The New York Law Journal asked four well-known practicing attorneys and judges to share their most memorable moments of shock, embarrassment, triumph or angst during their legal careers. As you read these stories, keep in mind that these four lawyers have a combined 139 years of experience in the legal profession. They survived, and so will you.
Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye of the New York State Court of Appeals graciously provided us with the following introductory remarks:
“I’d like to contribute these thoughts. They’re not technically ‘war stories.’ Time has kind of (and kindly) swallowed those up. But they might interest first-year lawyers and hopefully inspire them to hang in there even when the going gets tough. Some things you never forget — especially as a woman litigator in the year 1962.
You never forget, for example, being told — probably dozens of times — in response to letters and phone calls seeking job interviews, ‘our quota of women is filled.’ You never forget being offered a lower salary than your male classmates at the same firm. Somehow, you never forget being told by a court clerk, ‘Lady, get a lawyer.’ Things like that do immediately thicken the epidermis.
Many years later, as a commercial law firm partner, I joined the assigned counsel panel in the Eastern District of New York and — lo and behold — was assigned a criminal case. Here is the winning argument I devised: ‘If this was a really serious criminal case, they never would have assigned it to me.’ It worked, but obviously [it's a tactic] that can’t be used more than once. You should know that I had a very satisfied client. Some years later, after I had gone on the bench, he contacted me and asked if I would represent him again. Is there any greater compliment? Repeat business! I was ecstatic! When I explained, however, that I had gone on the bench (indeed, the state’s highest court), he was unimpressed. He said, ‘that’s OK. this won’t take much of your time.’”
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