The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Advocatus Volubilis Minimis: A Birthday Bonus for the Lesser-Booming Barrister

(Photo from The Clarence Darrow Foundation).

Back in the summer of 1988, I worked for a brilliant, irascible at time, but mostly kindly criminal defense lawyer. Stanley Teitler died in 2005. In the acknowledgements to First Amendment, First Principles, I called him, quite accurately, "my first mentor in the law."

Now, in the summer between first and second year, Columbia Law School actively discouraged us from taking summer jobs. The theory was that we needed to recover after the rigors of first year, and to prepare, if we had been lucky enough to make a journal, for the rigors to come. But (a) I needed the money; and (b) I wanted something to do that summer that would be interesting. So, in those pre-internet days, I wrote to every New York City lawyer who did criminal defense who was listed in the huge volumes of Martindale Hubbell (remember those volumes?).

I got one letter back, from Stanley.

His single associate, Michael Coyle, whom I'd met on the debate circuit when he was senior and I was a freshman at Fordham, prevailed on Stanley to give me an interview. We clicked, and I found someone who was a magus in the law. Unlike most small firms, he had a full law library of his own, and used it. He had studied at Oxford, and was a firm believer in the importance of criminal defense work--having been a strong Assistant US Attorney first. I learned an enormous amount from him (and Mike) in that summer.

He had a strong reverence for Clarence Darrow, and had, on the wall of his office, a print of the famous portrait of Darrow by Nickolas Muray above, with Darrow's autograph underneath.

I could yarn about Stanley for a series of posts--and maybe I will, because I see very little online to commemorate him, beyond the brief obit, and his name as counsel on some cases, some important, others less so. The advocate's art, John Mortimer contended, was even more evanescent than that of the stage actor.

John Mortimer had his archetypical criminal defense lawyer Horace Rumpole describe himself as "advocatus volubilis minimis, "the lesser-booming barrister."

He's not denigrating his own talent or skill, just saying that lawyers of his kind are a rare species, and their wins and losses soon forgotten, except to the principals they represent, and, if they have been acquitted, they want only to forget those hours of fear and shame. I touched on these themes in depicting the funeral of Anthony Trollope's criminal defense Mr. Chaffanbrass, in the first chapter of Phineas at Bay.

Stanley was one, too, and, in the part of my career when I was an advocate, strove to warrant, in my days as an advocate, the honorable title "the lesser booming barrister."

For my birthday this year, la Caterina bought me a framed print of the Darrow photo that looked down on me when I was first learning how to litigate, from a brash but brilliant master of the art.

It'll be good to have Darrow looking over my shoulder again.

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