Remembering A Mentor: Mark Kravitz

Even though most attorneys in the Connecticut bar were well aware that Federal District Court Judge Mark R. Kravitz had been battling Lou Gehrig’s disease for more than a year, the news of his passing yesterday at the far–too-young age of 62 still came as a terrible blow.  For me, Mark’s passing means the loss of one of the most important mentors in my professional life.  I owe my professional reputation in Connecticut as an appellate and First Amendment attorney to Mark.  I owe my position on the UCONN Law School adjunct faculty to Mark.  I owe my membership on the boards of the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government and the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information to Mark.  In so many other ways, I am indebted to Mark. 

I first met Mark in July 1996, when I joined Wiggin & Dana as a 6th year lateral associate, having spent the previous five years practicing in Boston.  I loved my time in Boston, but I had struggled to find a partner who was willing to take me under his wing and guide my professional development.  That was a difficult experience for me, as I had been fortunate throughout high school, college and law school to have wonderful mentors.   Although I had expressed an interest during my job interviews at Wiggin in doing appellate work, the firm made clear that it was looking for a litigation associate in its trial department.   I was offered, and I happily accepted, a job with that understanding.

Nevertheless, my very first assignment was for Mark, working on a tax appeal in the Second Circuit.  We prevailed on the appeal, and I guess I made a good impression because for the next two years I did almost all appellate work with Mark and Jeff Babbin, then a senior associate on the cusp of partnership.  And it was GREAT work.   In those two years I worked on fascinating cases bound for the United State Supreme Court and the Connecticut Supreme Court. 

What really made those, and so many other, cases memorable, however, was not the forums in which they were argued or their eventual outcomes, but what I learned from Mark by working on them with him.   Mark was, without question, the smartest and clearest legal thinker, the best editor and the best legal writing instructor I have ever known.   Prior to joining Wiggin, I thought I was a pretty good writer.  I had excelled in law school and I had clerked on the Connecticut Supreme Court.  When I started working with Mark, I learned that I had greatly overrated my writing abilities.   Six years out of law school, Mark taught me how to write.  For several years I handed him draft briefs and memoranda, which he returned to me with more red ink and yellow stickies than you can imagine.  But unlike so many partners whose edits simply “change” a draft brief, Mark’s edits always made the brief better, usually by at least an order of magnitude.  And he always took the time to go over his edits with me and explain why he was making them.  One of the proudest moments of my professional life came several years into my Wiggin experience, when Mark returned a draft brief to me and it had almost no red ink, and not a single stickie, on it.

Mark was also one of the most gracious and thoughtful partners for whom I have ever worked.   To meet a filing deadline on one case, I spent a few nights sleeping on the floor of my office in New Haven.   When I finally made it home, I found that Mark had sent flowers to my wife.  When a case in which he, Jeff Babbin and I were involved as part of a large coalition of telephone companies went to the United States Supreme Court, Mark persuaded the firm to pay our travel expenses so Jeff and I could attend the oral argument.    I could give many more examples of Mark’s thoughtfulness.

But Mark did far more than show me how gracious he was.  He gave me opportunity after opportunity to grow as a lawyer.  One day in the fall of 2002 I walked into his office and he mentioned that he had decided to stop teaching a course on privacy law at UCONN Law School.  He had developed and taught the course for six years and was looking for a new challenge.  I had wanted to teach for years, and I asked Mark if he would consider recommending me to Jeremy Paul, who was the associate dean at the time and who had responsibility for hiring adjunct faculty.  It was a bold request on my part, but Mark did not hesitate.  With Mark’s reference and an introduction to Dean Paul, I was able to realize one of my professional dreams.

On another occasion, I received a call on a Saturday morning from Mark.  “Can you drop whatever you’re doing and start preparing for an emergency hearing on Monday morning for The Hartford Courant?,” he asked.   After Ralph Elliot, Mark was the leading First Amendment lawyer in the state.  I knew Mark had been working for years to develop a relationship with the Courant, which relied almost exclusively on Ralph for its First Amendment work.  Ralph was conflicted out of this particular case, however, and the Courant called Mark.  Mark had every reason to keep this case for himself, but he entrusted me with its handling.  I will never forget that act of selflessness and faith in my abilities.

Mark also introduced me to Mitch Pearlman, the long-time Executive Director of the state Freedom of Information Commission and one of the world’s leading authorities on freedom of information.   Mitch was on the board of the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government, of which Mark was vice-president.  When Mark decided to step down from that position, he suggested me to take his place on the board.  A few years ago I had the honor and privilege of being elected President of CFOG.

I could go on and on.   But there is no logical or obvious stopping point.  So let me end by saying this:  If I have accomplished anything positive in my two decades as a lawyer, it is largely because Mark Kravitz took me under his wing and offered me the guidance that I had been craving as a young attorney.  Thank you, Mark.  I will never forget everything you did for me.

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