This came in the mail yesterday. It’s wildly misleading.
Well… I did pay my dues for 50 years. That must have been a factor. “Service” is another matter. Does it count if I only practiced (keyword) for 9 months?
Last week I noticed my old firm’s name roll by in the credits of Woody Allen’s latest film, Café Society. Yep, Loeb & Loeb is Woody’s legal counsel. How fitting. My experience at the firm was like something out of one of his films. On my first day, Goldie Cohen, a secretary for one of the senior partners, told me that as a goy I would never understand what was going on at L&L unless I knew a little Yiddish. She offered to provide some informal tutoring, so whenever I passed her desk she offered up another Yiddish morsel. Meshuga, eh?
L&L and I parted amiably in December of that first year and I resumed flying airplanes, something more suited to my temperament. I briefly resumed practice (there’s that keyword again) in Utah 30 years later, including a whole new bar exam and background check, but I should have known better. Two years later I jettisoned the law permanently.
My new status as an honored member of the California Bar comes on the heels of a visit Boalt Hall and the Berkeley campus, where I spent three very enjoyable years. Hard to believe but true. I had a great time in law school. I learned a few critical thinking skills, made a bunch of lifelong friends, lived through the Free Speech Movement (one of the iconic periods in America’s democratic experiment), and lived in the downstairs room of a family home on Panoramic Drive with a view of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate.
At the end of my first year when I missed the cut for the California Law Review (top 10% of the class) by three places, I settled into a less frantic mindset and began taking advantage of other things offered at one of the great universities of the world. Each day I picked one campus event from the listings in the Daily Californian to check out. I went to free lectures by famous writers and historians, watched artsy films by aspiring filmmakers, and attended concerts given by students, faculty, and visiting musicians. I had a motorcycle for transportation, shopped at the Berkeley Coop, swam in the UC pool, worked in the law library, drank beer at Larry Blake’s Ratskeller, and flew A4’s on the weekend with the Marine Reserve squadron at Alameda. What’s not to enjoy?
It was a raucous period in America. Good and bad. It was a time of experimentation and increasing freedom. The Pill was liberating both sexes from the fear of pregnancy. Timothy Leary and the Summer of Love were happening across the Bay in San Francisco. Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Santana were kicking it. Vietnam was heating up and in November of 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Last week Marilynn took this picture of me on the landing at Boalt Hall where I first heard the news of the horrific event that signaled the loss of innocence for our generation.
Last week’s swing through California was more than just a nostalgic revisit. I hadn’t been back to Boalt in years and it was a reacquaintance of sorts. Fifty years is a long time. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but there have been changes. The law school campus plant is more than twice as big as it was when I was a student, although the student body is roughly the same size. There are more and better clinical programs and opportunities for specialization, and there is a more diverse faculty and student body.
There were four women in my class. Now more than half the entering class is made up of women. On the negative side, Boalt’s tuition for instate residents was $48,679 in 2016 while mine was essentially free.
Is today’s education any better than it was in my day? I doubt it. It might be more practical in some respects but law school was never meant to be vocational training. Is today’s student body any smarter? I doubt that too. I’d match my class against any in the school’s history, even though three years after I graduated, Jim Hill, the Dean of Students, told me I probably wouldn’t have been accepted to that year’s entering class – and I was a scholarship student for three years. My timing was perfect. As Malcolm Gladwell reminds us in Outliers, timing is everything.
It was fun to visit Berkeley again. Marilynn hadn’t been with me when it was the center of my life and though she knew how important it was to me I wanted her to see and feel it too. We spent two hours walking through the halls at Boalt. For me it was like visiting an old home and seeing the changes since I lived there. For her it was gathering up another piece of the puzzle of my life and setting it in context with the events of that time.
And, though the landscape of the UC campus and the architecture of the law school were interesting to both of us, the best part of the trip was connecting with some old law school friends. On consecutive days we shared meals with a bunch of friends I’ve stayed in touch with over the years, including Jerry and Nancy Falk. Jerry whose first job after graduation was to clerk for US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was ranked first in our law school class. After his clerkship in Washington he returned to San Francisco where he has enjoyed a long and prestigious appellate practice.
On our way to visit other friends in Palo Alto we had lunch with Carl and Margarit Vogt, and in addition to the law school connection Carl and I flew F8 Crusaders in the same Marine squadron. Always a political junkie, Carl ended up practicing at Fulbright & Jaworski in DC where, after a distinguished career in private practice, he was appointed Chairman of the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and later as the interim President of Williams College.
Across the Bay in Marin County, where I attended a travel writers conference, we stayed with my old friends, Darryl and Martha Hart. Darryl and I had worked for Loeb & Loeb (Woody’s firm) as our first jobs out of law school, and when I left to go fly airplanes for Pan Am he left to work for Leon Panetta who was then Chief of Staff for California’s Senator Thomas Kuchel. After a few years in DC he returned to SF where he and a friend franchised Earle Swenson’s small Russian Hill ice cream shop and turned it into a successful national chain.
And last but not least, we got to spend time with our friends Dick and Kit Duane. Dick had a general practice in Berkeley for the same 50 years that I was paying my inactive dues and it’s where they have lived, in a cozy, unpretentious home, on Virginia Street in the Berkeley flats for all those years. Dick and Kit never left town, but it would be hard to find a more sophisticated couple. He and I catch up with each other a couple of times a year, but there is nothing like a real visit. They’re always doing something interesting. This spring they completed the final stage of a multi-year pilgrimage along the Camino Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Their two kids are respectively a writer (novelist and NY Times columnist) and documentary filmmaker. Kit, herself, is a book editor. They live well and simply and I admire them greatly.
As I was writing this I had pause to reflect on another thing these four couples have in common. Jerry and Nancy, Carl and Margarit, Darryl and Martha, Dick and Kit have all been married from between 45 and 51 years. Impressive.
We had a good trip and on our last day in Berkeley Marilynn and I walked through Sather Gate and around the UC campus. I loved being back and I know she enjoyed it too. It’s been a long time since those nights at Larry Blake’s. Now our tastes run more to Corso or Chez Panisse, but Berkeley is still Berkeley and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for it and the friends I made there more than 50 years ago.