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60 Minute Mentoring with Attorney Frederick Headen

By: Dalton Carty
       Staff Writer, Lansing

  On March 11, 2014, I had a 60 Minute Mentoring Session with Frederick Headen, legal advisor to the Michigan State Treasurer. Mr. Headen was gracious, polite, and quite insightful about professionalism and ethics.

Mr. Headen has been legal advisor to the state treasurer since 1997. He enjoys his job and is grateful to work with so many competent individuals. Although the Michigan Attorney General represents the treasurer’s office in litigation, he spends much of his time deducing responses to claims brought by individuals against the treasurer’s office. Most cases concern taxes. He works closely with associates in the Attorney General’s office to help them prepare for litigation by explaining the meaning of key terms and how the law addresses certain issues of taxation. He said unfortunately many people enjoy the benefits of taxes like paved roads and parks, but dislike paying them. Thus, Mr. Headen identifies legal strategies to address diverse claims.  

Mr. Headen also spends copious time drafting legislation. He said drafting legislation can be very daunting because the document may be interpreted differently when it is scrutinized by a judge. He said a judge will define each word in the document. For example, if he used three adjectives to modify a noun, each adjective will be defined and its definition will be used to interpret the document. Thus, although he thought he was clear when he wrote the legislation, a judge may think otherwise. He said this make the process tedious, but necessary. Thus, Mr. Headen writes profusely for his job and must sometimes explain his writing before a judiciary.

Mr. Headen also spends prolific time meeting with colleagues to contemplate solutions to his superior’s problems. He said his colleagues are professionals who specialize in distinct disciplines. If he does not know how to address a quandary, someone in the office probably knows how to attack it. He said that is one of the benefits of his job. He does not need to have the answer to every problem because he is surrounded by intelligent individuals who possess the answer or know where to find it. Thus, Mr. Headen’s job involves teamwork and cooperation.

Mr. Headen also said his coworkers rely heavily on technological communication like email. This may result in multiple correspondences to remedy one issue. He said punctuality and efficiency may simply require walking down the hall to speak with a colleague in order to address the matter. Yet, reliance on email is normal for some in his office although he frequently opts for the practicality of face to face discourse. In these exchanges, Mr. Headen demonstrates respect for his coworkers and applies professionalism in all interactions with people in and out of the office. Thus, Mr. Headen uses mutual respect to evoke professionalism for colleagues and peers.

A Thomas Cooley graduate and Michigan native, Mr. Headen went to law school after obtaining a Bachelors in Political Philosophy and a Masters. During law school, he worked full time and mostly had five classes. Although he reduced the course load occasionally, he said going to law school was something he always wanted. Therefore, he was committed to both his job and classes. He worked in the mornings from 9 am to 12 pm, studied and briefed cases on his lunch hour from 12 pm to 1 pm, and worked again from 1 pm to 5 pm. Any classwork he failed to accomplish during the week, he completed on the weekends. He said Cooley did not have weekend classes at that time. So, his classes were five days a week from 6 pm to 9 pm. Although grueling, he had friends who were all working full time and going to law school at night. They made the experience bearable because each could relate to the difficulties of the others. In law school, Mr. Headen said his favorite class was constitutional law because his undergraduate degree made it intriguing. He said his least favorite was property.

After law school, Mr. Headen was grateful he survived the experience, but did not attend graduation. He did not even tell his family fearing they may have wanted to attend. Yet, he had the opportunity to return to Cooley when the law school’s founder and past president Thomas Brennan asked him if he would fill a vacancy on the school’s Board of Trustees. He agreed and served in the capacity for five or six years. During that time, Mr. Headen was charged with approving faculty promotions and sabbatical requests. Regardless of his position as a board member, he remained courteous and respectful of all who came before the Board by referring to them as professor.

In talking with him, one could easily comprehend Mr. Headen has a profound appreciation and respect for Thomas Brennan.   He said he was impressed when Brennan left the Michigan Supreme Court to start the law school. Although Brennan is now retired, he said his dedication to Cooley was shown when he resigned amid concerns he could not function as a justice and run the law school simultaneously. He feels this act is commendable and he still regards Brennan as a great influence and mentor.

Asked if he has faced any ethical dilemmas on his job, Mr. Headen said no. Yet, if faced with one, he said the issue becomes how to address it. Whether discussing the matter with coworkers, superiors, or contacting the state bar to hypothetically inquire about the situation, Mr. Headen said he would leave any job if an ethical problem could not be amicably resolved. He said you must always be able to live with yourself by understanding what is important to you. He said his first employer summarized ethics aptly. “Never do anything you would not want your family reading on the front page of the newspaper. If you remember that, you will be fine.”

I truly enjoyed my mentoring session with Mr. Headen. His easy going demeanor made me feel relaxed. He provided great advice, a business card, and said I could return to speak with him again. I firmly believe Mr. Headen was sincere in his desire to help me comprehend professionalism, ethics, and the rigors of law school. When I left, I thanked him for his time and his secretary for her assistance in meeting him. I encourage any law student to see Mr. Headen to gain valuable insight about the aforementioned.