Public Contract Law Journal

In Memoriam: "Professor" Gilbert Jerome Ginsburg

by Daniel Abrahams

Gilbert J. Ginsburg passed away on October 26, 2018, at age eighty-two, after a vigorous life. Beside his signature large cowboy hat, Gil wore many other hats: judge, professor, director of the George Washington University Law School (GW Law) Government Contracts Program, law school dean, senior partner, business owner of the A-76 Institute, public speaker, prolific author in the Government Contracts and Federal Labor Standards fields, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. When asked about his various cow- boy hats, Gil would patiently explain the religious reasons he wore them, but would also note that he enjoyed standing out from the crowd and having folks remember him. He projected a larger than ordinary life personality — we shall not see his likes again in the government contracts profession.

Gil was a child prodigy. He grew up in Chicago and, at age fourteen, entered the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, ultimately graduating from its law school just before his twenty-first birthday. He served as an attorney with the Army Corps of Engineers and later with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), where he served as a judge and the youngest member of the NASA Board of Contact Appeals in the heady days of the race to the moon.

Eventually, Gil made his way to The George Washington University Law School. As reported by his colleague, Emeritus Professor Ralph C Nash, Jr.:

Gil was an esteemed member of the Law School faculty from 1967 until 1979. When I became Associate Dean of the Law School in 1966, we made a search for the best person we could find to take my place in the Government Contracts Program. Fortunately, we found Gil in the Office of General Counsel of NASA and quickly concluded that he was the perfect person for the job.

Gil became a member of the tenured faculty which gave us three tenured professors in government contracts for over a decade. Gil succeeded John Cibinic as Director of the Program in 1974 and served in that capacity until he left for private practice in 1979. When we had adjoining offices, I remember the constant stream of classical music coming from his office. He worked best with a little Mozart.

While at GWU, Gil authored two law school text books, Cases and Materials on Equal Employment and Cases and Materials on Federal Labor Standards.

Gil’s longest-term collaborator, Ken Weckstein, recollects that Gil was an especially generous mentor to students and attorneys. Ken notes:

I first met Gil in 1975 when he was writing portions of the Government Contracts texts on Contract Formation and Contract Administration. He hired me to assist him. That led to his hiring me the next year to help him serve his private clients. He started a law firm called Ginsburg & Associates. This was 1976, when there was no Competition in Contracting Act, when protests at GAO took two years to decide and at times included a private meeting with GAO’s General Counsel, then Paul Dembling, and parking in the GAO garage. The meeting with the GAO GC probably was more to do with Gil’s friendship than GAO procedure.

Gil was friends with government attorneys and private practitioners, many of whom referred legal work to him. He was friends with his clients. His Government Contracts practice was diverse. It included representation of many companies in the air tanker industry (they drop chemicals from aircraft to contain forest fires), and blue chip clients like TRW and Rockwell. In four short years, while still teaching, writing, and law school administration, Gil built his private practice to five attorneys. As always, Gil gave opportunities to his students. His hires all had graduated from George Washington. It was a privilege to have known Gil and plain luck to have had him as my mentor.

After GWU, Gil had a short stint as the founding Dean of Touro Law School in New York. But he had an itch for the private practice of law. In 1980, Gil merged his own firm with the recently formed Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. (EBG). That choice was made because of Gil’s friendship with former student Ronald Green. Gil was a partner and at times Board Member at EBG until the 1990s, where he grew his practice to as many as fifteen attorneys. Gil enjoyed a good run as a rainmaker through the 1980s. He was an early cell phone adopter, and you could count on him to call you back from his car phone, and perhaps not get cut off. He was a prominent Government Contracts lawyer, and a larger-than-life player in the early years of the field of Wage and Hour Law. Always intellectually adventurous, he couldn’t be contained to just one legal specialty. He had an active and creative mind.

My favorite memory of Gil is the delight he had in scoring a new client — he would call up his devoted wife (Faith) and ask her to please put a steak on the barbecue for a celebration. He was truly a happy warrior. I feel privileged to have known and worked closely with Gil over most of my career and owe him much. During all this time, Gil continued to teach as an adjunct at GW. Gil always had a special place in his heart for GW Law and treasured his time there. Indeed, he insisted on being called “Professor Ginsburg” for the rest of his life. I took a class taught by Gil at GW called Federal Labor Standards in the Spring of 1983, and then joined him at EBG. Subsequently, we taught the same class together in the then-joint GW Law Labor/ Government Contracts LL.M. program, from 1985 to 1991. Together Gil and I wrote the Fair Labor Standards Handbook for States, Local Government and Schools (Thompson 1985). I remember asking Gil after we inked the publishing deal if he thought anyone would buy it. Gil replied to the effect of “if we write it, they will come.” Well, it sold like crazy, made millions for the publishers, remains in print thirty-three years later, and is a part of the WESTLAW library. If you search for Gil’s name in the Fair Labor Standards Act case law, you will see not only the cases that he litigated, but also numerous cites to our book under the rubric “Ginsburg et al.” Since I was the original “et al.,” I think he got the better end of the deal.

Gil had also developed a close relationship with Henry Kaiser, the founder of Federal Publications. For many years he was the lead-off speaker before approximately 2,000 attorneys at the Federal Publications Year in Review Conference. Eventually, in the early 1990s, Gil formed his own firm, the A-76 Institute, all while continuing his charitable activities and public speaking and government contracts related seminars. But he also had a Government Contracts/ Wage and Hour case that ended up being argued at the U.S. Supreme Court. Gil, who had been counsel in the court below, mostly pro bono for his client, was content to sit at the counsel bench while an appellate advocate argued and won the case.

In the 1990s, Gil was the founder of and first Chairman of the Employment Safety & Labor Committee of the American Bar Association Public Contracts Section. For many more years, he was Chairman emeritus. What he created lives on there.

Others knew Gil as a devoted orthodox Jew and a man with a kind heart. He was devoted to his religious life and very serious about the obligations it entailed. While traveling, which he loved to do, he always recited the traveler’s prayer on every plane. Many people saw that religious faith when they crossed paths with Gil in his extensive work for his Silver Spring, Maryland, community, his synagogue, and educational institutions.

Besides his religious devotion, Gil liked to swim, and built a pool in his back yard, and covered it every winter with a hot air bubble. In at least one particularly bad winter, the ice and snow collapsed the pool bubble, but Gil’s spirit never collapsed. As soon as it melted, he again could be found exercising his body (swimming). Or, of course, he might also be spied playing Blackjack in Las Vegas during breaks from the seminars that he so frequently taught.

Gil’s legacy includes so much: six children (and their five spouses), twenty- seven grandchildren (and their eight spouses), and five great-grandchildren (and counting), all who adored him; his wife Faith who was an equal partner in Gil’s amazing life and who cared for him unstintingly at the end; the still- used seminar manuals and publications that Gil authored in the Government Contracts and Federal Labor Standards fields; grateful students and attorneys; mentees (yes, it is word, not a breath mint); and much more.

Gil taught, by example, the importance of ethics, charity, religious devotion, law, hard work, and family. As summarized by Ralph Nash: “Working with Gil was a joy. He walked on the sunny side of the street with an optimistic view of life. Gil was truly a good man. He was proud of his children and always ready to tell us about their accomplishments. We send our condolences to them and to his wife, Faith.”

Goodnight Professor. You had a well-lived life. All of us touched by you say thank you.