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The Lawyer's Lawyer

Susan Estrich on

Bert Fields was, as The New York Times put it, the "lawyer to the stars" -- from Dustin Hoffman to Warren Beatty to Tom Cruise to John Travolta, not to mention industry heavyweights like Jeffrey Katzenberg. In Hollywood, he was almost as famous as his clients.

He was also my lawyer.

And as much as any lawyer I've known, he taught me what it means to be a lawyer.

Everyone hates lawyers until you need one, and then you want the best; you want a tiger on your side, someone who will fight for you tenaciously, in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion, someone who will be forever loyal to you, who will make you feel protected. You want Bert. I surely did.

I have my own "Bert Fields letter." A letter from the biggest lawyer in town, telling folks who had gotten hold of a private email (back in the day, when we thought such things might be private) to back off.

Another time, someone threatened to sue me for writing a true story. "Which part of it is untrue?" Bert asked me calmly, and if he was calm, eventually so was I.

 

"The life of the law," Oliver Wendell Holmes brilliantly recognized, "has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed. ... In order to know what (the law) is, we must know what it has been, and what it tends to become."

Old lawyers and young doctors, as my mother would say. Bert went to the office every day, even at age 93. He negotiated my last deal when he was 91. He was a Renaissance man, a student of Shakespeare, of history, a novelist, a teacher, a friend.

Watching Bert in action was a thing to marvel. Unlike many entertainment lawyers, he was also a trial lawyer. And an appellate lawyer. A consummate litigator, as well as a deal maker. There was a reason that men and women who could literally hire any lawyer in the world they wanted hired him.

There are some lawyers who shy away from publicly putting themselves on the line for their clients. "I don't try my cases in the press," they will tell you, which might make sense unless the other side is trying the case in the press and winning. Newspapers don't stop publishing because you say "no comment." Bert understood that.

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