What I Know About Being an Attorney, I Learned from The Honorable Peter E. Doyne

It is often said that life in a Big Wall Street Law Firm is brutal, but the only time in my professional career that I wanted to cry came when I was a law clerk under The Honorable Peter E. Doyne, then the presiding judge of the chancery division in the Bergen vicinage of the Superior Court of New Jersey. When I heard that Judge Doyne, now the assignment judge, is retiring as of May 1, 2015, that brief moment of weakness was the first thing I recalled about my time working for the judge.

Judge Doyne worked (and no doubt still works) hard. He often joked that he had a twelve hour working policy: come in around 6 a.m. and leave shortly after 6:00 p.m. When I interviewed with him for the clerkship, he made clear that he couldn’t work with me unless I started my day at 7:30 a.m. And so it is that my working day usually ran from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (which was still shorter than the judge’s) even as the normal working hours at the courthouse was from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The judge worked long hours because there was a lot of work to do. The chancery division, at least during my tenure, had motions every Friday while the civil division had motions every other week. That meant that the work that was usually done in two weeks had to be done in one.  My aforementioned momentary weakness came in the late afternoon of my first Friday when, after finally disposing of all the files relating to the motions for that week, a staff came to drop off an even larger pile of papers relating to next week’s motions. I learned how grueling the legal profession can be, not as a junior associate at a major law firm, but as a government employee under a man who worked at an exhaustingly brisk pace in order to ensure that justice was served in a timely manner.

As much as I learned from the judge the heavy demands of the profession, the far more important lesson I learned was what a model jurist looks like.  In the way Judge Doyne went about his work, day in and day out, in chambers and on the bench, he taught me how a diligent, capable, moral and respectful lawyer should conduct himself as an attorney privileged to be a part of any bar, not just in the state of New Jersey. That Judge Doyne oversaw his cases capably there is little doubt, but what made the judge exemplary was much more than how he dispensed justice. In his diligence to review every submission made to the court, in the fairness he bestowed upon every litigant and in the respect he showed to every attorney who appeared before him, he exhibited the best of what the judiciary has to offer. I am now in a field of law as far away from litigation as a lawyer can be, but in how I am to conduct myself as an attorney, Judge Doyne will always serve as my model.

I’m hardly alone in having such a high opinion of Judge Doyne. During and after the clerkship, when I mentioned to anyone who is familiar with the New Jersey judiciary that I clerked for the judge, I received nothing but raving praise for my first boss and mentor, which made me awfully proud to be associated with him. As I progressed in my legal career, I often thought about how the legal profession can use more lawyers who exhibit the professionalism and character of Judge Doyne, for that would go a long way towards improving the public’s image of the profession that has been damaged far too often by attorneys who are unbecoming.

The cliché goes that the retirement of Judge Doyne is a great loss for the judiciary.  That’s certainly true, but I don’t think those words adequately describe the impact of his retirement. He will be missed whenever a case falls behind schedule, or when a judge’s comments suggest a less than comprehensive understanding of the papers submitted, or when we hear about a judicial misconduct. In short, he will be missed whenever any judge falls below the high standards he has set for the rest of the judiciary.

One solace we can take from Judge Doyne’s retirement from the bench is that we will not be losing him from the legal profession. As the judge returns to private practice, I look forward to be able to one day work with him again (but hopefully not as adversaries).

But for now, I’d like to say on behalf of the entire New Jersey bar: Thank you for your 22 amazing years of service.


1 Response to “What I Know About Being an Attorney, I Learned from The Honorable Peter E. Doyne”

  1. 1 2015, a Busy Year with Moments of Reflection and Fun | The World According to Joe Trackback on December 14, 2015 at 12:17 pm

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