It lasted for 85 years. For the first 75 years it was a business to behold – no living partner added his or her name to the title of the firm because no one sought to be greater than the whole. There was a sense of comradery and invincibility, a fully aligned partnership where if one partner did well financially, all the others also did well. It was a variant from the norm, a true anomaly: a law firm where people for the most part were happy because no partner looked to belittle or take advantage of another partner and all employed their talents to their highest and best use devoid of distractions. It ended 10 years later in a vortex of acrimonious self-interest. What happened in those 10 years is a tragi-comedy: a ship steered onto muddy shoals instead of the luxury port to which it was headed. I will try to tell the tale fairly and fully but not impartially. As in any good story, there are heroes and villains, but here not so much in the way of heroes; instead, a badly led crew of mostly clueless, scared, self-obsessed so-called “professionals” who grabbed what they could as their ship floundered and then broke in pieces. It is a story of reality rooted in fictions that culminates in the dystopian dissolution of the firm and the loss of all that had been treasured.
“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It is the transition that is troublesome.” - Isaac Asimov
He was found sitting face down at his desk, the front of his head smashed in and bloodied. He had on his summer “casual” attire – ill-fitting golf shirt, baggy slacks, loafers without socks. His clothes appeared unstained. His desk otherwise. On his desk lay multiple sets of season tickets to the professional baseball, hockey, basketball and football teams that made or called New York City their home and which he had secretly and illegally been brokering. Those tickets were now defaced beyond salvage and headed for the evidentiary locker at the local precinct.
He had been, until the moment of his death, a senior partner at mid-sized law firm Jacobs, Goldberg. Now there was one lawyer less, his name soon to be removed from the firm’s website and marketing materials, but forever a part of its history.
The scandals that swirled around him for the past several weeks had culminated in his most-timely demise, with few to mourn his loss given the damage he had done.
The murder weapon was on the floor next to his desk, a foot-long lucite and metal statue with a heavy, weighted base, proclaiming him a 2014 New York Post “Lawyer of the Year.” Who dunnit? There were many candidates, all with compelling motive and volatile personalities.
Only the unhappy environment that Jacobs, Goldberg had become could have nurtured his reckless, mostly criminal conduct recently unearthed. His murder was a mystery soon to be solved, but not without further embarrassment and unwanted publicity for the firm. The death of the firm resulting from the disappearance of its so-called “musketeer culture” was a mystery that might never be solved because no one person had the perspective to ever fully understand it. Like the sacred rocks in a Buddhist garden, no matter where you stood you could never see all the rocks and hence never know the entire truth.
“Oh, ‘tis love, ‘tis love that makes the world go round.” - Lewis Carroll
No account of the firm’s last 10 years would be complete without at least acknowledging that, as in the world around it, there were sexual relationships between co-workers in the Jacobs, Goldberg workplace which in the years 2005-2015, despite the elevated threat of sexual harassment lawsuits, had become more pronounced than they had been before.
The increased transparency (if not frequency) of illicit sexual adventures at the firm was no surprise as it was, in part, a by-product of the evolution of sexual content in the entertainment mainstream. Sex (or at least sexual innuendo) has always been a dominant driver of mass market entertainment, beginning in the days of the silent movies (Rudolph Valentino and Theda Bara) through the motion pictures of the 1930s (Jean Harlow, Clark Gable), the 1940s (Betty Grable, “America’s Pin-Up Girl,” Rita Hayworth as “Gilda” and Cary Grant as, well, Cary Grant), the 1950s (Marlon Brando, James Dean, and, of course, Marilyn Monroe – culminating in 1962 in her nationally-televised breathless “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” delivered in a skintight red dress into which she had been sewn) and the 1960s (Paul Newman, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor as “Cleopatra” and Pussy Galore and the other so-called Bond girls).
In the 1970s-1990s, mainstream nudity arrived and who wasn’t naked in a movie in those years, even Julie Andrews in “S.O.B.” for god’s sake. Softcore porn became hardcore art, touted by critics and devoured by the public. But although you could readily see a bullet shot into someone’s head, mainstream America had not yet embraced seeing a penis or a vagina on screen.
Beginning in the early 2000s, however, mass market entertainment took a giant step forward (or backwards, depending on your point of view) with the internet world of streaming video and the Pornhub hub bub initiated in large part by the blow jobs so lovingly administered (and publicly disseminated) by BFFs Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. In a world where everything goes, everything goes.
As Jacobs, Goldberg’s core values dissipated, it became easy for its partners to be seduced by the siren song of sexuality sung by the internet, a doors wide open, all you can eat, no cost and no consequences Willy Wonka virtual factory, whose “eyeballs” watching were in essence eager children unrestrained by an adult. With sex available at the touch of a finger in the virtual world, there was no great leap from the virtual to the real, especially in a workplace environment where almost everyone was looking out only for his or her self.
Stuart was repeatedly astounded by the stories spun from the Jacobs, Goldberg gossip mill, a network in which his secretary was apparently a main conduit. He wondered about how good a lawyer some of his partners could be if their judgment governing their personal lives was so defective. It is one thing to engage privately in whatever sexual adventure might tickle your fancy, quite another to do so in the office or with a person who is your employee -- you have to know that if it occurs, your private life will almost immediately become your public life. But rational thought and consequences had become less and less of a deterrent judging by the steady stream of salacious stories to which Stuart had become a somewhat willing captive audience. Peter Moore was far from being Stuart’s only randy partner who was systemically incapable of keeping his or her sex life and office life as separate worlds.
Corporate partner Nelson Foster’s practice was mergers and acquisitions, combining two companies in the same industry into one, thereby reducing expenses and competition and increasing profits and value for the shareholders of the combined company. Until 2013, this was all that Nelson did, other than go home to his wife and two children. If you asked Nelson to help out with a corporate loan or an employment agreement, he would respond that he’d be glad to try, but that he did not believe that he would do a good job if it required any degree of sophistication because it just was not his area of expertise. Given that statement, partners almost always went elsewhere in the partnership to get assistance and Nelson remained a one-trick pony.
That all changed in late 2013, when Nelson learned a second trick. At a client’s request, Nelson took the client after dinner to a nearby strip club, the Whip and Lash. After several drinks, Nelson overcame his initial disgust at being dragged to such a degrading environment, and joined the client in stuffing twenty dollar bills in the g-string of the topless, luscious lovely so vigorously lap dancing at their table. Several lap dances later, Nelson found himself alone in a private room with this big-breasted, long legged, gorgeous redhead who looked to be in her early 20s. Nelson fell in lust and his life course took off in a new direction.
Now, when Nelson was not busy working on a merger or acquisition for a client, he was working on an acquisition and a merger for himself. His days in front of his computer screen became increasingly devoted to the Whip and Lash website and the other naked, provocative pictures he found on the private website of Daisy Duzit, his new inamorata. Despite his decreased use of his office computer to actually get his legal work done, this might have been acceptable but for his very bad habit of keeping his computer screen on Daisy’s website even when other lawyers were in his office.
Word spread and soon the executive committee had to warn Nelson that he was engaging in inappropriate conduct and that he had to restrict use of his office computer to office work. Nelson tried to abide by the executive committee’s directive, but once in a while he strayed from the path. Unfortunately, one of those times was in late 2014 when he was gazing rapturously at naked Daisy’s internet pictures when a female associate walked in to hand him a document. Her complaint about an uncomfortable working environment led to Nelson’s being asked to leave the firm: he had learned one trick too many.
Stuart became aware of the unseemly conduct of another of his partners, again thanks to the torrents of information so eagerly shared with him by his secretary. It seems that after the December 2013 Jacobs, Goldberg holiday party, Scooter Mathison had started what became a long-lasting affair with one of the firm’s secretaries, Gloria Twill. At that time, Scooter had been divorced for a few years and enjoying the life of a decent looking, rich, single person with a winning smile and pleasing personality. Stuart could understand Gloria’s attraction to Scooter and his to her. She was not the brightest light on the block, but she had charm and personality. More importantly, if one were honest, was the fact that although not classically beautiful, she was quite attractive and extremely seductive: she spoke with a husky voice, had a terrific figure and was always dressed in tight, provocative clothing, which showcased her outstanding physical attributes.
What had started out as something that could be shrugged off and forgotten (after all, there is probably at least one inebriated or infatuated (or both) one-night stand resulting from every year-end office holiday party), became something more and hence a problem for Jacobs, Goldberg. Besides the constant stream of whispered talk about them (mostly stuff made up -- no, they had never had sex on the table in the office dining room), there was the resentment of other secretaries who believed Gloria was being favored in work assignments, overtime, vacation dates and pay raises. These problems persisted until Scooter, some 14 months after it had started, decided to scoot away from the relationship. Gloria was distraught and, in the emotion of the moment, confessed all to her very jealous, former arena football player husband, but without placing any of the blame on herself.
Instead, her confession recited how she had felt coerced these many months by the threat of losing her job, and, since her husband’s devotion to football instead of his college studies had led to a short-lived football career with no endorsement deals or even steady employment as a waiter, they needed her quite substantial income until he could find his way. Her emotional unburdening inspired her husband to hire a lawyer for Gloria (instead of him beating the crap out of Scooter) and that, in turn, led to a quite substantial six-figure severance package for Gloria. In earlier years, this would not ever have been an issue: if Scooter had persisted in sleeping with a secretary working at the firm, his partnership immediately would have been terminated for violation of the firm’s then vibrant code of conduct. Neither Ted, Bob nor the executive committee would have tolerated such shenanigans.
Not all partners and associates at Jacobs, Goldberg were heterosexual. In keeping with the times, in the years 2005-2015, so-called non-traditional relationships emerged from the shadows to the daylight, where they blossomed in the more inviting and accepting environment that New York City by that time had come to provide.
One partner, Phil Bishop, married for 24 years with two children in college, announced to his partners at a monthly partners meeting that he was gay, had recently left his wife and had moved in with a male partner with whom he had been having a long-standing secret relationship. The partners were surprised but by no means put off by Phil’s proclamation of sexual emancipation. Some of them felt that the only thing inappropriate was Phil announcing his “coming out” at a partners meeting, since his private life belonged to him and he was free to do whatever made him happy (as long as it was legal).
Phil had felt the need to proffer this information because for the prior two years he had been criticized by the executive committee for his performance as a partner, including drinking too much at business dinners, falling way short of his targeted billable hours and coming in late or even, on one occasion, missing, early morning meetings that he had scheduled with clients. Phil had revealed the turmoil in his private life by way of explanation and apology to his partners for his performance the past two years, accompanied with the promise that he would be “picking up his game” now that he had happily resolved his personal relationships.
Phil wasn’t by any means the only gay person at the firm, just one of the few who had hidden the fact. For many years, one of the women partners had attended firm functions with her female partner and otherwise socialized with her as a couple when she went to parties or dinners with the partners at the firm with whom she was friendly. Two of the female secretaries were life partners living together and the firm had hired the second secretary knowing that she was the first secretary’s wife. And several of the male and female associates and one other male partner were gay as well.
No one at Jacobs, Goldberg cared or was keeping count except Mollie Crankherup, who wanted to be sure that Jacobs, Goldberg was sufficiently diverse – if not, Stuart wondered, did that mean she would lobby for the firm to only hire gay attorneys for the next few years?
Of course, gay relationships were no different than heterosexual relationships in the frequency of ups, downs, break-ups and cheating on one’s spouse or life partner. And there were many stories that circulated through the corridors reciting the adventures and misadventures of certain of the gay attorneys.
One that was a favorite of Stuart’s secretary (which she was most happy to relate) was the arrest (desk summons only) of Arthur Adler, a fifth-year associate. Apparently, he had attended a friend’s bachelor party, got high on alcohol and weed, and then attempted to prove that his “manhood” went both ways by stripping to the music in syncopation with the female stripper who was dressed in a nurse’s uniform, and then propositioning her to have sex with him as the culmination (so to speak) of their live performance. She declined, he persisted, she got offended, he got cantankerous, she smacked him, he yelled at her, she stormed off, he cooled off, she found a policeman, he got arrested, she declined to pursue the complaint, he got released. Who says bachelor parties are passé?
Another story was not funny, just sad. When Phil was still avoiding the light and hiding in the corner, and before he met the person who became his new life partner, he was at a bar and picked up a much younger man, with whom he spent the night in a nearby hotel. They exchanged phone numbers and, over the course of the next two months, spent two or three more nights together enjoying casual sex. However, the young man proved to be not an innocent eager participant, but a hustler who had somehow managed to use his cell phone to take a video of them in delicto flagrante, with the result that Phil was making monthly payments to him to maintain Phil’s secret. Eventually, Phil threatened to go to the police and, as a result, the blackmail stopped, but, in retaliation, the video went viral. Fortunately for Phil, the quality of the video was just poor enough that only Phil’s wife would have recognized Phil had she seen the video (which she never did); no one else who saw it recognized Phil, and it soon disappeared into the miasma of the internet.
Even Jacobs, Goldberg clients seemed to catch the fever for the excitement that clandestine office-related rendezvous could provide. David Sagerty’s secretary was a youthful looking 40 year old, well-muscled, handsome physical specimen (think young Brad Pitt), quite the envy of every male and female in the office. He was bi-sexual, so every man and woman had a fighting chance to bed him if they (and he) were so inclined.
One day a client and his wife were at Jacobs, Goldberg to sign the latest version of their wills. As they were leaving, they passed by David Sagerty’s office on the way to the elevators in the reception area and there in front of his secretarial cubicle was Adonis (real name, Myron) Glanz, bent over from the waist down picking something up from the floor (his body forming a perfect “L”). This rear window view grabbed each of their attention and as he arose from the side of his desk, like Neptune from the water, they each let out an involuntary inaudible (they hoped) sigh. When they recovered their respective abilities to speak, they bid each other a loving goodbye, sealed by an affectionate peck on the lips, and Charles Guffman headed off to work at his company and Meredith Guffman to the hospital where she volunteered her services as a registered nurse three days a week.
Five minutes after leaving the Jacobs, Goldberg offices, Charles Guffman reemerged from the elevator and knocked on David Sagerty’s door. David invited him in and asked what he could do for Charles, whom he had known for a long time. To his astonishment (to say the least), Charles asked David to help set Meredith up with David’s secretary if he could, explaining to David that Charles and Meredith had an open marriage and Charles wanted Meredith to have a happy sexual diversion (which he was sure Adonis could supply) because she was without a lover at the moment and he had just started a very passionate, all-consuming sugar daddy sexual relationship that he wanted to enjoy without the pressure of also having to satisfy Meredith’s sexual needs. David politely (and very uncomfortably) told Charles that he wouldn’t do that but reluctantly agreed not to interfere if Myron and Meredith were somehow to hook-up so long as he didn’t know about it (“don’t’ ask, don’t tell”).
About 20 minutes after Charles left David’s office, who should appear but Meredith, whom David had known for years as well. To David’s astonishment (again), Meredith told David that Charles was bi-sexual, that they had an open marriage and asked David to help set Charles up with Adonis if he could because Meredith was in the midst of a passionate affair and wanted Charles to be happy as well. Once again a (somewhat less) stupefied David declined the request and told Meredith the same thing that he had told Charles.
It is not a shibboleth that life often takes a turn that you never expected, anticipated or even imagined. With that in mind, about three months later Myron came to David and asked if he could speak to David in confidence. David assured him that he could, closed his door, and beckoned Myron to sit next to him on the couch where they could talk about whatever Myron wanted to discuss. With a sheepdog look and a sheepish shrug of his impressive shoulders, he told David that he had gotten into a situation that he did not know how to resolve. Sparing David what he said were the unnecessary, somewhat unseemly details, he told David that he had become embroiled (enmeshed or intertwined might be a better word) with both Charles and Meredith Guffman, sleeping with each of them and neither of them knowing it, and now each of them had offered to dump their spouse if Myron would make them his exclusive partner.
David had thought he had heard it all, but this took the cake. Despite a grim looking, very intent Myron, David saw the humor and gave some very simple advice: “Just say ‘no.’ And then break it off with each of them. You never should have become involved with either of them knowing that they were clients of the firm.”
“But I enjoy being with the both of them. The sex, the companionship and the expensive gifts to boot.”
Suddenly seeing this (and Myron) in a different light, David no longer saw any humor in any of this and chastised Myron: “I am not a marriage counselor. If the expensive gifts drive you, ask yourself what that says about you. But you know the answer I have for you. Scavenge for treasure somewhere else.”
Afterwards, from time to time, David spoke with Charles and Meredith and neither one ever mentioned Myron; Myron continued to work for David, but the two of them never again discussed Charles or Meredith. (I am not sure what that all means and neither was David.)
Stuart heard many more tales of the workplace-related sexual hanky panky that seemed rampant in 2013-2015, but their detailed recitation serves no real purpose except possibly titillation: yes, passionate sexual intercourse did take place on several occasions in one of the so-called “war rooms” where hard-copy documents in a major litigation were stored; yes, one of the secretaries had a habit of willingly, happily and enthusiastically giving a partner a blow job on the couch in his office when they were working late nights together; yes, one of the women partners brought a male stripper to the office for “private time” after a late night Chippendale’s bachelorette party; yes, one of the married male partners had been spotted at a gay bar with one of the firm’s clients and had had many closed-door office “meetings” together since then; yes, one of the partners had a photograph in his desk drawer of his secretary bare breasted looking down at him; yes, a married paralegal had secretly (she thought) spent a long weekend in Aruba with one of the litigation partners, neither of them sporting a tan when they returned; and so forth and so forth.
The point here, however, is that there would have been few, if any, such stories and no “so forth and so forth” had the “musketeer culture” remained in existence during these last years of the firm’s life. Indeed, these would not have been the last years of the firm’s life if its culture had been maintained. But I can only tell the story that was, not the story as I wish it had been, because there would be little point (and less truth) to the latter.