Lawyer in New York

It’s time for lunch, and we are just along 42nd Avenue from Grand Central Station, Manhattan. September here in New York is a glorious month of sunshine, the leaves showing their first flush of colour as high temperatures slip the right side for comfort, and the crazy rush of the city takes on a more gentle pace.

Leaving Subway line 3 at Times Square, Maureen Hackett‘s Bryant Park is our first stop where we rest beneath the canopy of planes amid the gardens, promenades and terraces. The square is one of Manhattan’s most sophisticated, with open air chess and reading room, and a flood of little tables at which office workers and tourists take a break. It is by John Quincy Adams Ward‘s Dodge monument that we meet with Garrett who has just published his third book, a narrative poem about the life of a professional dancer, contrasting with his previous  ‘Steinbeckian’ Alaskan novel. He is part of that great wave of writers who are attempting to make it in the cut-throat literary world.

Our main purpose of the day is to meet with Keith, a maritime lawyer. Keith, a Yale and Vanderbilt graduate has been practising in shipping law since 1980, dealing with collisions, charter parties and maritime contracts, having a shared interest in arbitration and alternatives to litigation. We greet just outside the doors of 100, and slide down Park Avenue to Pershing Square with its bright tables spread out across the street. We are midtown, amongst so much that is Manhattan – the Chrysler building, Waldorf-Astoria, and the top of the Empire State building peeping between the roofs.

Keith has reserved a table, one that is away from the breeze, but catches the autumn warmth. As a specialist lawyer he dresses informally and looks relaxed. His practice is a mixture of court and tribunal work, but with an emphasis on problem-solving, deal brokering and contract management. Like many other professionals who work in Manhattan, he lives outside the island – in this case, Connecticut to the north-east of New York, and travels in daily by high-speed train. His offices give a sky-level view over Manhattan towards the East River.

It would be unfair to compare the life of an American maritime lawyer with that of an English advocate, but the obvious contrasts are significant. Working life here appears more intense – early starts with fast journeys decanting at Grand Central into pressured meetings and hard negotiations followed, at the end of the day by a wind-down beer. This is a truly urban working life, surrounded by soaring buildings shading East side Manhattan.

We talk about deals, cases, ADR and working life in the city. We glance back over the life challenges of the first American lawyers,  time spent in current working lives, and forwards to the new opportunities that life may afford. Keith’s Blackberry signals the end of lunch and the start of his next appointment. We part, two very different professional lives of lawyers slipping their own way – his to the upper floors of Park Avenue’s first modern glass and steel tower, ours towards the shady Garment district of Manhattan for our next rendezvous.

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