I have been lucky all my life, a fact taken for granted until standout strokes of good fortune prompt grateful reflection. Today, it’s how blessed I have been, personally and professionally, by association with gifted and indomitable women. In the last sixteen months, I’ve presented with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, NPR legal Correspondent Nina Totenberg and last Monday night, most fun of all, Presidential biographer and pop-culture icon, Doris Kearns Goodwin. How’s that for luck!
I’d resolved to forego the annual New York LegalTech/LegalWeek show this year until my friends at Zapproved made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: interview Doris Kearns Goodwin at Tavern on the Green to anchor their annual e-Discovery Heroes awards ceremony. They sweetened the pot by noting that they would also honor the lifetime achievements of Judge Craig Shaffer and recognize the e-discovery leadership of three dear friends, Judges Jay Francis, Frank Maas and Andy Peck, all of whom have left or are soon leaving the Federal bench.
Would I do it? Are you kidding? They had me at “hello.”
I do a lot of public speaking. About 2,000 stints at the podium by my latest reckoning. So, fear of facing an audience is not my problem. My fear is of letting an audience down, of failing to trade something valuable for the time and, more precious, attention they pay. I can’t be kind here: Much of what passes for continuing legal education is abysmal. Shameful and tedious beyond measure. Presented honestly, most CLE presentations would begin, “I will now read to you all the tiny print you’d read before returning to your phones.“
Accordingly, I spend hours and hours preparing to present by crafting captivating visuals, coming up with accessible analogies, choosing my words with care and laboring to make the well-practiced appear offhand and spontaneous. It’s hard work; but when it clicks with the audience, it’s worth every hour.
As interviewer or moderator, I must achieve the same outcome through others. My role is to bring out the best in the guest or panelists and keep the audience engaged. It’s harder because, in dramatic terms, I must know their lines and mine.
Though my colleagues have heaped encomiums on me for the success of the program, Doris deserves the credit. If it looked like we were having too much fun up there, it’s because we were. I’ve rarely met a person as warm, bright and invested in others as Doris. After writing six New York Times bestsellers, receiving a Pulitzer Prize, making seventy-two appearances on Charlie Rose, being a darling of the late-night talk show circuit and Meet the Press, appearing as a character on The Simpsons and serving as a confidante of Presidents, Doris Kearns Goodwin could be forgiven some ego. Yet, there was none. She was kind, gracious and wonderfully possessed of that storied Clintonian ability to make everyone she spoke with feel like the most interesting person in the world. What a pro. What an intellect. What a woman!
I close here with my introduction and some accompanying visuals:
We in e-discovery are historians. We sift through words and pictures seeking evidence of truth and falsity. E-discovery heroes, like great historians, are gifted storytellers. We work to breathe life into the dry annals of the past. We reveal people at their best and worst—and like historians, we strive to craft gripping tales of suffering and triumph and betrayal.
Tonight, we are fortunate to hear from a master storyteller.
Doris Kearns Goodwin has been called, “America’s Historian-in-Chief.” She is the author of six New York Times bestsellers–one the basis of Steven Spielberg’s epic, award
-winning film, “Lincoln” and another, about Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, slated to become Spielberg’s next biopic. Doris has been a Harvard professor, a TED-talk presenter, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a wife, the mother of three boys and the confidante of presidents.
She has also been a character on the Simpsons. Taken Prince Charles on a tour of the Lincoln Memorial and been carried onto Steven Colbert’s Late Show by a bevy of beefcake Lincolns.
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s story begins not far from here, across the river in Brooklyn and west to the hamlet of Rockville Center.
It’s a story of the peaceful, postwar, Ozzie & Harriet years of the 1950’s. It’s the tale of a chatty, Catholic ragmop gifted with a vivid imagination; the third daughter of a serious, ailing mother and a doting bank examiner father.
As we learn from her charming memoir, Wait till Next Year, Doris’ story is also the story of a golden age of New York baseball, when the boroughs boasted three professional teams: the elite, pin-striped Yankees, the middle-class Giants and DEM BUMS from Ebbett’s Field, da Brooklyn Dodgers.
Doris’ dad taught her to score baseball games with a specialized shorthand, and when he returned from work, Doris would bask in her father’s attention as she shared the play-by-play of that day’s game, learning not to give too much away too soon and teasing high drama out of dry statistics.
Thus, a historian was born.
But not just a historian, a presidential historian. After graduating with honors from Colby College, Miss Kearns Goes to Washington as a 24-year-old White House Fellow for LBJ. That life changing event almost didn’t happen, but I’ll leave that funny story for Doris to tell.
President Johnson was so impressed by the tiny woman with the big brain that she became his assistant and after leaving the White House, the President invited Doris to the LBJ ranch to help write his memoirs.
The rest, as they say, is history.