Portrait of the Artist as an Attorney
Forget about left-brain/right-brain and consider these whole-brain lawyers, who somehow manage to function at high levels in two distinctly different worlds: art and the law
Published in 2004 Massachusetts Super Lawyers magazine
on August 14, 2004
Updated on May 4, 2021
Perry Mason in the Courtroom, Erle Stanley Gardner at the Typewriter
Joan Lukey wrote her first book when she was only 11 years old. It was an 80-page novella about twin sisters who lived in Switzerland and had to solve the mystery of a missing will. “See,” she says, tongue in cheek, “even then, there was a legal element to my writing.”
These days she is well known for both her expert legal writing and her engaging, suspenseful fiction that captures the color and drama of the legal profession. Her first novel, A Fiduciary Duty, was published in 1994, and she has a suspense novel, Whistleblower, waiting in the wings.
Lukey, an army brat who grew up in Wareham, was a prolific writer from the get-go, winning school competitions for her essays, in addition to her fiction endeavors. She also was interested in politics at a fairly young age, and early on decided the law would be a good route into that world. Then fiction intervened. Influenced by the dashing allure and drama of Perry Mason on television, she was drawn to the excitement of the courtroom, and politics fell to the wayside.
Lukey finds it a continual challenge to balance her legal writing and her fiction work. She started A Fiduciary Duty on her 40th birthday, when her daughter was 6. She worked slowly, getting by on five hours of sleep a night and grabbing bits and pieces of writing time whenever she could. “I’d be sitting in a closet at our summer home so the typing wouldn’t disturb her during the early morning hours,” she recalls. She based some of her characters on lawyer friends and acquaintances, which provoked a lot of guessing games in the Boston legal community.
Her second book, Whistleblower, is about the death of a young man as a result of friendly fire during the Vietnam War. She finished the book 18 months ago, but because of her heavy involvement in the Kerry campaign (they met in law school), she’s put the pursuit of publication on a back burner.
Lukey has known Kerry since his first run for office, when he used her very-pregnant self to “block” for him. “I was seven and a half months pregnant at the state convention for his first Senate race,” she says. “He used me for moving up and down the aisles for delegate challenges because everyone saw me coming and got out of the way. It was a very effective ploy.”
Lukey believes the clarity and accessibility required of fiction writing has helped her legal writing. “I think there’s not much distance between oral and written arguments, and I write in a fashion not that dissimilar to the way I speak,” she says.
In turn, her legal writing has made her more enthusiastic about finding opportunities to escape into creative storytelling pursuits. “It’s the one time I’m freed from the shackles of legal precedent and fact. I can change my mind, turn a bad guy into a good guy, or even change the ending. I love that. It’s probably the reason I don’t write with an outline. I want the freedom to change my mind and not have the smallest guilt because it doesn’t match my earlier intentions.”
Mountain climbing could figure prominently in her next novel. Over the summer, Lukey and her 20-year-old daughter climbed Mount Kilimanjaro’s Western Breach, for which she trained off and on for a year, interrupted only by surgery in January on a torn meniscus. She hopes to climb the Himalayas in the next two years.
Isn’t that dangerous?
“At some point I recognize I may not want to run certain risks,” she says matter-of-factly. “But I’m not ready to slow down yet.”
Joan Lukey is a senior partner in Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr’s litigation department, where she concentrates in commercial litigation, partnership and employment disputes, and plaintiff’s medical malpractice. She has been named one of “America’s 50 Top Women Litigators” by the National Law Journal and has been repeatedly singled out for honors in a number of other publications as well, including Best Lawyers in America. A past president of the Boston Bar Association, in 1999 she was the recipient of the Burton Award for Legal Achievement in Writing.
She Hits the Low Notes — and Helps Others When They Hit Theirs
At first blush, you might have trouble imagining Anne White’s alter ego as a rowdy, tub-thumping, jug-whistling broad named Sweet Loretta. One of the city’s preeminent bankruptcy attorneys, White cuts a fairly serious, conservative figure in workaday life.
But on the weekends, watch out. That’s when White, her guitarist husband Bob Wilhelm (a computer consultant also known as Doctor Earl) and banjoist Herb Smooth dust off their country blues chops and become Sweet Loretta’s Snake Oil Jug Band, entertaining crowds at festivals, parties and a wide variety of outdoor events with their feel-good, slightly skewed mix of jug band standards, ragtime, old-time country and pop. White drives the rhythms on the upright bass, which she taught herself to play more than a decade ago so she could sit in with her husband’s band.
“It’s a lot of fun,” White says with enthusiasm. “We don’t try to be virtuosic. We just play music and enjoy ourselves. And remarkably, audiences seem to enjoy themselves too.”
Indeed they do — as the success of the Essex Music Festival at Centennial Grove indicates. White and her husband, who live in Essex, founded the festival 10 years ago as a way to bring together North Shore acoustic musicians, friends and neighbors in a beautiful setting. In the process, the festival has raised thousands of dollars to improve the Grove’s landscaping, parking lots and buildings, including a new roof for the dance hall. White not only performs but also uses her legal skills to assist in organizing the festival every year.
That devotion to community is indicative of White’s commitment to a well-rounded, balanced life. “It’s a joy and delight to be at a firm that is small, specializes in bankruptcy,” she says, “and where my colleagues are supportive and of like mind about the importance of getting the best product to our clients but being fair to our families and our own lives.”
Service is a big word in her vocabulary, whether it’s giving music audiences a good time or working nights and weekends to provide the best counsel she can for her clients. “I don’t hold back in either area,” she asserts. “Neither takes away from the other.”
White grew up in Poughkeepsie. After graduating magna cum laude from St. Lawrence University and receiving an M.A. in philosophy at the University of Minnesota, she decided that rather than teach she wanted a more service-oriented opportunity to work with people. With her strong mathematical inclinations, bankruptcy law seemed a good choice.
Her most memorable cases are those in which she can help people get a fresh start while keeping their homes and maintaining their dignity. And at the end of the day, the words she most likes to hear are “Thank you, Anne. You’ve done a fabulous job. I hope I never see you again.”
Anne J. White concentrates her practice on the representation of debtors, secured and unsecured creditors, and Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 trustees. She provides counsel to financially distressed individuals and businesses, with emphasis on tax issues and Chapter 13 wage earner plans. She is a frequent lecturer on bankruptcy topics, particularly with regard to consumer issues. An active member of the Boston and Massachusetts Bar Associations, she is serving as co-chair of the Boston Bar Association’s Bankruptcy Section, which recently won the highly coveted John Adams and John Quincy Adams Pro Bono Publico Award given by the Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. She graduated from Boston University Law School in 1980 and is a partner at Klieman, Lyons, Schindler & Gross.
Seeking Perspective in His Practice and on Canvas
Eight years ago, Bill Sawyer’s wife thought he was getting “much too intense” in his professional life. So she sent him to art school. While he practiced law during the day, he took art classes at night, usually at the Museum of Fine Arts School (MFA) and the DeCordova Museum School. And gradually, Sawyer developed into a skilled painter, with works that have been featured in a number of area exhibitions, including the Rhode Island Watercolor Society and the MFA’s Christmas Show. “I actually sold something, which amazed the hell out of me,” he says, clearly thrilled with the validation.
Sawyer has had an interest in art since the fourth grade, an inclination he believes “is in the genes.” His mother’s family was all “aesthetically gifted,” and he had an aunt who was a painter. Nevertheless, he believes his own success is less nature or even skill and more about simple effort.
Sawyer spends most Sunday mornings doing his art “homework.” He works primarily with watercolor and oils in a fluid representational style, most often landscapes, seascapes and still-lifes. “I find it very hard to work more abstractly,” he says, somewhat regretfully. “The process of law is so rational, so detail-oriented, and I think the mind gets trained.”
Growing up in Cambridge, where he lived all through law school, Sawyer had an abiding interest in public affairs and world history. “In my day, that directed you to law school,” he says.
A year after graduating from Harvard Law School, he was drafted into the Army, where he served for almost four years, rising to the rank of captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. His first job after the service was with a major firm with a large corporate practice. “I found it very bloodless, with little client contact, very removed from humanity, very intellectual,” he says.
But when he joined a smaller firm and spent most of his time on the needs of one relatively small corporation, he found the kind of meaningful connection that was to steer his career. “I discovered that what I was doing was important to the human beings in this company, that what I was doing had human significance, and it became much more interesting,” he explains. His most rewarding work is helping create corporations and taking them public.
Sawyer got into politics almost four decades ago, serving on the Board of Selectman in his resident town of Acton. “Running for office is a great experience,” he says. “It’s intellectually challenging, wonderfully satisfying, and the public is terrific.” His wife, Joan, who founded the geological information firm Applied Geographics, Inc., is also involved in local politics, serving as an Acton selectman. The couple have three adult children.
Though Sawyer often wishes he could devote more time to painting, for now he is content to balance his artistic inclinations with the practice of law.
“Art is great therapy,” he says. “When I’m painting, nothing else exists. It’s total focus.”
William C. Sawyer, a partner at Clarkin, Sawyer & Phillips, specializes in corporate finance and securities. His legal career has been complemented by an active participation in politics and governmental activities, including almost four decades’ membership in the Massachusetts Republican State Committee. A former captain in the U.S. Army, he ran for attorney general in 1990 and was a Republican candidate for the 5th Congressional District in 1980. He also has been a member of the Acton Republican Town Committee and served as the chairman of Acton’s Board of Selectman.
Thespian, Rock Musician, Artist and, Oh Yeah, Lawyer
You won’t find law books or legal briefs stashed in the sunny walk-up attic of Michael Bogdanow’s Lexington home. The wellknown litigator reserves it for a more spiritual pursuit. This is where he paints. “There’s nothing better than going up to my studio late at night, putting on some music and painting,” he says, with palpable enthusiasm.
The shelves are lined with art books, supplies and music CDs, and the walls are lined with vivid acrylic paintings in vibrant, swirling colors. Most are contemporary expressions of powerful universal themes and biblical texts, such as “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Miriam’s Dance.” He says, “By using an ancient text, applying it to a modern point of view, and expressing it through a modern visual aesthetic, my hope is to reach a universal audience.” His paintings and prints, which he sells through his Web site, michaelbogdanow.com, are exhibited widely and included in many private and institutional collections. His works are also frequently used as book and CD covers and illustrations. Currently, he has several commissions in progress, including one for a painting to hang in a synagogue in New Jersey.
Despite Bogdanow’s passion for art, however, it isn’t his first love. Neither is law. Growing up in Houston, Texas, he devoted most of his energy to music, performing in rock bands. He still plays in a rock ’n’ roll dance band — the Titanic All-Stars — which performs at charity functions roughly four times a year.
However, at Brandeis University, he had an epiphany. Peter Grippe, the brilliant and eccentric founder of the college’s art department, encouraged Bogdanow to find his unique creative voice through the visual arts, painting and sculpture. Once seduced, there was no turning back.
“Art won me over in a second,” Bogdanow recalls. “I love the process of conceiving ideas and coming up with ways to express them and ways for others to appreciate them.” His enthusiasm led to a master’s of fine arts degree.
Along the way, Bogdanow decided he needed something in addition to the rather isolated, subjectively emotional world of art, something that tapped his need for other forms of communication.
“I’m very social,” he says. “I like words, I like interrelating to people, thinking analytically.” His parents were both attorneys, and law seemed an obvious answer. “I wasn’t abandoning art. I was adding something else that I really enjoy. Law brings me into the public. There are so many interesting partners, clients and judges. I have this vast social network based on the use of words. It offers another side to my professional life.
“In law, it’s important to think creatively, open-mindedly,” he adds. “I think my art background kicks in for helping me think freely, for tailoring individual strategies. It also keeps me happy and contributes to my overall well-being. If I didn’t have art, I think I’d be drier, less inspired at work.”
In turn, the practice of law has provided Bogdanow, now 50, with a stable income for him and his family. He and his wife, Margie, who co-founded the nonprofit Parenting Resource Associates, have three children. His two sons are both in college, while his daughter is a sophomore at Lexington High School.
Bogdanow maintains a full workload at Meehan, Boyle, Black & Fitzgerald, where he has practiced for about 20 years. “I like the challenging, high-profile cases,” he says. “I like being able to help someone who’s been hurt. By helping an individual, you can help the system, and help change corporate conduct at the same time.”
Bogdanow squeezes art into a couple of evenings and early mornings each week as well as Sunday, when he rises at the crack of dawn. “My goal is 10 hours a week,” he says. “It’s not quite enough [each of his major paintings takes 40-60 hours of work], but it’s acceptable. It’s a pretty good balance, so it doesn’t get old. That way I can keep art sacred.”
Michael B. Bogdanow’s diverse practice at Meehan, Boyle, Black & Fitzgerald includes personal injury litigation on both the plaintiff and defense sides, as well as appellate litigation. A prodigious writer, he is the author of Massachusetts Tort Damages, which is widely used as a reference by personal-injury practitioners and judges. An active member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, he also has served as president of the Massachusetts chapter of the Federal Bar Association and as co-chair of the Boston Bar Association Litigation Section. He graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1984 and is a partner at Meehan, Boyle, Black & Fitzgerald.
The Taxman and the Viola
For most law students, the grueling rigors of Harvard Law School are quite enough, thank you very much. But not for Sam Bruskin. Torn between a career in law and his passion for music, Bruskin combined his law school curriculum with the full-time pursuit of a Ph.D. in musicology at Harvard University, where he spent long hours on research and playing viola in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra and a variety of chamber music endeavors.
Sleep, he admits, was often a rare commodity.
His dual studies gave him the credentials to decide which career might best serve his life goals, and ultimately, law won out. “And once I made the decision to go into law, I never looked back,” he says. Now 57, Bruskin has been at Choate, Hall & Stewart since 1977 and a partner since 1982. He and his firm have done a substantial amount of business with Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 corporations involved in state tax cases. He has an excellent track record with multimillion-dollar tax settlements with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue on behalf of multinational corporations.
That doesn’t mean he turned his back on music, however. Bruskin spends much of what little free time he has in some kind of musical pursuit, whether playing viola in the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra or listening to his massive collection of recordings. The soft-spoken tax attorney often devotes lunch hours to shopping for new CDs and confesses his “rather fanatical interest” has led to amassing a collection of roughly 10,000 LPs and upwards of 35,000 CDs, many of which are still regretfully unopened. “My kids tease me that if I retired and listened to music six days a week, eight hours a day, I still wouldn’t finish listening to them all before I reach a ripe old age.” That probably won’t stop him from trying.
Music has been a vital part of Bruskin’s life since his childhood growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut. He started playing the violin in the third grade, and by tenth grade, he was playing in the semi-professional Pioneer Valley Symphony, commuting for rehearsals with the orchestra’s conductor, Nathan Gottschalk.
Gottschalk’s confidence in his precocious young charge inspired him to tap Bruskin for a string quartet concert. The catch was that the quartet didn’t need another violinist. It needed someone to play the larger, mid-range instrument, the viola. “I said sure, but there are three things: I’ve never played viola, I don’t own an instrument, and I don’t read alto clef,” Bruskin recalls. No problem. With Gottschalk’s help, Bruskin quickly picked up the essentials. A week later, he made his public debut on viola playing a Haydn string quartet.
“I found I really liked the viola,” he says. “In chamber ensembles and the orchestra, the viola is in the middle, and it’s a very satisfying role to play.”
After high school, Bruskin double majored in English and music at Williams College, commuting to play viola in the Albany Symphony. After graduating from law school and starting his legal career, Bruskin continued to play viola, most actively with the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, where his wife, Debby, played violin until their twin daughters were born. In 1980, he and his wife joined the semi-professional Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Benjamin Zander. “We’ve been there 24 years now, and I don’t think I’ve missed one performance.” The orchestra presents four programs with three repetitions each year and has played Carnegie Hall six times.
Bruskin also occasionally plays string quartets with friends and with his children. Two of his three daughters graduated with double degrees from Columbia and Juilliard and went on to form the award-winning Claremont Trio, which is releasing its first CD this fall.
Bruskin is actively involved with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, first as a member of the Board of Overseers for six years, and since September 2003 as a member of the Board of Trustees. For the past two years, he has been chair of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Annual Fund as well.
“I’ve always thrived on a lot of activity,” he says. “If I’ve had a tough day at the office, going to a Boston Philharmonic rehearsal makes me forget about the problems of the day. I find the balance very satisfying. And I like to think the creativity of music helps me think a little more creatively about the law.”
Samuel B. Bruskin is a member of Choate, Hall & Stewart’s federal and state tax group. He is chair of the State Tax Committee of the United States Law Firm Group and past chair of the Tax Section of the Boston Bar Association. In addition, he is a frequent lecturer and writer on a variety of state, local and federal tax issues and has frequently chaired the annual Boston Bar Association Massachusetts Tax Law Update.