29 January 2014

The Law is Going to the Dogs: My Story

My previous post about a New Jersey criminal trial produced a larger positive response than any I can recall. Many said they loved the lawyer “war stories”.   Oh boy, as Jimmy Durante said, “I gotta million of em.” Most of the stories one hears at legal meetings or at dinner parties are half and half, i.e., 50% real, 50% bullshit.  Mine are guaranteed 98% real, 1% forgotten minor details, and 1% just plain exaggeration.

Recently, a friend sent us a YouTube video of a talking parrot, and I emailed her this response:

“Lee, thanks for the parrot video. I too have dealt with talking animals. Here's my story:  

Many years ago, I had a Weimaraner who “sang.”  If I sang, she mimicked me by whimpering, howling, crying, whatever sounds a dog can make that track human pitch.  Blue II was simply adorable.  

So there I was, a young litigator at a major NYC law firm, and my boss partner takes me to a meeting with this big time real estate developer who has a litigation problem.  Big powwow. (One of my clients referred to meetings of this kind as “Elephant Fucks”. When I asked him to explain, he said there were three characteristics in common: I) the meeting takes place at a very high level, ii) there is a lot of trumpeting and foot stamping, and iii) nothing happens thereafter for a very long time.”)

Okay, back to this particular conference. The distinguished elderly client insisted it be for lunch, at his penthouse. The group was large, as these assemblies tend to be.  Present are the client, his son, his CEO, his in-house lawyer, an outside real estate lawyer from another firm, that lawyer's young partner, the real estate partner from my firm who brought in the client, the litigation partner who is my boss, and me. Maybe some others.  I am estimating at least10-12 people at the long table. One thing I recall with dead certainty: I was the lowest guy on the totem pole, and while the client is at the head of the table surrounded by legal poobahs, I am at the other end of the table--in the cheap seats.

We all sit down to lunch but before the butler brings out the first course, out prances a Weimaraner who sits down at the client’s side.  The dog is drop-dead gorgeous—he could be twin brother to my Weimaraner, Blue II. The client’s pooch has a dripping wet muzzle, which the realty tycoon gently wipes dry with his starched linen luncheon napkin. The other guests are appalled. I chuckle. It is exactly what I would have done.  The client apologizes to the group.  He explains that he puts out water bowls, but the pooch prefers to drink out of the toilet. I cannot believe this and struggle to cope with Rule One in the Young Associates’ Handbook for Conduct at Client Meetings:  “Do not speak unless you are asked a direct question.”

But I simply can not help myself. It’s like talking about your child. So I ignore the facing double row of higher-ranking meeting attendees, and address the client at the other end of the table directly: “Amazing”, I volunteer, “I have a Weimaraner who is a double for yours. And she too loves to drink out of the toilet.  Indeed, if we leave the toilet lid down, she whines until we lift it for her.”

Here we are in the Situation Room, and the Generals and Admirals are silently fuming at the Corporal who, unbidden, dares speak directly to the Commander in Chief. And about dogs, yet!

Too bad for them. The client is now into this. He tells me he too has tried the close-the-toilet-lid maneuver and been whimpered into submission by his beautiful blue-eyed dumb-child. From that point on, the real estate magnate and I might as well have been the only people in the room.  After some more dog stories, he tells me his dog sings! He demonstrates: He croons, and the dog lifts his nose to the ceiling, opens his mouth, and croons. The client howls and the dog howls. The client whimpers, and the dog imitates him. The rest of the meeting attendees are struggling to hide their eye-rolling mockery of this performance.  I, on the other hand, am astonished by this parallel. I tell the client my dog does the same! He gives me a skeptical look. So I croon and there are clacks of toenails on the polished oaken floor as the dog approaches me, sits down at my side, looks at me with those gorgeous blues, and croons! I howl and the dog howls. The client cheers.

The other lawyers at the table are now beyond furious. They are gnashing their teeth. No business is getting done and the lowest guy on the totem pole is monopolizing this very important client.

We ultimately did get down to business and the problem was solved. I do not remember how, but what I do remember is that some time later the client got into a problem with the District Attorney and called me, now a first year partner at my law firm. I helped him. A few years later, the client's son had a business problem and he called me. That too worked out well.

I am not sure, but my mentor, the partner who took me to the first meeting, just may have been a bit out of sorts because the client called me and not him. But hey, he did not have a Weimaraner.  He didn't even have a dog!  Served him right.

Another stepping stone in my career at the bar. Do I owe some of my success to my darling crooning Blue II? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, loved that pup. She is in my pantheon of best friends.”

A bientot.


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