Remarks for Robert L. Stern Memorial Service

Debora de Hoyos
Managing Partner, Mayer Brown & Platt

 

What excellent luck for Mayer, Brown & Platt that in 1954, as now, government pay cannot compete with a good private sector salary. As Bob wrote a few years ago in his delightful memoir, by 1954, he was beginning to doubt that his income in the Solicitor General's office -- despite his having one of the best non-political positions for a lawyer in government -- would be sufficient to pay for straightening the teeth of his three sons, much less eventually sending them to college. So Bob left the SG's office where day-in and day-out he participated in cases which defined American law in our recently past century and where he worked in the company of many of the era's towering talents. Responding to an invitation out of the blue from Leo Tierney, whom Bob had known at the Justice Department, Bob decamped from Washington and joined an unfamiliar law firm in an unfamiliar city becoming the 50th lawyer in Mayer, Meyer, Austrian & Platt, as we were then known. It was a very good thing for the firm that he did.

Bob served as an important part of our litigation practice for forty-one years. Because Steve Shapiro is so much better qualified than I to speak about Bob as a practicing lawyer, I will be very brief on the topic: Bob was a pioneer in private practice. At a time when nearly all litigators were generalists, Bob was an appellate specialist. For Mayer, Brown & Platt he set the example of how valuable the in-depth expertise he brought to cases could be. Bob's example was the seed from which our formidable appellate practice has grown at Mayor, Brown, which many other firms have tried to copy.

Despite Bob's intellect and achievements, he was self-effacing. Roger Barrett, who worked closely with Bob, describes him as "unbelievably modest." One of the first times Roger went into Bob's office, Roger found Bob on the telephone answering obviously rather complicated questions of law. Roger waited five minutes or so while the call continued, and after it had ended, Bob apologized to Roger for keeping him waiting. It was only when Roger asked that Bob disclosed with whom he was talking -- Justice Frankfurter had called to ask Bob's advice.

Frequently, Bob would refer Roger to decisions of the Supreme Court. Bob would know the citations and describe the cases in detail to Roger. They were always on point to Roger's research. But it was only when Roger read the cases that he would learn what was often the fact -- that Bob had argued the case in the Supreme Court. Bob would never mention that.

However sophisticated Bob's legal reasoning was, he was not afraid to show what he didn't know. The General Counsel of Ford Motor Company always insisted on Bob's being on the team for any lawsuit the firm was handling. Once after a Ford engineer gave a detailed 20-minute description of the under carriage of a vehicle, Bob began his questions with -- "Which is the front end of the car?" (laughter)

Bob's approach to life included taking great pleasure in simple things. Pat O'Brien, who also practiced closely with Bob, recalls a trip to Miami for a deposition. Pat decided to book them into what he hoped would be a most sybaritic hotel in Miami Beach. They arrived and checked into their rooms and, few minutes later. Pat's phone rang. It was Bob. He said, with great excitement in his voice, "Pat, guess where I'm calling from?" When Pat couldn't guess, Bob announced that he was calling from the bathroom.

For me, Bob's pleasure in simple things was demonstrated every summer in raspberry season. Bob's Winnetka home had raspberry bushes - in fact Bob and Terese transplanted them when they moved. Hearing Bob recount his joy at each summer's crop has stayed with me. A few days ago, I ate some particularly good raspberries, and my memory of Bob was very strong.

Bob's legacy to our profession is not only in the law he helped to make as an advocate and the practice he helped to shape with his writings, although those contributions would be sufficient for a significant legacy. Bob's interest was not only in the law, but also in lawyers, especially young lawyers. Perhaps it was because, in the difficult days of the Depression and thereafter, many lawyers his senior had looked out for him. While in government, he put in motion the first Justice Department program to hire lawyers right out of law school. And throughout his time at Mayer, Brown & Platt, he made a point, every summer, of inviting each summer associate to lunch. With those lunches, and with all of his other ways of reaching out to all of us, Bob contributed to the future of the firm.

Bob was a formidable talent and a gracious and kind gentleman. His career and his presence with us were a great gift.

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