Plutarch and Tony Serra


It seems as though all of my heroes are getting long in the tooth: Gerry Spence and F. Lee Bailey are in their 80s. Tony Serra is 79. Even John Williams is in his seventies. I don’t know why I thought great trial lawyers would be immune from time’s always fatal hammer.

Perhaps I was hoping great arguments would yield immortality. Perhaps I thought I too could escape the clock’s final tick.

I think alot about mortality in the summer, of all times. My wife and I take a long vacation each year. Returning to work gets more and more difficult. I fuss and whine three or four days before we return. “I’m not sure I can do this much longer,” I say. My wife tells me I’ll be just fine.

I never believe her.

I try to imagine retirement. I have no problem thinking about how I’d fill the time. There are whole libraries of books unread. My border collies have taught me volumes I can share with our next dogs. And I’ve always fancied myself a walker – why not go coast to coast? Or learn a new language or two? Hell, I still harbor hopes that I might learn to write fiction.

We pack boxes of books each vacation, and, when I return, I am saddened that so many of the volumes still remain unread. There just isn’t enough time.

The first few days back in the office are a species of Hell. Folks who have waited patiently for a phone call are patient no longer. The younger lawyers in my office are frantic and in need of guidance. My office manager acts happy to see me, but I suspect she finds things easier when I am gone – one less mess to clean up, or so I imagine her thinking.

The weight of the next trial suddenly seems oppressive in ways trials don’t when they are lined up one after the other. After a day or two of trial somewhere, things settle down. It is the nature of a trial lawyer’s calling to be required, day-in and day-out, to rise and meet the next day’s evidence with good cheer and determination. Courtroom adversaries are good things; they are antidotes to laziness and complacency.

So I stumbled back into the office this year and fell immediately into the completion of a post-judgment custody trial. We finished it, and I slept like a baby. Then came a criminal trial, the jury already picked and evidence set to commence. I was glad, all of a sudden, to be back. I’ve more moods than New England has weather, and, like the weather, the moods change rapidly.

A good friend sent me a story the other day about Tony Serra, at 79, appearing in court in a complex criminal case in San Francisco. The author of the article speculated this might be Serra’s last trial.

“Not so,” I protested. There’s still sand left in his hourglass. I imagine Serra arguing with passion and dropping dead some day in a courtroom. Or is it myself I imagine so departing?

“Come home with your shield or on it,” Plutarch reports Spartan mothers to have told their sons as they left for battle. We old men need similar admonishments. Vacation is over. It is good to return to the fight. As I tell associates, the fight is all there is.

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