Paul Shechtman
Paul Shechtman (David Handschuh/NYLJ)

The legal community knows Paul Shechtman as a brilliant trial lawyer, appellate advocate, scholar, and writer—with good reason.

Paul attended Swarthmore College. He excelled academically, but his college memories center on meeting his wife, Bonnie Yochelson, and playing basketball. After graduating, he attended Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. According to Paul, he studied “Marx,” as in Groucho. He and Bonnie married in her parents’ backyard. Meanwhile, he starred on the Oxford basketball team so that he could dominate the courts of England.

Many Rhodes Scholars go to Wall Street. Paul went to a juvenile detention center, where he taught reading and math. He left for Harvard Law School. His law school roommate, Lucas Guttentag, says: “Paul’s unrivaled intellect was matched only by his humor, modesty and warmth. He has always been able to brilliantly explain the most complex concepts in simple and captivating ways—all tied to his unfailing instinct for the critical facts.”

Paul clerked for Judge Louis Pollack and Chief Justice Warren Burger. Paul spent most of his clerkship competing on “the highest court in the land”—the basketball court atop the Supreme Court building.

Paul then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. He and Andy Levander made the road trip to the City. In Levander’s words, “Paul has been a remarkable star of the New York bar since we rented a truck together to move from D.C. to New York in 1981—he can do it all and do it well and with grace.”

As a prosecutor, Paul thrived: In court, he was quick; in investigations, he was methodical. (As he often reminds me, “God is in the details.”) He also displayed an uncommon sympathy for the human condition.

Paul completed his criminal justice pedigree in the state system. He was counsel to District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Never content to sit behind a desk, Paul streamlined arrest and arraignment procedures and built software templates for criminal complaints. He spent late nights doing intake on arrests. He second-seated green ADAs on misdemeanor trials. I suspect he is the only Burger clerk to prosecute umbrella salesmen for unlicensed vending. After six years at the DA’s Office, Paul went to Albany as Director of Criminal Justice for New York state under Gov. George Pataki, where he and Jim McGuire worked to improve the criminal justice system.

Paul joined the defense bar in 1997. He has continued his public service on numerous state and federal committees. His work on the Federal Rules of Evidence prompted Judge John F. Keenan to remark: “In my 61 years at the Bar and on the Bench I have never known anyone more knowledgeable than Paul Shechtman in the areas of evidence and criminal law.” Judge Gerard Lynch says, “Paul is one of the best brief writers, one of the best trial lawyers and one of the wisest counsellors both of private clients and of public officials,” with “the quickest mind in the game.”

Along the way, Paul has taught for the past two decades at Columbia. The students adore him, giving him Columbia’s award for outstanding teaching—twice. Dan Richman explains, “What attracts them, besides Paul’s wisdom and entertaining delivery, is his love of law in all its glory—as living doctrines nested in institutions that sometimes disregard them.”

Given his career, it is no wonder the Law Journal has given Paul its lifetime achievement award. But if one asked Paul to describe his lifetime achievements, he would tell you about Bonnie’s art history scholarship, his daughter Emily’s dedication as a social worker, and his daughter Annie’s writings. Or he might tell you what he shot at the golf course last weekend.

Twenty-five years ago, when we were together at the District Attorney’s Office, I wrote this about Paul: “If we write a little more clearly, if we speak with true passion, if we think with a little more daring, it is because Paul has been our teacher.” Those words remain true today.