March 1, 2010

From the Top: Where Did the Coffee Pots Go?

By T. Maxfield Bahner

It was a sad day when we moved the coffee pots into our offices. We stopped having frequent gatherings for conversation. Today, we do not even have enough relaxed conversation with colleagues in our own firms, but repair with our cups to the hermitages of our own offices.

When I was a young lawyer, it was rare  for any firm to have a coffee pot in the office. We would meet for coffee in mid-morning and again in mid-afternoon at one of the small watering holes. Although we were from different firms with  different  emphases in our practice, our times together were convivial. We looked forward to wide-ranging conversation and laughter. We talked about what was going on at the Bar, in the courts, and in the community. We got to know each other. In the courtroom or negotiations about a contract, we could fight hard for our clients. After the battles, we would relax and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow lawyers.

Mondays were motion days. The trial bar would go from courtroom to courtroom and hear the motions as they were argued. About noontime, when this was finished, we would adjourn across the street to Harper’s Drug Store, where we would enjoy coffee and discuss some of the motions that were argued that day—and a lot else!

I remember once, when I was at a table with Charlie Goins, a much older lawyer for whom I had a great deal of respect, who talked to me about a motion that I had argued that morning. He complimented me, which, of course, made me feel very good. Then, he said, “Max, had you thought about this?” He began to point out things, which, if I had taken time to think about them beforehand, would have made my argument more effective. Over the years, I have used his suggestions. So, in the camaraderie over coffee, I have learned from skillful trial law yers as well as my peers, and reveled in the relaxed pleasure of their company. Most lawyers in our country   today    practice by themselves or in small firms. So it was when I began to practice. I enjoyed the small firm in which I learned about being a lawyer. The camaraderie of the Bar, the willingness to help each other even when we were on opposite sides of bitterly fought cases, was characteristic of the way law was practiced. Even when we were fighting in court, we had generally good feelings for our adversaries. This carried over into our social contacts outside the courtroom.

It was a sad day when we moved the coffee pots into our offices. We stopped having frequent gatherings for conversation. Today, we do not even have enough relaxed conversation with colleagues in our own firms, but repair with our cups to the hermitages of our own offices.

The number of lawyers has increased. We are scattered all across this great country of ours in towns small and large. Sometimes law practice is lonely. Certainly, it is lonely when a lawyer takes on the whole world on behalf of his client. But we are never alone, living as we do as successors to those who have taught us and been our contemporaries.


The American Bar Association came into being in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1878 for important reasons. The same important reasons impelled the organization of state and local bar associations. Lawyers must have this collegiality and work together if we are to continue to fulfill our highest aspirations and those of the law. One of the pleasures my wife and I have had over the years that we have been attending ABA meetings is getting to know new people. We have found that when we listen and ask questions about what is important to them, we learn good things. More important than that learning are the bonds of friendship which have continued for years, in many instances for decades. What happens to these friends is important to us. We know that what happens to us is important to them. There is so much wisdom in the lawyers and spouses we meet. I would rather be with a group of lawyers than with a group from any other discipline—medicine, business, education, and so forth.

The Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association this year will be August 5–7 in San Francisco, one of the great cities of the world. There are other good reasons for us to gather in San Francisco. We need to meet other lawyers from across our land, get to know them, and talk. We each will be enriched and strengthened by these experiences.

The organization of the American Bar Association is important and conducive to making new friends. Although large, through its various sections, divisions, and the many fine CLE programs, people can get toknow other people with similar interests.

The Senior Lawyers Division will hold its Annual Meeting on August 5, 6, and 7 at the San Francisco Marriott Hotel. Join us for the Division’s annual reception, dinner, and presentation of the John H. Pickering Achievement Award on Thursday, August 5, 2010, at the St. Francis Yacht Club. Reservations are required. Call 312/988-5565 to make your reservation.

The Division meeting and CLE program begin Friday, August 6, at 9:00 a.m. with committee meetings, which you are invited to attend. On Saturday, August 7, from 7:30–8:30 a.m., there will be a joint committee meeting with senior judges. The Division Council meeting will be from 8:30–11:30 a.m., and the annual business meeting and election of officers and Council members will be at 11:30–12:00 p.m. I encourage you to participate. It is fun. You will find it worthwhile.

Lawyers are a friendly group. In spite of all the changes that have occurred in our profession, our basic humanity and instincts for friendship continue. Come participate! Be a part of what we are doing. Make it a point to come to events with the Senior Lawyers. Get to know other lawyers who have experiences to share.

Please join us in San Francisco. Participate in the first-class CLE, participate in the social gatherings, make new friends, and learn about them— and let them learn about you