Simple, invaluable gifts

Sharing stories.  Talking about the law.  I used to work for the Law Offices of William J. Cousins. Many New Haven lawyers will remain Bill Cousins.  I worked for Bill in the early 80’s.  Bill grew up if not exactly poor, then of modest means.  His family lived in New Haven.  He went to Hillhouse High School, Yale College and Yale Law School.  After the war he was offered a job at a Wall St. firm.  He stayed in New Haven, which was a good thing, because Bill was independent minded to put it gently.  He was, in my book, a great lawyer.  He had broad experience as a trial lawyer, municipal lawyer and counselor to businesses and individuals.  Like Bob (Judge Robert) Satter, Bill Cousins was the kind of lawyer who the profession does not favor these days because he was not a specialist.  His professional field of vision was broad not narrow. He loved being a lawyer.

We started everyday with coffee and donuts in his office sitting around a round table at which he regularly counseled clients (better than from behind a desk).  The topic was almost always law.  We did a lot of insurance defense work and so sometimes we talked about our cases but as often as not we talked about law outside the office –  a recent Supreme Court decision, judges, law in the news.  There was no agenda.  Our conversations went where they pleased.  Sometimes we talked about the Yankees.  Bill loved the Yankees.

Often Bill would tell us stories about cases he had tried or situations he had encountered as a municipal lawyer.  He loved to tell stories and he was good at it.  Through his stories, he taught and we learned.

He also listened.  We always had questions.  Sometimes we had fears that we had screwed something up, which we had.  That’s part of being a lawyer, especially a young one.  Bill never got mad at us.  He listened and he helped.  His door was always open for us.  He made us feel welcome.  He shared his love of the law as easily and unselfconsciously as one breathes.

None of our morning conversations were billable.  They lasted maybe 45 minutes.  

They were simple, invaluable gifts from a very experienced lawyer to lawyers just beginning the unpredictable and uneven journey to professional competence.