Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Memorial service for Marvin Chirelstein

This evening, at 6 pm, I will be paying my respects to the great Marvin Chirelstein by attending a memorial service in his honor that will be held at Columbia Law School. Details are available here.

Last February, I included some Chirelstein reminiscences here.  The comments on this post that several friends left are also worth checking - they contain more stories about him.

More Chirelstein stories are available at the Columbia website here.  Here are just a few of the most amusing bits:

One former Chirelstein student writes: I loved Chirelstein’s war stories, and his dry, oddball, self-effacing humor so much, I started jotting down his quotable quotes. Here are a few that folks may appreciate. On the first day of class: “Lectures stink, if you ask me. On the other hand, answering student questions takes a lot of work. It is far easier to fill an hour with babble, than answering your questions – which will be ill expressed.” On an opinion by Justice Stone: “Did Justice Stone write this opinion – he’s one of our boys, isn’t he? And we’re proud of him. Are we? I am. Whoever he was. Oh, there are portraits of him in the law school. Let’s adjourn and go look at his portraits. Handsome man that he was.” On an opinion by Justice Cardozo: “Cardozo’s language always makes me think of an overstuffed sofa. . . Unfortunately, Justice Cardozo's opinion contains so much soggy philosophy that its main thesis is difficult to locate. On his lecture: “Can you follow this lecture? I don't know how.” Reciting a problem in the casebook: “I can’t bring myself to recite it - it is so boring.” On the assignment: “Read these opinions with your eyes half-closed.” In response to a student question: “That’s the answer to your question. Don't ask anything further. Stifle your curiosity.” “This is what you have to know if you want to be a partner in the tax and estates department [chuckles] Pretty exciting life.” “You know what your trouble is? You don't smoke.” On a chart illustrating the operation of tax law: “My grandchild made this chart, which proves that Quintilian was right that a full deduction is the same as no tax on gain.” “As Leonidas said at the Battle of Marathon - the tax benefits are deferrable”

Another writes: You had the feeling he had just come from a smoke-filled boardroom where he was smoking a cigar and advising world leaders. It always seemed he was only sharing half of his wisecracks and secretly chuckling to himself at the rest while he weighed how much of his wit to share with the world. If I may add some quotes, which I still remember after 17 years... On the first day of class in 1997, "Welcome to law school. You are now middle-aged." On a complicated contract dispute between 2 parties: "Aren't you kind of starting to hate them both, Mr. Adams...?" On a contract case: "They had more printing machines than you could count in a week." On a litigant who had secretly obtained legal counsel, "Now this guy's been talking to a lawyer...can't you smell it?"

A third, who also had him for contracts, quotes him as saying: "Haven't you noticed that all these cases -- the pregnant cow, the tack in the blueberry pie -- all these cases have this dreamlike quality to them? It's like you're walking down the street and all the buildings are upside down but somehow that doesn't seem strange. Or you're underwater and yet you're breathing just as though it was the most natural thing in the world. In each of these cases there is something that is out of order and yet, you don't notice it. That's really all this course is about. There's not much to it really."

(What a contrast between this last one and the pomposity of, say, Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase - also a contracts teacher, but rather a more presumptuous one, not to mention lucky (if we ignore that he is a fictional character) to have predated the law and economics / law and other X, Y, or Z revolution that swept away the Kingsfieldian world, and yet that Chirelstein precociously understood and anticipated.)

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