Irwin Block was old school. 87 years old and still going to work. He loved the law. He loved being a lawyer. He loved being a trial lawyer. And make no mistake about it. Irwin was not a litigator. He was a trial lawyer. And he was extraordinary in trial. Even opposing counsel in a trial would sometimes find themselves becoming spectators, watching with admiration as Irwin held the witness and the jury in the palm of his hand.
Many of you know that Irwin Block (together with Phil Hubbart) represented Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, two black men charged with murder in St. Joe, Florida in 1963. As a result of the efforts of Irwin and Phil, and those of Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Gene Miller, Pitts and Lee were pardoned after twelve years on death row for murders they did not commit.
Irwin Block was involved in many high-profile cases over the course of his exceptional career. But for all his talents as a trial lawyer, Irwin was a humble man. He never sought the limelight, and bristled at the notion that he should ever be honored for just doing his job. But honored he was, including the American Jewish Congress’ Judge Learned Hand Award, History Miami's Legal Legend Award, and the DCBA’s David W. Dyer Professionalism Award.
Irwin was more interested in fighting for clients than fighting for causes. Old school indeed. He taught me much about being a trial lawyer. I’ll never forget his cardinal rule: “You can’t always outsmart the other side. But you can always out-prepare them.” As good as he was in trial, he was even better in pretrial strategy, motions and deposition. He won hundreds of cases that would never see the light of a courtroom because of the damage he had done in deposition and pretrial motions. Irwin left a legacy of excellence. Each of us who knew him, who worked for him, who worked with him, who learned from him, has a profound respect that is difficult to explain in words. But here’s just one example: Nearly every lawyer who worked with him, even after leaving the firm and establishing their own successful practice, would continue to call him Mr. Block when they saw him. They felt it somehow disrespectful to call him anything else. (I must confess that my first draft referred to him only as Mr. Block. I hope he will forgive this final version.)
I’m not just a better lawyer for having known Mr. Block. I’m a better person for having known Mr. Block.
Here's the Herald obit.
The New York Times has an editorial today about how to stop prosecutorial abuse. Mr. Block would have appreciated it.