In November 2019, Joan Sheridan, an insurance defense attorney, was working on her first jury trial, one concerning the sale of residential property on a golf course, when she discovered John Franke’s approach to mentorship.
Franke explained to Sheridan what they wanted the jury to hear from a witness. Then he let Sheridan meet with the person, ask him questions, and discuss which exhibits and pictures she would show him during the trial.
“That’s his whole approach towards each one of these cases,” Sheridan said. “As I learn more in my practice, he takes a little step back and says, ‘You do it this time.’”
Franke, 60, said his “proudest legal accomplishment” is training the next generation of lawyers. That’s because he wants to emulate the older attorneys who helped him early in his career.
“I’m not a self-made man,” said Franke, a founder of Franke, Schultz & Mullen. “I don’t know if anybody is self-made. Any success that I have achieved is a tribute to my parents and colleagues.”
Franke’s interest in law was sparked by an attorney who spoke at a career day at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, he said.
“You could tell that he loved being in the legal profession, particularly being a trial lawyer,” said Franke.
After attending law school at University of Missouri-Kansas City, Franke worked at Polsinelli in Kansas City and tried his first jury trial in Nebraska “involving the very exciting subject of defective bricks,” he said.
“Somehow I got a defense verdict, so I knew I had found my calling,” said Franke. “To be a trial lawyer, you have to be as comfortable in the courtroom as you are in your family room, and I was.”
Franke said he prepares each case as though it’s going to be tried before a jury — even though most cases settle before trial.
“If you’re the lawyer who is prepared to go try the case, then you have all the leverage,” said Franke.
In tutoring younger attorneys, Franke brings them as second chair to the courtroom and asks them to participate in activities such as “a sidebar with the judge, of being invited back into chambers with your opponent at the end of the day to talk off the record about evidence.”
“There’s no substitute for watching experienced lawyers in action and then getting the opportunity to participate yourself,” he said.