10 Questions: LA solo brings together musical lawyers in a philharmonic he founded
I know you’re a violinist and a conductor, but did you grow up in a musical family?
Yes—everyone in my family was involved in music. My late uncle, Ernst Katz, founded the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra of California in 1937, and he conducted the orchestra into the beginning of its 72nd season. When I was young, I was concertmaster of the orchestra, and I worked closely with him. I was not only trained musically but also learned every aspect of running an orchestra. This was essential in starting the lawyers’ orchestra. I passed these skills on to my daughter, Debra Marisa Greene Kaiser, who is the executive director. Of the thousands of youth who played in the Jr. Phil, a number went on to law school and now play with me in the LA Lawyers Phil.
It sounds like there couldn’t have been a more perfect person to form a lawyers’ orchestra—you already knew how it was done and how to run it.
Right! That’s the background I had—how to create an orchestra and keep it going. It takes a lot of dedication.
Especially since you’re still actively practicing law. Tell me about your practice.
Today, most of my practice is personal injury and real estate. I went to law school not to practice law but to go into politics. And I did—I was elected, but I wasn’t satisfied; and I wasn’t crazy about fundraising. So I opened my own practice out of school. My practice has been mostly litigation, but I take on fewer cases now because of the extreme time commitment I give to music. Yet I have always made time to do pro bono work and take on interesting cases, like when I represented a witness in the O.J. Simpson criminal case.
How do you find time for it all?
I am very fortunate. I don’t need a lot of sleep—only about four or five hours.
Many renowned entertainers have headlined your concerts, like Dick Van Dyke, June Lockhart, Paul Anka, Betty White, Richard Chamberlain, Pat Boone and Florence Henderson. How did you get such famous people to donate their time and perform with the group?
That goes back to my uncle. The youth orchestra he started focused on kids, but that wasn’t exciting enough for the media—in the beginning he got little coverage for his concerts. He happened to be very close friends with actress Mary Pickford, and he started a tradition of having stars appear with the Jr. Phil and conduct the orchestra in the celebrity Battle of Batons. Over time, many of them became friends of mine too, and so I called on them to perform with the Lawyers Phil.
I’ll bet it’s great for ticket sales, especially since all three musical groups are all-volunteer organizations that raise money for charity. Has that always been the goal—to give back to the community?
It’s in our mission statement to perform concerts to benefit those who cannot afford legal services and other charitable organizations, and that’s what we’ve always done. We’ve raised more than $50,000 for the LA County Bar Association’s Council for Justice and Beverly Hills Bar Foundation. That’s a pretty sizable amount for an organization that doesn’t have a budget of its own, and it’s only a fraction of what’s been donated at charity events where we’ve played.
Plus, there’s the added value of all of the time that your lawyer-musicians have donated to practice and perform.
Everyone, including myself, donates his and her time. I mean, what are you going to pay a lawyer to be a musician? If you paid our rates as lawyers, can you imagine what the going rate for that concert would be?
This article first appeared in the August 2017 ABA Journal magazine with the title "Bar and Baton: This LA solo brings together the city’s most musical lawyers in a philharmonic he founded."