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Editor’s Note: Timothy S. Robinson, 58, editor-in-chief of the NLJ from 1978 to 1989, died on Oct. 7. A former NLJ editor pays tribute to him here. Way too many years ago, the editorial staff of NLJ had a curious custom. Everyone who went on a trip had to bring back a souvenir: a shot glass. The returning traveler presented the trophy to the newspaper’s then editor-in-chief, Timothy S. Robinson, who, with an air of ceremony, added the glass to his vast and burgeoning collection. Robinson, who presided over the paper from 1978 to 1989, died earlier this month of post-operative complications of the sort that provide source material for many of the stories that run in these pages. He’d probably appreciate the irony. The little shot-glass ritual says a lot about Robinson. With a shoestring budget and a newsroom that made a college newspaper look posh, he cobbled together a staff of adventurous and smart people, and he took pleasure in their exploits as he sent them out into the world, both for work and hard-won vacations. Every Wednesday night, after the editorial deadline, the staff would put those shot glasses to good use, knocking back a bit of Maker’s Mark bourbon. Chartering a new frontier Back then, legal journalism was a new and pretty radical concept. The popular press covered sensational trials and followed business litigation in a superficial way. Meanwhile, traditional legal publishers put out useful and dull treatises and newsletters that narrowly stuck to developments in, say, heavy equipment tax depreciation. But the NLJ and its then-archrival, The American Lawyer, were poking around in places that had never seen public scrutiny. They reported associate earnings and the poaching of partners, and weren’t afraid to point out strategic mistakes and ethical lapses among lawyers. Robinson was the perfect editor for the job. He came from the mainstream press-in fact, if you watch the last sequence of the film All The President’s Men, you’ll see his Watergate stories move over the teletype. He brought to the NLJ mainstream journalism values. We actually wrote about legal affairs in normal, if somewhat formal, American English (he insisted on the use of honorifics). There were catchy headlines and decent photos, not just the group shots from the local bar association. And every now and then, people would get angry at us. Risks and hard work When it came to hiring reporters and editors, Robinson showed a wild, maybe even reckless, streak. Well, he probably was a little reckless when he hired me-with little experience and no journalism school credentials. But Tim seemed to think chemistry was more important. After three interminable interviews, I finally won him over by telling him about the writers I liked and confessing to my tabloid addiction and my offbeat musical tastes. It was hard work, for all of us. We drove the reporters, but they got something out of it as well. Robinson let all of them pursue their obsessions. Like most good editors, he knew that a reporter doing something he or she is passionate about will do a better job than someone on assignment. Tim got something out of it, too. He was a son of the South but he loved New York, and it loved him back. When he moved away, he left behind legions of sad restaurant owners, waiters and bartenders. He saw it as his sacred duty to visit every hot restaurant, and he somehow felt compelled to tell us about every morsel of every menu d�gustation he’d enjoyed. And he wanted to educate us. Born and raised in Alabama, he’d have barbecue shipped from near his hometown and invite us over to his Brooklyn Heights apartment. The shredded stuff looked to us Yankees like a bomb had gone off in the middle of a pig. Tim had the perfect job, but after some 11 years at the NLJ, he felt he didn’t have the perfect life. He and his new wife left the Big Apple and moved to the West Coast. After a stint at a rival legal publisher, he and the infant Internet found one another. He retooled for the digital age, and he and I would have occasional bursts of day-long e-mail dialogues. The only bad thing I can say about Tim Robinson is that he took that damn collection of shot glasses with him. How I’d love to see every last one of them raised in a toast to him today. Anthony Paonita is executive editor of Corporate Counsel.

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