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August

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Lawyers Journal

Denouement, thank-yous and postscript

About 15 years ago, then Massachusetts Bar Association President Marylin A. Beck appointed me to the Ethics Committee, chaired then and now by the estimable and venerable Andrew L. Kaufman, longtime professor at Harvard Law School, first-rate intellect and genuinely good guy. Carol A. G. DiMento, who later became MBA president, had recommended me to Beck. DiMento and Beck thus got me started on my active MBA involvement, for which I thank them. Kaufman has been a great and important mentor to me, whether he realizes it or not. His combined equanimity, intellect, objectivity, wit and energy are a marvel. As chair of the Ethics Committee, he has served the MBA in relative obscurity, overseeing the provision of important advice to confidential inquirers seeking guidance on ethics matters. He is a model for all regarding the essence of professionalism and volunteerism.

Len Clarkin, former Providence College hockey great and outstanding trial and business lawyer, has been a good friend for more than 30 years. He and I have worked on many cases together, including trying a lengthy trust matter in the Probate Court and successfully prevailing on appeal thereafter. Clarkin is the consummate professional. His sense of context and proportion is always spot on. I have learned much from him, not just about the practice of law but also about life in general. I owe him a considerable debt.

Robert P. Panneton, longtime chief of staff in the trial court administrative office, recently retired after a lifetime of service in our court system. I first met Bob in 1973 when he was working in the Essex Superior Court Clerk's Office in Salem. I was privileged to speak at his retirement event in Boston (also the retirement event for Chief Justice of the Trial Court Robert A. Mulligan and Massachusetts Sentencing Commission Executive Director Frank J. Carney). Panneton always got it as a public servant. He recognized throughout his career that the public were his clients. While supremely competent, his strongest contribution to our court system was the example he set by his hard work and his consistent treatment of everyone with dignity and respect. His retirement is a loss to our court system, but his legacy will remain. I have learned much from him, as well, for which I am grateful.

I will not name others, for fear of leaving someone out, but I owe a great debt of gratitude to my MBA officer colleagues, present and past, to many lawyers, family, law firm colleagues, friends, acquaintances, judges, clerks, legislators and loyal clients, without whose support I could not have done much of anything in my career. Being an officer of the MBA has been a great honor, and I have been fortunate to have received personal support from all of the staff at the MBA over the years.

I am grateful for the support of the MBA's membership, affiliated bar associations and their leaders. Their response to the initiatives of the MBA officers and other leadership has been overwhelmingly positive. Many of you have reached out to me in person, by letter, by telephone and by e-mail, with positive, supportive feedback. I am humbled by this response.

As many of you know, I am fond of telling stories. So I will close with two: one true, the other a well-known joke.

At a recent Federal Bar Association judicial reception I got to play the piano a bit (as most of you know, I rarely turn down any such opportunity). This led to a conversation with retired Judge Paul A. Chernoff, before whom I had the privilege of appearing when he was on the bench. He and I talked about our common interest in Mozart, even though I was playing mostly improvised knock-offs of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Billy Taylor. We briefly discussed that while Mozart wrote extraordinary melodies, he also was a great improviser.

This encounter with Chernoff caused me to reflect on my penchant for stating that my life has consisted largely of making lists and making and renewing connections. And no matter how good a list may be or how good the revisions thereof, you still have to be able to react and adapt, to improvise. Being able to do so comes from attention to craft, accumulated experience and, most of all, hard work.

Now the joke, familiar to most of you and rumored to be rooted in fact. A pedestrian is in mid-town Manhattan and asks a New Yorker how to get to Carnegie Hall. The New Yorker says, "practice." It's a good joke, I think, and good advice.

My experience at the MBA - on the Ethics Committee, chair of the Civil Litigation Section Council, Executive Management Board,  Budget and Finance, and the various officer positions - has connected me with many dedicated volunteers, committed to our great profession. Their hard work and enthusiasm have been an inspiration to me and have helped make me, I think, a better lawyer and a better person.

Someone - I do not recall who - when comparing Beethoven and Mozart, observed that Beethoven broke with conventions in music, being extraordinarily inventive. Mozart, by contrast, more often stayed within existing conventions: he simply did so better than anyone before or since.

During the many years I have been active in the MBA, I have heard many good ideas from many people. Like all successful organizations, the MBA is not short on good ideas. The challenge is to take those ideas, create a plan of implementation and execution, and carry out the plan. By making lists and following through, success is more likely. With Mozart as our example, we need to strive to do what we do better than others. That is our challenge on an ongoing basis - each and every day.

I suggest that my Mozart conversation with Chernoff was about craft, even though that word never was spoken. More important, like pretty much everything else I have experienced as a lawyer and as an MBA volunteer, that conversation was fun for me.

Thanks to all of you for letting me be part of the conversation with you over the years. It has been enjoyable and instructive. You have given me more than I ever could give in return. That pretty much sums it up.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association