9 Chapters
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6: FACING A TOUGH REALITY

Halpern, Charles Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I WAS SITTING in my Georgetown office when I received an unexpected call from Abe Chayes, with whom I had remained friends since we met at the Harvard Faculty Club. He got right to the point: “I’ve heard about the perfect job for you. They’re starting a law school in the City University of New York and looking for a new dean. It’s supposed to be a public interest law school, which means that you would have a chance to rethink what legal education ought to look like, and, perhaps, to build public interest law into a significant branch of the profession. The chancellor of CUNY called to ask if I had any ideas. I’d like to submit your name.”

I thought back to a conversation that Abe and I had in a Japanese restaurant in St. Paul in 1976, as we swiped raw fish through soy sauce and wasabi with a group of public interest lawyers and professors. Chief Justice Warren Burger had convened a meeting of leaders in the legal profession to discuss his program of law reform, the core of which was designed to make the court system more efficient in handling corporate litigation. Our group was committed to the idea that poor people were inadequately served in the justice system and that this was a matter that should receive priority attention. I had persuaded the Chief Justice’s lieutenant that it could be 144seriously embarrassing if a conference on the reasons for popular discontent with the courts included no participants who advocated for poor people and others unrepresented in the legal process. I was scheduled to speak the next morning, and Abe was encouraging me to be really tough, to confront the Chief Justice with some issues that he might not want to hear, about injustices embedded in the legal system.

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9: THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE

Halpern, Charles Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

SUSAN AND I moved to Berkeley in 2001, when she was still weak from her latest round of chemotherapy and the walk up the steep stairs to our rented house in the Berkeley hills left her panting. We wanted to be close to the children if she had to undergo further treatment. A few years later, through the kindness of a friend, I found myself across the table from the playwright Tony Kushner at a dinner sponsored by the Berkeley Repertory Theater at a French bistro near the Berkeley campus. Kushner, who was in town for the opening of his play, Caroline or Change, was remarkably gracious in engaging the strangers assembled for this dinner.

I was introduced as the former president of the Nathan Cum-mings Foundation, perhaps with the hope that I could be helpful to him in financing his next project. But I had no help to offer— being a former president is radically different from being a president, with direct access to the foundation checkbook.

I told him about my decisions to leave the presidency of the Cummings Foundation, to pack up our Riverside Drive apartment, and to move to California. “My wife and I were ready to slow down and to live closer to our children and grandchildren. I was worried that I was starting to believe all of the subtle flattery that was aimed 240in my direction—it can be disabling. I thought that the community in Berkeley was likely to be more supportive of my peculiar mix of activism and meditation.” I had anticipated continuing to make waves and ride the currents, with a shift in the balance toward more ease. I looked forward to being relieved of the burden of responsibility that rests on the shoulders of a CEO.

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3: SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR

Halpern, Charles Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

IN 1968, I invited a group of friends to discuss the problems with our law work and the failings of the justice system. In evening meetings at my home, we were driven both by our dissatisfactions and a sense of possibility, a feeling that we could be doing better with our lives. This wasn’t what we had become lawyers for. We wanted to work on problems that were socially significant, and we were prepared to make waves. We liked the idea of working as a community of friends, with people we cared about. We were in a position to take risks, since our work in prestigious legal institutions provided us a substantial safety net. We were inspired by other people who were taking bigger risks—in the resistance to the war and in the civil rights movement.

In unstructured and wide-ranging conversations, we talked about the social turmoil and the people who were challenging the sluggishness of institutions and the performance of leaders. Student takeovers closed down university campuses; urban ghettoes were in flames. The 1968 Democratic Convention became a landmark of urban disorder and police violence against young people. The assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King made the search for new forms to reinvigorate democratic processes urgent. The Weathermen and the Black Panthers engaged in 54violence in a misguided effort to end racism and oppression. People were making big bets with their lives. They were burning draft cards and they were burning their bridges—moving to Canada to avoid going to fight in a war they condemned, going to jail, or dropping out into the worlds of spiritual quest, drugs, or rock music. People who had been on career and achievement tracks their whole lives were suddenly being derailed.

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7: BEGINNING MEDITATION

Halpern, Charles Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

ESPECIALLY IN THE early years, I wondered whether the Law School would survive—and whether I would survive as dean, without being blown off course, without becoming a person that I did not want to be. I often thought of Tim Healy’s caution—that I would be tested in every way, and that I would have to develop reserves of inner strength and wise judgment.

I was trying to lead a law school program that would train whole people, people who would work from their heads and their hearts, who would bring compassion, equanimity, and community to the core of their work. And I often found myself angry and frustrated— at war with the man who had hired me, appalled by the political corruption, misunderstood by the local bar, alienated from some of the students and faculty, frustrated by the uncomprehending bureaucracy, frightened by the lawlessness on the Long Island Expressway. I felt isolated, embattled, and over my head—emotionally, morally, and psychologically. Too many nights, I came home exhausted and dejected, falling asleep immediately after dinner with my briefcase full of unread memoranda and curriculum proposals.

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1: AWAKENING

Halpern, Charles Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I STEPPED INTO the main entrance of the federal district courthouse, a sterile modern building facing the manicured lawn of the Mall, between the Capitol and the White House in the heart of official Washington. I greeted the guard by name as I walked through the green marble lobby. “How ya doin’ Mr. Hapner? Nice to see you back,” he said.

“I’ve got a big case in district court this morning,” I said, as breezily as I could manage, as if I had trials and arguments in the courthouse every day. Just two years earlier, in 1965, I had been a law clerk in this same building, my first job out of law school, doing research and drafting opinions and memoranda for an appellate judge. Today I was returning, dressed in my gray pin-striped suit, carrying my new monogrammed calf-skin briefcase. I was lead counsel in a case I cared about deeply, asking the court to take unprecedented steps to protect the rights of mental patients confined in public mental hospitals against their will. I was no longer carrying the bags for a senior partner in a case for a bank or drug company. This was my first big step into professional autonomy.

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