📚 Time Stamps
[00:00:08] Charting a path in aviation law
[00:08:43] Being an aviation lawyer on 9/11
[00:11:34] Airline Security and lawyers after 9/11
[00:17:41] The importance of building relationships and not burning bridges
[00:26:34] How Mark learned an industry from in-house counsel to outside counsel to in-house counsel once again
[00:33:50] His new role as an ombudsmen and how his legal training set him up for this role
[00:41:20] Finding and learning from mentors
[00:45:21] Closing advice: persistence pays off
In today’s episode I speak with veteran Aviation Lawyer Mark Fava. Mark started his career as a judicial law clerk and litigation attorney in Charleston, South Carolina but for the past 20+ year he has worked in aviation. In August 2001 mere weeks before 9/11 he went to work for Delta as a Chief Operations Attorney managing passenger litigation and defending the company for all FAA actions. He then worked as a Law Firm Partner focused on litigation and regulatory matters related to airlines, and for the past 13 years has been at Boeing where he has served in a number of different legal and executive roles.
Mark is also active in writing and speaking about the legal profession and aviation law. He has a blog called www.theaviatorlawyer.com, he has taught CLE courses about what he learned from his time as a law clerk, and now he is almost done with a book called What I Learned from the Admiral about business and leadership lessons I learned as an admiral's aide over 30 years ago.
Mark is a graduate of University of North Carolina and the University of South Carolina Law.
In our conversation we discuss Mark's path to the law, finding and then carving out a niche in aviation, what it was like to be working as an airline lawyer on 9/11, his time as a junior associate and then later as a partner after being in-house, his move back in-house to Boeing, his transition from a legal role to his current role as ombudsmen, his public-facing speaking and content and why that has been so important to his growth, and so many lessons he has learned along the way.
This episode is sponsored, edited, and engineered by LawPods, a professional podcast production company for busy attorneys.
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Jonah Perlin [00:00:00]:
Welcome to How I Lawyer, a podcast where I talk to attorneys from throughout the profession about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it.
Mark Fava [00:00:08]:
Jonah Perlin [00:00:08]:
I'm your host, Jonah Perlin, a law professor in Washington, DC. This episode is sponsored, edited, and engineered by my friends at Law Pods. Law Pods is a professional podcast production company focused solely on attorney podcasting. I absolutely love working with them, and if you're considering becoming a legal podcaster or just want to learn more, check them email@example.com. And now let's get started. Hello and welcome back. In today's episode, I speak with veteran aviation lawyer Mark Fava. Mark started his career as a judicial law clerk and litigation attorney in Charleston, South Carolina, but for the past 20 plus years has worked in aviation law. In August 2001, a few weeks before 911, he went to work for Delta as a chief operations attorney, managing passenger litigation and defending the company for all Fava actions. He then worked as a law firm partner focused on litigation and regulatory matters related to airlines, and for the past 13 years has been at Boeing, where he served in a number of different legal and executive roles. He's an active writer and speaker about the legal profession and specifically his passion for aviation law, which I'm so excited to talk to him about today. He has a blog called The Aviatorlawyer.com. He's taught CLE courses, and he's also working on a book called What I Learned from the Admiral about business and leadership lessons that he learned as an Admiral's aide. So lots to talk about, Mark. And he's also a big fan of the podcast, so it's always great to get to meet fans and bring them into sort of the guest family. Mark's a graduate of the University of North Carolina Go Tar Heels and the University of South Carolina Law School Go Gamecocks. We won't get into any tensions between those two schools. Welcome to the podcast, Mark. Thanks for being here, Jonah.
Mark Fava [00:01:50]:
It's just great to be here. I've listened to the podcast for so long. It does so many great things, not only for law students, but also for lawyer struggling with what are they going to do in their next career, and that's why I was fascinated by it. So it's an honor to be here. Thank you.
Jonah Perlin [00:02:01]:
Fantastic. Well, look, let's start by going back a little bit, thinking about sort of your decision to become a lawyer and go to law school. Let me hear a little bit about that to start.
Mark Fava [00:02:11]:
It's interesting. As a young child, I was a Navy dependent, so dad was in the Navy, and we did some elementary school in Guam of all places. Came back to Charleston in the mid seventy s and didn't have that good of an education. I was lacking a little bit. Got in an 8th grade class and had an English teacher, Mrs. Roby was her name, and she grabbed me. And she said, you're going to do this. You're going to learn English, and, oh, by the way, you're going to go be a speaker at the optimist oratory contest. And I said, I don't want to do any of the above. And from 8th grade, there was the push from an educator to get into some type of oratory. And I went, and I did very well. And from there on to high school and really enjoyed writing. Had an English professor that was really good at teaching me riding in high school, and then went to Chapel Hill in the ROTC and decided to go into aviation. I really didn't want to be on a plane. I'm sorry. I didn't want to be on a submarine and didn't want to be on a ship, which is kind of odd for somebody going in the Navy. But I chose a land based plane, a P Three Orion, which at that time was running around the world chasing the Soviet submarines at the height of the Cold War. So it was a lot of fun. And everybody knows when you're in the Navy, you also get a ground job. So during the daytime I might be flying, or the nighttime I'd be flying. But my ground job, I became the legal officer in the squadron, and that was really where I got by the law school buck so you were a.
Jonah Perlin [00:03:28]:
Legal officer before you ever went to law school, is that right?
Mark Fava [00:03:31]:
Jonah Perlin [00:03:31]:
So talk to me a little bit about that job, because that's something I've never heard of, and that's fascinating to me.
Mark Fava [00:03:36]:
Yeah, it's great. So most Navy units will have what they call a non lawyer legal officer. You go for about four to six weeks up in Newport, Rhode Island. No better place to go for four to six weeks. In the springtime, you go to the Naval Justice School, and they teach you how to process most of the administrative, lower level, what I would say judicial, non judicial actions. And you can even do a summary court martial, but you're always being supervised by a Jag. So that's how got even further, because the Jag at the time was a lieutenant commander. I was a young lieutenant. He would review all my work. Great guy. Another mentor of mine called Lieutenant Commander Hank Molingo. And Hank, when I finished my first squadron tour as a legal officer, he said, look, you're good at being a legal officer. You need to come up to Maine and work on the admiral staff as an aide with me. And I said, I don't want to do that. He said, no, come on up. Maine was foreign to me. I've been raised in the south. So went up there and did that. And from there, two years later, he said the same thing. He said, how about law school? And that's when I made the decision to go to law school, really, because of Hank who went on to become an admiral in the Navy himself and a GW law professor and dean after that. So just a great guy.
Jonah Perlin [00:04:41]:
Awesome. And talk to me a little bit about the transition that happens a little bit later after you graduate law school, of both choosing to and finally getting into aviation law. Right. I know that a lot of people come to law school from a military background and then end up doing things unrelated to their military career. I'm curious about sort of did you know when you graduated law school, like, I want to be an aviation lawyer to the extent that career even existed.
Mark Fava [00:05:12]:
I really didn't. I've always had a passion for planes. I was the kid that would sit at the end of the runway on the weekend and just watch them fly over when there was nothing better to do with my mom and dad in the station wagon, and I was still flying in the reserve. So even though I got out of active duty, I was still going to Jacksonville, and I'm in the backseat. Right. So I'm not a pilot, but I was a navigator and a mission commander in this plane. And I thought, if you love this so much, how can you turn this into a practice area? A clerk like you did for the first couple of years, who was a judge, who actually still is a mentor today on the federal bench in Charleston, and then went to a small litigation firm doing, like many of us, start out with small car accidents, defending them, and then moved on to bigger things that moved. I did work for the railroad CSX railroad, defending train accidents, but really wanted to get into aviation and had a best friend from high school who I actually talked into going to law school was at Delta at the time, and he called me up in the summer of 2001 and said, hey, why don't you come work for Delta? And I said, absolutely not. I've got a two year old. I just bought a lot with my wife. We're getting ready to build a house, all the stuff we know as parents. And and, oh, by the way, I was serving three of a four year term on our local town council. I was in local in politics. And he just said, well, why don't you just come interview with us? So I did, and the rest is history.
Jonah Perlin [00:06:26]:
Wow. In a very short sort of encapsulation of that really foundational part of your life and the beginning of your legal career, you check off so many boxes of things that I hear about cross guests from across the country and across areas. Right. I hear this passion for a subject that has nothing to do with law and then trying to sort of connect that passion with law. It's mentors telling you and kind of having faith in you that you may not even have faith in yourself at that point?
Mark Fava [00:06:57]:
Jonah Perlin [00:06:57]:
And saying yes to things that, frankly, in the moment, if you in retrospect, you might have wanted to say no. And all of those things seem to sort of come together in those first sort of, whatever, five, seven years of your career.
Mark Fava [00:07:11]:
Yeah, absolutely. So I go back, and I talked to the judge that I'd clerk for, and I said, judge, I'm thinking about going to delta, work in Atlanta, how much I love home. He did the same thing. He looked at him and said, if you want to be an aviation lawyer, you got to go to delta. The buddy of mine that was recruiting me said the same thing. He said, listen, there's no downside. Come do it. So I went home to my wife and said, hey, would you like to go to Atlanta? And she said, no. And I said, well, how about if we just go for a couple of years? And I promise you, if you don't like it and we don't get situated there, yeah, we'll come back. And that's exactly what we did and how neat that played out. Little did we know, 41 days after I got there, 911 would occur. So it changed everybody's life.
Jonah Perlin [00:07:49]:
Yeah, absolutely. I also just love that mental mindset shift of instead of saying, this is what I want to do, like, thinking about what's the worst case scenario? And if the worst case scenario is not that awful, then that also can give you comfort in those moments. And that's something that I talk to my students about a lot. Is it's important to think, like, what is my goal? What is the best case scenario? But also think about the downside risk, and if the downside risk is low, that can really be helpful as well. But I really want to hear about this transition to delta 41 days before 911. I think that's, like, just such an important moment. I mean, maybe the most important moment, frankly, in American aviation history. And you have 41 days of experience as a true aviation lawyer at that point. Tell me a little bit about we heard about how you got to delve, but that whole experience. What were you doing? What changed after 911, and what did you learn in those moments?
Mark Fava [00:08:43]:
Yeah, I was working for another phenomenal mentor at that time. The general counsel was a gentleman named Greg riggs. Fine lawyer. If you look at the things that impact my life, one will be COVID, but clearly 911 was the biggest impact. My wife and young daughter, two year old at the time, were still in Charleston, so I was the geo bachelor in residence in or some type of hotel, and we were actually, if you land at the Atlanta airport, right there on the side is the renaissance hotel. It overlooks the airfield, my favorite hotel, because you can actually sit there on a balcony, watch planes land all day long and all night long. And we were there with all of our corporate security people nationwide in a conference room when everybody's pagers started going off. Back then, we didn't have cell phones, but everybody's pagers were going off, right? And we took a break because we didn't know what was going on. And I remember walking outside and the general counsel asking me, we heard a plane and crashed into one of the Trade Center towers. And he looked at me very bizarre, because this guy's brilliant, right? Always thinking ahead. He said, did you watch the Today show this morning and see the news? And I said, well, he knew I did every morning before I came to work. And he said, what was the weather like in New York? I says, that looked like a beautiful, clear day to me. And he just looked at me and said, Something's not right. I mean, he immediately knew that if a plane had hit the Trade Center in the middle of what we would call a VFR Day, a clear day, something was wrong if I had told him it was cloudy from there, we activated our emergency operations center. We got down to grounding every single plane. We couldn't account for one that the last plane was unaccounted for. And we didn't know at the time if it was what was going on. And we were very fortunate at Delta. We didn't have any of the planes involved, but we were watching all of it as it unrolled. And I got to tell you, it was the most horrific thing as a lawyer, seeing it as a father longing to be with my wife and my child at the time, knowing I wasn't going to get there, and realizing dynamically that every single aircraft in the US system was told to get down on the ground. And the Atlanta airport, Joan, I'll never forget this that had been buzzing with jet engine and noise every day. I was there for 41 days, was completely silent for a week. It's just incredible.
Jonah Perlin [00:10:47]:
Yeah. I mean, I think for any of us who are of a remembering age, that is one of those defining moments that will be a defining moment sort of going forward. For me, that was I was a junior in high school, and I remember it like it was yesterday, and I was in the DC suburbs, and we had heard about the Pentagon, and we had no idea that moment was so important. But also what happened sort of in the weeks, days, weeks and months after, I'm sure also whatever you were hired to do sort of goes out the window a little bit when you have sort of that massive, traumatic, huge change to an industry and frankly, to a country in that moment. Talk to me a little bit about what happened next, especially sort of as someone who's an on the ground operations attorney.
Mark Fava [00:11:34]:
It was probably a week or so, as I recall, before we even started flying again. And just getting the whole system back and up and running was just incredibly difficult from a legal perspective. Again, I'm working with one of the most brilliant aviation lawyers at the time. He called me in his office and he said, hey, look, I want you to go to every single place where the terrorists got on aircraft, and I want you to walk from wherever they were to wherever they ended up, go through the gate, go through the security checkpoint. And again, I'm just thinking, there weren't any Delta planes. What are you even talking about? We're not going to be party novice. We're not going to be party in any litigation. But Jonah, back then, all the security checkpoints were contracted. This was pre TSA, so we didn't even have the TSA then. And the way it worked was there were sharing agreements between the air carriers at the airports for the contracts for the security screeners, and we were in those sharing agreements. And one of the terrorists, Mohammed, had come in through Portland, Maine, and connected, and that was our checkpoint. Of all the places, the one place we had a checkpoint. So it was the most eerie thing I've ever done. A couple of weeks later, I was probably one of two people on a plane going up to I visited Newark, I visited Dulles and I visited Portland, talked to the people that were there, interviewed the people, got the contracts for the security screening companies. And sure enough, three or four years later, we were in all those lawsuits. And again, this guy knew, he just knew that was going to come.
Jonah Perlin [00:12:55]:
Yeah. That's the wisdom that I think you get from experience.
Mark Fava [00:12:58]:
Jonah Perlin [00:12:59]:
Right. And the wisdom of telling you young lawyer, right. You're thinking, what am I doing flying to these places to walk through checkpoints?
Mark Fava [00:13:07]:
Jonah Perlin [00:13:07]:
I have a federal clerkship. I have a JD, I have a BA. What is it that lawyer Mark could possibly do in this moment? And it sounds like your supervisor and mentor really had the wisdom to know, no, we need to figure out what our risk is. We need to get those contracts. Lawyer need to be on the ground in person seeing this even before it happens.
Mark Fava [00:13:29]:
Yeah. And again, I tell people that all the time. I used to take like you did. I used to take depositions, and it would just for very small car accidents, and it would just fascinate me to understand that I could tell that the other side had never even been to the intersection because they'd just be asking dumb questions. So here I was, walking the same I knew which gate they'd gone through. I knew when they had gone out of a screening place and back into a screening place. And fast forward to my current job. Same thing when I first started it, I made a mistake and this is to your point so many years later, and I told I was general counsel, my current employer was asking me, how did this even happen? And I said, look, finally, I was always taught, own up to it. I just said, I'm sorry you didn't see this coming. And he looked right at me, and this is Mike Ludig, who is pretty brilliant legal mind. And he said, Mark, I pay you to be in this position to see things and think of things that are going to happen. Don't ever say that to me again. Wow.
Jonah Perlin [00:14:20]:
I mean, first of all, great advice. Second of all, to get that advice, former Judge Ludig, that's something else. That's something else.
Mark Fava [00:14:27]:
I got a lot of it. Very direct advice from Judge Ludig brilliant legal mind and built an incredible law department at the company. But the people that know him will know exactly how he said that, and it was very poignant, but he was right. This is why you're here. You need to be thinking about these things. This is why I picked you. And it was just another reminder of just going back to Delta. Okay. I always need to be thinking what's around the corner, what's ahead, what could happen?
Jonah Perlin [00:14:52]:
Yeah. And it's also that reminder of a word that comes up a lot in my interviews, and it frankly comes up a lot with people who have more experience, which is they're really looking for judgment.
Mark Fava [00:15:02]:
Jonah Perlin [00:15:02]:
Right. They're looking for that. Looking around those corners might be another way to frame that concept of judgment. Such an important sort of skill and mindset for a lawyer.
Mark Fava [00:15:11]:
Right. Identifying the issues and then the judgment about it's not written in any log book, but you better have the judgment to figure out what's the best path ahead or what are the alternate paths ahead.
Jonah Perlin [00:15:21]:
Totally. So talk to me a little bit about sort of either what that role was in sort of terms of what was the litigation like that followed. And then ultimately, I'd like to sort of transition to your time doing aviation law and private practice. But what else, if anything, do you remember about those sort of bread and butter years of doing aviation, working in house?
Mark Fava [00:15:41]:
It was just managing what we all do, right. And what I know you talk about managing the family, okay, I've got to be flying, working nonstop now. I went to what I thought was going to be this cush corporate in house job, and I was going to fly all the way around the world on space A, travel with my kids or my daughter and my wife, and that just went away. There was none of that. No one was going on vacation anywhere. We had a lot of work to do. We had to go back with a trade group and negotiate with the FAA to get rid of a bunch of old cases to enter into a global settlement with them on a bunch of enforcement cases because this new thing called the TSA was coming. So we had to do that. We faced we started to face some of the 911 litigation, and I was still handling the passenger claims, all the other passenger litigation with some great outside lawyers. So it was fascinating. And then on top of all that, Jonah, this was sort of an old school Delta general counsel. And he said, look, one of the things you have to do if you're going to come work for my Georgia company in Georgia is you got to take the Georgia bar. And I was like, oh my gosh, you got to be kidding me.
Jonah Perlin [00:16:37]:
Mark Fava [00:16:38]:
On top of all that, here I am, six, seven years out of law school, going back and studying for the bar exam. And it got to finally got my wife and child there. And I got to a week before the bar exam and I knew my job was contingent on it. I'd been in the job a year. I was taking the Georgia bar exam. And finally I just said, look, either you've got to go somewhere, I've got to go somewhere. So I sent her back to Charleston for a week so I could study for the last week and pass the bar exam. But it was just a great three years and really networking with people, the aviation insurers in New York City, the outside council, and then really getting to know the other lawyers at the other air carriers, which was just phenomenal fascinating.
Jonah Perlin [00:17:15]:
And it does take a village, no matter what that village looks like, right, right. So you were there for about two plus years. Talk to me about the return to private practice. But this time, unlike doing whatever was sort of coming at you, it sounds like you really tried to transition to a primarily aviation based practice in a partnership role. Talk a little bit about how that happened and then sort of what your day to day life was when you moved back to being outside counsel.
Mark Fava [00:17:41]:
One of the lifelong lessons I've learned is you never burn bridges, right. So many of us leave employers, and you should really leave on good terms. And I left the law firm and it was as a senior associate to go to Delta. And two and a half years later, I called the same managing partner back up as a real good friend of mine running my litigation, running De litigation group at the time. And I'd say, hey, Richard, do you remember me? And he said, yeah, I remember you. He goes, how's it going? I said, it's going great. But I said, I'd like to come back to Charleston if the opportunity presents itself. He was very frank. He said, Mark, we'd love to have you. He said, but we don't have any work for you, so if you come back, you can do that. But there's no place on the team. We don't have the capacity now. And at that time, there was one other pilot on the there was a pilot aviator lawyer, former Vietnam guy, who had a very small aviation practice, but just not doing a whole lot of it. And he said, maybe you can take what Dick has and rejuvenate it. And that's what I was able to do. I made the promise to my wife, if it didn't take, we'd come back. I moved her back. I commuted for the last year. We built the same house, cost a little bit more. We bought a lot about a block or two down the street, cost a little bit more, and then I commuted until I got back to Charleston, and then I said, okay, it's up to me. And that's sort of another thing that I tell everybody all the time. Don't sit around and wait. If you want to be an aviation lawyer, then figure out how to do it. And I was very fortunate. So I knew all the lawyers at the air carriers, and I was probably the only person in South Carolina that had worked for an airline as a lawyer. And I knew all the aviation insurers, most of which were in New York City. So I continued to be active in the bar associations group, the air and space lawyer group, and just really started the market. Any opportunity I got to read or to write or to publish about an aviation entity or something in the law, I mean, I published stuff on 911, what it was like to be at Delta. I went and spoke, finally got to speak at the SMU air law symposium, which is the biggest, the premier CLE. And all of that was at great expense, right? Because, you know, when you're doing that, you're not billing hours, right? I had as a goal, okay, I've got to build this presence. I've got to build this practice area. And five or six years later, I did. And it got to the point, if you googled aviation lawyer southeastern South Carolina, I was coming up as the number one hit, and that was a lot of hard people go, oh, you're very lucky. I said, yeah, very lucky. There were several years where I didn't get a bonus because I'd marketed so much, and I had barely met my goal, but I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew where I wanted to be, and that was just fun doing that.
Jonah Perlin [00:20:08]:
Wow, I love that idea. There's the great myth of the overnight success, right? And it's an overnight success that took you 15 years to become or something like that. But we only see the overnight success. We only see when we were sort of corresponding back and forth. You wrote, I remember the day when I was finally quoted in the Charleston newspaper as aviation lawyer Mark Fava. And the fact that you remember that and that that was a goal that you were working toward is such an important lesson, I think, for lawyers and for young lawyers, because the question I get a lot. And frankly, I left big law practice before I got to this point. So I'm curious about your take on it, which is, no matter what you're doing, how do you build that reputation and that book of business? Are there any lessons from your career that you would share with somebody who's trying to sort of think about this task now?
Mark Fava [00:21:03]:
Yeah, absolutely. And this sort of gets back to the book I'm writing and the blog. It's all about what I've learned, right? So if I want to do that, I've got to figure out how other people have done it and take their secrets of success. The newspaper was just phenomenal. I went to this CLE called Marketing for Lawyers, and the one tip I took away from that was, if you want to be quoted in the newspaper as that expert, find the person at the newspaper who has your beat. Find the person that talks about aviation and just start sending them random emails. I'm like, well, God, that's going to be irritating. But I did. I found the person at the Charleston paper who recovered the aviation beat, and I would just say, hey, don't know if you saw this, be happy to talk to you about it, or, hey, saw so and so was coming into town, or this new thing has happened, and never got a response. I mean, it was like four or five months, never got a response. And I was driving to work one morning, and the phone rings, and he's on the cell phone, and he says, hey, Mark, this is John so and so from the posting courier. And I was like, oh my God, this is the person I've been spamming for six months. And he says, did you hear so and so was coming to town? I think it was AirTran back in the day, right? They were coming into town to compete with Delta on the Atlanta to Charleston route and the former airline Airtrand. And he said, hey, you see AirTrans coming? What do you have to say about that? Well, I learned two other things at the marketing CLE. When the reporter calls you, you ask them when their deadline is, and then you get back to them quickly, because if you don't, what are they doing? They're going on to somebody else because they've got a deadline.
Jonah Perlin [00:22:29]:
Mark Fava [00:22:30]:
So I said, what's your deadline? He said, I need to know in an hour. And I said, okay. And I said, I'll get back to you. I pulled over on the side of the road. I googled it. I read a couple of things about it. I wasn't even completely aware of what was going on. And then you give them one short sentence sound bite, right? Not a long. Lawyer dissertation. And I just said something like, it's going to be some big competition for Delta. Well, here I am talking about my former employer, and I think that was the quote in the paper. It was like, aviation lawyer, former oh, God. And they were my current client at the time. So I was thinking, oh boy, I hope I'm not going to get trouble. But it was the next day, it said, aviation lawyer, Mark Fava said and it was just tips that I picked up from this CLE that made that happen.
Jonah Perlin [00:23:08]:
Wow, I love that. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to go from being in house to being outside counsel, even for maybe the same entity? Right. So you're playing a really different legal role, but you're functionally, I think, largely working right for the same client, doing maybe the same cases. What was the difference there? And sort of what did you learn from sort of jumping back and forth between inside and outside counsel?
Mark Fava [00:23:33]:
Yeah, it was great because that was kind of an interesting thing. So when I am inside council at Delta Airlines, the aviation insurers are my we're paying them a lot of money for a multimillion, if not billion dollar policy. And they technically I'm their client, right. They serve the policies. And at the end of the day, we know the law and how that goes. But when the switch occurred and I went to be a senior associate and then ultimately a partner in Charleston, it was the other way around. Right. They were hiring me to do work for Delta and at the end of that, I was the person at the end of the line. So they were my buddies. But again, there was an expectation now that you're not just going to have wine with us and come have a nice meal. Oh, no, you are the employer and we have expectations, and I never will forget it. I got hired to represent Delta on an international case out of Fumachina Airport in Rome. And one of the potential downsides for the case was that the Italian authorities were talking about impounding under their law, impounding a Russian aircraft. I'm sorry, impounding a Delta aircraft at the time because they can do that because Delta had done something they had alleged they had done. So I remember Sunday night, I'm getting ready to fly over to Italy, enjoying probably the Crown room and a nice meal, and the VP from the Insurer calls me and he said, let me just tell you something. He says, you're going over there now. He says, you do not let them impound an aircraft. Do you hear me? And I was like, okay, this is where the friendship is getting into the business relationship, right? Because if that happens, Mark, you have failed. You got it? I was like, oh, okay. So here was the guy that had whine and dine me for years.
Jonah Perlin [00:25:04]:
Right now the shoe's on the other foot, right?
Mark Fava [00:25:06]:
Yeah. And that was something that it hit home real quick that night.
Jonah Perlin [00:25:10]:
Which did you find more fun, being in house or outside?
Mark Fava [00:25:13]:
I think the collegiality of the law firm is great. Like, you know how that is. Just the ability to always be around other lawyers in the morning, to chat with them, to laugh. But the pressures are phenomenal. Right. And people always think, well, if you go in house, it's easy. There's nothing easy about being in house. You have the same demands, the same pressures. But I found it to be much more enjoyable from the aspect of in a business. And I'm at a business advisor learning the business. That was another thing that Mike Ludig told me as soon as I got hired. He just said, you got to know the business. I knew that from being at Delta. And then he said, if they don't like you and they don't invite you to the meeting, you're of no value to me. Okay, I get it. You have to be a trusted partner, but they also have to like you. So I really enjoyed being in house and just still the pressure, still the work ethic, but at the same time, the ability to learn from engineers, learn from business people, finance people, has just been a lot fun and a lot more exposure than doing that in the law firm.
Jonah Perlin [00:26:07]:
Yeah, it's really interesting because one of the things I hear from lawyers all the time, especially from those who are at law firms, is they say the one thing they've found sort of time and again in their career is the more they can learn about their clients business, the better they can represent their client.
Mark Fava [00:26:23]:
Jonah Perlin [00:26:24]:
Ultimately, what you're saying is if you're in house, that's not just helpful to being great, that's table stakes. You have to do that. Is that right?
Mark Fava [00:26:34]:
Oh, absolutely. Listen, when I got the job at Boeing, I knew how to run an airline because I learned from some great people at Delta. I had no idea what they were talking about when they were building planes. I mean, there were so many acronyms. I'd sit in the first meeting and I wouldn't understand half of what was said. It was like foreign language all over again. And I'd whisper to somebody and say, what does that mean? What does that mean? And one of the assistants, one of the executive office assistants said, mark, if you really want to learn the business, you need to be here at 07:00 every morning and go on the boardwalk. And I said, what's the boardwalk? And we had these big old whiteboards, and the whiteboards would be such that you would go walk from place to place and just listen to each different phase of the manufacturing business. Where was the build going on? And you would learn and it would start with all the manufacturing executives and managers, and I didn't really understand that, but, boy, I did it every morning for like six or seven months, and they were all like, what is the lawyer doing here? We've never had a lawyer come here. And I never will forget. Same thing about the third week. No one would talk to me. They're just like, I don't know what he doing here. Just crazy lawyer. And then about the third or fourth week, the vice president, the head of the operation, as we were walking from one building to the other, said, you're not going to leave. You're going to keep coming to these meetings. I said, yes, sir. And then he became my best friend in between the buildings. He would tell me, here's what we were talking about, here's what we were discussing. And I'd say, well, why is this important? Say, here's what that meant. So, boy, within a year, I could be in those meetings and understand the majority of what they were saying and speak with credibility.
Jonah Perlin [00:27:55]:
And I guess you could obviously go back and you had all that legal experience from actually having tried cases and worked on contracts, and you were picking up that additional sort of substance area knowledge of not just sort of aviation writ large, but really narrow planes, right?
Mark Fava [00:28:14]:
I mean, just down to in South Carolina, we start with a piece of carbon tape that comes off a large spooling. We wrap it around these huge mandrels, and then we put it in an autoclave when we bake it, and that becomes the fuselage section of the plane. And just to understand that build and where the parts are coming in from around the world, and who the suppliers are and then who the personalities are in the buildings was just phenomenal.
Jonah Perlin [00:28:36]:
Talk to me a little bit more about that transition to go to Boeing, because at that point, you had been doing this for a little while. You had played a bunch of different roles. What were you thinking when you decided to make that shift and a shift that, frankly, at least looking from the outside has been really successful for you?
Mark Fava [00:28:53]:
We had a DC office, and I got it admitted in DC. I figured out I could wave into DC. Right? So then I could also say I was admitted to practice in DC. I had maybe three or four associates doing airline cases for me throughout the Southeast. We came up with this name. We called ourselves the Southeastern Aviation Law Practice Group. I mean, just something I came up with in the middle of the night, we put it on the website, dropped the star, saying, admitted to practice in DC. I could get on a plane in DC. I'm sorry, in Charleston, and be up in DC. Get on the Metro, and be in the DC. Office before anybody showed up. So it was just going really great. But when I heard I knew Boeing at the time had two suppliers here, and what they ended up doing was we bought out those suppliers and built a multibillion dollar factory, final assembly factory here. And same thing I never will forget in 2010, when nine, maybe fall, when I knew Boeing was coming, I was on an here we go again, aba Air and Space Law Forum board. And I didn't get on the board the first year I went to the meeting. It took me five or six years to get on the board of the forum. And lo and behold, one of the lawyer on that board was a vice president from Boeing out of TC. And I talked to him, and I said, hey, look, I hear you guys are coming into Charleston. Love to love to work for you if you ever need in house counsel. And he said, I don't think we're going to need an in house counsel anytime soon. This was at another CLE in DC. I'd gotten up the courage to ask him, right? And he said, but just give me your card just in case, and let's get another drink. I said, okay, well, at least I tried. No kidding. Six weeks later, this guy calls me out of the blue, brett Gary. And Brett is now the general counsel of the Boeing Company.
Jonah Perlin [00:30:25]:
Mark Fava [00:30:25]:
So between getting hired by Mike Ludic, working for Brett at the time, and then the judge, Ludic has left, and now Brett is the general counsel of the company. And for me, a dream come true, right? The iconic American, if not worldwide, manufacturer of aircraft lands in my backyard. And here I am, and I'm like going, okay, how do I get that job?
Jonah Perlin [00:30:45]:
Another overnight success that took you 15 or 20 years to build, right, to build yourself as Charleston aviation lawyer, and then Boeing ends up in Charleston.
Mark Fava [00:30:55]:
I remember telling that. And the fortunate thing was I was very fortunate. My father had retired from the Navy, had gotten into local politics. He was the chairman of a county administrator for Charleston County post Navy retirement job, and then was a member of Charleston County Council. I had played in local politics. So same thing. Interviewing with Mike Ludig, he says, Look, I got a bunch of real smart former Supreme Court law clerks. I'm not one of those he's. Clearly, I'm South Carolina graduate, just lucky to make a three two, unlike you, Jonah. So he said, I got a bunch of smart lawyer that want this job because why should I give it to you? And this is like on my third interview where I'm walking down the street, sitting in a hotel room. Very awkward with him leaving the law firm at the middle of lunch to go talk to him. And I just looked at him and said, because no one else knows South Carolina like I do. If you want to get stuff done around here, I'm the guy, and I'm the only aviation lawyer in the state. And he looked at me and said, you got me. And that was the end of the interview.
Jonah Perlin [00:31:47]:
Mark Fava [00:31:48]:
And same thing two weeks later. He said, how do we close this deal?
Jonah Perlin [00:31:51]:
Wow. I absolutely love that. I also just love that you were willing to give that answer. We've talked about how you got to being able to answer like that, but actually giving that answer in that moment took some gusto, perhaps.
Mark Fava [00:32:03]:
I tell those people all the time. There were two or three questions at the end of my third interview. That was one that took gusto. The second one was, okay. The first one was, Why are you the person for the job? And then he looked at me and said, I don't even know if you are the person for the job. And then I just said, and this was the gusto one, too. I said, I don't know if I want the job. I mean, I really didn't. I mean, I thought I did, but for seven or eight years now, I'd come back from Delta. I'd finally got the practice. I was going to make a bonus. I had an associate in Charlotte, two in Atlanta, a couple in Charleston working with me on I had this team.
Jonah Perlin [00:32:33]:
Mark Fava [00:32:33]:
And I said, I don't know if I want the job, Judge. And, boy, I'd read that in the book from Barnes and Noble, tell them want the job. And I'm thinking, oh, God, I hope I didn't mess something up here. I went home, and my wife said, okay, your third interview. Did you get the job? And I said, Nah, I don't know if I got the job. He didn't say anything. I said, what was the last thing you told him? I said, Well, I told him I didn't know if I wanted the job. She was like, Are you kidding me? This is your dream, dream job. Yeah, I might have blown it on that one. Maybe I got too heady.
Jonah Perlin [00:33:00]:
Well, whatever. All's well that ends well.
Mark Fava [00:33:02]:
I love it.
Jonah Perlin [00:33:03]:
You've talked a little bit about what you did sort of when you started at Boeing, but before we get to some more general big picture questions to sort of close out, I do want to hear about what it's like, first of all, what an ombudsman is and sort of what that role is like and how much you're drawing on your legal experience. And how much you're drawing on your business experience. I always like to talk about the podcast. I'm very open. I have two young girls at home, and I said to them yesterday afternoon, I'm interviewing an aviation lawyer. And my older one looked at me and said, what do you mean, an aviation lawyer? I'm like, a lawyer that works with planes. And she goes, oh, well, that's interesting. First time she's ever said that about the podcast. And then she said, oh, well, what does he do? And I said, well, he's an ombudsman. And I said, okay. How I got to take a step back. So those of us eight years to 80 talk about what it's like to be an ombudsman at a place like Boeing.
Mark Fava [00:33:50]:
Yeah, it's fascinating. If you think about a university, I'm sure your university has one. Most major corporations are not quite there yet. Almost every hospital has one. And it's just an incredible way to break through a lot of the frustration of bureaucracy if someone has a problem or a challenge. And I was very fortunate that they decided to create this position about eight or nine months ago. And it really is to work with our employees who have delegation authority with the FAA. So we have over 1000 employees that can sign on behalf of the FAA, which is a pretty significant responsibility. Clearly we took some criticism related to that and how can you do that? How can you let employees do this? But it's been part of a system that works very well, not only for us, but for every other manufacturer that we let the FAA, as a regulatory authority now pick and choose those people and approve them and then we trust them. So it varies unlawfully in many respects, right? There's lawyer and then it's confidential. Anybody in that group can come talk to me and it's confidential. But the unloyerly thing about it is it's also based on being informal. No notes, no records. So you're just sitting there talking to somebody that has an issue and helping them work through the issue. And then if you want to take action, you take action with their permission, but you keep their identity confidential and private. And that's the fun part about it, right. That's using the legal skills. I've got a problem, I've got an issue. How do I get a solution that helps the company move forward very quickly, hopefully, and cut the bureaucracy or the frustration, although they have plenty and sometimes I just refer them to an existing look, you're right. I think you need to go CHR look, you're right. I think you need to go file a formal complaint. And that's probably the most satisfying part of any lawyer's job, right? The ability to help an individual. It's great to help a company, but man, if you can have somebody has something very weighty on their head and you can help them work through that, that's what an ombuds does. And there's actually an international on Buds association. I was at the three day convention in Seattle a couple of weeks ago and just a fascinating group, and I'd say about a third of those folks were lawyer and the others are just other professionals that have decided this to be their calling.
Jonah Perlin [00:35:52]:
But do you think there's an advantage to having been a lawyer and practiced with clients and dealing with duties of confidentiality and other related duties to sort of advocating for your clients and things like that. Does that come in into play?
Mark Fava [00:36:05]:
Oh, absolutely. You're using all the same skills, right. So again, the aba. There's an ombud subsection under the Alternate Dispute Resolution Section of the Aba. They're having in two weeks now, the ADR Section of the Aba is having its symposium, and I'm going to go to that again just to continue to network with people and learn. But you're using those skills in terms of knowing the business. Look, when I read the job description, it would have been very difficult for them to pick somebody from the outside because you really had to understand the inner workings of this company and 40 or 50,000 engineers and who's who in the zoo. Not that somebody else couldn't have done it. It was just we agreed to do it and to do it get it up and running pretty quickly. And you're using those people skills, right? You're meeting with people, you're getting them to trust you. I interviewed with the CEO for the job and he says you got two things against you. One, you're a lawyer, and two, you're from South Carolina. And I said, yes, sir, I got it. But I've been able to navigate both of those most of my life. And the first thing I did, Jonah, was get on the plane and I went to Wichita, I went to Oklahoma City, I went to Long Beach, Seal Beach, San Antonio, know, a couple of trips to Seattle, any place where we had this constituency. I dropped them to visit them to try and get that credibility. And I'll start doing it again here in another week or two.
Jonah Perlin [00:37:13]:
Yeah. And one of the things that it sounds like I mean, going back to the very beginning of our conversation and I think it was your 8th grade teacher who told you to go practice your public speaking, right? Is it sounds like you've really and again, I don't want to put words in your mouth, so I'm really just curious about this. But one of the themes that keeps coming up, which I didn't have in my notes, which are always the best themes, is this idea of being in the room, whether that's at an Aba section or in your local council or law firm or at your outside counsel. Do you think that has been something that has sort of defined how you've sort of moved forward in your career?
Mark Fava [00:37:48]:
Yeah, absolutely. Look, at the end of the day, it's all about relationships, right. Even with the most antagonistic plaintiffs counsel, if I can't sit down and have lunch with that person after the deposition or in the middle of trial and try and offload the emotions about that, whatever. Yeah. And I remember doing that in Charleston. People come in and we go to mediation, and then the client would leave and they say, Where are you going? I said, I'm going to go have lunch with posing counsel. And they said, you're going to do what? I said, Let me tell you something. You got a problem. And if you want the problem solved within the next six months, I'm going to go talk to him, because that's how we're going to get this done. And I do think that's how I got my job at Delta. That's how I got my job at Boeing. Right? Delta was high school, buddy. Boeing was aba again. Air and Space Law forum. It really is. That gets you in the door and has been just tremendous to me. And I enjoy meeting people. That's how you establish your credibility 100%.
Jonah Perlin [00:38:40]:
All right, so we're getting close to the end, so I want to ask two or three more questions.
Mark Fava [00:38:44]:
Jonah Perlin [00:38:45]:
And the first one is for someone who's listening, and most of the listeners, or a lot of listeners are more junior lawyer. How can you be an aviation lawyer today? What are the different paths, maybe the paths that you frankly didn't take? What are the kinds of areas of law, either growing or contracting or getting smaller, for that matter, to sort of practice in this aviation space?
Mark Fava [00:39:08]:
Yeah. Well, I will tell you this. At our company, I consider them to be aviation lawyer, but they're every subsection of the law. We have real estate lawyers who manage airport I'm sorry who manage agreements for all of our facilities. We have environmental lawyer who do the same thing with the real estate. We have transactional lawyers who do the multimillion dollar contracts we have every time we sell a Boeing 787 that's over $200 million per plane. You have a contract for 100 of those, like United Airlines just did. You've got some very smart lawyers and transactional people working those. So don't limit yourself to okay, I got to know planes. There's all kinds of stuff. We have a couple of hundred lawyers that have pretty much every subject matter. If you want to stick to aviation, the best advice would be, do like I did. Find the group of people in your state that talks about airplane law and join it and just go hang out there. First time I went to Air and Space, I said, Man, I'd love to one day be on the board or to speak or to help at a CLE. And they said, well, we need help at a CLE. How would you like to be the sponsor coordinator for the next CLE? I was like, oh, man, no one wants to be the sponsor. You got to pick up the phone and call people and beg them for money. But that's what I did, and I did it very well. And three years later I was speaking there, and then four years later, I was on the board. So find the group and then start talking to them and getting to know them. Yeah.
Jonah Perlin [00:40:25]:
Laid Gratification is really a huge sort of superpower for lawyers that I think we really don't want. The other thing that I noticed about, especially your sort of recent teaching, your CLE that you worked on in South Carolina, I think was called What I Learned From the Judge. And your current book that you're either almost finished with or finished with is called What I Learned From the Admiral that tells me that you're trying and really think about what you learn from each experience. And I'm wondering if you could sort of take a step back and think about how you take that advice in such that it becomes a part of you. Because I think for a lot of junior lawyer, it's hard to sort of in the moment see that they're being taught something that they can use. And sometimes we just remember later on. But do you do anything more systematic or any way you think about sort of when people are talking to you such that you can then bring those life lessons out 2030 years later?
Mark Fava [00:41:20]:
Yeah, I think it's funny. It's a little bit of both. Sometimes it's exactly like you said, Jonah. You don't even realize it. You just say, okay, this person does this every time. This is ridiculous. I got to do it because they say I got to do it, and then I catch myself ten years later, I'm doing it every time, and I'm it. I learned this from the judge. This is how the judge practiced law. Totally. And what I learned from the judge was just something the same thing. Here I was remembering things that this federal judge had taught me, and I said, you know what? I'm just going to write an article. And I wrote an article for the South Carolina Bar Journal. I had a bunch of people say, wow, this is great. Someone said, well, can you come talk at our CLE? And I said, sure. What do you want me to do, just talk about the article? I said, I can do that all day. So that was great, right? And then I converted it into a video. So I think to get back to you, sometimes I think in the moment you realize, okay, this is important. I got to keep doing this. And sometimes those things just sort of percolate and simulate over the years. And you say, okay, why am I doing this, and who did I learn this from? And I've just been very fortunate to work for people who were mentors that taught me those things, even though at the time I didn't realize why they were important. But they're traits that I see myself sort of like now I see my dad in me a lot. I was like, okay, dad used to say that all the time. Now I'm saying it. And I think that's why it's been important. If I can pass those things on to others just like others have passed them on to me, it's fun. And that's where the speaking comes in. I spoke to law school class a couple of weeks ago at University of South Carolina, and just fascinating to get up there and pass that along and hopefully little bits of pearls of wisdom can be picked up by others.
Jonah Perlin [00:42:49]:
Yeah, I mean, two takeaways from that answer that I don't want to step on. One, obviously, is you have to put yourself out there a little bit, and frankly, it's not that hard. Right. In the world we live in, if you want to create content or say something, somebody may not listen, but there's plenty of opportunities to put it out there. But plenty of people just don't they don't think, like, they just assume, oh, what I learned from the judge is what everybody else is going to learn from their employer, and it's not worth it. And I shouldn't take the time to put it down. Put it down into words. And if people find value, great. The second thing that you said that really sticks with me is sometimes we're being mentored and we don't even know it.
Mark Fava [00:43:24]:
Jonah Perlin [00:43:25]:
I've had some students recently come into my office, and they say, you think a lot about mentorship. Like, how do I get the best mentor? And I have some answers to that question, but my primary answer is learn from whoever you're around who has a little more experience than you.
Mark Fava [00:43:39]:
Yeah. And like you've said, and I've seen your great posts and your great advice to law students alike is just ask somebody. Hey, because I mentor lawyers and engineers, and it is fascinating. It's actually kind of fun for me and humbling when they say an engineer, okay, hey, can I talk to you? And then putting yourself out. I'm working with Scribe Media out of Austin, Texas, to publish the book and to get in that program, to get accepted by them. You go to a weekend workshop or a weekday workshop first, and one of the first things you have to do, they beat out of your head is you got to tell people you're writing a book because you'll be, oh yeah, right. Rolling their eyes. And they make you write. I am an author. I published a bunch of stuff. But you sort of get out of this. You just kind of embarrass telling people, again, publish a thing. No, I'm an author. I'm going to publish. And it really makes that commitment. But that's where you really are laying it out. And it's so funny because I think the last year when I finally came out on LinkedIn and said, I'm writing a book, I got more likes than anything else I've ever said, right. People are liking it left and right saying, this is great, and I hadn't even published yet, but we're on track to do so by the end of the year, and I've got my own deadlines. And it's been a lifelong goal, but it. Is a risk because I'm like, God, they talk about the fear of that. What if I publish it and no one buys it, or I get bad reviews on Amazon? Oh, well, go to the next book.
Jonah Perlin [00:44:56]:
Right, right. We talked about it earlier. Right. Understanding the downside risk and realizing that the worst case scenario isn't really bad is a huge mental mindset, I think, for sure.
Mark Fava [00:45:06]:
Jonah Perlin [00:45:07]:
Well, look, we're getting to the end of our time, so I want to end with the same question I ask of pretty much every guest, which is just for a piece of advice, something either you share with people who are sort of just starting in our career or something you wish you knew earlier in our career? Earlier in your career. Excuse me.
Mark Fava [00:45:21]:
Yeah, no, listen, I think the one thing I violate the rules here probably give you two things. One thing is the first would be don't ever give up. Right. So the first law firm I worked for was a smaller firm in Charleston, the big law firm I ended up working for. I interviewed with them four times and was rejected four times. My freshman year. No, for a clerkship. My sophomore year, for second year. No, for a clerkship. I finished my federal clerkship. They called me up and said, hey, we want to go to lunch with you. And I thought, oh, this is great. They finally realized I'm the guy, and no sooner than we sit out at lunch, they say, we don't have a place for you, but we just like to stay in touch. And I was furious. I was like, what are you wasting my time? After that, I was still interested. It didn't burn the bridge. I was still thank you very much. Still interested. And I bumped into the managing partner, the same managing partner who I work for. I was getting takeout dinner from my family, going home one night, and you got to go up to the bar to get the takeout food. So there I am waiting for my takeout food, and he says, hey. He says, you still interested in our firm? I said yeah. He said, well, we just had three associates leave. Why don't you come talk to us? I said, Listen, I'm not up for a fifth rejection. I said, So if this is something that's going to happen quick and I'm going to get I've interviewed with people so many times, I know everybody over there. He said, no, I have an offer for you by the end of the week. And that's where I ended up.
Jonah Perlin [00:46:31]:
Mark Fava [00:46:31]:
But so many people would have after three or four or five rejections, and that was the firm that had the DC office, and that was the firm that allowed me to be an aviation lawyer and allowed me to come back back, same managing partner. And then I guess the most important bit of advice is I would tell people is if you're as a young lawyer or a less experienced lawyer, if you're in trouble, ask for help. If you're in trouble at a firm, ask for help because there are people there that will help you one time, and everyone will forget this. I was in default. It was the most miserable month of my life, and I went down the hall. After I realized I was in default. I called a buddy of mine who was the plaintiff's lawyer. My classmate from University of North Carolina asked him if I could get out of default, and he said, I can't let you out. I got a crazy client like, oh, boy. So here the firm is putting the legal malpractice carrier on notice. I'm telling the managing partner, and he just looked at me and says, I got this. I'm going to take care of you. We're going to get out of it, and you just let me take care of this. But just always know you should have come to me a day or two earlier rather than three days later. And sure enough, a month later, he helped me out. So the lesson there is ask for help if you feel like you need it. And secondly, when someone asks for help, help them. Help them, because those are very stressful times 100%.
Jonah Perlin [00:47:42]:
Well, look, Mark, this has been such a great conversation. You've had such an interesting career so far, and I'm sure the new role will present new interesting opportunities. And obviously, all the How I Lawyer listeners now will be looking out for your book. So to the extent you need any more external pressure for deadlines, we can help with that too. But seriously, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
Mark Fava [00:48:03]:
Thank you, Jonah. Thank you for letting me be your guest and for all you're doing for the legal community. Sure. Really appreciate it.
Jonah Perlin [00:48:09]:
Again, I am Jonah Perlin, and this is the How I Lawyer podcast. Thanks to podcast sponsor Law Pods for their expert editing. If you're a lawyer considering starting your own podcast, definitely check them firstname.lastname@example.org. And thanks to you for listening. If you enjoyed the episode, I hope you'll consider sharing it with friends and colleagues or on social media. And of course, if you haven't already done so, please sign up for the email email@example.com or subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts. As always, if you have comments, suggestions, or ideas for the show, please reach out to me at how Lawyer@gmail.com or at Jonah Perlin on Twitter. Thanks again for listening and have a great week.