SUPER LA WYERS MAGAZINE / NORTHERN CALIFORNIA 2015 19
BROSNAHAN: There’s a lot of talk
about how lawyers aren’t respected any
more. But I don’t think lawyers were
ever respected. Criminal lawyers are not
respected—they oughtta be, but they’re
not—because they’re representing all these
“guilty” people. That’s how the public looks
at it. We all remember the “good old days,”
but they weren’t.
SUCHERMAN: Within my family, the
profession was looked upon as very
good—not as good as a doctor, but OK. At
the time, family lawyers were considered
Nowadays, some attorneys bill north of a
thousand dollars an hour. It wasn’t always thus.
BROSNAHAN: The first job I had, in the
plaintiff’s personal injury firm, was for
$300 a month.
MELCHIOR: Rates were $50-60 an hour.
I remember someone saying he charged
$100 an hour and it was like, “Oh, my!”
SUCHERMAN: My first year in practice, I
made $3,590. For a divorce, you charged
$225 to handle the whole case.
FASTIFF: In labor law, there’s a lot
of negotiations, so I really wanted to
negotiate my salary. This was 1963. With
all that background, I made a deal for
$9,000. Not a month. A year. I thought
that was pretty good.
STERNS: As a brand-new lawyer in 1959, I
made $340 a month.
MELCHIOR: I was not yet married, so I
rented an apartment on Edith Street from
an Italian lady on Lombard Street. If I stood
at a certain angle, I could see the Golden
Gate Bridge. I walked through bohemian
districts to go to work.
STERNS: I’d take the Key System—those
were trains that used to run from the East
Bay to San Francisco on rail tracks on the
lower deck of the Bay Bridge.
BROSNAHAN: I’d ride the “E” bus from
Berkeley to my office in San Francisco, and
there’d be always be a bunch of lawyers
on that bus. We’d all sit in the back;
sometimes we’d play cards.
High salary or low, lawyers were expected
to dress the part.
BROSNAHAN: I wore a three-piece suit, and
sported a watch with a watch fob. In Union
Square, women wore gloves, men wore
three-piece suits and fedoras, just to go
shopping. I always felt when you meet with
a client, they should be able to picture you in
the courtroom. The first time I saw a lawyer
walk in without a tie, I went, “No, no, no.” I
stopped wearing a tie every day three months
ago. I must say, it’s kind of liberating.
MELCHIOR: I had an interview with a large
law firm in San Francisco. The lawyer had
a big corner office. I told his secretary I was
here to see Mr. Clark. She looked me up
and down. “Where’s your hat?” she asked
me. “You want a job with Mr. Clark, you
have to wear a hat.” When I walked into
Mr. Clark’s office, the first thing he asked
me was, “Where’s your hat?” He offered me
a job anyway, but I didn’t take it.
CANADY: In the 1990s, we were going
down to Silicon Valley companies, and if
you went in a suit and tie, they’d throw you
out. So we started going casual, and then
the firm started doing casual Fridays and
eventually went all casual. But I still wear
a suit and tie [on the other days] because I
have all my money in my clothes.
It was a white-male-dominated world, with
women and minorities mostly relegated to
secondary positions. If that.
MELCHIOR: There were nine or 10 women
out of 190 in my graduating class, which
was considered very much. When I was a
young lawyer in San Francisco, there was
one Chinese lawyer who everyone knew as
“the Chinese lawyer.” I applied for a couple
jobs out of law school and an interviewer
asked, “Why do you want to work for the
government?” I told him, and he said,
“That’s all over. The New Deal is dead, the
war is over, there’s nobody left here but us
old Jews, and women who can’t get a job
STERNS: There were two women in the trial
CANADY: We hired women many years
bar when we started. One of them said the
only way she could survive in the profession
was to emulate her male opponents. You
know the Sandra Day O’Connor story:
She was near the very top of her class
at Stanford and she could not get a job
anywhere as a lawyer in the Bay Area.
ago. The only change was maybe we
watched our language a little bit. But come
to think of it, I don’t think we did.
FASTIFF: We were one of the very first
firms to have women partners. We had a
woman partner before I joined the firm.
A common complaint among attorneys
today is a lack of civility in the profession.
STERNS: We all knew each other. You
would try to beat them up in a courtroom,
but we were all pretty good friends. It
wasn’t a war all the time.
CANADY: You could have some fierce
battles, but you’d shake somebody’s hand
and develop a personal relationship.
Someone would be right opposite you,
and it would be difficult to be a jerk.
Today you rarely meet. I hear people say
things over the telephone that they’d
never say if you were meeting in person, or
thought you’d ever meet.
MELCHIOR: I remember running into the
opposing lawyers at a bar convention; they
wanted to talk to me, I didn’t want to talk
to them—they had been pretty bad—and
they said, “The judge really blew it, didn’t
he?” [Laughs] And you could live on! It was
always “the judge’s” fault. Now, you rarely
see the same lawyers twice.
STERNS: While I was clerking, I took a
job at the Alameda County Courthouse
parking lot, where Melvin Belli parked at
the height of his career. His entourage
would show up each day, with a Rolls
Royce or something. I’m sitting there with
my law book open, studying. I get a tap on
the shoulder. It was Mr. Belli. “Young man,
I see you’re studying law.” Couldn’t have
been more gracious. Ten to 15 years later,
he was at one of my seminars, sitting in the
front row. I reminded him of that story.
The legal landscape has changed dramatically
over the years. There weren’t even any LSATs
until 1948. Cultural shifts—the increased
status of women, lowered acceptance of social
drinking, propriety of discussing money—have
also affected the industry.