Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reunions--Not in Vienna

Yes, that was the title of a rather talky Robert E. Sherwood play of the 30s that featured the Lunts and sometimes Noel Coward, I believe, which meant that even if it wasn't the greatest vehicle, they all must have delighted audiences. But I just returned from a 40th reunion--law school, no less. They did have some other reuning classes there and it was encouraging to see the far more populous 50th reunion class--complete with Mike Dukakis, tank-less this time--yes, they did look old.

This time, a nice number of friends showed up, so that made the reunion. Over the years, the law school has turned over all planning to the development people, and if they feel what they've done for a reunion weekend makes sense, their instinct is to do exactly the same thing again. I skipped most of the programs since the weather in Cambridge and Boston was spring-like and pleasant.

But I did make a class forum on retirement--led by a woman who was contemplating forced retirement from partnership at an old-line Boston firm where she was a partner in trusts and estates, naturally. She couldn't face life without that. My old friend and best man, Guy Blynn, remarked helpfully to me that 40 years ago, that firm wouldn't give him the time of day as the old ethnic walls were just beginning to break down. But we kept listening to these people whining about how their firms were effectively forcing them out by pushing them to delegate work to cheaper-billing associates. Again, Guy noted that since they were the partners, they had helped create this engine that dispatched its drivers before they were quite ready to be bounced.

He's fully retired and I'm semi-retired. I didn't think there was anything I would say about what I did that would interest most of the attendees, since I went in a rather different direction from all of them way back when. There were some very constructive ideas if anyone bothered to listen: a friend and classmate both at college and law school described how he had organized an entire program in his large law firm to represent people litigating their immigration status. Someone said to another old friend whose law firm had imploded and whose days as counsel at another had ended that he must have retired, only to elicit the far more straightforward response: "Hell no, I was fired!"

We did indulge in some nostalgia-tripping: when Noah Griffin arrived, he outlined a path that included walking through Longfellow's garden (the house isn't yet open for the summer), the monument opposite the State House on Beacon Hill to the Glorious 54th Regiment of Glory fame, where we met an excited re-enactor, and then the current Brattle Book Shop near the Common, always a wonderful place to spend some time searching for something you never knew you needed. Seamus at the Parker House ran through some of the amazing history of that famed hostelry. We even caught the tail end of the Princeton-Harvard lacrosse game, with the Crimson upsetting the favored Tigers.

Boston and Cambridge have changed a lot, especially on the dining front, but you wouldn't have known it from our choices. Lunch at probably the only true "joint" left in Harvard Square, Charlie's Kitchen, which now has a beer garden; late night snacking at the still-laden-with-MSG Hong Kong, and late dinner at the now ultra-unfashionable Anthony's Pier 4. Hey, they still make a nice broiled schrod. Sure, Legal is better but why go there when they're in your neighborhood.

My conclusion was that change is coming, albeit late, to my law school class. I remember my 25th, when there were four of us not in suits and the other three were from California. Now I bet half the attendees were both jacket-less and tie-less. You may think that's sexist but hey, there were 20 women in our entering class of 540. Now women make up 53% of a law school class.

The new dean spoke, describing all kinds of new initiatives and new courses, all of which made my head spin because, finally, in my old age, the place is getting much more open and broad-minded. It has adapted to changed times when not everyone will be heading for a large firm. I did smile when I heard that one "new" idea was to have required courses on Legislation and Negotiation in the first year. My wife learned Legislation from the late great Father Drinan at Georgetown back in the 80s and she's been teaching Negotiation 9and ADR) at GW for the past fifteen.

It's nice to see Harvard evolve but they are hardly the first. A bit like the time in World War II in the Pacific when somehow the Seabees managed to get set up on an island before the Marines arrived; thus the welcoming banner, "The Seabees are always happy to welcome the Marines".

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