Last Friday, I reported that I would be headed south—to Tucson—to celebrate an important anniversary.
The event was a luncheon celebrating 10 years of the Richard Grand Writing Competition, held at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.
Besides a terrific lunch, attendees enjoyed remarks by Dean Lawrence Ponoroff—who had them laughing in their soup. And then Richard Grand himself delivered his own thoughts, through the power of video. It is one thing to hear from Richard via telephone or e-mail. But to see and hear Richard as generations of jurors have seen him—and been persuaded by him—was a real treat.
After all that, the five winning law students were announced by Professor Suzanne Rabe. They were: Andrew Floyd (1L), Eric Gans (3L), Benjamin Harville (2L), Megan McLean (1L) and James Mieding (1L).
Among the day’s many highlights was the opportunity to see firsthand some of the school’s Richard-abilia. In the library, there are a variety of glass cases housing items evocative of the school’s history. All the cases are important, but there may be none as vibrant as the one dedicated to Richard and his law practice.
It includes clippings from news stories, photographs, and even replicas of exhibits he used in personal injury cases. And it is anchored by his pinpoint jacket and briefcase, both wielded daily by Richard in trials for his clients.
Below, there are a few photos from the case, and of the luncheon.
Finally, I delivered my keynote address, a great honor. They are extremely polite down in the old Pueblo, so no one snored or threw brickbats as I spoke. So in my world, I take that as great praise!
Here are my complete remarks:
Remarks at Richard Grand Writing Competition Luncheon, UA Law School, Jan. 21, 2011
On Words and Other Tools
Congratulations again to all of you. I have been a judge in this competition for quite a few years now, and as I have told Suzanne many times, it is one of my favorite events of the year. Thank you for your great writing and great thinking, and thank you to Suzanne for her leadership and willingness to include a crotchety old lawyer-editor on her judging panel. It’s been an honor.
This has been a wonderful event, not least of which being due to Richard’s great video. I now empathize with what a trial lawyer must go through when he stands to give his own meager closing argument after Richard has brilliantly chaperoned a jury down the path of justice in his own closing.
Note to self: Never follow animals, children or Richard Grand.
The title of my remarks today is “On Words and Other Tools.” And in case I needed another example of how faulty communication can be, I was reviewing some handwritten notes I had taken myself as I spoke on the phone last month with the Law School’s Nancy Stanley. And I was surprised—and a little intrigued—that I had penned the words, “Also invited to the luncheon are previous sinners.”
Of course, I meant to write winners, but what happens in Tucson stays in Tucson.
Today I’ll talk a little about words, but a lot more about Richard.
My impressions of Richard are formed almost entirely through words—and I will tell you why in a few moments. But I have to comment first on his video tour de force, which is all Richard, from beginning to end.
First, as it opens, we viewers are baffled and intrigued as he starts speaking. It takes a brave man to begin a peroration with “We must do the bitter bookkeeping of death.”
Our bafflement grows as he speaks to us and a larger audience about important matters. And it is not until he reaches the four-minute mark that Richard, ever the showman, lowers the veil just a bit to address us, as audience. Until that moment, we have been witness to a litany of some of Richard’s most effective sentences uttered over decades of law practice.
So the first gift he has provided us today is the opportunity to see him as juries have seen him for years: very brave, a bit puzzling, mildly exasperating, extremely engaging.
That gift of words sends a signal: “You viewers are intelligent and worthy of my highest attention,” Richard conveys. “You have the smarts to figure this out. But I am not handing it to you on a silver platter.”
Richard is enigmatic, maddening and generous — much like law school itself.
I wish I could have gone to the Richard Grand Law School. Unfortunately, he doesn’t enroll students at his school of experience. But he does tender all of us a legal education.
A number of years ago, I heard someone very smart say that it is a pleasure to see the lights go on in law students’ eyes. Since then, I have used that line myself probably a dozen times over the years, in various contexts. But it’s time to come clean. The original speaker was your own former dean, Toni Massaro. Now that I’m standing in her house, I had better credit her.
That line reminded me that Richard Grand likes to help turn on those lights, too. But his approach to legal education is less Socratic, and more autodidactic. He’s a believer in the notion that the student who stumbles about a bit in his or her own darkness will be more likely to find the light switch. And Richard has no need for the student who demands a Clapper.
Richard calls himself a “merchant of words,” and that is a worthy avocation to which we all should aspire.
In the video, when Richard finally completes his juror conversation and speaks directly to us, what does he open with?
“I have been in love with words during my entire life. And you, if you want to become lawyers, must learn to love words.”
As a lawyer and a writer, I say, Right on, Richard. You are a lawyer and law school all in one.
This past month, I thought a lot about the writing process—which can be both a blessing and a curse.
I recalled teaching writing to college freshmen, many of whom were convinced that such a skill would provide no discernible return on investment. One student, in particular, appeared to take it as a personal challenge to disembowel the English language. I will never forget his thesis statement in an argument paper on a great work by Edgar Allen Poe: “The Fall of the House of Usher is about a big house that falls in a lake.” I think about Andy occasionally, and hope he never became a lawyer. And if you see Aristotle, please apologize to him for my failed efforts.
But simple need not be simplistic. You may recall Ernest Hemingway’s response to a challenge that said he could never write a good story in six words. And yet he wrote: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never Used.” He called it his best work.
Richard Grand, too, is the master of evocative simplicity, as we saw in his video. In every one of our 15-minute conversations he and I have had over the years, he provides me the unique and sometimes startling experience of re-creating three years of law school. In turns, I am stunned, mortified, edified and delighted. At the end, I am always far richer, and not a penny poorer (which is how I know that it’s not really law school).
Now, I am not a speaker who will wax poetic about the glories of law school. I leave the rapture to others. My experience was that it was difficult—probably more difficult than I expected. I found that it could be obtuse and nonsensical, and that its pendulum swung maddeningly between expecting too little of us students, and far too much.
But law school gave me—and I hope you too—something important. It gives us what Chaucer called tyme and space—time and space—both of which are necessary ingredients for us to examine the world anew. In that endeavor, we use foreign tools and weak muscles. Those three years, as frustrating as they can be, are a sheltering sky. At the time, we believe it to be an impending hurricane, but truly, it is a small clearing on a deserted beach, where we carve new tools for ourselves. Sure, it can be a little Survivor and a lot Lord of the Flies, but the tools that we use—including the words we became familiar with—are to stay with us for the rest of what we hope will be fulfilling careers of service.
That may be what Richard offers all of us. He holds his hand out, and it contains no Mai Tais on that beach. His secrets to success will not shield you from the scorching sun of what can be a very difficult profession. But his words, when ruminated on, offer a path to something even better. They may even lead us to that light switch.
What can I say that I know for sure about Richard Grand? In a way, I know very little. He avoids events like this like the plague, and prefers to remain outside the limelight. Of course, with Richard, he is never entirely beyond that light. We always detect in the shadows his pinpoint suit, his smile, and his strongly felt judgment masquerading as genial opinion.
Elsewhere, he often may be. Absent, he never is. As someone once said to me, Richard hovers among us and among everyone who loves words, ready to offer insight like a deus ex machina. The machina may be writing competitions like this, or it may be YouTube. But he is in service to us all.
Of all the tools Richard offers, we are most of all always and everywhere in the presence of his words. Let me tell you how present.
When Nancy Stanley first contacted me about speaking at today’s special ceremony, I was delighted— you’d have to possess a far smaller ego than mine to be unmoved by such a generous invitation.
But … I paused. I knew that this event could draw in some serious legal firepower as speakers. Not to disappoint you, but you should know the truth: You probably could have gotten to listen to an Arizona Supreme Court justice, or the State Bar President.
I suspected that the firm, guiding hand of Richard had “suggested” my name to the law school. And for that I am extremely grateful—though you may take a different view.
But why should Richard request me? Well, we get along famously, and I even have written about him a few times. We share similar interests, and we may even be friends, of a sort. At least, I am hoping we are.
But it was really all about the words. Here is one of the more interesting parts of our friendship—and why our relationship is formed almost purely through words: Richard Grand and I have never met each other in person through all the years we’ve known each other.
My interactions with him have been flashes via e-mail, the telephone, or his new display case here at the law school. I have conversed with Richard as he and Marcia lived in Tucson, visited their daughter in San Francisco, or strolled between shows in the West End of London.
How very Socratic of us! And how appropriate for Richard, who operates so well in the spoken environment.
I recently read an article about Richard from the Tucson Citizen.
In it, he said, “I don’t want to be recognized. I don’t want to be noticed. I want them to hear me.”
His life and career of being heard came to mind as I thought about recent events, when many of us have begun to wonder what kind of state and nation we live in.
It has become unpopular to say that recent tragic events here in Tucson may be related to politics or slanted popular messages.
But this we know: There has been a coarsening of conversation, a willingness to rely on vitriol rather than reason, and to hijack language in the service of partisanship.
There has been a failure of what many of us hold dear: a failure of words.
In that regard, it strikes me as one of the more poignant of bittersweet truths that the last word uttered by Chief Judge John Roll may have been his heartfelt greeting “Hello.” Having known Judge Roll, I can say that he was a considerate and dynamic man, whose simple greeting possessed more eloquence than most of us can muster in a day’s worth of blathering. He had that skill that Richard Grand admires perhaps most of all: to craft “crisp sentences that wrap up a bale of thought.”
Through that lens, Richard and all of us who cherish words must illuminate a better way. Macabre yet wise, he reminds us, “We are born astride a grave.”
“Dead yesterday, unborn tomorrow, there’s only today.”
It is time for boldness, of the Richard Grand variety. Boldness in search of truth and of justice. And boldness wedded to quite a bit of wit.
I congratulate all of you here, who know that words have consequences. Let’s take up Richard’s charge: “Be bold.”