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Where have you been to? Where did you go? Did you follow the Summer out When the Winter pushed its face in the snow? Or have you come by again To die again? To try another time. – Tom Rapp, “Another Time”

The arc of Tom Rapp’s life and careers conjures up all the bittersweet irony of one of his songs. Just consider the case of a ’60s singer and songwriter whose influence has been cited by Kris Kristofferson and Elton John. He has become a musical cult figure years after quitting the business in 1976 because he was virtually broke with no visible prospects for a turnaround. The erstwhile performer took the advice of friends and channeled the social conscience he put into his music into a different medium: the law. He gave up selling popcorn at a movie theater, earned a law degree, became Thomas D. Rapp, Esq. and discovered success in quiet research and the crafting of words for motions and briefs “that get other lawyers through the courthouse door.” Whereupon Rapp’s music was “rediscovered” and he began getting invitations to perform at concerts around the world. Rapp, 54, laughs: “Where were all you people 30 years ago?” He, however, has no intention of chucking the law for the concert stage. “I am a lawyer-musician, not a musician-lawyer,” he says. “My calling is in the law.” In an age of computer-driven boilerplate paragraphs that can be plopped on the page of a brief with the click of a mouse, Rapp’s legal writing is as calculated to reach his audience as any song he wrote when he was performing with Pearls Before Swine. “Poetry teaches the enormous force of a few words,” wrote Emerson. Harnessing that force for his clients, Rapp says, continues to challenge him: “It’s a question of putting the words together and getting it right.” Rapp acknowledges that words alone, without roots in legal theory and precedent, are worthless to a client. Precedent still trumps poetry. That said, Rapp maintains that lawyers who put a case together like a mechanic assembling a car are foregoing the chance to advocate for their client. “Lawyers who don’t take the opportunity to say something other than boilerplate in their briefs are ignoring their audience,” he adds. “The person reading it may be a judge, but he or she is still a person. In a complaint it is still possible to say things in a way that tells a story and is musical even if it is based on a lot of little paragraphs.” Consider, for example, the opening paragraph of a memorandum worked on by Rapp to support the plaintiff’s response to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment: “The facts in this case are a record of the kind of horror story that is hard to believe happens in this country 35 years after the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.” Passionate? Certainly. Hyperbolic? Perhaps. Likely to catch the reader’s attention? Definitely. The memorandum marshals the facts of a Philadelphia sex harassment case in a way that justifies the language of that opening paragraph. And there is a brief he wrote in the case of a retail manager who was fired after his superiors learned he had AIDS. It touches all the legal bases of any other workplace discrimination brief but doesn’t pass up the chance to remind the reader — the judge — what the case is about. “Plaintiff’s position was a great solace to him in the face of a diagnosis of HIV, which could have crippled his spirit without that support,” Rapp’s brief reads, adding that “in a civilized community, it is an intolerable wrong to abandon the sick and put them out to die.” Rapp and his client, Leonard McNemar, lost at the federal trial court and at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which at the time was the first circuit to consider the issue of AIDS discrimination in the workplace. The Supreme Court refused certiorari but later validated Rapp’s legal theory behind the McNemar case with its unanimous decision in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp., 119 S.Ct. 1597. “Shortly before his death he gave me a red AIDS ribbon that I still have,” Rapp says. “The decision was unanimous and validated our position. I wish Len had been around to see it.” Philadelphia civil rights lawyer Alan B. Epstein, who hired Rapp out of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and for whom he worked for 17 years, says his former prot�g� has a “troubadour’s view of history and for the type of law we are engaged in.” “It isn’t just a matter of words or poetry,” says Epstein. “Tom picks out the right approach. He has a songwriter’s feel for understanding the essence of a situation, for looking at a situation’s circumstances, the factors and law at work, and that makes him a lot different than a lot of other people out there.” NORTH DAKOTA NATIVE Born in North Dakota, Rapp spent his early years there before he and his mother moved to Florida and settled in Melbourne, about 20 miles south of Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Coast. He began writing and performing in high school, and by age 20, he and some friends formed a group with the name Pearls Before Swine. He wrote the songs, arranged the music and played lead guitar. In 1967, Rapp and company scraped together about $1,500, cut a demo and shipped it to a small record label in New York. The resulting “One Nation Underground” sold an amazing 200,000 copies, and Pearls Before Swine was on its way. Critics called the group’s music “acid folk”: the acoustic guitar-dominated sound of the ’60s, ornamented with traditional string, wind and percussion instruments then rarely used in rock music. Rapp’s songs sounded the common themes of the time — the Vietnam War, drugs, alienation — with a bittersweet edge and more than average literary allusions. Despite a reputation among the folk-rock cognoscenti, each of Pearls Before Swine’s next eight albums sold steadily less as the popular music industry coalesced around a market-driven middle-of-the-road. By the mid-1970s, Rapp was living in Woodstock, N.Y., with his first wife, Elisabeth, and his son, David, struggling to make ends meet and fighting over money with his producer. He quit the business in 1976. With his musical career over and his marriage breaking up, he took a job selling popcorn at a Harvard Square movie theater and began thinking what he wanted to do with his life. Two friends who had recently become lawyers suggested that he go to law school. “I already thought that they did good work,” Rapp says. “They suggested that it was a way for me to continue working to change things for the better.” HIGHER EDUCATION Rapp enrolled at Brandeis University in Boston, graduated magna cum laude, then studied law at the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn in the early ’80s, as a senior, he heard about a part-time opening for a legal researcher with a small local firm. The interviewer was Alan Epstein, who remembers being impressed with the depth and flair that Rapp brought to his research. Then came 1984 and graduation. “He was going to go back up to Boston,” Epstein recalls, “but he wasn’t really happy with the type of work he was going to be doing. I wasn’t sure that we could really afford him, but I finally asked if he would consider coming back to the city to work in a socially oriented practice. “He made the choice, and it was the start of an enduring professional and personal relationship.” It was only later that Epstein, 56, a gregarious, frenetic man who wears his ’60s liberalism as plainly as the long curtain of white curly hair framing his balding head, realized that his Tom Rapp was the Tom Rapp. “It was after a little while that I put two and two together and asked him and he said yes, and then it was, like, ‘Oh wow,’ ” Epstein recalls. Though the original firm — Jablon, Epstein, Wolf & Drucker — changed names and personnel several times, Rapp had found his professional home. There he met and married his second wife, Lynn Madison, who had been working as a paralegal for Epstein. “He liked what we did, working in a private law firm with a social conscience and playing with the Constitution,” says Epstein. Playing music resumed four years ago when Rapp got a call from a rock music magazine publisher in England. The caller told him that his first two albums had been reissued as CDs in Europe and were selling well. Would he like to perform at a small-scale alternative rock festival in Providence, R.I., called Terrastock? He did, joined on stage for songs by his son, David, and his ex-wife. Since then Rapp has played several concerts, recorded one CD � “A Journal of the Plague Year” — and made periodic appearances at small Philadelphia clubs. In September 1999, the Jablon Epstein firm announced its merger with the Philadelphia firm of Specter, Gadon & Rosen. The change and the demands of a larger, busier law firm coincided, Rapp says, with his and his wife’s growing desire to return to Florida. “The whole Gulf side of the state is very laid back and undeveloped,” Rapp says. “Here things like land are pretty cheap.” About three years ago, he says, they found an older house for $75,000 that had everything they were looking for: a slip on a saltwater canal with access to the Gulf, privacy afforded by surrounding orange groves and orchids growing around the house. Rapp these days is studying for the Florida bar exam and interviewing with law firms. “This area of Southwest Florida doesn’t have a very big federal presence,” Rapp says. “I think there is an unmet need for employment discrimination people here.” Ideally, Rapp says he’d like to find a firm that would allow him to fill a niche similar to the one he filled with Epstein’s firm in Philadelphia. Although he has gone into court during his career, Rapp says arguing a case before a judge in a courtroom “gives me the heebie-jeebies.” It’s an unusual admission from someone who has performed before and talked to audiences of thousands. “My wife saw him perform a few years ago,” says Epstein, “and she says she heard Tom talk more on stage than in all the years she has known him.”

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