Faithfulness to the trust of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must…study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them. – Francis Parkman, Pioneers of France in New York, Introduction
As Secretary of my co-op’s Board of Directors, I had developed a tradition-defying quirk of taking detailed, chatty minutes. And as an anachronistically skilled office worker, I use a degenerated form of Speedwriting, i.e., primitive IM shorthand, which enables the details and the chat.
In fact, by taking fulsome notes, I would be doing something called Making a Record, even if, that afternoon, I had no reason to think I would need one. That was one thing I did right. The other was to go to the closing.
Showing Up. A big deal. I picked up this knowledge from Dave the Dude, one of the lawyers I worked for. Dave was probably the most scrupulous and most imaginative lawyer I’ve ever known. I learned how to do all sorts of things from watching Dave.
One of Dave’s partners, Baron von Terp, had a huge heart, bled for any victim of any situation. No exaggeration-pretty much every victim in the country came to him for help. So Baron had gotten us involved in several painful personal injury cases I believe none of us wanted anything to do with. (Or maybe I should say I didn’t want anything to do with them. I dislike personal injury law for a number of reasons.)
Baron didn’t do the basic casework himself. (His special role – at which he was nonpareil – was as a closer. Settlement negotiation, trials – this was Baron’s realm. Other lawyers who had been with Baron during settlement negotiations raved to me about his presence, his dazzle, the power in his technique. Baron was awesome, in the original, non-stupid-colloquial sense.)
But as I said Baron didn’t do the day-to-day work. Usually an associate would be assigned to this boilerplate operation. Later, when I descended abruptly into the ranks of personal injury victims, I saw that most p.i. [personal injury] law firms had paralegals doing much of the grind work.
Yet one day Dave decided he himself would attend what seemed to be a really minor hearing for a dreadful vehicle accident that had killed our client’s husband. It was the kind of hearing to which no lawyer with a big name attached to an equivalent ego condescended to attend. Most lawyers would send a first-year associate, or a paralegal, or even a legal intern, if anybody. Most lawyers would figure they could read the transcript of the hearing, later.
Now, Dave the Dude going to that hearing was as if Elijah actually wandered into somebody’s seder, took the seat left empty for him, said “le chaim” and drank deeply from the cup of wine sitting next to his place mat.
I don’t know if anyone at the hearing gasped in wonder at the presence of Dave the Dude, but as Dave returned from the hearing, he plunked a file of notes on my desk and said, “Boy, am I glad I went.” At this very early stage he had learned the key fact that would prove liability in the lawsuit, and would ease the case toward a relatively quick big settlement.
I keep showing up because of Dave the Dude. Showing up and taking notes.