28 Touro Law Review 559
Getting it Right
Leon Lazer’s career deserves to be celebrated for countless reasons. But, to me, the single most exceptional feature of Leon the lawyer, judge and professor is his unwavering commitment to getting it right. I witnessed this firsthand as reporter to the Pattern Jury Instructions Committee, which Leon has chaired for over thirty years.
I first met Leon in 1988 when I interviewed to be a reporter for the PJI Committee. (The PJI Committee produces a multi-volume set of books each year that provides the black letter jury instructions in civil trials and also serves as a highly regarded treatise on New York law.) Like many before me, I was totally intimidated in Leon’s presence – after all, I was well aware of his reputation as the towering intellect of the Second Department. Of course, he did very little to put me at ease – instead grilling me on my experience, my work ethic, and my scholarly prowess.
Happily, he did hire me, and for eighteen years we worked together on the PJI Committee. The committee meets one weekend a month in an airless room on the top of the criminal court building in lower Manhattan for eight or nine straight hours a day. By the end of the day some committee members are nodding off or checking stock prices on line, but not Leon. Leon will still be attentive to every detail, insisting that each word inserted into PJI is accurate, and questioning whether we have chosen the best way to convey the meaning we seek. Leon insists on both technical accuracy and comprehensibility, two goals that are often hard to reconcile. Days after the meeting, Leon will send emails to the Committee or the reporter indicating that he has been mulling over an issue and suggesting better language than what the committee had decided after hours and hours of deliberation. Writing by committee is always challenging but writing by a committee chaired by Leon Lazer means the process will take ten times as long and the final product will be twenty times better.
We have been so lucky at Touro Law Center to have Leon on our faculty sharing a lifetime of knowledge and practice with our students and bringing the same dedication and commitment to his teaching that he brings to every intellectual endeavor. What better role model for our students than a professor who insists on getting it right and who believes passionately in the nobility of the profession.
Leon is a true hero to me – because of his passion for the law in pursuit of justice, because of his enormous intellect, and although he often tries to mask it, because of his heart which is as boundless as his mind. Congratulations Leon.