D.C. BAR 2020 CONFERENCE – DISCOVER MORE AT https://www.dcbarconference.org

Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: Irving Young and Joe DiMaggio

From Washington Lawyer, September 2000

By Jacob A. Stein


The recent TV program replaying the life and times of Joe DiMaggio brought to mind Irving Younger. Younger frequently worked in to his continuing legal education (CLE) lectures references to Joltin’ Joe as the embodiment of perfection in his chosen work.

For those who may not know of Irving Younger, by common consent he was the top banana on any CLE program. He brought the law of evidence to life with clever insights, humorous anecdotes, and inside stories. He extracted from the Federal Rules of Evidence a grand unifying theory that reconciles electromagnetism, gravity, and the speed of light.

His hearsay lecture was unforgettable, and his lecture on the art of cross-examination was even better. Each lecture was worked and reworked, so that anything that slowed it down was trimmed off. The final product had the impact of a fine vaudeville act. As he paced the platform, he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. To emphasize a point he jumped into the air and screamed the applicable rule. When he completed his four-hour, nonstop lecture, he was the fighter who had gone 15 rounds. He needed a robe thrown around him and the assistance of two handlers, one with ice water and the other with flattery.

He had excellent credentials. He attended Harvard undergraduate and the New York University Law School. He was an assistant United States attorney in Manhattan and thereafter was in private practice. He left private practice to serve as a trial judge in New York City. He then taught trial technique at Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, and Georgetown. In 1981 he joined Williams & Connelly. He left three years later to resume teaching.

In his lectures he reduced the technique of trying a lawsuit into 10 black-letter rules. Learn them by heart. If you violate them, you do so at your client’s peril.

He temporarily defrauded his audience of ambitious would-be trial lawyers into believing that each one of them was destined to be a prince of the forum, winning big cases, by following the Younger rules. It was while delivering his exhortations to excellence that he invoked Joe DiMaggio’s memory and Joe’s perfection in the New York Yankees’ outfield and of course Joe’s clutch hitting. Younger then shifted to the legendary triumphs of yesteryear’s great trial lawyers. There was Max Steuer’s cross-examination in the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire case. Steuer was defending the factory owners charged with causing the death of factory employees who were unable to flee the burning building because the owners had locked the exits. Max Steuer’s cross-examination consisted of asking the prosecution’s key witness to repeat the story she gave on direct examination. She did so, word for word. That was the cross-examination. Thus, so Irving Younger proclaimed, Steuer demonstrated that the witness had memorized a story the prosecutor had told her to say.

He gave instances of what happens when the lawyer asks one question too many and converts a good cross-examination into a disaster. And he warned against getting too excited. There was the lawyer who got so excited in arguing an arson case that he exclaimed, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the chimney took fire; it poured out volumes of smoke. Volumes did I say? Whole encyclopedias, members of the jury."

He told of the lawyer who fainted dead away when appearing before Judge Learned Hand.

He preached elegance and relevance and brevity. No wasted motion, just like Joe DiMaggio. He was proud that a case he tried when he was a Williams & Connolly partner gave him the chance to perform like Joe DiMaggio.

He represented the Washington Post when it had been sued for libel by the president of the Mobil Oil Corporation. The plaintiff called a trucking executive to the stand. The trucking executive gave testimony helpful to the plaintiff. Younger’s cross-examination consisted of four elegant questions:

Q: Mr. Hoffman, did you just get into Washington just about an hour ago?

A: About an hour and a half, I would think.

Q: Did you come up from Florida?

A: No, I did not.

Q: Where did you come from?

A: Indianapolis.

Q: How did you get from Indianapolis to Washington?

A: On the Mobil corporate jet.

     "It was a hand grenade in the courtroom," Younger recalled, "the kind of moment a trial lawyer savors for the rest of his life."

Despite the elegance and brevity of the cross-examination, the jury returned a substantial plaintiff’s verdict. When commenting on the verdict in one of his CLE courses, he said with a smile that Joe DiMaggio occasionally struck out even though his swing was perfect. Younger finally prevailed for his client in the court of appeals.

This led to Younger’s warning that the trying of cases requires a tolerance for disappointment. Trying cases is winning and losing. There was a lawyer in New York called "Last Chance Levy." He got his cases after the jury returned a guilty verdict. Levy was the postverdict and appellate man. He considered himself a winner each day the client was not behind bars. In one of his cases, the day came when all appeals ended and the defendant found himself in court for the last time. As he was being led away, he whispered to Levy, "What happens now?" Levy answered, "I shall be going to dinner and you are going to jail." Last Chance Levy developed a tolerance for defeat.

After several years in practice, Irving Younger returned to his real love, teaching trial practice. Although his life was cut short at age 55, he lives on by and through the videotapes of his great performances, recorded live before spellbound CLE audiences.

Jacob A. Stein may be reached by e-mail at [email protected].