WHILE HIS OLD man worked, the Kid usually spent the day screwing up. He skipped school. He chewed tobacco in the back of class. He learned Spanish like a knucklehead, retaining little more than that cállate means “shut up.” His path seemed set from the time he was 12 years old. He was forced to repeat the seventh grade and was asked to leave Penn Charter in 10th.
Meanwhile, the old man was a legend, humping cases as a plaintiff’s attorney in city courtrooms. He won multimillion-dollar verdicts with regularity. And he did it with a Spartan’s dedication to combat. While the Kid complained about serving 45 hours of summer-school detention for being a no-account fuckup, the Legend put in 45 hours by Thursday afternoon. Then he kept right on working. He outshone opposing attorneys, wrestled control of the courtroom away from presiding judges, and ran roughshod to victories.
The Philadelphia Lawyer is a hoary cliché now. But it has been invoked as a compliment and a pejorative, a means of describing an intellectual strong man who twists not metal, but facts. Whatever. A Philadelphia Lawyer is suspect until he’s needed. Then, he’s your best friend. And the Legend was the ultimate Philadelphia Lawyer.
The Legend was so great, he excelled even at recreation. He raced cars. He jammed himself into the tight little barrel of a World War II fighter plane. He cheated death, pinwheeling through tight corkscrew spirals like a Top Gun pilot. But his performance suffered at home. When the Kid finished last in his first motocross race, the Legend said, “What’s the matter with you? I won all my races!”
The Legend was lying. Right to his son’s face. But the Kid wouldn’t learn that until years later. So instead he figured that somehow, everything had gone wrong. Somehow he was born a loser to a father who always won. And when the Legend’s headlights hit the front window, long after dinner each weekday night, his children fled before he could reach the front door. Two daughters and the boy bounded up the stairs rather than see their dad — tired, inebriated, and always on the lookout for someone or something to criticize.
In his mid-20s, though, the Kid did something that might have seemed unthinkable to the boy he once was. He decided to become a trial attorney. “Don’t,” the Legend warned him. “People will always compare you to me.”
The Legend was right. But miraculously, so was the boy. The courtroom is where he belongs. And watching him work now, as a man bearing the legacy of the Philadelphia Lawyer, is an opportunity to see how the nature of being a lawyer in this town has changed.