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TCL > January 2014 Issue > The Law Club, 1989–2013: From Wilderness to the Centennial

January 2014       Vol. 43, No. 1       Page  19
In and Around the Bar
The SideBar

The Law Club, 1989–2013: From Wilderness to the Centennial
by Gregory B. Cairns

  About the Author

Gregory Gregory B. Cairns practices workers’ compensation and related employment law with Cairns & Associates, P.C. in Denver. He was president of the Law Club during 2010–11, and serves as a writer and performer in the Law Club’s annual Ethics Revues. He gratefully acknowledges the contribution to this article of Philip James, former president of the Law Club, who was the member most instrumental in the collaboration between the CBA-CLE, the CBA Ethics Committee, and the Law Club resulting in "The Ethics Revue."


The Law Club, a venerable association of sometimes talented and occasionally civic-minded attorneys, celebrates its 100th anniversary on April 10, 2014. The history of this group of fun-loving lawyers is as entertaining as the elaborate stage shows and stellar speeches produced and delivered. If readers have any Law Club memorabilia to share with the Law Club Centennial Committee (photographs, programs, scripts, costumes, props), or if you were a member of the Law Club between 1940 and 1989 or know the whereabouts of such members, please contact Tom DeMarino at (303) 866-5527 or tom.demarino@state.co.us.

During the weekend of April 25–26, 2014, the Law Club will celebrate its first 100 years by hosting a gala celebration at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Scheduled activities will include reprises of some of the Law Club’s most memorable (and infamous) skits and songs, memorabilia displays, silly speeches, and assorted tomfoolery. The Law Club Green Book 1914–2013, a formal and anecdotal history of the organization, will be available for free to all who dare read it.1

To acquaint Colorado practitioners with the spirited history of a club that has been graced with the presence of so many legal luminaries over the years, The Colorado Lawyer is publishing a series of articles tracing the evolution of the organization over the last century. This article, fourth in the series, chronicles the fourth twenty-five years of the organization. This era was marked by multiple Law Club Shows held in mountain venues, the shift of the show’s co-sponsor from the Colorado Bar Association (CBA) annual conference to CBA-CLE, and a continued commitment to educating and otherwise serving the Colorado bar.

The Law Club Show Travels to the Wilderness

For decades, attendance at bimonthly meetings and preparation for the Law Club Show served as unifying experiences for Law Club members. Never was this as true as in the 1990s, due to the changing legal scene. According to Greg Garner, president of the Law Club in 1999–2000:

It seems a perverse irony that as Denver has experienced an influx of national law firms and the rapid growth of its legal community, the collegiality and interpersonal relationships among Denver attorneys have deteriorated. Whether due to increased competition or simply lack of time in our busy days, the Law Club has become for its active members an ever more important outlet for social interaction within our legal community. This brings to mind that icon of modern philosophy, Captain James T. Kirk—you remember the one where Kirk points out to Spock that: "The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play!"2

The Law Club’s play was rarely simple, however. Beginning in 1947, the Law Club Show evolved as an art form of increasing complexity, involving ever more elaborate sets, costumes, musical numbers, and sight gags. Such complexity demanded theatrical stages, often in Colorado Springs, which usually were provided by the traditional co-sponsor of the shows, the CBA. Beginning in 1990, however, the CBA’s annual convention moved away from its usual location at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, thereby forcing a simplification of the way the Law Club Show was staged. Garner wrote:

So, play we did in the ’90s, pulling off a decade record seven shows (well, including one "Virtual Show" that we staged for ourselves). Shows in the 1990s were a little bit different from those in earlier decades. First, and most important, the CBA convention left the comfy confines of the Broadmoor Hotel to begin a wearying trek through one off-season ski-town after another. Law Club shows could no longer count on lavish set designs and stage orchestras to wow the audience. We had to rely on our insightful and witty writing skills. We knew we were in trouble.3

In the spirit of cooperation with the CBA, the Law Club adapted to the new traveling show format. As Garner tells it:

With practice, we mastered the art of performing on risers in hotel ballrooms. . . . Ever seeking to ingratiate ourselves with the powers that were in the CBA, we hung [federal Judge] Wiley Daniels upside down from the rafters, we let Ben Aisenberg sing, and we made Bart Mendenhall wear a hat covered with melons. In 1997, we participated in the Colorado Bar Association’s 100th Anniversary, and invited many of the stars of earlier Law Club shows to give their adoring fans one more chance to pelt them with rolls. In short, we had fun!4

And fun the Law Club had, as it brought its zany humor to Snowmass Village ("Legal Tender" in 1990); Aspen ("The Phantom of the Law Firm" in 1992), Vail ("Houston Powers: The Spy Who Gagged Me" in 1999), and Keystone ("Four Canings and a Funeral" in 1994 and "Is That A Subpoena in Your Pocket or Are You Just Glad to See Me?" in 1998). In 1997, when the CBA was celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Law Club was asked to stage a gala Law Club show in the old tradition, this time at the Denver Hyatt Regency on a real stage. Although the shows lacked the elaborate sets and orchestras of yesteryear, they were never short on biting humor and dedication to lambasting the trends and personalities of the times.5

Back From the Wilderness
and On to The Ethics Revue

Through 2000, the Law Club continued to thrill audiences at the CBA’s annual convention held at mountain venues. The CBA discontinued its annual convention after 2000, however, thereby ending the Law Club’s fifty-three-year string of shows for the conventioneers. Always resilient, the Law Club produced shows for various charities, local bar chapters, and non-lawyer groups, never losing a beat in its quest to lampoon cultural trends, the Colorado bar and its judiciary, and local and national celebrities.6 As was true in its "wilderness years," the Law Club usually performed at non-theatrical venues, most often without risers, elaborate sound systems, or special lighting. These productions were literally "floor shows."

In 2005, the Law Club was invited by CBA-CLE to stage a three-hour Ethics Revue, which mixed parody songs regarding Colorado ethical rules; humorous dialogue "setting up" the songs for the audience (known as "glue"); and largely serious panel discussions by experts about the ethical implications of the songs and "glue." The show was staged at the downtown Denver Hyatt Hotel in its Moulin Rouge room, a cabaret-type setting with an expansive stage that was ideal for the show’s "revue" format. Reading from handheld scripts, the Law Club performers treated the audience to an array of parody songs—kicked off by the song "That’s Entertainment."7 The show was an instant hit with audiences at two live performances, and later in video broadcasts—partly because of the easily won CLE credits, but mainly because of the innovative and cheeky performances.

The Law Club was as enthused with the new format as was the CBA-CLE, so the Ethics Revue continued annually at a variety of venues, including the Hyatt’s Moulin Rouge room and the CBA-CLE training room at 1900 Grant Street. Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret on the 16th Street Mall in Denver is its present home. The days of elaborate sets and large orchestras appear to be over, but the Law Club continues to delight audiences with its biting satires of attorney and judge peccadillos expressed in crackling dialogue, parody songs ranging from Broadway show tunes to Lady Gaga, and often humorous ethics panel commentary. The Law Club has been aided by a variety of music directors. The current maestro is Hank Troy, a professional pianist and member of the Queen City Jazz Band, who leads a tight band comprising judges and attorneys.8

An innovative spirit and advancing technology have allowed the Law Club to change how shows are presented. The de rigeur chorus attire in shows of the nineties through 2009—a "waiter" costume consisting of a white shirt, black pants, and red bow tie and cumberbund—has been replaced by a variety of outfits consistent with the theme of each show. The "big words" technology for dialogue and song lyrics, which consisted of computer projection on a large screen at the back of the audience, has progressed to smaller "prompt screens" located at the foot of the stage. The Law Club still relies on funny costumes, energetic dancing, and sometimes melodramatic acting to advance its educational agenda. As tradition dictates, rehearsals are many, authorship of songs is confidential (to protect acid-penned writers from reprisals), and no cows are sacred.

 
  Scene from "Wizard of Oz," the second Ethics Revue—2006.
   

The Law Club also adheres to its tradition of assembling its songs within a unifying theme, usually based on a movie or television show. Accordingly, in recent years, the audience has been treated to the Law Club’s inspired lunacy in shows based on The Wizard of Oz (2006); a cross between Back to the Future and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (2007); Indiana Jones (2008); Jeopardy (2009); Avatar (2010); Pirates of the Caribbean (2011); and the Austin Powers and James Bond series (2013).9 Possibly inspired by a scene in the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby classic The Road to Morocco, the Law Club brought heroic Governor Ralph Carr’s statue to life in 2012. This show won the coveted 2013 Award of Professional Excellence from the Association of Continuing Legal Education, winning out over organizations from around the world that submitted entries for CLE programs that provide educational content in effective and innovative ways.10 Photographs from this award-winning show and many of the other legendary Ethics Revues may be found at www.lawclub.
org, the Law Club’s official website.11

Captivating audiences in live performances and video re-broadcasts for CBA-CLE, the Law Club has been invited to reprise many of its shows at judicial conferences, local bar association meetings, inns of court dinners, and other events. Ever ready to "put on a show," the Law Club welcomes such invitations and, in so doing, continues its century-long commitment to educating the Colorado bar.

Energetic dancing is a hallmark of the Ethics Revues.
 

Preserving Traditions

The first fifty years of the Law Club saw the development of certain traditions, including producing well-crafted speeches on legal topics, establishing rogue committees, migrating to new venues, recording the Law Club’s activities in The Green Book, purchasing cigars for the membership in the event of a wedding or birth, telling (and re-telling) bawdy jokes and poems, punning, and creating mayhem in dining rooms that resulted in property damage.12 The third quarter-century saw significant changes to a few well-established traditions, including the admission of women and cessation of the Last Resort Committee’s monthly report on published cases of libidinous nature.13 The fourth quarter-century, however, was marked by stabilization of most of the traditions, with the disappearance of a few.

Chorus number from "Indiana Jones and the Lost Art of Civility," when "waiter suits" were de riguer costumes for chorus members—2009.
 

The Lunch Room Committee and Meetings

From the inception of the Law Club, the Lunch Room Committee was responsible for locating the best venue with the most palatable food for reasonable prices, and then organizing Law Club meetings. Traditionally a hard working committee because of the tendency of the Law Club to outwear its welcome at certain venues, the Lunch Room Committee smoothly moved the bi-monthly meetings from the Warwick Hotel to the Denver Athletic Club in 1990. In 1999, the Law Club returned to the University Club, where the organization meets to this day.14 An apparent truce has been reached between the two entities. It is unclear whether the Law Club has become better behaved, or whether the University Club has a higher tolerance for the Law Club’s shenanigans, which sometimes include scurrilous comments, bawdy language, and hurling dinner rolls at speakers.

For much of the Law Club’s history, regular meetings were held bimonthly throughout the year, which meant that each month the membership could enjoy two scintillating speeches preceded by comedic "committee reports." Due to the ever increasing costs of meals and demands of busy practices, the Law Club recently ceased bimonthly meetings and now holds luncheon meetings once a month except for summer months. Notwithstanding the schedule changes, the Law Club’s insistence on lively committee reports and quality speeches on relevant legal topics continues. The meetings are always held at the University Club.15

Each year, the Lunch Room Committee organizes the annual meeting, usually held in April, at which the embarrassing moments of the previous year are reviewed with awe, retiring officers are derided, and new officers are installed—and afforded sympathy for their new plight. Usually, outstanding members are recognized for their (dubious) achievements,16 dinner rolls are thrown at speakers, and many songs are sung, sometimes well. Due to code, cigar smoking at the meetings is verboten but, after the meeting is adjourned, some intrepid members retire to smoke-friendly zones to celebrate a cherished tradition. The Lunch Room Committee also organizes an annual holiday party, but the less said about that event the better.

Musical number from a reprise of "Jeopardy"—2009.
 

The Membership Committee

The Membership Committee is dedicated to attracting and inducting new members regardless of their demographic. This committee has recently placed a special emphasis on recruiting younger attorneys, who may have heard a scandalous rumor that the Law Club is stacked with old, white, male fogies who only sing sea chanteys and Broadway show tunes written before 1965. One viewing of the trailer to any recent Ethics Revue CLE program (see www.cba.org) usually serves to dispel this belief, since these shows demonstrate that the Law Club is open to all, that the musical range of songs used for parody is vast, and that lack of any discernible talent is no impediment to membership.

One drawing card for the Law Club is the fact that, unlike many legal organizations in Colorado, members may address one another by their first name, regardless of experience or title. The primary requirement for membership, other than willingness to humiliate oneself publicly, is the ability to "bring it" to every meeting, rehearsal, and show.

The Law Club currently has no membership limit. To become a member, one must secure two sponsors from the Club’s ranks who are willing to write letters of recommendation and to pay for any property damage caused by the new member (okay, this latter promise is not required). The initiate is expected to pay the ridiculously low dues and to pretend to be interested in Law Club doings. There are no secret handshakes or oaths to learn and there are no funny hats to wear—except perhaps when one is a cast member of one of the shows. Membership is not limited to lawyers practicing in Denver, there is no mandatory age limitation on full membership (for decades, members older than 40 were considered "over the hill" and could only qualify for "associate status"), and eager law clerks are as welcome as world-weary attorneys and judges. Importantly, no one is forced to be in a Law Club Show, be funny, give a clever speech, tell dirty jokes, attend meetings, show respect for authority (except for indefatigable show directors), or even admit that they are a member. This is a club for lawyers who do not want to be in clubs.

The Last Resort Committee

The Last Resort Committee traditionally gave its report about scandalous cases at every smoke-filled bimonthly meeting, but this is true no more. Perhaps due to limited time at monthly meetings, or perhaps because the tastes of members in the last decade are a bit more highbrow, published cases about suicidal lovers, mass murderers, and scandalous dalliances between trial attorneys and jurors are now reported only at the annual meeting.

The Grievance Committee

This committee toils on as the producer of the Law Club Shows, and is responsible for the content and quality thereof. The shows include the annual Ethics Revue; reprises of that show on invitation from inns of court, local bar organizations, and civic groups; and special shows at judicial conferences. Espousing that old adage "Have piano, will travel," the committee organizes shows that perform outside Denver, usually in Colorado Springs or mountain resort towns.

The only grievances ever submitted to the committee over the last quarter-century have involved the quality or quantity of food at show rehearsals. Apparently, armies of performers march on their stomachs!

The Statistics and Purity Committees

The Statistics Committee has gone missing in recent years. Traditionally responsible for keeping track of weddings and births and ordering cigars to be charged to the lucky members’ accounts, this committee has not been active for many years. This may be due to the no-smoking regulations found at Club meeting venues, or it may be due to rising cost of fine stogies; nevertheless, the Law Club’s tradition of cigar smoking will not be forgotten. Rumor has it that the centennial celebration at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs in April 2014 will include optional sessions in the smoking lounges found there.

After women were admitted as members, the tradition of raunchy joke and story telling at meetings was largely abandoned. The Purity Committee, a rogue committee that gained official status, has not been in evidence over the last few decades, since it has had little to no naughty content to censor.

The Green Book Committee

The Green Book Committee is responsible for publishing the history of the Law Club, including lists of members, committee rosters, and speeches. The compendium of these statistics, as well as descriptions of shows, retrospectives from Law Club presidents, and recitation of anecdotes, is published irregularly. A Centennial Green Book will be available in time for the centennial celebration in April 2014. A reading of any Green Book may enchant even the jaded, because it contains amusing stories about and pictures of the Law Club’s antics and members over the years. Colorado practitioners may be surprised to learn how many of their firm’s founders and driving forces were once members of the Law Club, and how many seemingly stern judges once delighted audiences with their hilarious performances at shows and meetings.17

Highlights of the Club’s Fourth Quarter-Century

1990: As far as Law Club archeologists can tell, "Legal Tender" inaugurated the era now known as "Law Club in the Wilderness." Kicking off with the ditty "Give My Regards to Broadmoor," the cast for the first time enjoyed the special treat of performing on risers, sans set, in a hotel ballroom in Snowmass Village.18

1992: In a shameless rip-off designed to boost attendance, the Law Club produced "The Phantom of the Law Firm," neatly coinciding with the arrival of the original Phantom at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Originally performed in Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House (fittingly), the Law Club took full advantage of an actual stage, suspending CBA President Wiley Daniels from the rafters.19

1996: The CBA asked the Law Club to skip the annual convention this year, which was an election year ripe for parody. Undeterred, a valiant troupe of Law Club die-hards set out to create the first (and so far, only) "Virtual Law Club Show." Law Club archeologists have discovered evidence of at least one underground performance.20

1997: With "Bar Wars: the 50th Anniversary Edition," the Law Club celebrated several anniversaries: the 100th year of the CBA; the fiftieth year of the Law Club Show; and the twentieth year of spoofing Star Wars (c.f. 1977). Stars from previous productions reprised popular songs and skits. Fittingly, the plot revolved around the resurrection of ancient, historical figures who prevent a madman from cloning unlicensed attorneys, thus saving the CBA.21

1999: To close out the ’90s, the Law Club produced "Houston Powers: The Lawyer who Gagged Me" on a return visit to Vail. Patterned after the film of a similar name, this show involved lawyers moving back and forth in time, allowing a comparison of Denver 1969 with Denver 1999. Primary topics of discussion included highway construction; managed healthcare; Y2K; and the greatest trauma to ever hit Colorado, the retirement of John Elway.22

2000: The Law Club’s last show for the CBA annual convention, staged in Keystone, was titled "Channel Surfing USA."23

2001–04: In 2001, the Law Club began an odyssey that led them to perform a variety of shows for an eclectic set of audiences. After a fifty-three-year period of performing at the CBA convention, the Law Club refused to put away its greasepaint and props, so it accepted invitations to stage shows for civic groups, educational organizations, attorney meetings, or anyone who wanted to enjoy the Law Club’s special brand of musical satire. Relying on a stock set of parody songs, the Law Club created a customized show for each audience, depending on its particular interests and makeup.24

2005: The Law Club launched its first Ethics Revue, in collaboration with CBA-CLE, at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver. Many of the songs were sea chanteys and "traditional" songs in the public domain (because of a concern for copyright infringement). Subsequent shows have rarely been hampered by that concern, because of the fair use doctrine in intellectual property law, which allows limited use of copyrighted material for parody or for educational, nonprofit purposes.25

2010: An Avatar-themed show was the first of a four-year run of performances at Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret on the 16th Street Mall in Denver, an intimate venue with a professional stage and all that it entails, including professional lighting and sound system, and "green rooms" for the performers. For the first time, performers used small prompt screens at the base of the stage to recite lines and lyrics, instead of relying on a large screen at the rear of the show venue.

Scene from "Avatar"—2010.
 

2012: The Law Club produced a show with a plot revolving around a talking statue of Governor Ralph Carr fictitiously located at the newly opened Colorado Judicial Center bearing his name. This show won the 2013 Award of Professional Excellence from the Association of Continuing Legal Education.26

Scene from the "Governor Ralph Carr" show in 2012, which won the 2013 Award of Professional Excellence from the Association of Continuing Legal Education.
 

2013: The last show of the Law Club’s first century, "Austin Powers: International Man of Ethics," honored the Law Club’s sixty-six-year tradition of skewering attorneys for their many foibles. This rollicking show poked fun at modern ethical violations, such as overbilling, "borrowing" from COLTAF accounts, neglecting clients, fibbing to the court, and exaggerating in advertising. Numerous younger members of the bar joined Law Club veterans to stage a high-energy show featuring hilarious dialogue, well-choreographed dancing, and clever parodies of many modern songs and a few golden oldies—but not one sea chantey.

"If I Could Claim I Was An Animal" number from "Austin Powers:
International Man of Ethics"—2013.
 
Scene from "Austin Powers: International Man of Ethics"—2013.

Conclusion

The fourth quarter-century of the Law Club saw the organization stage its traditional Law Club Shows at CBA conventions in ski resort towns for more than a decade, and then return to Denver to enchant audiences with its fabled Ethics Revues. The Law Club’s monthly luncheon meetings continued to feature well-crafted speeches on pithy legal topics. Between the shows and the meetings over the last twenty-five years, the Law Club has continued a century-long commitment to educating the Colorado bar. Along the way, the Law Club has maintained its unique sense of humor to spice up all of its proceedings, and has inspired collegiality by adhering to its motto, "Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends."

Notes

1. The Green Book has been published irregularly—but reverently—since 1925. It was last issued in 2000. A limited number of copies of the 2000 edition are available for free to those who contact Greg Garner at (303) 866-2862 or ggarner@comcast.net.

2. Garner, "Introduction to the 2000 Edition of the Law Club Green Book," The Green Book 1914–2000 at 1 (Spark Publishing LLC, June 2000) (The Green Book).

3. Id.

4. Id. at 2.

5. The Green Book at 88-94.

6. Personal communication from David Simmons, frequent co-producer during the period between the "Wilderness Years" and the "Ethics Revues." Simmons, a member of the Law Club since 1992, served as Last Resort Committee chair (1995–96); Law Club president (2002–03); and Grievance Committee chair (2003–06).

7. Personal communications from David Simmons, director of the first Ethics Revue, and Phil James, the member most instrumental in negotiating the "unholy alliance" (read, friendly collaboration) between the Law Club, CBA-CLE, and CBA Ethics Committee to produce the Ethics Revue. James has been a member since 1999 and has performed in nearly every Law Club show since that time. He served as Law Club secretary (2005–06) and Law Club president (2006–07).

8. To enjoy a video of the band performing a sultry standard with chanteuse Brenda Taylor, former U.S. Assistant Attorney General, go to www.lawclub.org and select "The Law Club’s Fabulous Band."

9. The author personally attended or performed in each of the listed shows, so the reader can rely on the veracity of the descriptions.

10. See "The Denver Law Club Receives the 2013 Award of Professional Excellence," 42 The Colorado Lawyer 19 (Nov. 2013), available at www.cobar.org/tcl/tcl_articles.cfm?articleid=8319.

11. The Law Club’s website was designed and is maintained by Phil James. Photographs of Club events and comments may be sent to him at www.lawclub.org.

12. Cairns, "The Law Club, 1914–39: The First Twenty-Five Years of Sense and Nonsense," 42 The Colorado Lawyer 18 (Oct. 2013); Cairns, "The Law Club, 1939–64: The Rise of ‘The Law Club Show,’" 42 The Colorado Lawyer 15 (Nov. 2013).

13. Cairns, "The Law Club, 1964–89: The Law Club Matures(?)," 42 The Colorado Lawyer 27 (Dec. 2013).

14. Personal communication from the Honorable Fred Rogers (ret.), active Law Club member since 1977. Judge Rogers has served as Grievance Committee chair (1979–80); Membership Committee chair (1980–81); Law Club president (1981–82); and virtuoso bass player in the Law Club band (for more than three decades).

15. The title of almost every speech ever delivered at a Law Club luncheon meeting is recorded in The Green Book.

16. The 2000 Green Book lists annual meeting honorees since 1992.

17. Listings of members, officers, and committee rosters are included in The Green Book, so members are never guaranteed complete anonymity (but who reads the Green Book?).

18. The Green Book at 88.

19. Id. at 89.

20. Id. at 91.

21. Id. at 92.

22. Id. at 94.

23. Personal communication from the Honorable Diana Terry, director of that show. Judge Terry has been a member since 1988, and has served as Grievance Committee co-chair (1994–95) and Law Club president (1996–
97).

24. Personal communication from David Simmons, co-producer of several of these shows.

25.The Law Club relies on the "parody" and "educational use" exceptions afforded by the Fair Use Doctrine. The doctrine and these specific exceptions are explained by the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.govfls/fl102.html:

One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords. This right is subject to certain limitations found in sections 107 through 118 of the copyright law (title 17, U. S. Code). One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of "fair use." The doctrine of fair use has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years [see, e.g., Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994)] and has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law. The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: ". . . use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; [and] . . . reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson. . . ."

26. Cairns, supra note 12 at 19.

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