Legendary criminal defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey died yesterday.
There must be thousands of stories about him and his law firm.
Wednesday April 25, 1984 was the day that I interviewed to work for F. Lee Bailey’s New York law firm, Bailey and Broder.
It was also the day that I was sworn in as a New York lawyer.
He was more than just a legend.
He was THE legend.
His name was iconic.
People kidded young, aggressive lawyers like I was hoping to become back then with mocking comparisons to him: “Who do you think you are? F. Lee Bailey?”
“OK F. Lee Bailey. Whatever you say”.
It was a most powerful “F.”
That “F” was in the league of, say, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.
To me, his first name was “F.”
So much so that during the O.J. Simpson trial any time I heard someone refer to him as “Lee Bailey” it sounded like sacrilege to me.
Anyway, back on the morning of April 25, 1984 when I took the attorney oath in New York City, I had no idea how to begin my law career, and I certainly had no idea that later that day I would be sitting in the Empire State Building in F. Lee Bailey’s office.
I picked up that day’s “NY Law Journal”.
An article caught my attention.
“F. Lee Bailey’s law partner, Aaron J. Broder, will be giving a continuing legal education seminar today at 1 pm at the New York Hilton Hotel Ballroom. Tickets are $35.”
$35? That was a lot of money to me then, a NY lawyer for about an hour with no job and no prospects of finding one any time soon.
But I decided to make the investment. I was going to meet F. Lee Bailey’s law partner. That day.
And he was going to offer me a job.
I was going to be F. Lee Bailey’s newest associate.
I took the subway from my apartment in Brooklyn to the New York Hilton.
My best suit, white shirt, blue tie. Black shoes. Got them shined by the guy in the subway station.
At the Hilton, I sat in the front row listening to Mr. Broder speak about New York Civil Procedure.
Boring as hell.
But I smiled and clapped.
I was going to go to Mr. Broder’s table after the lecture and tell him how great it was and he was going to hire me. That was the plan.
The lecture ended.
But Mr. Broder, instead of returning to his table for lunch, left the ballroom through a kitchen door.
Now what do I do? 35 bucks for this meeting down the drain? Oh no…
I quickly made my way out of the ballroom to the escalator. There he was…almost at the bottom of the escalator…
“Mr. Broder! I yelled out fearing that I might have sounded like Mark David Chapman calling out John Lennon’s name right before firing his gun 4 years earlier a few blocks west of where we were..
He turned around.
I put up my hand as I stepped on the top of the escalator.
He waited for me.
What the F was I going to say to him?
“Mr. Broder, I just wanted an opportunity to meet you and tell you how much I enjoyed your lecture” came out of my mouth with a mix of fear and excitement.
Thank you, young man. What is your name?
“I’m Steve Kaplan.”
Well hello, Steve. Where do you work?
“Well, to tell you the truth Mr. Broder, I was just sworn in to the New York bar this morning and I don’t have a job yet.”
“Would you like to interview with my firm?” He asked.
F yea I would.
He gave me his business card. He said “my managing attorney is Mr. Michaelson. Call the office. We’re in the Empire State Building. Tell Mr. Michaelson that I told you to call him and that I want him to interview you for a position with Bailey and Broder.”
British accent receptionist.
“Good afternoon, thank you for calling the law office of F. Lee Bailey and Aaron J. Broder. So and So speaking. May I help you?”
I told her that Mr. Broder had told me to call the office to set up an appointment to interview with Mr. Michaelson for an associate position with the firm.
My appointment was scheduled for that same afternoon.
There I was.
Empire State Building.
Bird singing outside on the windowsill.
I’m sitting in F. Lee Bailey’s office hours after I became a lawyer, about to interview for my first job.
With F. Lee Bailey’s law firm.
My heart was palpitating.
I looked at the open window again. I could jump, I thought…what the hell was I doing there?
This time I was sitting right across from the receptionist as she answered the phone with those same words with the same, beautiful British accent:
“Good afternoon, thank you for calling the law office of F. Lee Bailey and Aaron J. Broder. So and So speaking. May I help you?
Just one minute please.”
A momentary pause.
“Hello, Mr. Broder? Mr. Smith is on line 3 regarding the Korean Airlines 007 case”
THE Korean Airlines 007 CASE??????
The case had been front page news for the past 7 months all around the world.
I was about to interview with the law firm representing family members of those who perished when Korean Air Lines Flight 007, a flight from New York City to South Korea, was shot down by a Soviet fighter jet killing all onboard.
I interviewed with Mr. Michaelson. He told me that if I was selected I would be expected to work 7 days a week. Occasionally I would be given a Sunday off…it would feel like a holiday, he told me.
He said that if I was good enough and dedicated enough, after a few years I might hope to be promoted to the “Broder Trial Prep Team”.
Oh, and the pay? $10,000 a year.
He told me to think about the terms and to call him if I was interested.
I sent a letter thanking Mr. Michaelson but indicated that I could not accept a position at $10,000.
As I write this article 37 years later as a 63 year old experienced, happy, New Jersey divorce lawyer, I wonder what would have happened if I had continued on in the interview process.
Would I have gotten the job?
Would I have ever worked on a case with F. Lee Bailey? Might I have started referring to myself as “S. Jeffrey Kaplan?”
Would I have stayed in New York City instead of returning home to New Jersey to take the New Jersey bar exam?
Would I have ever met Judge Graves, the wonderful New Jersey Family Court Judge who hired me and mentored me?
Would I still be living in New York now instead of here at the Jersey Shore, the place that I have loved so much for the past 35 years?
But I do know that the legal community lost a legend yesterday. F. Lee Bailey, one of the most well-known criminal trial lawyers in history.
Rest In Peace, Mr. Bailey.