Bar News - September 20, 2017
🍀 Luck of the Lawyers
By: Kristen Senz
NH Bar Members Not Immune to Superstition
New Hampshire’s Consumer Advocate Don Kreis has a crystal ball.
He laughs to himself when he hears witnesses or attorneys at the Public Utilities Commission, where he must make decisions based on forecasts of likely future events, deny foreknowledge by saying, “Well, I don’t have a crystal ball.”
“I always take great delight in responding that I do own such an object!”
Inherited from his grandfather, his crystal ball does not open a window to the future, but it does supply Kreis with luck, inspiration and pride in his heritage. His late grandfather, Samuel Kreis, received the crystal ball “as a gift from his fellow shipping industry executives, because he was so good at predicting what tactics the longshoremen’s unions would deploy on the waterfront in New York City decades ago.”
“I have no idea whether my grandfather was actually prescient, or merely insightful, or, perhaps, just someone with a good source in trade union circles,” Kreis recently told Bar News. “I enjoy savoring the irony that what is supposedly an oracle bearing news of the future is actually something that inspires me at work by reminding me of my heritage.”
Yoda-Like Bill Orcutt & His Lucky Tie
By Dennis Ducharme
A pat on Bill Orcutt's semi-bald head before trial was considered good luck, as was his mini-hearts tie.
Wiggin & Nourie lawyers tried a high volume of cases for insurance carriers for many decades. In the firm’s heyday in the 1970s and ’80s, William Orcutt was the most senior member of the insurance defense group and was known for his many improbable wins.
Orcutt was a bit superstitious and prone to rituals, among them wearing the same tie for every day of every trial for quite a number of years.
Somewhere along the way, Orcutt, or more particularly, the top of his head, became part of a ritual. It was not uncommon for others in search of good luck to rub the bald spot on his head for good luck before going off to trial. Looking back on the practice, partner-turned-Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks suggests that the unnamed person he believes started it “needed the luck, and in hindsight, rubbing Bill’s head probably explains his unlikely success rate.”
That unnamed person describes the karma that flowed from Orcutt’s office, often tinged with cigarette smoke, as people congregated late in the day to soak up Orcutt’s words of wisdom. Gordie Rehnborg remembers Orcutt not loving the attention but says he accepted the overtures as part of his Yoda-like duties to the flock that wandered in.
Orcutt recalls the tie, a sea of tiny red hearts that looked like dots on a blue background from afar. During one of the first trials he wore it to, he noticed an older female juror smiled at him when he made a foray toward the jury box and she realized the mean defense lawyer was wearing hearts. He won another case he shouldn’t have, and used the tie for all it was worth from there forward.
As far as the top of his head goes, he recalls being bemused at the practice when it started, but hesitant to burst any good-luck balloons. He says it ruined his hairdo, eventually the rest of his hair, and also gave him a clear sense of who did, and did not, do a good job getting all of the lunchtime sandwich condiments off of their hands.
Dennis is a mediator and trial lawyer whose office is in Manchester. He began his career at Wiggin & Nourie in 1985.
Luck can come in many shapes and sizes, and human nature dictates that certain objects and rituals take on special meaning, inspiring needed confidence that positive outcomes are all but guaranteed. Even lawyers, as skilled as they generally are in logical reasoning and analytical thinking, are not immune to believing that the difference between success and failure may reside in a totem, a special pre-trial meal, or a lucky pair of socks.
Past NHBA president Pat Hayes of Lebanon sticks with a traditional good-luck charm. For the past 38 years, he has carried a shamrock encased in glass, always in his left pocket. (Why the left pocket? “Who knows, but it works!) “And, for particularly significant court appearances, I have an assortment of various green shamrock underwear to keep me comfortable and confident!”
Thankfully, Hayes sent a photo of the former, but not the latter, to accompany this story. He explains that his belief that these shamrocks have kept him in good standing with the bar is on account of his “being 100 percent Irish and depending on luck rather than any modicum of skill.”
Kevin O’Neill was born on his mother’s birthday. A senior associate at the firm of Behman Hambelton in Woburn, Massachusetts, he credits a special gift from his mother – a pair of cufflinks – on the last great day they spent together for the favorable outcomes at his court appearances.
“I always carry them with me for every jury trial and major oral argument,” he says. “So far, so very good. I would bring them regardless.”
Sometimes, one person’s vanity plate is another person’s good-luck charm. Donna Daneke has practiced law for more than 20 years, with a focus on litigating worker’s compensation claims at the NH Department of Labor, which is located in the State Office Park South in Concord.
“On my way to the agency, I travel down Clinton Street and sneak in the back, past the Concord District Court and the state hospital parking lot,” she explains. “There is a vehicle that parks in the state hospital lot with the license plate OLDBIRD.”
The first time Daneke saw that license plate, she laughed and thought it was clever. That day, she had very good luck in all of her hearings.
“My ritual has become looking for that license plate on my way in to the DOL. I smile whenever I see it, and it always gives me a wee bit more confidence, whether that is logical or not,” she says. “I have no idea who owns that vehicle and whether the owner is, in fact, an ‘old bird.’”
It is well known that entire groups, such as sports teams or indigenous tribes, can become entranced by common symbols or rituals that are thought to be lucky or to please the gods of success. One such group was Wiggin & Nourie, a much beloved but now-closed Manchester law firm that previously employed many well-regarded members of the New Hampshire Bar. Former Wiggin & Nourie attorney Dennis Ducharme volunteered to tell the story of that firm and the man, or to put it more accurately, the part of the man, that brought good luck to many a lawyer (see sidebar).
Sure, in an ideal world, everyone’s self-confidence would manifest from within, but sometimes, even the most logical among us can benefit from a little help, real or perceived, from the world outside.