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TCL > July 2004 Issue > Louis G. Isaacson

The Colorado Lawyer
July 2004
Vol. 33, No. 7 [Page  19]

© 2004 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved.

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Features
Six of the Greatest

Louis G. Isaacson
by Bradley A. Friedman

 

Louis G. Isaacson

by Bradley A. Friedman

Bradley A. Friedman, Denver, is a lawyer and grandson of Louis Isaacson. He serves as Director of Endowment and Planned Giving for the Endowment Fund of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado.

Stanton Rosenbaum is a senior partner at the firm that continues to bear the name of Louis Isaacson: Isaacson, Rosenbaum, Woods & Levy. As Rosenbaum tells it, "In all the years I knew and worked with him, I never heard anyone call him Lou; it was always, Mr. Isaacson. He commanded respect simply by his presence. He was a big man, with a wonderful voice and a memory like no one I’ve ever known." Certainly, he was one of Colorado’s greatest attorneys, as well as a fine human being.

Early Years and Mentoring

Some men succeed because they are destined to, but most men because they are determined to.

—Anonymous

Louis Isaacson was born in Denver, Colorado, on February 26, 1910. In 1929, he graduated from the University of Colorado, which he attended on an academic scholarship, and received his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1932. He was admitted to the Colorado Bar that same year. After graduation, he went into private practice. On June 14, 1935, he married Henrietta "Hank" Freund, in Chicago. Later, they had two daughters, Ellen and Linda.

For nearly thirty years, Lou Isaacson employed and trained many of Colorado’s most outstanding lawyers and judges. Lou said, "I was a one-man band, doing everything. But it was the trial work that was fun. It was the happiest time of my life."1

Supporting Civil and
Legal Rights

In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is
the peer of the most powerful.
2

During the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy brought attention to the alleged communist threat. Seven people were arrested in August 1954 "in the shadows of the Colorado State Capitol" by the FBI and charged with conspiring to teach the violent overthrow of the United States.3 The defendants could not find lawyers to defend them. Judge Jean S. Breitenstein4 turned to the Denver Bar Association ("DBA") to find appropriate counsel. Lou Isaacson was the DBA President at the time.

Isaacson went to the "large" law firms in town, none of which at the time had more than fifteen lawyers, and asked each to contribute a lawyer on a pro bono basis.5 During his entire career, Isaacson felt strongly about the need for attorneys to provide their services on a pro bono basis. He implored the firms to assist these defendants, which they did.

For six months, the attorneys worked full time on the case. The trial then lasted two months and, at its conclusion, all the defendants were found guilty. The attorneys were paid by their own firms, but the firms were not compensated by the federal courts. All the defendants appealed, the case was reversed, and the defendants were tried a second time—and found guilty. They appealed again, the case was reversed again, and this time the U.S. Attorney did not press for a third trial.

Living and Working
As a Lawyer

I would rather have clients than
be somebody’s lawyer.
6

In 1960, Lou founded Isaacson and Pfeiffer. His colleague, Jack Pfeiffer, remembers him as his mentor. "He taught me how to sleep nights—always be honest, forthright—and be so with your client. He was really quite a guy."7 Myron "Mickey" Miller recalls working on a landlord/tenant matter with Isaacson in 1960. Mickey represented the landlord. The two got along famously. When the deal was completed, they went out for a drink. This led to further discussions, which resulted in their two law firms merging in 1961 to become Isaacson, Rosenbaum, Goldberg and Miller.

Miller says, "Lou was at ease with everyone he ever met. He was a tremendous negotiator, and ethics were very important to him in every aspect of his life." His clientele was diverse. He loved to travel because it provided him with the opportunity to meet new people. In those days, attorneys dictated to a secretary who took shorthand and then transcribed the dictation, using carbon paper to make multiple copies of a document. It wasn’t easy to make revisions. "Lou was so intelligent; he could almost always dictate an entire contract, from scratch, in final form. Things got done quickly," says Miller.

Miller describes Isaacson as a "counselor" to his clients. He had a tremendous grasp of the law and a keen eye and mind for the business decisions his clients needed to make. He knew how to apply the law in a beneficial way to get the deal done in the best interest of his client. "In those days, it wasn’t unusual for an attorney to make business decisions for his clients. Lou had tremendous business sense and was responsible for the success of many of his business clients," said Miller.

Lou Isaacson had a well-developed ethical code, business sense, keen legal mind, and fervent desire to assist those less fortunate than himself. He also had a memory for restaurants. "Wherever we traveled, Lou always recommended the best places to eat," Miller recalls. He was a man of many talents and tastes.

Service and Honors

In 1954–1955, Lou Isaacson became president of the DBA and, in 19591960, was vice-president of the Colorado Bar Association ("CBA"). For the DBA, he also served on the DBA Judiciary Committee, Precedent & Procedures Manual Committee, Advisory and Planning Committee, Public Relations Committee, and the Committee on Committees. For the CBA, he served on the CBA Judiciary Committee, Conference Committee with CPAs, Mental Health Committee, Executive Committee, Judicial Ethics Committee, and the Corporate and Business Law Committee.

In 1973, Isaacson received the DBA’s Award of Merit, its highest honor. In 1982, he also was honored by the DBA on the completion of his fiftieth year of law practice. That was the year I, his grandson, graduated from Colorado College and decided to attend the University of Denver College of Law. I wanted to follow in the very large footsteps of my father, Sheldon Friedman, and my grandfather.

A Respected Role Model

Lou Isaacson not only was my grandfather, but also my mentor. Although he retired in 1989, my "mentoring" really began when I was 5 years old and he let me have a few sips of the scotch he was drinking. He then walked me around the block several times to keep my mother from finding out I was intoxicated.

In public and private, Lou was a man people respected. He worked hard and played hard. Whether he was in the courtroom, negotiating a business transaction, on the golf course, or at the card or craps table, he was a man of integrity. He lived his life as an example to be followed by everyone who came in contact with him.

When the use of timesheets became popular, and later automated, I recall numerous conversations in which he lamented that timesheets were the beginning of the end of the legal profession he loved so dearly. In his day, at the end of each month, he would take out his client list. He would go down the list, client by client, and note the tasks he had performed and the results he had obtained. He would then determine a fair price for his time and effort and send a bill.

He believed the use of timesheets was going to spoil the personal relationships he had with his clients and erode the trust he had spent years building with each individual for whom he worked. Gone were the days of doing deals with a handshake. He was worried that clients would become afraid to call or meet personally for advice because they might be billed in six-minute increments. Nevertheless, for the last several years of his active career, he did his best to adjust to the changing times and even dictated his timesheets so clients could be billed accurately for the work he did on their behalf.

A Trusted Trustee

If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a
citizen of the world.
8

I remember many important clients of my grandfather’s and even more amicus briefs and pro bono cases. But one of Lou Isaacson’s most important contributions to the legal profession was his service as a trustee of the Waterman Fund. The widow of Colorado U. S. Senator Charles W. Waterman (a member of the Denver Bar for more than forty years) directed in her will that income from her estate go to the DBA to be used

for the sole and only purpose of relieving the financial necessities, assuaging the hardships and lightening the financial burdens of aged, infirm or otherwise incapacitated members of the Colorado Bar in good repute and standing who shall have practiced law in Colorado for a period of at least 10 years.9

Until 1983, Lou was the only person to have served as a trustee of the Waterman Fund since the trust was created in 1963. He was quoted as saying, "We have tried to live up to the mandate in the Waterman will in assisting attorneys of good repute who have encountered financial difficulties to get relief, or in many instances to get on their feet and lead a life of accomplishment and pride."10 He was so proud to have served in this capacity and to have had the honor to assist others. Many attorneys owe their lives and careers to the Waterman Fund. Others received anonymous financial assistance, without which they could not have survived.

Community Service

Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what
we think of, the tree is the real thing.
11

Throughout his entire career, even in the years building his law practice, this man of great character gave of himself to the community. As a founding trustee of Rose Memorial Hospital, now known as Rose Medical Center, Lou Isaacson served as president for three years and on the board for many years thereafter. "I recall the years when Lou was president of Rose Hospital because he had to squeeze in his law practice and time with us junior lawyers between hospital functions and board meetings," said Jack Pfeiffer in a 1983 speech he gave while presenting Isaacson with an award from the Anti-Defamation League ("ADL").

Isaacson’s service to the ADL is legendary. He was a chair of the Denver board of directors and served on the National Community Service, Law, and Civil Rights Committees. His name also is on a number of amicus curiae briefs, including Green v. Continental Airlines,12 a landmark discrimination case involving an African-American pilot, as well as Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission v. Case,13 an important case involving fair housing litigation.

In addition to his service with the Waterman Fund, the ADL, and Rose Hospital, Lou was on the board of his synagogue, Congregation Emanuel, and was instrumental in its growth and relocation to its present site on Grape Street. He also was a long-time member of the board of directors of the Jewish Community Center and the board of Green Gables Country Club. He was proud of his Jewish heritage and felt strongly that Jewish people, as well as all minorities, should have the same benefits and rights others enjoyed.

Isaacson was happy to be involved with Rose Hospital, which provided a place for Jewish doctors to work, and Green Gables Country Club, a country club that welcomed Jewish members. He worked hard to extend the rights of everyone. His life was devoted to others; he touched and deeply affected those he worked with and for. Many attorneys, and others, have been the direct or indirect beneficiaries of his service to the community.

Personal Life

Lou Isaacson was a deeply devoted husband and father to two daughters. Also, he and his wife liked to travel. They enjoyed meeting other couples on the golf course and playing bridge. Wherever they traveled, there were friends waiting to spend time with them. They were devoted to their four grandchildren. Spending holidays with family, as well as traveling with their children and grandchildren, was important to them.

All the grandchildren were treated to a trip to Washington, D.C. when they reached the ages of twelve or thirteen. They were given extensive tours of the Capitol, White House, and monuments. Because Lou had friends in Washington, they rolled out the red carpet when he arrived. I still have the journal my grandmother made me keep from that trip, describing all the places we visited, things we saw, people we met, and food we ate. That was an experience never to be forgotten.

My father, attorney Sheldon Friedman, recalls Lou Isaacson this way: "He was my father-in-law, my teacher, and my partner. He was always careful to see that these three paths never crossed. We rarely talked business at family dinners. He raised the bar for every attorney he ever worked with, making us all better attorneys than we ever could have been without his influence. He worked hard and led by example. He was the best of the best—a brilliant attorney and counselor. He was the finest of men."

NOTES

1. Kania and Hartman, The Bench and the Bar, A Centennial View of Denver’s Legal History (Denver, CO: DBA, 1991) at 54.

2. Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559 (1896)

3. Id. at 60.

4. See McWilliams, "Six of the Greatest: Jean Sala Breitenstein," 25 The Colorado Lawyer 3 (July 1996).

5. Supra, note 2 at 60-61.

6. Poole, "Interview of Justice Brandeis," Vol. 71, No. 482, American Magazine (1911).

7. Fong, "Louis Isaacson: Activist in Bar Association," The Rocky Mountain News (July 3, 1993).

8. Bacon, "Essays" (1612) in Shrager and Frost-Knappman, eds., The Quotable Lawyer (New York, NY: Facts on File, 1986) at 44.

9. Quoted from the will of Mrs. Anna Rankin Waterman, 1939.

10. Scher, "Lawyers in Need Benefit from Fund," The Denver Post (Oct. 24, 1983).

11. Abraham Lincoln, 18091865, chronicled by Franklin Pierce Adams in his FPA Book of Quotations (1952) and cited in Shrager and Frost-Knappman, eds., supra, note 8 at 40.

12. Green, 355 P.2d 83 (Colo. 1960). See also Romero, "Historical Perspectives: Turbulence a Mile High: Equal Employment Opportunity in the Colorado Sky," 32 The Colorado Lawyer 71 (Sept. 2003).

13. Case, 380 P.2d 34 (Colo. 1962).

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