In late August, 1965, on my first day in the law office of MacFarlane, Harris, Martin, Kendall & Dutcher, a partner handed me a real estate file. This was the first time I had seen a real estate file or for that matter any legal file. Typically law students didn’t work in law offices. The real estate file must have worked for me, as I focused on real estate for the next 50 years.
Yes, the practice of real estate law has changed over the years, just as all facets of the law have changed. Closings occurred at the County Clerk’s Office, not at attorneys’ offices. Attorneys did the tax adjustments using long division to determine the monthly and daily charges; no hand held calculators to do the work. Secretaries typed deeds and other closing documents (there weren’t many) using typewriters and producing two or three carbon copies. Correcting errors was time consuming. Into the 1970’s electronic typewriters with memory came into the offices. Xerox was an early leader in these and IBM followed shortly thereafter. These machines had wheels with the characters on the outer edge and each key stroke caused the wheel to spin to the selected letter. One could change the wheel to produce different fonts. The document could have a justified right edge, which was quite an advance for the day.
Almost all lawyers and law firms were located at Rochester’s Four Corners, so delivery of documents was fairly efficient. One could count on the US Mail being delivered the next business day. The larger law firms hired messengers to do deliveries. Deliveries from smaller offices were by the attorney or his secretary (most lawyers were men, glad that’s changed over time as women bring great thought and much needed diversity to the legal field). The moderate pace of those days allowed lawyers to spend more time thinking about matters in their cases. The mad rush to respond to e-mails didn’t exist.
As is still true, deeds had to be notarized to be recorded. Notaries were appointed to act in a particular county. So Monroe County notaries with a deed to be recorded in another New York County had to purchase a notarial certificate from the Monroe County Clerk’s Office. This certified to the other county that the notary was in fact authorized to act as a notary. In the 1970’s that requirement was removed so a notary was valid for documents recorded state-wide. Sometime later deeds signed by out of state notaries were accepted without proof they were in fact a notary public.
So how did a guy from Rutland, Vermont end up in Rochester? Well, I attended the University of Vermont and had the incredible good fortune to meet Bonnie Stewart – from Rochester. We were married after my first year at Albany Law School. In analyzing post-graduation job opportunities, Rochester seemed to be the best choice. Turned out to be an excellent decision. We have two children, Jay and Kathryn; both are lawyers, graduates of the law schools of Tulane University and University of Chicago respectively. They each married lawyers. None of the four currently practice in law firms. This confirms the versatility of a law school education.
Back to Vermont in the early 1960’s. As I was completing my undergraduate work, I was unsure about law school or which direction to take my life. A family friend was a Justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, the state’s highest court. He graciously gave me time to talk with him in his chambers. He shared how the court system works, different types of law, job opportunities, and more One comment of his that resonated and stuck with me, was that the practice of law gave a person an opportunity to help others.
I believe that for the last 50 years I’ve tried to help people; I think that’s been successful. None of it would be possible without the wonderful colleagues I’ve worked with over the years. The last 23½ years have been with Lacy Katzen LLP. I have high regard for the Lacy Katzen attorneys, paralegals and staff, all of whom have been so helpful and supportive. I also appreciate the many other professionals I have had the opportunity to interact with inside our legal system. I have learned from so many of you, and perhaps even argued with a few! Regardless of our circumstances together, I have tremendous respect for your passion and professionalism. Thank you for making my decision in Vermont over 50 years ago the absolute best it could be.