Returning to New Haven

Ten years ago, it seemed like a good idea to pack up and leave New Haven. So I did, starting my own law firm and moving my office out to Bethany. I was looking for a little tranquility, I suppose. Although I did not realize how much I would miss the Elm City.

So this week, my office began the process of moving back into the city. We’ll be located not far from the courthouses downtown, on Orange Street, almost within the shadow of the FBI fortress, a brooding sort of mass, encircled by spiked fences, and accessible only with permission. I look at that building and see an occupying force. Big Brother lives in a box.

 The truth is I am longing for a sense of roots; returning to the city has been like responding to gravity. I’ve been on the move for too long.

The lawyers in my office travel the state, rarely appearing in the same courthouse, unless in trial, two days in a row. I’ve acquired a decent ability to estimate travel times from one courthouse to another. It’s an hour and 22 minutes to the New London Superior Court, for example; an hour and 10 minutes to Danbury. Danielson is almost two hours away, but the drive is relaxing, so who is counting?

I imagine a life in one town as more settled, more satisfying.

“Hey, we own the courthouses here,” a young lawyer told someone when learning of my firm’s return. “What do they think they’re doing?”

News flash to this spud: You want it; earn it. Hold on tight, if you can.

I’m looking forward to morning coffee at Rick Silverstein’s office on Elm Street. He pretends to be a misanthrope, but he’s not. He sports a gruff exterior, but has a heart of gold. He’s a brilliant trial lawyer and a loyal friend. I’ve missed seeing him, and I intend to correct that as soon as possible.

I suppose I will see more of Willie Dow, too. He’s an institution in New Haven, but, truth be told, he’s never been more than a phone call away. The man has been unfailingly generous to me each and every time I’ve called for advice and counsel. Perhaps now I’ll be able to buy him lunch. I promise not to drop in on him, though. He’s too busy for casual traffic, I suspect.

And of course there’s Jim Nugent, tucked away in that monstrosity known as the Gold Building on Church Street. Jim’s an old friend, and a fantastic personal injury lawyer. Years ago, we struck a deal. He could come with me to criminal trials, and I’d teach him what I know. In exchange, I’d get to pal around with him at car accident cases. He learned to try a murder case, all right. Me? I never did sit through an entire car accident case. I guess I just like crime more.

I like the restaurants, too, of course. I read somewhere not long ago that New Haven was a foodie’s town, with plenty of great choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ll test that theory, I suppose, although it’s hard to beat the food cart just outside the courthouse on Elm and State. Just give me a barbecued chicken kebab; hold the bread.

But the best thing about returning to the city is being within walking distance of the city library and the library at the Yale Law School, the latter of which will let local lawyers use the facility. I’ve always regretted not spending more time in the law school library. The last time I logged serious time there was researching the murky history of title to the New Haven Green. Libraries, like bookstores, are windows on the world.

My wife resisted the return to the city when I first mentioned it. I leave the house early in the morning, and don’t often return until well after most folks have had supper. Until recently, I worked every day; we began to take Saturdays off several years ago, and now count the day a Sabbath we look forward to all week long. The extra commuting time, she feared, would mean I’d be home even less. (I am blessed that even after a couple of decades together she is still happy to see me in the evening.)

She was transported the other day, when I showed her the new space. Suddenly, I heard talk of lunches and dinners and shopping. You don’t get a whole lot of that out in Bethany, where we live. The town joke is that there are more horses than people about, although, I suspect, times are changing: the town approved a form of condominium development for the very first time recently.

I’m from Chicago and Detroit by way of New York City, so New Haven will never feel like a big city to me. But as I walked from my new office to court the other day, all of three blocks, I was agog. Fred O’Brien, one of the lawyers with whom I work, was with me.

“Want to do what big city lawyers do when they get to court early and stop for a coffee somewhere?” I asked.

So we did. We stopped in at Koffee on Audubon. The place was packed, so we ordered take out. Who were all these people free to hang out mid-day in a coffee shop?

Neighbors, I suppose — an awful lot of neighbors.

So I’m back in town to stay this time. And much to my surprise, it feels like I’ve returned home. I’ll see you around.


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© Norm Pattis is represented by Elite Lawyer Management, managing agents for Exceptional American Lawyers
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