California Bar Journal
CBJ - July 2012 #02.
Los Angeles lawyers bring longevity to the law
The California LawyerJuly 2012Los Angeles lawyers bring longevity to the lawBy Laura Ernde Staff WriterMore than seven decades after Victor Kaplan started his career as a labor union lawyer, he's still fighting for workers' rights.
Kaplan, who celebrates his 98th birthday this month, is the oldest practicing lawyer in the state. His specialty is helping injured railroad workers get federal pensions, although retirement isn't in his own vocabulary. He plans to stay at it "as long as I'm having fun."
Just three miles away from Kaplan Law Group in Century City, another nonagenarian lawyer, David S. Smith, reports to Smith and Smith in Beverly Hills five days a week.
In a profession notoriously racked by burnout, Kaplan and Smith said they continue to enjoy their work, granted the pace is slower now that each of their sons has taken the reins at their respective firms. The two men recently spoke with the California Bar Journal about some of the vast changes they have witnessed in the legal profession.
The sheer number of lawyers has multiplied by a factor of 16 since Kaplan was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1938. Back then there were about 14,500 lawyers in California. As of July there were more than 238,000 - an explosion even factoring in the state's population growth in that time.
Kaplan said the surge in attorneys has made the practice of law more impersonal.
"In those early days you could do a lot of stuff on a handshake," he said.
One example Kaplan recalled was in representing a seaman suing his employer over an injury. The ship where the incident took place only came into port for a few days at a time. With one day's notice, Kaplan was able to call the defense lawyer and arrange for them both to meet the ship at the dock at 9 p.m. to take witness depositions.
""It's not so easy to do that now," he said. "Now you have to go through channels. You don't have that same relationship with the defense firms."
Kaplan and Smith both eschewed big-firm culture, preferring to strike out on their own or team up with small groups of lawyers.
Kaplan for a time worked with well-known plaintiffs' lawyer Raoul Magana, who was the 1963 California Trial Lawyer of the Year. Smith, who was admitted to the bar in January 1943, was...