By Larry E. Coben
Special to the Legal
I went to a funeral/memorial last Sunday. I hate memorials, mostly because they make me feel mortal. Yet, on this day, and at that time, I didn’t hate it. Why? Because this funeral was for an old friend, an old law partner, even a mentor to some extent, and yes, someone I hadn’t seen in 20 years. It wasn’t sad for me, but I did feel melancholy. That feeling caused me to write this note to my old partner, Aaron Blumberg. I know it’s too late for Aaron, but it’s not too late for me — or, for that matter, all of you who are reading this article.
Have you ever bumped into someone you haven’t seen in years and stared and thought, gee, I think I know her? Well, that’s what happened to me. The memorial was held in a large auditorium at the Germantown Cricket Club. The room was filled with Aaron’s friends, co-workers and relatives. I sat down after saying hello to a few people I recognized right away. Over the next hour people I didn’t know stood and spoke of Aaron’s kindness, his love for animals and his personal attention to helping the environment. I realized this wasn’t the Aaron I knew. He had evolved; he had become something much more than just a lawyer — and I felt good about that.
As soon as the memorial ended and folks started milling about, the waves of years gone by splashed over me. At once I saw old partners I hadn’t seen in two decades. Staring at these folks, I realized what time had done — we were all so different. Wow, what an amazing experience and realization that time does not stand still. What seemed like only a day ago was actually a lifetime ago. Yet, I remember it like it was yesterday.
In the summer of 1973, while I was studying to take the bar exam, I interviewed for a job. My interviewers were Aaron, Gerry Litvin and Don Matusow. The three of them had been together as lawyers for a little over two years and, yes, they were intimidating. Aaron was bold, sometimes brash and certainly hungry to succeed. I was a “baby” and they took me in and the tough love began. We were four lawyers out to conquer the world!
In those days, the practice of law was so different. We talked, we wrote letters, we “read the law” — in books. It was an era when one lawyer could speak on the phone to another, agree on something and count on it — without having to write a formal stipulation to assure himself that it would “stick.”
Aaron wrote everything out long-hand or he dictated to a secretary or talked into a tape-recording machine. We spent hours and hours talking to ourselves, with nothing to show for it until someone was kind enough to type up our ramblings. No computers. It was our norm. Suit and tie everyday. Three secretaries, one bookkeeper and four lawyers — it was the beginning.
Standing at the reception and talking to old colleagues, there were lots of events and circumstances that flashed through my mind. Days and nights sitting in a law library — yep, that’s what young lawyers did back then — struggling to find one more case that Aaron knew existed. Writing and re-writing every brief, every motion, every interrogatory until Aaron and I were satisfied. It was excruciatingly painful, and yet it was how we learned and succeeded in our respective ways. In those days, we lived the creed that our successes were not measured in dollars, but rather in what we gave and what we accomplished for others. “Not what did he gain, but what did he give? These are the units to measure the worth [of a person].”
It’s an impossible task to remember every day and every interaction you’ve had with another human being. Our capacity to recall life’s small moments is compromised by those competing events which seem to dominate our consciousness. Yet, at the end of each day, we take the measure of our time and draw conclusions from these interactions which are imprinted on our brains. My memories of the years Aaron and I worked together remind me how vulnerable yet strong we were. We coexisted in a world that in many respects no longer exists. Today we live to share each insignificant thought with our small part of the world by tweeting and blogging. Today we embrace friendships via emails and text messaging. People are more reclusive. In many ways it’s an odd evolution.
Aaron, your journey with those people who were fortunate to have known you is the reward earned by you and us.
Lary E. Coben is a shareholder at Anapol Schwartz Weiss Cohan Feldman & Smalley. He has served as lead trial counsel in some of the most complicated civil trials and appellate court proceedings in the country. He is recognized by his peers as a consummate litigator, legal authority, author and lecturer.