You can learn a lot just by hanging around and keeping your eyes and ears open. At least that’s been my experience.
I joined what was then Jacobs, Jacobs and Grudberg [with or without the PC, I’m not quite sure] in 1976. I had just finished two years with the US Attorneys Office in New Haven which I’d joined after a number of years as a Public Defender in Washington, DC. Before that I’d worked with Legal Services, first in Florida and then in Washington.
I’d grown up in Stony Creek before the infusion of lawyers, doctors and architects and, after college, lived away for more than a decade. Growing up, I didn’t know from lawyers. No one in my family was one, knew one, or, as they would say, Thank God, ever needed one. The only lawyer I ever knew about was “that guy Jacobs in New Haven. You go to him if you’re in trouble.”
And so, when I got the chance to work for Jacobs, Jacobs and Grudberg, I grabbed it. The only firm I ever knew–real lawyers who went to court and did real lawyer stuff–wanted to hire me. Here was an opportunity to learn from and work with real pros. You just don’t turn that down.
It’s worked out well. I have learned a lot. And not just law. I learned about kvelling. That’s Yiddish, I’m told, for glowing with pride, particularly at the success of others. [This was something the nuns at St. Therese who taught the public school kids in the church basement on Thursday afternoons had not discovered within the covers of The Baltimore Catechism.]
Kvelling is a wonderful, satisfying sensation. It is, however, for the most part, unavailable to the young. It’s something you have to grow into. Parents know it. They know it when they recognize their child’s accomplishments. Not the good grades or the athletic feats; but rather the development of character traits and values, signs that we’ve done our job well.
I learned about kvelling first when I came to this firm and the senior lawyers enjoyed–really enjoyed and took pride in– the modest successes of a young lawyer. Howard, Ira and Stanley then, all acknowledged in a very paternal way, whenever I or any of us young lawyers did something well. It was never a direct compliment. No, not that. But it didn’t have to be. It was more like, “Judge X, was saying nice things about you”, or, “That was a good result”. You felt their pride in what you had done. And you savored their approval.
Now that I’m a good bit older I know that the only thing better than being on the receiving end is being the one who kvells. [Yes, Sister Mary Agnes, I’m actually kvelling. I explain it to you later.] I’ve had no shortage of opportunities to do so here in our firm. I suspect other firms are similar. It is such a genuine thrill to watch young lawyers develop. You watch as their knowledge becomes skill and, then, best of all, skill grows into judgment. You watch them learn from their mistakes. Learn that silence is often better than speaking. That deflection is sometimes better than confrontation. That understanding the other person’s perspective can be the key to resolving problems.
We’ve had, over the years, any number of people–lawyers and staff– who have given us the opportunity to kvell. We enjoy their successes as they grow from young people into mature adults. They have families. They become responsible citizens. They tackle problems in their personal lives and deal with them maturely and rationally.
As for the lawyers, there’s nothing better than watching their professional growth. You watch them become more confident. You see them gain the respect of their clients, their adversaries and the judges before whom they practice. Our firm, like many, has been blessed in this way. Some have moved on and we enjoy believing we have influenced them in their careers.
The ones who are here, of course, we enjoy the most. For them we can kvell on a daily basis. They raise the level of what we do and often we have to strive to keep up. Their successes are really our successes. We react to them with great pride. Our pride is based, at least in part, on our belief that we have actually had something to do with who they are and what they accomplish.
We are, as they say, entitled.