Yesterday, I learned that a friend of mine died early this year. His name was Marvin Lanter.
Marvin was a trial lawyer, like me. You can still find his website, his law firm, and YouTube videos of Marvin Lanter online. The first thing everyone noticed was the accent. Marvin was raised in a Jewish New York neighborhood. I met Marvin during a program for trial lawyers called Trojan Horse Method, or THM, run by Dan Ambrose. I remember our group well: Jordan, Sergio, Erica, Chuck, Ilya, Blanco, Jerry and Ed, among others. An exceptional group of trial lawyers to learn from.
There Marvin was in the center row. He would sling questions and commentary at Mr. Ambrose like sport, in that distinctive New York accent. For Marvin, reasoned debate seemed to be an enjoyable sport – something that came naturally to him. But this same Marvin, the one so capable and willing to spar, would grow timid during public speaking presentations. A man shy when put on the stage in front of his peers. He would openly admit he hoped to work through some bouts of stage fright.
But he was a man whose convictions ran deep.
During lunch breaks I sat with Marvin. He told me about growing up as the son of immigrants. His parents had owned the neighborhood liquor store; how he never saw himself as above or below anyone. Marvin talked with me about seeing the cast of characters in the neighborhood, and how his experiences growing up never left him. At some point in the journey, boy Marvin transitioned to become Marvin Lanter: the attorney in greater Los Angeles. This is how I came to know him, roughly a year and a half before his passing.
What I will never forget is Marvin’s speech. It happened at the most unexpected moment.
We were near the conclusion of our friendly story-telling competition to close out our seminar. I remember that I told my story of brotherhood. I received many votes, but I did not make the finalists by one vote (as a result of voting against myself). Marvin, still being quite shy when storytelling, had not made the finalists.
Then something happened.
Unprompted, Marvin rose from the center of the audience to address the entire room from the swell of his heart. I was only able to capture the last minute on my phone, as he spoke about personal growth, democracy, justice, and how trial lawyers help to fulfill the ideals of the nation:
“You know, all this ‘you gotta f***ing correct that.’ All the guys and gals who are civil prosecutors here. What we are doing is improving!
You know, we are the living proof of democracy. And, in my mind, I just feel so blessed. Look, it’s not easy. It’s tough. It’s hard. But we are so f***ing lucky to be living in this country, at this time, to do what we do.
It was just great meeting everybody from all over this country. We come from all over this country. It makes you feel that, you know, maybe we got a chance. Maybe we have a chance in this country. And I’m telling you, those founding fathers they’re looking down – Adams and Jefferson, and the other guys that signed that document, put their Handcock – and they’re smiling saying: ‘Yeah. Yeah.’”
I like to think that Adams and Jefferson gave Marvin a high five when they met again, and that Marvin is looking down smiling on the rest of us now.