Rockin’ Lawyer

My name is Bobby Schwartz. Since 1979, I have been a lawyer in the Corporate Department of Smith, Gambrell & Russell. Now I am a rock star.

My name is Bobby Schwartz. Since 1979, I have been a lawyer in the Corporate Department of Smith, Gambrell & Russell.

Now I am a rock star.

Let me explain. Two and a half years ago I started playing the guitar. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I restarted playing the guitar, having initially played that instrument from the time I was 10 years old until I graduated from high school. In those days I played the guitar as a member of various garage bands. As many of you may recall or have heard depending upon your age, the 1960s was an era in which rock ‘n’ roll music increased in nationwide prominence principally as a result of the so-called British invasion bands starting with The Beatles. As a high school student keenly interested in enhancing my social life, I was very motivated to be a member of a band and perform rock ‘n’ roll music.

After I went to college, then to law school, I abandoned music for more “career”-oriented diversions like hunting, fishing and golf. However, as the inconveniences of the aging process became more apparent to me, I decided to look for an activity that is fun, requires cerebral dexterity and is not terribly stressful on my body.

So, after a 37-year layoff, I started playing guitar again — and I was rusty. I had, however, kept in touch with a couple of my band mates from high school, and I asked one of them for advice on regaining some of my long-dormant playing skills. He suggested that I take lessons and referred me to a lesson studio maintained by a local guitar retailer. I began interviewing a couple of teachers that my friend had recommended and discovered by chance that one of my law partners, Pete Barlow (who has recently left to become general counsel of one of our firm’s aviation clients), had been taking guitar lessons in the same studio from one of the teachers there. I asked Pete about his experience with his teacher. Based on Pete’s recommendation, I began taking lessons from the same teacher. This continued for six months.

As I became more confident in my playing abilities, I began searching for an outlet to showcase my redeveloping guitar prowess other than giving impromptu performances for my wife, Terry, and our Labrador Retriever, Charger. Pete and I began to get together from time to time and teach each
other songs. Eventually, those sessions developed into short jam sessions accompanied by chitchat about who else at the firm played musical instruments. Pete, being substantially younger than I, had new and fresh information about others in the firm who are musically inclined. I learned that my partner, Anton Mertens, is an accomplished guitarist who had been trained in his native land of Belgium to play classical guitar, but had learned to play American rock ‘n’ roll when he moved over here. I learned that a first-year associate, Lindsey Magurno, was a music composition major in college and had performed professionally as a singer/guitarist. I was reminded that my partner, Lisa Ballentine, had been in a band with one of our former partners years ago and had also performed professionally as a solo performer and as a member of a bluegrass band prior to becoming a lawyer. So, it occurred to me to invite Anton, Lindsey and Lisa, to join me at Pete’s house to have a session to see if we might have some synergy that could lead to the formation of some sort of group. A meeting time and date were arrived at and we all congregated at Pete’s house. I suggested that the format be that each of us play something that we liked in order to demonstrate the level of skill we had on our instrument and the type of music we enjoyed. To break the ice, I started off with a short rendition of the Chuck Berry song, Johnny B. Goode. I did not get two bars into the song when Anton began filling in, and before I knew it we were jamming along with ease. That is when it occurred to me that the formation of a band was possible and would be huge fun. From time to time for the next several weeks, I roamed the various floors of our law firm talking to lawyers who, rumor had it, possessed musical talent. As it turns out, there are a lot of them.

Through a process of elimination, a core group of nine firm lawyers emerged and became a rock band named No Appeal. Those lawyers were Lisa Ballentine on bass guitar and lead vocals, Dana Richens on keyboards and vocals, Anton Mertens on guitar and vocals, Dennis Doherty on lead guitar, Alex Clay on drums, Lindsey Magurno on vocals, Pete Barlow on rhythm guitar, Tom King on percussion, and me on rhythm guitar and vocals. In February 2007, we moved a mountain of gear into Pete Barlow’s guesthouse, and I purchased more gear. We were becoming a real rock band — or so it appeared.

It was fascinating to me to see how far technology had advanced during the 37-1/2 years that I had been absent from the band scene. State-of-the-art sound systems, amplifiers and instruments were purchased. We began to practice two days each week. After a while we not only looked like a real band
but started sounding like one. So much so that I convinced my wife, who heads up our firm’s Corporate Department, that we should give a party for our summer associates, as a subterfuge for showing off the talents of our band. In July 2007, No Appeal debuted in front of approximately 125 firm lawyers and summer associates and their spouses or significant others. The reviews were favorable — and I had the time of my life.

Flush with success, we located and rented a rehearsal studio to become the headquarters of No Appeal (just like “real” rock bands do) as we continued to hone our musical craft. Along the way, the band experienced some attrition. We now count six lawyers in the firm as members (including Ballentine, Richens, Doherty, Mertens, Clay and me), all of whom (except me) are accomplished musicians.

Our next gig was at our firm’s holiday party in December 2007 in front of more than 250 guests. Once again, the performance was greeted with favorable reviews.

No Appeal has continued to practice two times a week at our rehearsal studio. We plan to record some songs in a format that would allow the recordings to be accessible on the firm’s Web site. We also are planning to entertain all of the firm’s lawyers at our annual retreat in April.

Two and a half years ago, I started playing the guitar (again). Now, I’m a rock star!

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