as Andrew Mishlove, Joe (not from) St. Louis' and Jim Nesci's command over the science. I heard Andrew Mishlove, Virginia Landry, and Mimi Coffee build each other up with the same respect that they built up the most inexperienced member in attendance. They bragged on each other's accomplishments, and celebrated with them. This group offered support in sorting through the tough issues in each other's practice. I saw lawyers come together in a way I had never seen before, and I learned more in a few short days than I could have ever imagined.

I spent hours on the patio at the Charles that year, staying until the wee hours of every morning. I met lawyers from everywhere. Outside of Legal Seafoods, I met a couple fellas from Oklahoma talking trash about Texas versus Oklahoma football. Over the next few hours, the conversation shifted to practicing law. Bruce Edge and John Hunsucker shared strategies. They were an open book about practicing law, willing to share about everything from the running of a practice and what worked best for them to the courtroom. Those hours with Bruce and John changed my practice. Now I understood the patio, or at least I thought I did.

Over the years, I went back to the patio every year until Covid changed our location. I signed up to go to the Summer Session in Chicago, admittedly sad to see the venue altered. I think it was in Chicago that I realized that the patio was not a place. The span of concrete and block between the Charles and Legal Seafood in itself held no magic. Now I can picture the patio – it travels with me in my friendships, network, memories, knowledge, and a newfound and continuing fire for defending those when they need our help most. The patio is with us in Chicago, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Atlanta, and every other venue for our seminars, and it is in my office with me. No, it's not the same patio as outside the Charles, but the patio is not a location. The patio is more. On the patio, egos aren't important and lawyers of all ages, races, skill sets, beliefs, and backgrounds can be themselves. It's where the biggest name at the table will openly admit to stealing from the newest lawyer in attendance. It's where I continually find myself wondering why I hadn't thought of that strategy and which client it will help protect. We are all welcome on the patio. We all learn and laugh at war stories, and jokes. We make lifelong friendships. The patio is somewhat like a modern day round table. There is no king or queen at the end, and everyone can share and share alike.

In many ways, the patio represents the NCDD. It is made of our members. There are no walls on the patio. There are no boundaries between you and the next level of practice. If you haven't found the patio, I'd love to share my experience with you. Come see for yourself. Meet our members. Get involved in our College. Give back for what the NCDD gives to you. Help us all become more as rising tides raise all ships. If you do, I promise you that your time on the patio will leave you filled with vigor, ready for whatever challenge that lies ahead, and replenished!

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