Although it’s typically better to be right up front at noteworthy events, some events are great enough that any seat is a good one. That was my experience at today’s luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, where the Learned Hand Awards were, well, awarded.
Sponsored by the Arizona chapter of the American Jewish Committee, this ceremony has grown to be one of the best-attended legal events of the year. And for good reason.
First, they select great people for the three categories. In public service, community service and emerging leadership, the honorees’ names cause you to slap your head and say, “Of course!” This year’s winners were Keri Lazarus Silvyn, E.G. “Ted” Noyes, Jr., and Debbie Hill.
Second, the selection committee is a who’s who of legal talent. Choosing the honorees must be hard work, but if they could carve out some extra time in their busy schedules, this brain trust should be put to work solving even tougher issues, so the cratering state economy. But I suppose that will be left to the “professionals.”
Finally, the main reason that this affair is a cool gig is the format they select: Each honoree chooses on their own whom to ask to give their introductory speech. Two winning speeches for the price of one! So we first get to hear from a great orator (or at least someone who brought their A game), and then we get to hear from the winner herself.
Understand, each of the speakers is a legal luminary in his or her own right. And speakers really have learned to spend the time to craft a great message.
This year, for instance, we got to hear from Toni Massaro, formerly the dean at the UA Law School. She introduced Keri Silvyn, the “emerging leader.” Massaro spoke eloquently, as always. Today, she talked about the “suffering of our institutions” in the economic downturn, and why leaders are more important than ever. FDR was wrong, she offered: We need not fear only fear itself, but we must fear passivity and jingoism, simplistic reasoning that resists nuance, and an exaggerated sense of our own exceptionalism that forgets the past. Last year, Toni Massaro was an honoree herself, and her speech wowed the room then. This was a worthy encore.
And Keri Silvyn followed, joking about how her “years of bossiness” are “apparently called ‘leadership’ now.” She also chided her father, esteemed zoning lawyer Larry Lazarus, for his less-than-charitable commentary early in her career when she called with legal questions. “You don’t know that yet?” he would ask. Soon, Silvyn laughed, she learned to take her questions to her own law firm colleagues, who suppressed her pater’s urge to tell her it was a stupid question.
Ted Noyes also was a worthy choice. He was introduced by Noel Fidel, and then Noyes spoke. The former appellate judge had retired and gained a position as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office – not a supervisor, just a line prosecutor. He reminded the crowd that, “The government wins whenever justice is done.” He also recalled the “benediction for those in public service” uttered at his own judicial investiture in 1983: “In service to others, correct the wrong and live and inspire the right.”
Finally, Debbie Hill was introduced by Larry Hammond, who spoke movingly of Hill’s work representing prisoners and others in need. When she rose to speak, she opted to say nothing about her current work or about service generally. Instead, she launched a video—“The Girl Effect”—which suggests a powerful way to effect change in the world.
Hill concluded by reminding the listeners of Sandra Day O’Connor’s words: “We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone.”
A great event, and quite a few good messages.