Chair’s column: We could be heroes
Driving back to Chicago from the ISBA annual meeting in Lake Geneva after chairing my first meeting of the Bench & Bar Section Council, David Bowie’s iconic song, “Heroes” came on the radio, shifting my focus away from the heavy Friday afternoon traffic, to contemplating a void in most of our lives.
Sadly, we are living in a time when identifying anyone as a hero is challenging. From politicians who attack decency and truth with abandon, to athletes who bend the rules for an unfair competitive edge (where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?), to religious leaders and movie stars embroiled in controversy resulting from seriously flawed behavior, we seem stymied in our ability to identify models of virtue who highlight professionalism, civility, and compassion, hallmarks of the best of society and the legal profession. Are Millennials and Gen X-ers experiencing a void that will negatively impact their professional lives? In contrast, many of us have been so fortunate to have true heroes shape our lives. Maybe, drawing on the past, we can dedicate ourselves to reversing this trend, and serve as models for those who follow.
I am tremendously honored to assume the leadership role of this esteemed section council, having succeeded Deane Brown, who served Bench & Bar so admirably and with such dedication for the past year. This prestigious group of judges and practicing attorneys strives to carry out the section’s mission of “forging a spirit of cooperation, collegiality and exchange among state and federal judges and the practicing bar, and to enhance the court system, the administration of justice for the public, and the relationship between judges and lawyers.”
Those are admirable words on paper, but what do we draw upon in our attempt to reach those critical goals? Reflecting upon my legal career, I thought back on three accomplished attorneys who epitomized the qualities listed above, earning prime spots on my personal lofty “heroes” perch, even if they all predated Bowie by many years!
My father, Norman Inlander, was a pioneer attorney in the field of matrimonial law, elevating it to a respected legal discipline. At the top of his field, and one of the founders of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, my dad was known as a bright, affable but staunch advocate, whose word was his bond. Growing up, honesty and civility were not options in my family—they were required traits. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps, for after all, being an attorney like my father, signified the pinnacle of respect in society. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to practice with him, as he died suddenly near the end of my college years.
Luckily, a couple of years later, I clerked for Daniel Karlin, who helped fill the void. Danny was a “lawyer’s lawyer” in every magnificent sense. Highly respected by judges and attorneys alike, he, too, was instrumental in bringing a field in the law—medical negligence—to a new level. As an adjunct professor in both medical and law school, Danny believed our community would be enhanced by educating lawyers and doctors about the other’s profession while developing healthy respect and understanding for each other in the process. Although he was a superb trial attorney, Danny never confused zealous representation with incivility, a lesson I have tried to follow throughout my career. In later years, I was privileged to bring Danny into my firm, and had the joy of trying many cases together. I was always in awe over the high degree of admiration members of the judiciary as well as both the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ bar, held my mentor. It was well earned.
I have been so fortunate to have practiced my entire career with one law firm, Fischel|Kahn. There, I have had the opportunity to hone my skills with the guidance of extraordinary lawyers, who always were striving for excellence in legal representation and advocacy, while understanding the commitment we must have not only to our clients, but also to our community. Foremost among my early partners was Max Hess Weinberg, another giant in our profession. Max, a soft-spoken, brilliant attorney, had a presence that commanded attention whether in a courtroom or conference room. He had the knack of listening to all sides of an argument, analyzing the points in a logical and well-reasoned manner, and then putting forward his well-founded opinion. Even if you were on the short end of the debate, you could not help but feel you were given a fair shake and understood the rationale of the ultimate decision. Max knew how to lead with both grace and strength, and did so in a way that brought honor to himself, the firm and the entire legal profession.
All three of the attorneys embodied the highest ideals of this section council. I hope in my term as chair to encourage all of us to draw on the lessons of our heroes to embrace and advance the goals of our mission statement, not only for our own good, but also for the benefit of the next generation of attorneys.