Keeping Count of a Long Life in Law

Harry Goldberg, 91, a lawyer in Chevy Chase, has practiced for 70 years. He has used the same notebook, at left, to track expenses and income. Some early costs: desk and lamp, $31.50; rent, $60.
Harry Goldberg, 91, a lawyer in Chevy Chase, has practiced for 70 years. He has used the same notebook, at left, to track expenses and income. Some early costs: desk and lamp, $31.50; rent, $60. (Photos By John Kelly -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By John Kelly
Monday, March 16, 2009

Harry Goldberg has been a lawyer for 70 years, and if he ever forgets what it was like when he first hung out his shingle, all he has to do is consult a small notebook. On the green fabric cover is written "Account Book and Office Data. Harry W. Goldberg, Nov. 1, 1938."

"I was 21 years old, Mr. Kelly," Harry says. We're sitting on the 12th floor of a building in Chevy Chase. Harry has had an office here since the building opened almost 40 years ago. Before that, he had an office downtown. Before that, he went to law school at night at National University -- which has since merged with George Washington University. Before that, he delivered telegrams for Western Union. Before that, he helped his father deliver bread in Southwest Washington, riding alongside him in a horse-drawn wagon.

In 1938, the freshly minted lawyer used a fountain pen to neatly ink his financial details: Desk and lamp: $31.50. Swivel chair: $18. Bookcase: $5. Venetian blinds: $3.50.

Some expenses -- such as the rent, $60, and a typewriter, $12.60 -- were split four ways. A law school professor said if Harry could find three other attorneys, he'd rent them some space. Harry rounded up Gordon, Roeder and Finklestein. It cost $3.68 to paint "Goldberg" on the office door; $4.07 to paint "Finklestein."

"Well, he had a longer name," Harry says.

At the back of the book, in a section headed "Fees," Harry wrote down his earnings.

Mrs. Ott: $12.50. Mr. LaVay: $25. Mrs. Knott: $50.

Harry did simple things at first: wills, contracts. He can still remember some of his clients.

Mr. Brenner: $50. "Here's an interesting one. . . . Ritz Camera purchased Mr. Brenner's photo business from him. Mr. Brenner was a refugee from Germany. I became his attorney. He was a very difficult man, Mr. Kelly. He escaped from Germany but was unable to leave with any of his money. First he went to Italy, then he was kicked out of there. Somehow he was able to escape with 100 to 150 Leicas. Do you know what those are, Mr. Kelly? Very high-quality cameras. He could sell each of those for $100. He was able to rebuild his business."

Murray Levine: $25. "Oh, God, Murray Levine. This is quite a story. Want to hear it? Murray Levine worked for Brenner, selling Kodak film and things in Brenner's camera store. He decided on the side to take pictures of people. He came to see me one day. He said, 'Will you be my lawyer?' I said, 'Of course.' Well, unbeknownst to me, he was taking pictures of nude girls. Nothing lascivious. Maybe he hoped an idea might spring to mind. I don't know his intent, Mr. Kelly.

"He would take these pictures, airbrush them and sell them to magazines in New York. A girl whose picture he took said she wanted copies, so he gave her some and she put them in her drawer at home. Well, her mother found them. She said, 'What are these?' The girl said, 'Mr. Levine took them.'

"The police raided Mr. Levine's home, and he needed a lawyer, and that's when I came in.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity