Law Clerking

In 1964, I was in the early part of my third year in law school, usually a time when one has to “suit up” every other day and sit in a waiting area for a 20 minute interview with some pompous third year associate from a law firm in Oklahoma which is in the market for one or two “fresh meat” new hires, young folks that they will work some unconscionable number of hours and then, after the 4th year, keep only very few of them.  Third year is disjointed by the churning job hunt and third year students are on a roller coaster (“Oh, I found the perfect firm, but it is in Southern North Dakota – and they haven’t even made me an offer… On to the next preposterous possibility…).  But, things broke differently for me, purely due to Irish luck.  As I worked one afternoon in the office of the Harvard Voluntary Defenders, sorting out scheduling and trial assignments in my role as V.P. of Operations, David Bogen stopped at my desk.  David was in classes with me and we had worked together on interviews and cases related to the Harvard Voluntary Defenders.  David asked how I was doing on the obligatory job quest and I replied that I had just had a mind-bending encounter with a Buffalo law firm and the salary was up in the clouds but the prospect of Buffalo winters was appalling – and no offer had yet arrived.  David said, “I am going down to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in about an hour, as I have an appointment with one of the Justices about a clerkship there for next year.  Why not tag along with me and see if any of the other Justices might interview you on the fly.  Have you thought about a clerk position?”   My grades were only B level grades (thanks to doing paid market research work nights the first year and Voluntary Defenders work the second year) and  I had not thought about clerking.  David pointed out that clerkships were almost routinely grounds for a draft deferment, rather like a student deferment from the draft, an important matter back in that time with the Vietnam war really starting to crank up. So I tagged along with David and we rode the MTA to Scollay Square in downtown Boston and then rode the elevator to the next to the top (14th) floor of the 50 year old “new” Courthouse.  The top (15th)  floor was for the Clerk of Court’s offices, John E. Powers, a famous former kingpin legislator now made Clerk.  But, on the 14th floor, a Court Officer showed David Bogen to one of the Justice’s offices and then took my name and resume around to see if anyone wanted to interview me.   A few moments later, a blue haired lady of imposing manner and girth came and got me and she ushered me into the chambers of Justice Paul Reardon, then about  10 years on the Court.  His office was down the hall from that of Justice Cutter (whom it later turned out was an old friend of my dad) and the office of Justice Wilkins, the Chief Justice.  Both had been on the Court for over 25 years, and the Court itself dates back to the mid 1600s.

Justice Paul Cashman Reardon was a tall craggy fellow, with an easy casual confident demeanor.  He wanted to talk to me about baseball and about Hingham, Massachusetts, where I had grown up and my folks were.  Reardon was from Hingham, Massachusetts and lived a big house there on the edge of World’s End Island near downtown.  He was an Irish Catholic Republican who had been big in the campaign of Governor Christian Herter and had been cajoled out of his big-firm berth and onto the Court a decade earlier.  He was very active in the American Bar Association and the head of a prestigious ABA committee on “Fair Press – Free Trial”.  The committee was full of jurists and big name lawyers from around the country and Reardon, as Chairman, was pushing to get published a paper that would lay out the boundaries for lawyers seeking to “try their cases in the press” – which might thereby “poison the well” for juror selection.   After it became clear that my familiarity with baseball was minimal, conversation in Reardon’s chambers seemed to lag.  I went back out to await David Bogen’s emerging from his interview.  We were both donning our raincoats when a Court Officer appeared and asked to sit down and wait for a few moments.  He then reappeared and announced that we had “both made a sale today” and that each of us was being offered a clerkship which would start Mid September in 1965, some 3 months after law school graduation – and the Bar Exam.  Bogen stated that he accepted and I asked what the pay was (because I had absolutely no idea).  The Court Officer laughed and said that it was $7,200 a year, which was a princely salary in that day.  Except for the tiny hurdles of getting myself past the Massachusetts Bar Exam (about a 65% pass rate in those days) and my getting the draft board to issue me a draft deferment for the clerkship, my third year interview blues had ceased.  I was (conditionally) employed.

The rest of third year of law school, relatively speaking, I had time on my hands, so to speak.  I did not have to interview for a job!  In March 1965 the Dawson-Elkins Bar Review Course commenced.  Four days a week, we review students were in class at a Boston seedy hotel basement, with 4 huge legal sized thick books of course materials which we had to study after class.  We were learning all the practical nuts and bolts stuff of law practice, i.e. statutes of limitations for Massachusetts, rules of the commercial code for Massachusetts, criminal procedure and estates and trusts under Massachusetts common law and statutes…  We were still in third year Harvard Law classes during the days, but those classes taught us what the rule on a certain problem ought to be, or what it had once been in Indiana as compared to New Jersey, and maybe a hundred years before.   Family law, estates, criminal procedure, divorce, and other subjects had not been addressed in the lofty-toned classes at Harvard Law School.   In the middle of the frenetic pace of third year classes combined with night-time Bar Review efforts, I accidentally solved the issue of my summer employment.  Next door to the Harvard Voluntary Defenders offices, where I spent a good part of each day, was located the office of the Harvard Legal Aid Society, peopled with 30 students whose grades did not quite get them into the 30 best students who had gone upstairs in Gannett House to be part of the Harvard Law Review.  Legal Aid work was the only clinical practice (real law for real clients) opportunity other than the Defenders office, of which I had been a very active part for two years.  The secretary (Joanie) who ran the legal aid shop recruited me.  Legal Aid law students worked up divorce cases (6 grounds and 7 defenses) and landlord tenant cases.  Usually those same students took the cases before the Judges in the Suffolk County and Middlesex County Courts. During the summer, Boston law firms would loan a new hire to legal aid for a few afternoon hours one day a week, to do client meetings and such work up of cases as needed for a full time go-to-court guy to then bring the cases to the Judges in both County Courts.  Legal Aid needed to have a third year student during the summer who would take 25 or 30 cases a day to trial in the lowest civil courts in Massachusetts, the very courts in which I had been doing criminal trials for 2 years.  Joanie had seen me doing all the Defender work and she suggested me to the Board of Legal Aid for the summer go-to-court slot.  It was an opportunity to get compressed courtroom experience, judging witnesses’ credibility and eliciting testimony on the run, and coping with some of the most crusty and pompous judges in Boston.  I jumped at the chance.

In September of 1964, I started as law clerk for Justice Reardon, who turned out to be a wonderful teacher and a courtly well-connected fellow in the labyrinth of Boston’s legal world.  He knew everyone in the Statehouse and the the Legislature and he was a scholar besides.  I my first week, I was asked to commence research and the drafting of opinions on a case involving a clamp left in the abdomen of a 70 year old surgical patient whom it caused the death of, a bone lodged in the throat of a lady customer at the Blue Ship Tea Room in Boston when she ate her fish chowder lunch, and a search and seizure issue in a criminal appeal.  Justice Reardon would receive and read briefs in cases and then sit through the oral arguments in those cases.  In a conference meeting with the 6 other Justices, the Chief Justice would get the sense of what the votes and concerns were and would assign cases to one or another of the Justices for the writing of the decisions.  Reardon would call me in, hand me the stacks and piles of papers annotated by him as to each to-be-decided case, saying:  “We have got 3 coconuts and 4 good ones this month.”  He would lay out the direction for the opinion to take, suggest 3 or 5 of the key cases that charted the way in which he wanted the opinion to be arched and inclined, and leave me to it for 2-3 weeks while he went to Washington and New York for ABA committee sessions and read briefs on the next month’s coming oral arguments.  One floor below, the 13th floor, we seven clears (one per Justice) had desks in a long run-on office that had 2 dividers.  I was officed in a long room on the 13th floor divided into 3 sections, sitting with David Bogen and James Sharaff, 2 classmates of mine from Harvard.  In the Center Room was David Rideout, law clerk to the Chief Justice.  In the next room were three more clerks, one of which was the only woman clerk, Judy Olans from Boston University Law School.   The camraderie among the seven of us was great and the Social Law Library was located all around us, occupying the remainder of the 13th floor.  The experience of parsing the submitted briefs, doing the research, demolishing some of real lawyers specious arguments, finding the perfect case, writing 4 or 6 drafts of each opinion before getting to one that Reardon would then pick apart and raise to new heights was amazing and exhausting.  The blue haired lady whom I had met on the 14th floor before was Reardon’s 20 years in place secretary, Helene Flynn.  She typed everything that I wrote (word processing was 30 years away), corrected my spelling, counseled me on turns of phase that the Justice liked, made his travel plans, and shuttled papers to his home in Hingham or to his summer home on Boot Pond in Plymouth, to both of which I periodically had to journey as well to defend my writings or carry source books  to the Justice (no copy machines).

Every Friday, all of us law  clerks would traipse down three blocks from the Courthouse Building to the Locke Ober Restaurant.  Locke Obers was a very expensive 150 year old iconic restaurant in Boston but, once a week, lunch was “all you could eat clam chowder”, with all the bread you could eat, and iced coffee without limit.  We never missed it.   Well into my 9 month stint as Reardon’s law clerk, an amazing event occurred.  In February of 1966, I was working late at my desk when, at 6:15pm, all the lights went out, and not just in the Supreme Court…  All the lights in Boston and in all of New England went out.  The Northeastern power grid had suffered a meltdown and a waterfall progression had then shut down the electricity for 5 States – and for 4 hours the City of Boston and the suburbs all around it were dark.  Jim Sharraff and I realized in a few moments that some cataclysmic event had overtaken the region or maybe even the Nation.  We hunted in the dark clerks’  office for candles or a flashlight, but found none.  We mounted the back staircase in pitch darkness and arrived at the floor where Justices Spiegel and Woodbridge were at work…  They had in a desk sealing wax for applying the Court Seal to documents and some string – so we built 3 candles out of what was available.   Then the 4 of us hiked down 14 floors in the dark staircases with 70 year old Justice Woodson in the lead, holding the candle, and singing some Methodist Hymn at the top of his lungs,  til the ground floor was finally seen. The Justices shared one of the few cabs to be found.  Jim Sharraff and I walked over to the Charles Street Bridge (about 2 miles) then across the bridge past MIT (about 2 miles) then on to Cambridge where I lived at Putman Square (about 2 miles).  We did not sing – and it was a long cold walk but there were people out on the stoops of the row houses and they gave us hot chocolate and donuts.  The power was restored in the morning.

In March of 1966 I visited my good friends, Lee and Elaine Dushoff, in Philadelphia and met by chance his brother, Jay Dushoff Esq., who was visiting him in Philly.  I did not know it then, but that casual encounter would lead to my moving to a job in Phoenix upon my return from The Peace Corps in 1969.  The war in Vietnam was ramping up rapidly in 1966 and I was pondering what to do about serving in the armed services… .  When I told Justice Reardon that Lawyer Jay Dushoff had invited me to come out to Phoenix to visit so as to see the Wild West and get a sense of the law opportunities, Reardon mused: “Phoenix?  That is somewhere West of the Adirondack Mountains I believe.”  Phoenix was a long way from Boston in every sense and when I visited Phoenix in April 1966, I found it overly warm, eerily empty on its streets, and culturally a wasteland compared to Cambridge Massachusetts.   I was not very interested.  When I returned to Boston in April 1966, it was clear that God himself could not get anyone serving as a law clerk another draft deferment.  It was clear that the end of the Clerkship in July would mean that either I entered some officer corps in some service or I reported to my draft board to have an M16 placed in my hand so that I could bring it to bear upon some foe in some rice paddy in South Vietnam.  During January – April 1966, I investigated the various armed services and found that no one really want lawyers to serve in the scarce Army or Navy or Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) positions.  I looked at the Peace Corps but it only had bee-keeping in Swaziland or mollusk raking in Micronesia to offer and I was not interested… The Coast Guard has had a hallowed history in Massachusetts’ past and my Judge had some connections there.  The Coast Guard handled the patrol boats on the Mekong Delta and coast-patrol boats in Vietnam, but they had some JAG positions.  I passed the physical tests and the physical exam.  I passed the written exam and then the oral exam and I was due to step up in three days and to bring it all to a close by raising my right hand and swearing in.  It meant 5 years “before the mast”, as that was the minimum for new officers   AND   there was a big problem.  While this was the most attractive service opportunity for me, the Coast Guard made it clear that it was 50/50 likely as to which assignment I would get.  I had a 50 percent shot at a berth in the Aleutian Islands where I would be in a cold base with about a hundred-plus residents and I would handle routine legal matters for 5 years in remote isolation.     OR  I would be sent to Vietnam after a little training and I would captain an 80 foot long river patrol boat on the Mekong Delta, where the opposition knew your schedule and location at all times and like to mortar the boats at odd moments.  No one could say how long that might last (or how it might likely end).  This is essentially what John Kerry ended up doing…

Three days before my scheduled Coast Guard swear-in, mail arrived in my mailbox at 29 Putnam Avenue.  The Peace Corps had a brand new ( and radically different) program on offer!  They were going to train 60, but keep only 30, new lawyer and city planner volunteers.  The 30 volunteers would go to Venezuela and be “spear carriers” for (i.e. first assistants to) the very first ever City Managers in Venezuelan Cities.  Some 30 Venezuelan guys, selected from the petroleum industry, were  shortly to report to Covina, California to get training on how to then be a City Manager in their native country.  They would “parachute” into the chosen cities in Venezuela where the City Councils had promised to throw out corrupt Tamany Hall style administrations.  These young Venezuelan guys would be on the front lines of taking the corrupt administrations to a new clean status, something like our better managed cities in the United States.  This promised adventure and it was only 2+ years.  I was fluent in Spanish.  I wanted to travel and I wanted to learn a new culture and to perfect my Spanish.  I had had a girlfriend from Chile for several years and my language skills were pretty good.  I made a call or two, reflected on the fact that, if I failed in the training such that I got dropped from the Peace Corps program, I was going to Vietnam, likely as a grunt carrying an M16, and I told the Coast Guard that I was not swearing in …  I pitched myself onto the Peace Corps program although I knew that it was questionable that my draft board would go along with this.  If they balked and said that they would give no deferment to allow me to do 2 years in the Peace Corps, I would go to Vietnam as a grunt.  Peace Corps accepted me as of late April, and the clerkship with Justice Reardon would soon end in just 2 months then I would have 2 months or so free before starting life in the Peace Corps.  Though much of that time would be consumed in struggles with my draft board in Plymouth, in which my dad as a WW I veteran would end up taking a role for me, I needed a job for July and August of 1966.  Through the Judge, I snagged a position as the head of research for the Elliott Richardson for Attorney General of Massachusetts Campaign,  Suddenly I was running a squad of about 30 Harvard Law Students and former classmates who cranked out research papers on hot topics that Richardson needed to be prepped and ready on.  I worked like a demon and used to meet Richardson’s limousine on some remote street corner, sit in with him going over research papers written for him, getting new assignments from him, then get out at some corner in Dorchester and find my way back to Headquarters on the hill next to the Statehouse across from the Atheneum.  I would assign the new papers and chase getting them done and to Richardson.   In the closing three weeks at the end of August 1966, I sold my car, bought a bicycle, went off to the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, sleeping on beaches for 2 weeks, seeing the sights.

It all worked out.  I started training in late September 1966.  I survived the Peace Corps culture training, language training, physical training, and I ended up reporting for placement in the City Council Offices in Barquisimeto, State Of Lara, Republic of Venezuela, in mid December of 1966 after 3 months of intensive round the clock training in the San Francisco State University.  That is the subject of the next post.

Clerkships are fantastic challenging training for one’s life as a lawyer.  Justice Reardon died about 10 years ago.   Dave Bogen became a law professor.  Jim Sharraff married the heir to the Little-Brown Publishing Company and lived a great life in Boston, steeped in book-reading and learning.  Sharraff died just about the time Reardon did.  The Courthouse is there still today.  I receive invitations to go back and attend meetings of law clerks who have served the Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court – but have never gone to any of those meetings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *