Louis H. Pollak: 1922-2012

If there is any better man, lawyer, appellate advocate, federal judge, law school educator and dean than Louis H. Pollak, who died last week, I don’t know him, and might never find him. Acclaimed nationally as civil-rights advocate, law professor and judge, Lou made being a lawyer a class act.

I met Pollak as a graduate student at Yale Law School in 1956. When I submitted my doctorate thesis to three Yale law professors for approval, he was one (chosen because of his civil rights reputation; if he liked it, it was good), along with Fred Rodell (the best writer about legal subjects then, and one of my favorite professors); and Richard Donnelly, who taught criminal law, my favorite subject and with whom I'd written a law review article. Candidates requested three professors to be readers for the faculty, then never discussed the subject later, as that would have been unseemly. I learned they had approved my thesis and granted me my Juris Doctorate after I had left Yale Law School and was a prosecutor trying a case in federal court in Kentucky. It was published by Columbia University Press.

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I called on my former professor years later when he was a federal judge in Philadelphia and I was in his courthouse working on some matter (not before Lou, as all his students called him, though protocol required “Judge” by then). We had lunch in the neighborhood and talked about subjects of mutual interest. He was a gentle person, but fiercely committed to wise and just causes, as law professor, advocate and judge.

Lou is said to have considered his role working as a young attorney on the historic Brown case (barring school discrimination based on race) brief as his single greatest contribution, and one cannot second-guess a man's judgment about himself. I think Lou's greatest contribution was as an educator to students, litigators and the public in a long and distinguished career, and as a shining example, a model of how fine and good a lawyer can be.


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