Mentor to the profession: David D. Siegel.

Author:Carpinello, George F.

As I write this, I am in the midst of examining an obscure issue of New York law. Surely, I say to myself, this issue has long been settled in a state with such a massive caseload as New York. But it has not been settled, and I have to go back and look at cases fifty, sixty, and seventy years old. I think to myself, "David would have found this fascinating." That is the way David Siegel approached the law: with sincere, childlike fascination. Every new case, every new amendment to the CPLR, every new practical issue being faced by attorneys was an object of wonderment for David. He loved the law.

David, unfortunately, was a member of a diminishing species: an academic who wrote for and about the profession. David was probably cited more than anyone else by New York's courts, and rightly so. He was the expert on New York practice and probably the most lucid writer on federal practice as well. In recent years, I have heard from more than one judge complaining that academics today seem to be writing for a small, self-selected coterie of illuminati, and that they view the actual practice and development of the law as unworthy of their attention. Increasingly, it seems that writing about what the current state of law is or what it should be comes primarily from practitioners. With some exceptions, academics have withdrawn from the field of battle.

David was also something else that doesn't seem as valued these days: a great teacher. Students loved his classes. When he taught at Albany Law School, the Dean used to put a limit on the number of students who could take his classes. David routinely filled the largest lecture hall. Why? Because he was always enthusiastic about his subject and he desperately wanted to impart that enthusiasm to his students. Let's face it, statute of limitations rules are not the stuff of drama. But with a story from David about some poor attorney's frantic efforts to beat the statute or a story about the unfortunate counsel who filed her papers in the wrong clerk's office, lectures about the statute of limitations became life-long morality tales.

Many people have written about David's love of language and his fantastic ability to convey arcane issues of law in a straightforward and enjoyable way. David worked very hard to find exactly the right word to express, in his understated way, his criticism of a particular court decision or the latest example of how not to represent a client. When you picked up the New York Law...

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