A Q&A Conversation With Tim Flaherty
Throughout his career, Tim Flaherty has worked with the philosophy of giving back and working well with others to improve outcomes for his legal teams and communities.
For his efforts, Clark Hill awarded Flaherty with the title of 2023 Mentor of the Year. Flaherty, the Member-in-Charge of Clark Hill’s San Francisco office, recently spoke about why he makes mentorship a key part of his work, his practice in real estate law and commercial litigation, and his public service in the town of Pleasant Hill, Calif.
What has inspired you to take on this role as a mentor for so many?
To impart knowledge and skills to others you work with is part of what I think is expected of an attorney here at Clark Hill.
I am at this stage of my career because of all the help I’ve received along the way. I didn’t enjoy my first six months as a lawyer. I was assigned to a partner who was an excellent attorney, but we just didn’t click as human beings, and I just wasn’t enjoying it. I told the senior partner that it really wasn’t working out for me and that I was going to start looking for another job. They called me in the next day and the senior partner said they would re-assign me to someone else. That changed my life. I was assigned to a partner who took an interest in me as a human being and in my overall well-being in addition to improving my writing and analytical skills as a lawyer. I really enjoyed working with him for a long time.
I’ve never forgotten that throughout my career.
In the practice of law, what makes mentorship so important?
It’s important because we aren’t all just born with these innate skills to be great lawyers, it takes study and work. As part of my mentoring to other attorneys, I tell them that when they see a lawyer who is doing something very well, whether it’s in our firm, another firm, or in court, remember what they did to stand out and figure out how you can copy that and incorporate it into your own skill set. An important part of mentorship is paying attention to how other people are litigating or how they’re practicing law and deciding if that is something worth adopting in your own practice.
With many people working remotely or in hybrid arrangements now, how has that changed your mentorship process?
Zoom has actually made it easier to learn how to develop relationships with people in other offices. We would probably not have organized a video conference or Zoom call in 2019, but rather connected by telephone. I think the pandemic (and Zoom) gave us the ability to make more personal connections because you can see each other’s faces and facial expressions and even their room backgrounds to get to know them a little better.
When working with people in other offices, I try to give them direct contact with the clients we’re working on together. When you’re working with somebody who is not in your office, they tend to be compartmentalized in that they have their tasks, but they’re not really on the day-to-day team, and I really try to connect them directly with the client. There’s no need for them to write something and then for me to put my name on it and send it to the client. I would rather introduce them to the client and have them keep me informed.
For those who you’ve mentored, what do you hope they take away from their interactions with you?
I hope they learn something of value and that I haven’t just taken up their time. I take a holistic approach to mentoring and fostering relationships with the associates at Clark Hill. I do not solely focus on the law but, where appropriate, discuss workplace relationships, personal interests, career path, business development, and family. I try to help them figure out a solution to their concerns. I am a counselor as well as an attorney.
To focus on your law practice, how would you summarize your current work?
I’m divided about 50/50 between the real estate group and commercial litigation. For example, on the real estate side, I help clients with anything from adjoining landowner disputes, co-ownership disputes, commercial lease disputes, landlord-tenant and property management issues, and non-disclosures on the sale of real property. On the commercial side, I’ve been handling buy-sell agreements and shareholder disputes, sophisticated collections on behalf of lenders, and various matters in the cannabis industry. I like to call my commercial practice the collection side of real estate.
What kinds of questions have you been fielding from clients recently?
On the real estate side, the burning questions have to do with the performance of tenants under their leases post-COVID. On the commercial side, particularly in a down economy, the questions involve creditor remedies. I help determine if a dispute really merits formal dispute resolution, such as court, arbitration, or mediation, or whether it’s something that should just be handled directly and negotiated. A lot of my time is spent advising clients on how to resolve issues without involving more of a lawyer’s time.
In addition to your law practice, you’ve been active in your community for many years. What’s been your background in serving your community?
When my children reached middle school age, I looked for an opportunity to get involved in our community of Pleasant Hill. I was raised in San Francisco where giving back was part of our family fabric.
I had served on the Transportation Commission for our previous town, but in Pleasant Hill, I applied for a Library Commission role simply because I love libraries. However, the council members at the time had different plans for me and appointed me to the Civic Action Commission instead. That commission organizes and sponsors all the community events—summer concerts, community service days, senior clean-up days to name a few– and I did that for 10 years. I then was appointed to the planning commission, which was more compatible with my profession. After that, I decided to run for city council and was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016 and 2020. I served as Mayor in 2014, 2018, and this year.
What is a goal you have for your current term as mayor?
I’m just trying to be a good steward of the community. I’m still working on sustainability issues as that’s really something I’m very interested in. Pleasant Hill is perceived as a green community and we’re looking for ways to continue to legislate that without being overbearing.
What do you see as a common thread between your mentorship, law practice, and city leadership?
Everything I do is centered around the same skill set of working well with other people and having a vision for where the team is moving. I am humbled to be recognized at Clark Hill for mentorship because I am just doing what comes naturally to me and just thought this was something we all should be doing, and I want to encourage others to give back—to the firm and to our communities.
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