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Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: John Maynard Keynes, David Lloyd George, Arthur Koestler, the Snowfall, and the Dog With an Ear Infection

From Washington Lawyer, June 2010

By Jacob A. Stein

spectator“There are strange coincidences in life: they occur so à propos that the strongest minds are impressed, and ask if that mysterious and inexorable fatality in which the ancients believed, is not really the law that governs the world.”

—Alfred Mercier

When I picked up two tattered books at the Palisades Neighborhood Library book sale, I thought there would be no connection between them. They were just side by side, two for a dollar.

One of the books was a collection of John Maynard Keynes essays. Keynes (1883–1946) is remembered as the man who diagnosed and doctored capitalism’s periodic illnesses. The other book was Arthur Koestler’s summary of his own scientific writings. To try and describe Koestler (1905–1983) is to do the impossible. There is only one thing to do: Wikipedia. Then give me a call.

Keynes, in his book, reported on what he saw and heard at the 1918 post-World War I Paris Peace Conference convened to negotiate the Allies’ terms with Germany.

President Woodrow Wilson led the United States delegation. Georges Clemenceau led the French delegation. David Lloyd George led the British delegation, which included Keynes. Keynes wrote up a comparison between Lloyd George and President Wilson that should be read by those who want a unique lesson in the art of negotiation at the highest levels.

What chance could such a man [President Wilson] have against Mr. Lloyd George’s unerring, almost medium-like, sensibility to everyone immediately round him? To see the British Prime Minister watching the company, with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men, judging character, motive, and subconscious impulse, perceiving what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next, and compounding with telepathic instinct the argument or appeal best suited to the vanity, weakness, or self- interest of his immediate auditor, was to realise that the poor President would be playing blind-man’s bluff in that party. Never could a man have stepped into the parlour a more perfect and predestined victim to the finished accomplishments of the Prime Minister.

Lloyd George has been the subject of more than 12 biographies. He is one of those who a biographer cannot catch in the net—people like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and, more recently, Ronald Reagan.

He commenced his career as a solo lawyer in Wales. His clientele was made up of the poor and neglected. His skill as an orator brought him into politics and, despite the rigidities of the English class system, into the House of Commons. He joined the newly formed Liberal Party and quickly rose as one of its leaders. During his career he had strong friendships and strong enemies. One of his enemies was quoted as saying that Lloyd George couldn’t see a belt without wanting to hit below it.

The six or seven senses, the subconscious impulses, and the telepathic instinct that Keynes said Lloyd George displayed are the very things that Koestler believed exist, along with extra sensory perception (ESP) and improbable coincidences.

As lawyers, we cannot practice without the benefit of improbable coincidences. Such things as the book that happens to be on the law library table that falls open to the case we were looking for and could not find. There is the continuance we desperately need. The phone rings. It is a call from our opponent asking for a continuance.

Now let me report on three improbable coincidences of my own during the big February snowstorm. On one of the snowy mornings, I hitchhiked on MacArthur Boulevard (it had been cleared) to my office. At four in the afternoon, I took the K Street jitney to Georgetown where I expected to take a cab home. But when I got to Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, there were no cabs. I panicked. I would have to walk three miles home in the snowstorm. And just then, near 34th and Q Streets, a woman called to me from an antiquated SUV and asked how to get to Sibley Hospital. I live close by Sibley. (Improbable Coincidence One.) Here was my deliverance. I told her I knew the way to Sibley. She said she was going to a veterinarian near Sibley. She said there was a dog in the car. My response was to jump into the SUV right away and put the dog on my lap.

When we got to the vet’s place, we saw a “Closed Because of Snow” sign. I then asked what was wrong with the dog. She said it had an ear infection. I said I have a dog with an ear infection. (Improbable Coincidence Two.) My wife, Mary, knows how to put ear drops in a dog’s ear. I said if we could get the SUV up the hill near my house, we can help the dog. We made it. I walked through the snow and into my house with the SUV woman and the dog. When I told the story a few times, Mary understood and put the drops in.

As I walked with the SUV woman to her car, she asked what I did. I said I was a lawyer. She screamed, “I need a lawyer! What a coincidence.” She had been fired from her job. Her employer was contesting the unemployment compensation. She needed a lawyer for the next hearing, a week later. I represented her at the hearing. We won. (Improbable Coincidence Three.)

I had other odd coincidences during the big storm, none of economic importance but valuable for someone who believes, as Koestler did, that the world is filled with mystery, medium-like sensibility, ESP, telepathic instincts, six and seven senses, and (now in a lower voice) much more.

Reach Jacob A. Stein at jstein@steinmitchell.com.