Thirty-Nine Years …
On a lovely Saturday morning in 1981 – as it happens, October 17 – I travelled to Tempe, to Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium – to become a lawyer. (Frank Lloyd Wright designed the building, which was completed in 1950.) With me were my mom and my sisters. (My father, whose father was a lawyer and whose determined nature led me to that place on that morning, was elsewhere.
Grady Gammage uplifts me, always. One of my 10 favorite buildings, easily. And, while the occasion was hardly festive – no balloons or banners or such – the room felt joyous.
We lined up by State Bar numbers, issued alphabetically to new admittees. My number was 007092. The fellow in front of me, who I did not know, was a couple of years older than me. His career and mine came together on many occasions, including a period from 2010 through August 2015, when I was always his father Lowell Rothschild’s partner and during parts of that period, his (Jonathan Rothschild) and his son Isaac’s partner. (Did roughly 7000 lawyers come before me and JR? No, for the State Bar had a screwed-up system in the early years and restarted the count many years earlier.)
After the ceremony, my mom bought us lunch at Oscar Taylor’s at Biltmore Fashion Square. Truly, the IT place then, with an onion ring brick and amazing carrot cake. We had a grand time!
Two days later I started working as a lawyer at Lieberthal & Kashman, then a small Tucson firm. I got my job there because, reluctantly, David Lieberthal agreed to talk with me. (My mom did interior design work for him and his wife.) No job openings! None, he said. And, between my scheduling the appointment and my arrival several days later, the firm’s associate – a fellow named David Ramage White – gave notice, packed up, and was already working for the Pima County Attorney. Talk about good fortune. Had a I called a week earlier or a week later, I might have been out of luck.
David and his partner, Howard Kashman, taught me basic principles which have mattered greatly for me. David, on morning one, shut me up in two elevators. (I’m a slow learner, and I was exactly five weeks past my 24th birthday.) Quiet, why? Who knows who might be listening.
David also expressed, in clear terms, a core dichotomy between good and bad lawyers. Good lawyers offer the court good arguments, supported by law and facts. Bad lawyers offer everything, using the “you never know” justification. The problem? The junk lessens the value of the good stuff. Whenever I offer a court my client’s position, David’s wise words follow me.
Howard’s advice came from adversity: my regular eff-ups. They related, always, to a failure to follow The Rules. Lawyers skate often when we don’t follow the rules strictly, but we send a bad message in those cases and, sometimes, we land on our keesters. That happened more than twice, but never in a way that wasn’t fixable. Still, Howard would direct me to read the rules. Well, along about Time No. 5 or 6, which happened on a Friday morning, I got sent home. With my copy of the Arizona Rules of Court. And a clear – very clear – directive: come in on Monday if you’ve read the rules. If not, don’t bother.
I read the rules. All of them. Local rules for counties in which I have never set foot. City Court and Justice Court Rules. Traffic case rules. Foster Care rules. Etc. I am a better lawyer for paying attention to Howard … eventually!
The rules change often, and what was once about 300 pages is now, I think, more than 1000. I don’t have the butt power to read them again, but I refer to them frequently when we file anything with the court.
The confluence of thirty-nine years motivated me to write this piece. (Truth be told, I have started several pieces about current events, but I don’t think I can offer anything new or noteworthy right now.) Many people have made me who I am professionally, but for this piece attention focuses on the kid who was standing in front of me that day (and his father), and the two men who took a chance on me two days later.
I have written about what happened thirty-nine years ago for one more reason. The day for me – 14,245 days ago – provided a chance to celebrate a major achievement. Years later, and I do not know how many years later, I believe the Arizona Supreme Court cancelled the ceremony. Too much effort. No one wanted to attend. Blah, blah.
Rituals matter. Many new lawyers are first in the family professionals, or even first in the family college graduates. Regardless, we lift up the profession when we honor and celebrate those individuals who will follow us, and maintain a system which, for all of its faults, offers much, much more than a non-existent process.
(The 70s and 80s offers lots of opportunities for very utilitarian approaches. Strip away the fringe. Simplify. Box to microwave to plate works. Not so much it seems!)
P.S. Be well, stay safe, and vote. Vote like re-electing Trump represents an existential threat to life as we know it!