Ed Epstein

My friend and former partner, Ed Epstein, died last week. He was 85.

Hailing from Walla Walla, Stanford undergrad, and Harvard Law, Ed spent close to 50 years as a corporate and business lawyer in Portland before he retired. And man, he was a good one. He represented businesses big and small, from publicly traded megafirms to moms and pops who had something successful going. He was a master at bringing about good results for all of them, and he did it with a quiet grace and kindness that you rarely see. 

Though smart as a whip, Ed was one of the most thoughtful and humble people you will ever meet, and if you were his client, he made you feel as if you were the most important thing in his world. In my time working with him, he had a lot of doctors as clients. They were not known for being the easiest people in the world to work with, but from what I saw, they ate out of Ed's hand. They respected how well he knew his stuff.

Younger lawyers at the firm were always happy to work with Ed. He'd share his knowledge with them generously, and he invariably had an encouraging word for their work, whether it was spectacular or not. Ed and his wife Marilyn took a genuine interest in the next generation rising through the ranks, and they made the up-and-comers feel like peers, never subordinates.

I remember being the scrivener on some deals where Ed was the main lawyer. My job included taking a contract that he had crafted in an older deal and marking it up to reflect the new one we were working on. On a couple of occasions, I remember sitting down with Ed and going over every sentence in the agreement – maybe 20 or 30 pages' worth. Ed made sure that I knew what every single word was there for. He didn't have to do that. He did it for me, as I'm sure he did for a lot of newbie attorneys in the office.

Nowadays, clients probably won't pay for that kind of training time. But back in that golden era of law practice, it was possible, and Ed made sure that we associate lawyers got the benefit.

I don't think I ever mentioned this to Ed, but over the years I have told a story about him to dozens of law students when I thought they might be looking up to me as I did to him. I tell this tale as part of urging the students to try to get a job at a place where great lawyers will show them how law practice is done right. To never stop learning. 

The story goes as follows:

In my earliest days as a lawyer, I spent a lot of time, with a few of my contemporaries, in the firm's Tax Library. This was a small space, on the 23rd floor, full of tax books. In those days computers weren't around; we did our research in hard-copy books. There were no windows in that room, and nothing to distract us visually – no sign that there was still a world outside. We used to kid that it was a great place to work, because it was climate-controlled and there was no heavy lifting. On Friday, a colleague used to chirp that there were only two more working days until Monday.

However, there was a real beauty to the Tax Library, in that it was across the hall from Ed's office. Back then, unless a client was present and secrets were being discussed, we mostly left our doors open. The acoustics of the place were such that everything that happened in Ed's office could be heard with great clarity by whoever was in the Tax Library. "Radio Free Epstein," one associate would joke.

I'll tell you, I learned more about being a lawyer from listening to Epstein across that hall than I ever learned in law school. I listened to Ed dealing with his secretary and other firm staffers. Ed interacting with the firm's other lawyers and legal assistants. Ed on the phone with clients when things were going well. Ed on the phone with clients when things were going badly. Ed on the phone with opposing counsel in a deal. Ed on the phone with IRS people. Ed on the phone with Marilyn. Ed dictating letters and documents – everything in those days was dictated onto a tape and given to a secretary to type. 

It was an amazing education.

The programming on Radio Free Epstein left no doubt that Ed was always the coolest head in the room. When I'd get stressed out about something, which was often, I'd try to do an Ed impression and simmer down. He was a lot better at it than I will ever be. And when he saw me struggling, he'd offer some of the best advice I've ever gotten. I still recall some of those conversations word for word.

Radio Free Epstein may be off the air now, but Ed's influence will be around for a long time. I for one will keep trying to do the impression, as best I can.


  1. BEAUTIFUL! Thank you. Love reading this as an recent grad, soon-to-be law student. Your eulogies are some of the best stuff on this blog.

  2. Wonderful tribute to Ed. I had the privilege of being his secretary for a period of time and he was an amazing person to work for.


Post a Comment

The platform used for this blog is awfully wonky when it comes to comments. It may work for you, it may not. It's a Google thing, and beyond my control. Apologies if you can't get through. You can email me a comment at jackbogsblog@comcast.net, and if it's appropriate, I can post it here for you.