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Professor for a Day

I had the unique opportunity this past week to lecture at USC at the invitation of Professor Alan Croll. Professor Croll is an attorney and former partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP who currently teaches a course at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering entitled "Construction Contracts and Construction Law."

Professor Croll is an interesting and engaging fellow. In his early 80s, he's a graduate of Harvard University and University of Michigan Law School, is one of those rare breeds of old-school trial lawyers who "just" tries cases (and not small ones either: he counts Dean Martin, Michael Jackson, and the Estate of Lady Diana as former clients). "I like to tell stories," he says. In addition, along with his son Bobby (pictured), they are currently ranked No. 1 in the United States Tennis Association's Ultra Senior father-son doubles division. He's one of those guys you see and think, "Boy, I hope I can be like him as I get older."

We had planned to meet at a Taco Bell just outside of campus and close to the lecture room (yes, Harvard-educated university professors eat at Taco Bell) but when we arrived found that it was closed due to renovations. "They didn't even tell me," he said. It was an apropos beginning to a lecture on construction law.

So, instead, we went back to campus and had coffee at one of the campus coffee shops. He had a latte and a muffin, as athletes can do. I had a coffee. I had never been on USC's campus before. It's very "college-y." Lots of brick buildings. And ivy. While I had been a bit self-conscious on campus earlier in a coat and tie, walking next to Professor Croll who was dressed similarly plus sweater vest (of course), we looked like a professor and his young-ish protege.

With the limited time we had before his class we talked a little about a lot of things. He has a polished manner that well-educated, worldly persons tend to. Among other things, I learned that notwithstanding his political leanings, in addition to teaching he provides legal counsel to a well-known news outlet (whose name I won't mention here) with very different political views from his, and had sadly lost friends as a result. As a lawyer, I can understand representing unpopular causes, although I have never had the opportunity or inclination to do so myself. It takes bravery and intellectual integrity to separate law from emotion and he added that he "struggled with it at first." We talked about the lack of discourse in our country, about his life as a Jewish lawyer and I as a minority lawyer, and about why we do what we do. I could have talked to him for hours but for the limited time.

At the beginning of class, Professor Croll introduced me by saying that he had read my articles in the Daily Journal, that he decided one day that he would call me out of the blue and ask if I would like to guest lecture, and told his students with a mischievous grin to never underestimate "how far flattery will take you." My lecture was divided into two parts. Part I focused on statutory construction payment remedies and Part II focused on what I called my "Top 13 Killer Construction Contract Clauses." The students of the class, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, were bright and engaged. I felt a bit like Professor Keating in Dead Poets Society although I didn't ask that they tear any pages out of their books. It was, in short, a unique and enjoyable afternoon playing professor for the day. Thank you Professor Croll or, just "Alan," as he insisted that I address him.

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