It is that time of year when the treacle runs thick. Nostalgia can lead to the blues that can lead to a bout at P.J. Clarke’s that leads to a pounding head in the morning. Conversely, some of you are full bore into booking hours for end of year bonuses and have no time for such shenanigans. Then there are the lucky among us who are given money simply for having jobs — starting with Cravathians and the imitator firms. If you are one of those, good on you; there is no bitterness here — envy, perhaps — but not bitterness.
As I began to outline this week’s column I was alerted to some truly distressing news: Dave Brubeck has died at 91. If you had the pleasure, as I did, of hearing Mr. Brubeck in person, you were touched by the presence of an American treasure and true musical genius. Even if you’re not familiar with Brubeck’s music, his signature piece, “Take Five,” would likely be instantly recognizable. Brubeck was an inspiration for his artistry, yet was a self-effacing and quiet individual. When I was fortunate enough to see him perform, he ambled ever so slowly to the microphone to say a few words. One was concerned the man would topple over given the frail nature of his shuffling. After saying a few words, he’d shuffle back to his piano stool and the power of some greater being would generate through his fingers. He seemed like a man that you would wish for in a grandfather. Of course, news broke today that Charles Schulz had an ongoing affair, but I digress.
The point is that there are some folks who just exist on a different plane from the rest of us, and whom, for better or worse, we treat as heroes. The same can be said of several attorneys in my career. I am certain that each reader could submit their own list of attorneys who have mentored, assisted, helped up, or just been there for us as young bucks as we made our way through the profession….
My own list starts with Judge Judy — yep, that one. When I was contemplating law school, I saw her profiled on 60 Minutes while she was the Chief Judge of Family Court in Manhattan. I was moved to write her a letter asking to intern for a summer, and lo and behold, she allowed me into chambers. Without talking out of school, I can state that her personality is largely same as that portrayed for the cameras – curry no bulls**t, and get to the bottom of the issues. But, the televised judge is not the learned and compassionate person that I experienced. For those of you who have never set foot outside the confines of the Biglaw “cush” in which you exist, I highly recommend spending a day or two in Family Court. It is truly one of the levels of Hell — and at the heart of each case is a child. Not a place for the weak of stomach.
My next inspiration is a Biglaw litigator who took me under his wing, when I desperately needed a hand. This person made his bones in the low paid public sector, and sold his soul for the big time. He is a quiet and unassuming person who happens to be one of the best writers I have ever encountered. No matter how many times I edited the simplest of documents, he could always make it better. This says nothing of his abilities in the courtroom. I have stated before that the best trial lawyers spend most of their trial time listening, especially to the judge. This person knows when to zealously advocate, but more importantly, to shut up when he is ahead. This last skill can take attorneys farther than they realize. Jumping back to Judge Judy and on into my clerkships, the best attorneys could write up a storm, but they knew when to stand quietly at the podium, and like Tiger Woods in the middle of a back stroke interrupted by a flashbulb, just put the club down and listen.
I could write a book about the people who got me to where I am today, now there’s an idea. I am sure that many or all of you could as well. Whether you realize it or not, the law is a relatively small universe — the judge I clerked for in D.C. was best friends with Eric Holder, whose Ob/Gyn wife induced my wife’s labor with our second son. To come full circle with that little ditty, I was recently paired with one of our newer supervising attorneys who is friends with both the judge and Mr. Holder. It is one example of why you try not to burn bridges more than necessary in this profession, and why you should always try to be nice to opposing counsel.
I recommend that, when you come up for air from year-end work, you pour a tumbler of fine single malt, put on “Take Five,” and just groove.
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.