Wellness Wednesday: Meet Jeff Messina

I’d like to introduce you to Jeff Messina.  Jeff is a lawyer at Bergeron Paradis Fitzpatrick.  But that’s not why I’m introducing you to him.

I’m writing about Jeff because today is Wellness Wednesday!

I like to use the Wellness Wednesday posts to introduce you to members of the legal profession who make sure to make time for non-legal, non-lawyerly things. As the VBA’s Jennifer Emens-Butler says, “pursuits of happiness.”  Links to my prior posts on lawyers and their non-lawyerly interests appear at the end of today’s blog.

Back to Jeff.

He’s in a band!


Let’s get to it!

Jeff – thanks for doing this! I like writing about lawyers who make sure to make time for non-lawyerly things.  Tell us about your band & its genesis. 

I’ve been playing the guitar for about 35 years.  I started with ‘80’s metal (I picked up a guitar after hearing Randy Rhoads play Crazy Train), and in high school found Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, The Doors, and, of course, The Grateful Dead.  So, I have played in many bands – middle school, high school, college, law school (played many nights at Dewey’s and Crossroads in SoRo), and made some money during and in between playing at small clubs in Boston, or at ski resorts in Vermont.  A big mix of venues and styles. Over the last several years I have enjoyed opening Burlington’s Jazzfest sitting in with Jenni Johnson at Leunig’s.  This current group is a four-piece offshoot of a previous five-piece GD cover band.  Regrettably, that one dissolved due to “creative differences.” (Other musicians will know what that means.) However, the bassist, keyboard player, and I moved on and reformed with a new drummer.  We play a lot of Grateful Dead, but not exclusively that material, which our name suggests: Dead Not Dead. According to our YouTube posts, we are a “Live, improvising, respectful, well-schooled rock band presenting tasteful Dead, and JGB -style not-Dead.”  What else is there?

Very interesting!  I’m struck by “creative differences.”  Maybe because this is an ethics blog that I should relate to the Rules of Professional Conduct. You’ve practiced (I think) in the family and criminal courts.  Lawyers in each practice area often contact me with inquiries on Rule 1.16 and withdrawal.  Any corollaries between the original 5-piece band’s break-up and the “irreconcilable differences” that often result in a motion to withdraw from representing a client? 

I’ve done some RFA work in the Family Division only as they relate to corresponding matters in the Criminal Division. Otherwise, I stay FAR away from the Family Division!!

In this case, I think the corollary to the Rules would be Rule 1.16(b)(4) – where at least one other member “insists upon taking action that [I] consider() repugnant or with which [I] ha[ve] a fundamental disagreement.”  Additionally, 1.16(b)(7) covers the rest because there was ample “other good cause for withdrawal…”

Good answer! Sounds like a conflict.  Conflicts of interests are tricky for lawyers. I imagine they can be tricky in a band too.  Creative conflicts over how to play a particular song; maybe even something as seemingly simple as the order of the set list at each gig.  Anything in your background as a lawyer that helps you to deal with any conflicts that arise within the band?

Interesting that you ask.  Yes, there are a lot of conflicts in a band: what to play; how to play it; when to play it; where to play; when to practice; who writes the set list; what’s on the set list – just to name a few! One significant reason that the band fell apart was my eventual reluctance to need to use my skills as an attorney to deal with band conflicts.  Lawyers have a very stressful, highly analytical, mainly left-brained job.  Frankly, I’m that way and a whole-bunch-of-Type-A in my natural state.  So, one of the reasons I have always played is that it allows me to settle into my right-brain. I’ve been doing it so long I act on instinct. To this day it is one of the few things that I don’t have to think about while I do it.   Music is my deep breath, my exhale; my meditation, if you will.  As you can imagine, then, when I was forced to act more mediator than meditator, it began to negate the very reason I was there – allowing me to decompress.  Playing for me is like taking my electrically-frazzled brain out and submersing it into calm blue water.  Ahhh…..  That stopped happening.  Herding cats is difficult.  Herding musicians is something else entirely.

The catch here is that attorneys are generally disinterested third parties in disputes.  That’s nearly impossible when it’s your band, because whether or not the specific issue matters to you, the outcome likely will.  So, I would go into “lawyer mode” and listen to the complaints, see where people agree and disagree, or try to interpret what one member is saying if another doesn’t get it.  Then, I would try to direct the conflict to facilitate the ultimate outcome, which usually most members are on the same page for, even if they don’t realize it.  And that’s the key – reading the personalities and finding the common ground, if any. But, it’s not the key if you just did it for 9 hours before you got to practice!

Speaking of practice . . . I preach competence.  A comment to Rule 1.1 says that the duty includes maintaining the skill necessary to provide competent representation.  In other words, CLE.  What’s the musical equivalent of maintaining competence? Do you have time to practice?  Or, are you able to show up at a gig and put on the show?

Practice; that’s the equivalent. But not just practicing what you already know. Learning new songs is equally important.  New songs challenge you – maybe not an individual, but the group as a whole. As an added benefit, sometimes you learn a trick or technique from a new song that can find its way into something you’ve played a thousand times.  That’s fun when that happens and it breathes new life into something that may feel rote.  Of course, it makes it easy to accept a last-minute gig opportunity if you’ve been playing with the same group of people for a while and have some well-established songs in your collective back pocket, but that is a fun thing to be able to pull off — it’s not a recipe for success.  Practice.

We generally practice weekly.  No, I don’t have the time, but I find it because this is one thing I do for me.  I’m also fortunate to own a lot of guitars, so there is one within reach wherever I am at home, and always one in the office.

I’m glad you find the time.  I’ve blogged on making time for what matters.  And music being your meditation really gets at the heart of attorney wellness. It’s fantastic that you have that outlet.

Which gets me to this:  your answers have touched on it, but do you feel like the band helps keep you grounded? Or, maybe stated differently, are you a better (or fresher) lawyer because you have an outside interest?

 I am a better lawyer because of the outside interest.  First – and this is the self-preservation aspect – it allows me to blow off steam, decompress, or whatever other applicable phrase captures the sentiment.  Then I am able to be more present and focused on client matters.  I was told early in my career by Bob Rachlin that I have to take care of myself to be able to take care of my clients.  I listened.

Outside interests are also a good icebreaker for initial meetings or tense circumstances.  Lawyers tend to see people at some of the worst times in their lives.  They just got arrested, they just got sued, lost their job, whatever.  Maybe they don’t understand the legal circumstance they find themselves in. That means they’re scared, angry, sad – the whole range of human emotion – and sometimes talking about anything other than what they are there to discuss helps them get comfortable enough to start getting into the substantive issues. Connecting on outside interests like music, vacation spots, cars, how horribly frustrating golf is, helps build trust; and trust facilitates candor.

Truth!  Bob’s a wise man who was ahead of the curve on this issue.

 Ok.  Nobody goes to law school because they’re looking for a career in trust account management.  But it’s essential.  Similarly, I’m guessing you didn’t get into music to haggle with club owners or haul equipment to & from your truck. But each is essential.  Any comparisons between law office management & band management? You know, the non-glamorous aspects of each that people almost never consider?

Like anything, you first determine your goals.  What kind of a band do you want to be – cover band or original work? (Boutique firm or JonesDay?) Get together to jam or actually try and play out?  Seems silly, but if you don’t know that, you’re not going to get together more than a handful of times before it falls apart.  Then, assuming something starts to come of the practices, is there a leadership hierarchy or is everyone on the same footing. (Partners, Associates, Staff?)  Also, a band needs equipment – speakers, P.A., microphones, etc. How much are we investing in the band, and to what amount – who owns the gear?  Also, putting aside the copyright issues (equity stake?) of song writing, how do we get gigs?  Is everyone out there trying, or is one or more persons better suited to do it? (Managing Director?)  In my experience, a band, perhaps like office management (of any kind) sees about 10% of the players doing about 80% of the metaphorical – and perhaps literal – lifting.

Well, when it comes to legal ethics, you’ve done some heavy lifting.  You often appear on the #fiveforfriday Honor Roll.  So does noted Dead Head, and Vermont attorney, Keith Kasper.  Keith has a great story related to where he was & what he was doing when he learned Jerry Garcia died.  What’s yours?

 I had just seen The Boys in High Gate about a month before the news and was working as a kitchen manager at a place called The Country Creemee in Weathersfield, VT. It’s a grease and sugar Mecca – burgers, fried clams, ice cream – all outdoor seating.  The perfect place for an early twenty-something to work, make some money, and meet girls.  Perfect. Anyway, I was doing prep and the news came over the radio.  Everyone there knew I was a Head and they just looked at me.  I was shocked. Speechless. I don’t think it’s still completely registered.

 Favorite song by a band other than the Dead that you cover:

Tough question because so much depends on the vibe at the time. If I have to pick only one, though, I have to say Small Axe by Bob Marley – we do it a bit more rock than the original, but certainly pay appropriate homage to The Lion.

 Favorite Dead song to play:

To quote from one of your favorite movies: “It’s a b***s**** question. It’s impossible to answer….It is a trick question.”

I love it!  This blog will always honor Mona Lisa Vito.

The Dead song most audiences clamor for as an encore:

 FreeBird!!! Just kidding. Sort of.  We do hear that a lot – there’s one in just about every crowd.  Once again, though, there’s not one song – not “the” song.  More often than not, however, it’s either Althea, Help/Slip/Franklins, Scarlet/Fire, or Brokedown Palace.

Last question:

Mr. Messina: do you ever play any songs by Loggins & Messina?

Ha!  I’m asked that often.  Out of principle, no.

Like the others, great answer!  Thanks Jeff!


Related posts:

So far, the non-lawyerly pursuits that Wellness Wednesday has featured include:

Also, before I ever imagined this column, Elizabeth Kruska & Wesley Lawrence were kind enough to take the time to discuss their interest in horse racing, Scott Mapes talked soccer with me, and many lawyers & judges shared their marathon stories.


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