Noah Rosenthal (2005-06)

Assistant General Counsel, Fenwick & West LLP
"The Chief"
“The Chief”

I worked late with the Chief (always “the Chief” to me) 5-6 days a week, except when she was traveling. As she joked more than once, by day, she was the Chief Justice Abrahamson. At night she was Justice Abrahamson. Most of her case work gone done after hours.

At least in those days, her clerk’s office had two desks. During the days, the externs from University of Wisconsin, Marquette and Northeastern would rotate sitting in the other desk because it was nicer and gave them better access to the justices than the windowless extern office upstairs, though it was much colder in the clerks office.

At night, the Chief would sit at “the extern desk” — right across from me — and work on opinions. She would edit a draft opinion, send it to me, and then I would edit it. She was firmly insistent that I make substantial edits. I remember sending her back an opinion early in the year with pretty minimal edits. She sent it back to me and said, “No, you need to make more changes. There is no way that what I did was good enough that it doesn’t need more editing than this.” Then she did it again to my next set of revisions before she finally agreed to start working on it again. (I’ve always thought the second one was for effect.) This was mind-blowing, and has informed my professional life since then.  I believe all of her clerks had some version of this experience.

Sometimes the back-and-forth went better than others, though.  My most memorable revision experience with her involved the mundane issue of sewer lateral fees for condos.  But it was interesting to me because it was the rare case where I strongly disagreed with the Chief’s position and she eventually sent me home while we were working on her opinion because I wouldn’t stop arguing  with her. The “really edit me” message obviously got through because this was a concurring opinion and the court was unanimous on the outcome.  I still think she was wrong.

And then there was this: She only drank instant coffee. When I got to the court in 2005, her clerk’s office had what must have been a 20-year-old Mr. Coffee brand drip machine, which the chief affectionately called, “Mr. Coffee,” as though it were a person. There was apparently a tradition of the clerks from every chambers using this machine.  The Chief, of course, did not drink from Mr. Coffee.  Mr. Coffee was gross and uncleanable, and this seemed like a reasonable choice. So I bought a new $20 Mr. Coffee for the Chief’s clerk’s office. She agreed to try the new Mr. Coffee once, but was not impressed, and back to instant coffee she went.  When I tell this story I am sometimes asked if I ever tried her instant coffee. Once, and never again since.

The Chief was a remarkable person in so many ways.  There is no experience in the world that would have given me the Chief’s work ethic, keen mind and strong sense of justice.  But I think I was a little better in all those areas for having worked for her, and for this I am eternally grateful to her.