Tuesday, February 16, 2010
‘Dinosaurs’ of LACBA’s Senior Lawyers Section Seek to Preserve Past, Impact Future
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
A large brontosaurus stands in Fulbright & Jaworski attorney Harry Hathaway’s office.
The sizeable plush figure derives from the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Senior Lawyer’s Section logo, which features the image of a dinosaur coquettishly looking over its shoulder. Hathaway is the group’s current chair.
Launched two years ago, the group was the idea of Hathaway, founding chair Patricia Phillips of Phillips Jesser, and David J. Pasternak of Pasternak Pasternak & Patton, all former LACBA presidents.
In forming the group, “we created a parking lot for ourselves,” Hathaway jokes. But in Los Angeles, where the car is king and parking is at a premium, it has turned into a very large, very successful parking lot.
The group, Hathaway claims, is the largest of any section or division of LACBA. Membership is open to lawyers with over 25 years of experience or who are over the age of 55.
He says he initially harbored some concern that potential members would be reluctant to admit to their age by joining, but so far, it has not been an impediment.
Phillips remarks, “Well, 60 is the new 50, or something like that.”
While Hathaway insists the members of the group are “ageless,” Pasternak says “a number of us preferred the concept of being the dinosaurs and poking fun at ourselves.”
Phillips remembers having a spirited debate about the logo, and “had all kinds of cute things, a wise old owl, the scales of justice—sort of drooping—and just all kinds of things like that,” but finally settled on the “dear little guy that is depicted.”
Actually, Phillips says, she wanted a brontosaurus with sunglasses, but the others “drew the line,” so she contents herself with putting a pair of shades on a similar stuffed dinosaur she owns when she takes it out in public.
Hathaway says he has received no complaints about the dinosaur logo, “only compliments” and inquiries as to how to get a coaster, coffee mug or a lapel pin. But, he admits, “dinosaurs have a really small brain, and that’s an issue we never talked about.”
The mascot has no name yet, but Hathaway says the group is planning to hold a contest.
Phillips says she likes the logo because the group wanted to convey that they did not take themselves too seriously.
“We wanted to have fun, we wanted to do some good things, and we wanted other people to know we were having fun,” she says.
Additionally, the group also wanted to address the needs of aging attorneys who “want to continue to do the kinds of things they’ve done before” as they approach the later years of their careers and retirement.
Pasternak says that with “the growing seniority in the bar and in the population generally,” he felt that “there were benefits and opportunities and programs that the bar could provide that it wasn’t doing,” which an organization for older lawyers could fill.
Phillips agrees that “the time had come for us to have such a division,” since “lawyers are working longer, and lawyers are remaining extremely interested in the profession and the practice, in my opinion, for a longer period”
She says that the group “provides support, provides camaraderie, [and] provides a lot of the things that are so important to maintaining your interest in the practice and doing a better job for our clients and the public as a whole.”
Pasternak also suggests that the group “could also act as a retention mechanism,” commenting that “it seems to be doing that.”
He says “it’s the same concept as the Barristers, but at the other end of the profession.”
As a division of the county bar, Hathaway explains “our program is non-substantive,” which he says “I don’t mean to mean worthless, but not involved in the substantive law.”
Most of LACBA’s sections and committees are based on an area of substantive law, but the senior lawyers, Phillips says, are “not limited [to] only talking about the law,” and sponsor events and programs that span a “wonderful variety” of topics.
“We’re a group of lawyers who are interested in the world around us,” she says. “Our folks are people….We need to know what’s out there for us.”
Last year the group hosted a panel on gerontology and memory loss. The topics, Phillips opines, were of importance to members because “several of our own folks have suffered through these things” and “you never can tell when a tidbit you might hear at a session like this could become important in your own practice.”
Not everything the group does involves serious topics, though. Last year the group had a barbecue and took in a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Hathaway says they plan to return again in August, with a caterer, so that one person will not “work himself to death” trying to cook for the group, which he anticipated would draw about 75 participants this time.
Last month, the group also took a trip to the Magic Castle, where Hathaway says he wound up on stage, and the butt of a series of lawyer jokes.
“You know the way they try to rib lawyers,” he says. “But I wouldn’t hear of it!”
Pasternak says that the group also puts on at least one program a year on “something of historical legal significance,” which is part of the “Frozen in Time” series.
“We try not to focus just on history but on impact as well,” Pasternak explains, noting previous programs which addressed the impact of the O.J. Simpson trial and the Manson family murders on the judicial system in Los Angeles County, as well as one about the Warren Commission Report on the John. F. Kennedy assassination.
A program on Michael Jackson’s civil and criminal trials is in the works for some time this April or May, Hathaway adds.
The group has also put on presentations directed at attorneys who are interested in changing the focus of their practice, which Phillips suggests is something that many lawyers consider “getting into something else, something that more fits your frame of mind as you grow older.”
Phillips herself redirected her career by starting her own firm four years ago, at the age of 71.
In addition to serving older lawyers, the group provides mentoring services to younger lawyers and law students.
“Many of us have a little more time to devote to something other than just billing hours,” Phillips says with a laugh. “I really do think at this point in our lives that each of us feels that we’d like to give something back.”
She opines that “folks who have reached the age qualifying or duration qualifying requirements” serve “a very important function” in educating future generations of lawyers since “we’re people who have done it all ourselves and we can talk.”
The group’s next mentoring event is scheduled for March 11, Hathaway says, and will feature various members addressing “matters of interest to new lawyers and senior lawyers,” such as “practice development, rain making, how to get along with difficult judges, how to run a small law office, etc.”
Impacting the Future
One of the group’s main missions is to educate and preserve the history of the Los Angeles legal community and its justice system, Pasternak says, since “it guides the future, it impacts the future.”
He notes that “it goes back 120 years,” which is “a long legacy to preserve,” and contains some things, such as the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s race-exclusionary past, which are “not things to be proud of,” but also “lots to be proud of,” like former LACBA president and U.S. District Court Judge William P. Gray, now deceased, whom Pasternak credits with being largely responsible for opening up the association to minorities.
Hathaway says the group is assuming responsibility for the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s virtual museum, which is available through the group’s website, and “bringing that into the current century.”
MetNews Editor/Co-Publisher Roger M. Grace is chairing the committee charged with developing the museum’s contents and updating W.W. Robinson’s “Lawyers of Los Angeles,” which left off about 50 years ago.
As evinced by the group’s projects, Pasternak emphasizes that the Senior Lawyers are “serious” about their undertakings and are devoted to helping the justice system, but couple that mission with “an opportunity to get together and have a good time.”
The combination, Phillips opines, “really is sort of the essence of life.”
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company