Norman Siegel and Herbert Teitelbaum were classmates at New York University law school. Mr. Siegel is married to Saralee Evans, a former acting State Supreme Court justice. Their wedding ceremony was performed by Emily Jane Goodman, a Supreme Court justice. They all come from Brooklyn. Collectively, they have 161 years of legal experience and a record of impact in and out of court. And now, when most of their contemporaries are contemplating retirement or have already quit, the four of them are starting a new law firm.
“I know lots of lawyers of my generation who’ve been put in a situation where they have to retire,” Mr. Siegel said. “I’m as energetic as ever, and I’m much more experienced. I know which issues are viable and which are policy issues. Herb is a better negotiator than I am. The two judges give us credibility.”
Besides, Ms. Goodman said, “golf seems so boring.”
Mr. Siegel, Mr. Teitelbaum and Ms. Evans (Ms. Goodman is of counsel to the firm for now) will open shop on Madison Avenue in February. The partners have already hired an associate and look forward to training other young lawyers.
Though they will take on a range of matters, they plan to make civil liberties cases a major focus of their work.
“While Norman and I have more of an insight on one side of the bench, getting insight into the other side is extremely valuable,” Mr. Teitelbaum said. “In addition to commercial work, we will have a docket of matters that will have a substantial impact on the lives of individuals and communities; not many other firms have that as a focus.”
As the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Mr. Siegel is a seasoned veteran of legal skirmishes with the government. He is famous for challenging government’s powers of eminent domain in the taking of private property and curbs on free speech and assembly. He and Mr. Teitelbaum are suing the city over the confiscation of nearly 3,000 books when Occupy Wall Street demonstrators were evicted in November from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan.
“We now have four people who could litigate that,” Mr. Siegel said. “If I was by myself, I might not be able to take it on.”
Mr. Teitelbaum has handled environmental litigation, headed the securities litigation branch at Bryan Cave and was executive director of the state Commission on Government Integrity. (He resigned in 2009 after the state inspector general accused him of leaking confidential information, a charge that he and his colleagues flatly denied.)
Ms. Evans served as an acting Supreme Court justice until she retired last month. The resignation of Ms. Goodman, an elected justice, takes effect next month. Before becoming judges, their practice included employment discrimination, matrimonial issues, public interest and cultural law. As judges, they helped settle a broad range of cases.
“Being a judge is the loneliest job in the world,” Ms. Goodman said, which was another reason she and Ms. Evans found the new law firm so appealing. “Also, we all love advocacy and as judges we don’t experience that.”
“The law can be used to effect change,” Ms. Evans said. “We each see that in different ways.”
“We won’t be shy about litigating against government,” Mr. Siegel said.
Or anyone else. He and Mr. Teitelbaum have already successfully represented a synagogue in their old Brighton Beach neighborhood whose congregants were concerned about noise from nearby rock concerts, and they are handling the case of a young Orthodox man accusing a rabbi of sexual abuse.
“None of us is a wallflower,” Mr. Siegel said.
Mr. Siegel and Mr. Teitelbaum are 68. Ms. Evans is 70, and Ms. Goodman is 71.
“Why would I want to retire?” Mr. Siegel said. “I’m at the peak of my game.”
“A lot of people want to retire because they don’t like the practice of law,” Mr. Teitelbaum said. “We love it.”