In 1981, after a clerkship with Judge J. Joseph Smith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Judicial Circuit, and then seven years at the Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison law firm in Manhattan, I joined a newly-born Manhattan ‘litigation boutique’ law firm as a partner. When my friend Bill Pollard subsequently joined our little firm, it became known as Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard (“KVWP”).
For three and one-half decades I practiced law at that firm, with my partners Dan Kornstein, Howard Veisz and Bill Pollard, and with other colleagues. KVWP closed its doors on August 28, 2015 because of an expiring long-term lease. Two days before KVWP closed its doors I gave the following remarks at a celebration of the firm attended by all staff:
Ours was a small firm.
Yet there are those who loved it.
For two of us, Dan and me, for 35 years more or less.
For all those 35 years, this was a true partnership. A rare and precious and fragile thing.
It was a partnership that was governed and held together not by a partnership agreement – we never had one – but instead by friendship, by mutual respect, by trust and by shared values:
Not grab the bucks.
Not do it the easy way.
Not crack the whip.
Not wield the axe.
Not sharp elbows.
Not public relations and marketing.
Rather, our way was to strive:
To do excellent work.
To do work that would persuade and, at the same time, delight.
To help each other.
To treat everyone here as the valuable person they are.
To accommodate people’s needs.
To give everyone meaningful work.
A word about justice. Many of us went into this profession because we had a sense of justice and wanted to serve it. This firm never lost that sense. In choosing what cases to take, and in choosing what cases not to take, our sense of justice played a role. And in many of our cases over the years, we actually got to champion justice – for example, in our many civil RICO cases in which we acted as a private attorney general pursuing fraudsters and their truly criminal corruption.
Speaking personally, the first new case I handled at this firm, back in 1981, was the Stuart Liebowitz auto insurance corruption case for Aetna. That fraud was causing a great deal of harm to the general public and to the insurance industry in New York, and that fraud was stopped dead in its tracks by a preliminary injunction that we persuaded Judge Pratt in the Eastern District of New York to grant. Judge Pratt’s findings led directly to Liebowitz’s arrest, and he was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison. Our Liebowitz case for Aetna was the first case ever to obtain any relief under the civil RICO statute, and for me it was the beginning of a National civil RICO practice.
The last case I handled at this firm in which a decision was entered, just last week, was the Huguette Clark case. In that case a bunch of well-to-do, extremely distant relatives tried to enrich themselves further by challenging the Will of Huguette Clark, who they barely knew, and by making outrageous claims of elder abuse against our client, Beth Israel Medical Center, which had provided loving, compassionate and effective care to Ms. Clark for two decades, enabling her to live to 104, and to live more happily during those two decades than at any other time of her long adulthood. The Court last week dismissed all claims against the Hospital.
Those two cases are fitting bookends.
I am very proud of what we did here over 35 years. And it’s not our accomplishments in court of which I am most proud – although those accomplishments were considerable. In some cases, they were historic. In many, many cases they were extremely satisfying, and truly memorable.
I am most proud, rather, of what we did, what we created, what we were, here in our office, day to day, as we worked together, often on difficult issues, legal or otherwise.
I am most proud of the environment we created, a place where, as I said before, people treated one another well, people helped one another, people valued one another, and people reached beyond law, to literature, to poetry, and to justice, among other things.
And I’m proud of the fact that we made payroll, every week. Not one week in 35 years and more did we fail to pay our people, and we paid decent, living wages. And when we could, we paid fine bonuses. A lot of families ate and lived good lives because a breadwinner worked here.
And I’m very proud of the fact that we held out against, we resisted, the cog-in-the-machine nature of law practice all around us. I think it’s fair to say that no one here felt like a cog. And when we had to do that kind of work, we hired contract attorneys to do it.
Maybe all this is why everyone here, everyone in this room, has been here for some considerable period of time. Let’s review that, person by person, alphabetically by last name and group, which is how Toby keeps these records:
Karina, 15 years
Elba, 15 years
Nick, 9 years
Katy, 18 years
Cielo, 21 years
Elina, 9 years
Louis, 23 years
Carmen, 8 years
Toby, 16 years
Ian, 7 years
Yvonne, 10 years
Jeff, 13 years
Al, 24 years
Kevin, 25 years
Larry, 22 years
Amy, 10 years
David, 8 years
Mark, 21 years
Joel, 8 years
Thank you, each one of you, for sharing all those years with me.
We have been through a lot together. Consider the changes in technology that we have been through together. First, there was the telephone, which I was OK with. Then came the fax machine, which I grudgingly came to accept. But then it got out of control. E-mail. Cell phones. The Internet, whatever that is. Social media. The obsolescence, and demise, of books.
Fortunately for me, you all accommodated me, and allowed me to function here, despite my issues with technology.
Despite personal eccentricities like that, which we all have, we long ago became comrades.
We created, we co-created, here, together, something beautiful.
That beauty is now complete.
Let’s celebrate that beauty.
And at the same time as we celebrate it, let’s go on to new adventures, at new places, and try to create there some fresh beauty, building on what we learned here, in our minds and in our hearts.
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On September 1, 2015, I began practice at Duane Morris, LLP in Manhattan. If you want to learn more about my law practice, please click here.