f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

November 5, 2007

what’s a “lunch-pail lawyer”?

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,lawyer news or ethics,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 1:15 am

I like to call myself a lunch pail lawyer.” Rich McNally

Rich McNally is a lawyer who’s running, as a Democrat, to become the District Attorney of Rensselaer County, New York (which includes the City of Troy, here in the NY Capital Region). His opponent is Republican Greg Cholakis. The current District Attorney, Republican Patricia A. DeAngelis, is leaving the office in disgrace (see our post from Jan. 2006, “admonish D.A. DeAngelis“). The most remarkable thing about the McNally-Cholakis race is that both candidates are amply experienced and well-respected — due mostly to the fact that the Rensselaer County Republican Party machine, dominated by Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, has finally (“out of desperation“) chosen someone other than a politically-connected hack or spoiled scion to run for the office.

McNally vs. Cholakis [The Troy Record]

As TU columnist Fred LeBrun put it last May, “[E]ither way, Rensselaer County won’t be embarrassed by its district attorney. Isn’t that remarkable?”

For the record, the Albany Times Union endorsed Cholakis last week, saying “While we recognize the value of Mr. McNally’s experience, in our view the more important issue is which candidate offers the best hope of restoring order, trust and integrity to the district attorney’s office. On that basis, we endorse Greg Cholakis.” And, The Troy Record endorsed Cholakis this morning, preferring his plan to serve solely in an administrative role and no longer try cases, as well as his “passion for justice” and “progressive ideas,” but stating that “When Rensselaer County voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will find two decent, capable men vying for the position of county district attorney.”] update (Nov. 6, 2007, 11:50 PM): With all precincts reporting, Cholakis leads by only 213 out of 36,683 votes (Albany Times Union); The Troy Record reports there are 2000 uncounted absentee ballots that will decide the election. update (Nov. 7, 10 PM): The race is still too close to call, but tallying mistakes were discovered that put McNally 202 votes ahead of Cholakis. see FoxNews23. update (Nov. 9, 2007) see Troy Record, “McNally has edge in DA’s race – for now.”

final election update (Nov. 16, 2007): McNally wins! See our post “McNally to be the Lunch Pail D.A.

Indeed, I wouldn’t be writing about the race now, except that my interest has been aroused by a phrase I kept hearing in McNally’s tv ads and seeing in newspaper stories. Rich McNally keeps saying:

I like to call myself a lunch pail lawyer.”

A fan of interesting turns-of-phrase, and all-around curious guy, I decided that I just had to discover what the unfamiliar term meant. However, when I Googled “lunch pail lawyer,” there were only four results, all relating to McNally’s campaign. It didn’t help that a reporter at the Troy Record got tripped up on a homonym and had McNally referring to himself, at the candidate debate, as a “lunch pale lawyer.” (“District attorney candidates square off,” by Danielle Sanzone, October 4, 2007). That rendition, with its suggestion of a Casper Milquetoasty kind of D.A., could not be what McNally had in mind — especially since both candidates have been far too professionally-dignified for McNally to be pulling the ethnic card against Cholakis with his self-sobriquet.

Of course, I do not even want to speculate on what a “lunch pal lawyer” might be.

coming to lunch
on the sleeping man…

the farmer’s lunch
on the scarecrow

……………………………………. by Kobyashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

With little else to go on from within the legal profession, I decided to go directly to the source. At his campaign website, Rich McNally explains his use of the term:

“I like to call myself a lunch pail lawyer.

“The work of the prosecutor starts with the fundamentals.

“Hot dog lawyering and courtroom histrionics are the mark of an unprepared prosecutor. Blather and bluster do not win convictions; good sound case building, diligent preparation and vigilant watch for the unexpected wins convictions.” (And see, Times Union, “McNally launches bid for Rensselaer County DA,” June 12, 2007)

  • He has also said: “[Being district attorney is] a lawyer’s job. It’s not grandstanding. I call myself a lunch-pail lawyer, and what I mean by that is that I don’t want to be seeking headlines. I don’t want to be a media star. I want to be like the guy that plows the road in the winter. You’re not going to know my name unless I’m not getting the job done.” “Rensselaer Co. DA race is one to watch”  WNYT.com, Oct. 30, 2007)

Frankly, Rich’s explanations left me with an unclear picture and more questions — especially after visiting The LunchBox Pad (and its timeline); the Smithsonian’s Taking America to Lunch exhibit; Aladdin Company;  Wholepop.com‘s “Pailentology: a history of the lunchbox“; and The Lunch Pail fast food diner (with its photo album); and after finding this little item at McNally Books and eBay. For example:

lunch alone
without a book
i read my mind

…………………………..…………………… by tom clausen

…………………………… Gunsmoke?

Or Return of the Jedi, instead?

easter snow
a piece of egg shell
in the sandwich

…………………………………… by DeVar Dahl from A Piece of Egg Shell (Magpie Haiku Press, 2004)

last sandwich
from the loaf
the two ends

……………………………… by Tom Clausen – Upstate Dim Sum (2005/II)

  • Or, although McNally contrasts himself with D.A. DeAngelis, and insists he will follow the rule of law, with justice more important than any convictions rate, is he secretly a Kiss lunch pail (1977) lawyer, or heavy-metal, Marilyn Manson “I’ve got my lunchbox and I’m armed real well!” kinda guy?

lunch at the zoo
even among gorillas
some who sit apart

…………. by Peggy Lyles from To Hear the Rain (Brooks Books, 2002)

– Or, maybe a Knight Rider prosecutor (1981)?

. . . . . but surely not a Rambo

business lunch
starts with a compliment –
he raises his knife

………………………………….. by dagosan

Of course, when a candidate uses a phrase repeatedly in his ads, he is counting on the public drawing on its own understanding of the phrase. Undaunted in my quest, and wondering what connotations the term might have for voters, I soon discovered while Googling that “lunch pail player” is a sports cliche. Web surfing allowed me to compensate a bit for my sport-less lifestyle, and to learn that “lunch pail player” is used in many contexts, including:

  • hockeyIslanders Glenn Healy: “He was not blessed with Patrick Roy, or Dominick Hasek stats, but you can see that he was a blue-collar lunch pail player, who always gave his 110% every time he stepped out on the ice.
  • baseballG Baseball: 1) Arthur Rhodes is a “lunch pail player…meaning he gives all he can, and more…” 2) Per the PawtucketTimes.com (April 4, 2007), Jim Rice — “arguably baseball’s most dominant offensive force during his heyday” — “never looked for the spotlight. He was a superstar who acted like a lunch pail player.”
  • Football: 1) Jonathan Goodwin, 6-2, 290, Michigan is a “Lunch-pail player who plays well in space and can take on linebackers. Typical Michigan lineman . . . Isn’t real explosive or athletic. [from Sporting News] 2) NY Giants Jim Burt (per the New York Times) —

quarterback“Jim Burt,” said Coach Bill Parcells, ”runs two quarts low.” To which Burt replies, ”Bill Parcells runs a little low, too.” Actually, Burt is one of the coach’s favorites. Despite a new contract that will pay him $325,000 this year, Burt is a blue-collar, lunch-pail player whose success has come from hard work. That has been his hallmark since his first days with the Giants as an undersized rookie free agent.

3) Buffalo Bills ninth-year man Jason Whittle, whom Buffalo signed to a one-year, $1 million deal in free agency. . . is definitely not great, but he’s a so-called lunch-pail guy who does whatever the coaches ask, and he normally fares at least decently. 4) Per NorthJerseySports.com, “Looking at him, high schooler Cervini is not the eye-candy quarterback. He’s not 6-foot-3, 215 pounds (more like 5-11, 190), he’s doesn’t have the rifle arm, and he’s not a 4.5 40-yard dash guy. He is what coaches like to call a lunch-pail player, the type who will outwork you and maximize his potential.

  • basketball – 1) San Antonio spurs: Their nominal center Fabrico Oberto has become an indispensable lunch-pail player who sets perfect screens and seals off his man under the basket. 2) Lunch Pail Player of the Year (Blue Collar Athlete)–Mike Allocco-South Plainfield; 3) And, NBADraft.net says that

bballGuys “Adrien is the definition of a lunch pail player. He fights for every rebound, every loose ball, and puts his heart into everything he does on the court .”

4) And girl’s hoop MVP from Pinole Valley Marnique Arnold . . . is a classic lunch pail player, doing all the dirty work for the Spartans. She can score, rebound, handle the ball and play defense, but it’s her all-out hustle that really stood out.

boy shooting baskets–
deep snow piled
all around him

………………………. by lee gurga from Fresh Scent

  • tennis – Jim Courier [Tennis.com, “40 Greatest Players,” May 2006, photo by Michael Cole/Getty Images]

“The small-town roots, the baseball cap, the nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic— Jim Courier was red-blooded Americanism personified. He used his inside-out forehand to muscle the ball around the court like no player before him. Courier made you tired just watching the effort he put into his strokes. Not surprisingly, his blue-collar game gave rise to the knock that he wasn’t talented but simply worked hard. “That’s the biggest compliment anyone could give me,” the Florida native once said. . . . Yet the image of Courier as the lunch-pail player endures, especially when he went up against flashier rivals like Andre Agassi. It was easy to imagine Courier muttering beneath those sarcastic smirks, “You can have the girls and jets. I’m here to win. Now get out of my way.” –JAMES MARTIN

Finally, outside of the sports context, we see this analysis of Misha Siegfried, guitarist for the Milawaukee rock band Fire on Your Sleeve:

“[U]nderstated guitar lines are not a display of pyrotechnics, because they do not have to be. Siegfried is a ‘lunch pail’ player: nothing too fancy, but plays all the right notes. ‘I’m all about the nuance,. Siegfried says.” (OnMilwaukee.com]

momentum shifts
to the bookie

Indiana farm
one tractor
three hoops

……………………………. ed markowski

Tracking the public’s use of the term has given me a better understanding of the “lunch pail” moniker. It symbolizes hard work, out of the spotlight, without flash. And, always with deep blue-collar roots.

Of course, before the first true kids’ lunch box came out, “a lunch pail wasn’t chic — on the contrary, it was a sign you were far enough down the pay scale that you didn’t have time or money for a decent hot noontime meal.” See Paileontology.

As the Smithsonian’s Lunch Box exhibit explained, in Taking America to Lunch, “American industrial workers have often carried their lunch in plain metal buckets. Since the mid-19th century, miners, factory workers, dock hands, and other laborers have used sturdy dinner pails to hold hard-boiled eggs, vegetables, meat, coffee, pie, and other hardy fare. In 1904, “thermos” vacuum bottles began keeping workers’ drinks hot or cold until the noon whistle blew.”

This interpretation underscores the original sneaking suspicion that I had about Rich McNally’s embrace of his lunch pail credentials and aspirations: he’s contrasting his humble roots with the privileged background of his opponent. Greg Cholakis has served 14 years as a staffer in the county Office of the Public Defender. But, he goes to work in a courthouse named after his father, and his sister is currently a Family Court judge. As the Albany Times Union pointed out:

“Yes, his father, Gus, was a highly successful district attorney, and later a well-respected federal judge.

“That gives him name recognition, but Greg Cholakis, in our view, isn’t running on his family name.”

Rich McNally lives in the pleasant Village of Valley Falls with his lawyer-wife and two young children. He graduated twenty years ago from St. John’s University School of Law, has a comfortable private practice with Holbrook, Johnston, Tate & McNally, in Hoosick Falls, and was recently President of Rensselaer County Bar Association (2005 – 2006). He also stays fit with the very middle-class/professional pasttimes of “cycling, swimming, skiing, and hiking and winter mountaineering.” (see his resume) Nonetheless, McNally — a native of far-away Syracuse, NY — can’t match the aura of Rensselear royalty that goes with the Cholakis name — especially since it is a name synonymous with integrity and lawyering excellence.

So, the “lunch-pail lawyer” designation is surely a bid to win over the blue collar voter in Rensselear County — those who feel left out of the economic optimism that goes with the TechValley designation and the County slogan, “A Climate for Growth.” Here’s how McNally describes his background, on the About page of his website (prior to introducing the “lunch pail” theme):

I come from a family of eight children; I have five sisters and two brothers; Our parents worked hard to provide for us. Raising eight children was not easy. We weren’t by any stretch of the term “wealthy”.

And what I learned most from my parents is that hard work and self reliance are their own reward. Don’t rely on the laurels of those who came before you. That is vanity.

There’s nothing cynical about this approach (and it surely fits in with the base of the Democratic Party). Furthermore, our profession and our clients would surely be much better off if we had more lawyers with the work ethic of the “lunch pail lawyer.” And, there is no doubt that a District Attorney’s office needs a lot of assistants with those attitudes and habits.

I’m not sure, however, that a District Attorney should limit himself or herself to that nose-to-the-grindstone lead prosecutor role, or to a steady diet of “out-of-the-spotlight” self-effacement. Rich McNally says he wants to be actively involved with the community and that “We all have a tremendous responsibility to give our young citizens the sense that they belong.” A little razzle-dazzle and star power — especially when accompanied by the reality of honest sweat and integrity — could go a long way toward making the community proud of its prosecutorial team and secure in the hands and heart of its chief law enforcement official. Maybe baseball great Cal Ripken is a helpful role model:

“Ripken came to work every day. He’s the iron man who shattered a record no one thought could be broken — 2,632 consecutive games. He was never a lunch pail player — he was an all star, has a World Series ring and so on — but work was what it is all about. Not flash, not a super homerun season, not a special chair in the clubhouse, not grand juries and mistresses, just work — excellent work, sometimes great work, often clutch work, but work.” (from the BioHealth Investor weblog, July 10, 2007)

What’s a “lunch pail lawyer”? Your definitions, along with examples of lawyers who personify the notion, would be appreciated. If the pundits are right, Greg Cholakis will be the next Rensselear County District Attorney, so we may not get a chance to see how Rich McNally would personify that designation as D.A. He will, I hope, nonetheless continue to show us how lunch pail lawyering gets the job done right for his private and public clients.

I’ve enjoyed exploring the notion, and hope you have, too.

Afterthought (Nov. 9, 2007): Troy, NY, where the new D.A. of Rensselear County will have his office, is the home of Sam Wilson, the meat-packer who became known as Uncle Sam to the soldiers who ate his rations during the War (and later famous as the recruiter who so badly Wants You). Given Troy’s historic connection to luncheon meats, I was hoping to locate an Uncle Sam lunch pail for Rich McNally. So far, no luck — despite discovering that Uncle Sam helped out with a Safe Kid’s Lunch Box Campaign back in April 2006, and finding lots of Uncle Sam collectibles, (from costumes, to cash registers, to life-sized Stand-ups, to salt-n-pepper shakers). My hopes were falsely raised by this YouTube clip of the band Lunch Box doing their song “Uncle Sam.” Unless our readers can point Rich to a ready-made version, he’s going to have to use a little Blue Collar hustle and Make His Own lunch box, using drawings, photos or decals of Uncle Sam (perhaps with some help from the Sesame St. gang).

a three-engine freight train
delays lunch –
two stomachs rumble

…………………………………………………. by dagosan

[“Buccaneer” the first domed lunch box]

p.s. There are a lot of great memories for Baby Boomers at several lunch-box-oriented websites, such as The LunchBox Pad; the Smithsonian’s Taking America to Lunch exhibit; and Wholepop.com‘s “Pailentology: a history of the lunchbox“. Check out, for example, the Lunch Box Pad IQ Test and Glossary.

You don’t have to be Walter or Ted at Overlawyered.com to be intrigued with the myth/riddle of the Florida Metal Lunch Box Law. See Bryan Los’ article at LunchBoxPad.com, “Florida Lunch Box Legislation: Law or Lore?“, which begins, “Anyone who collects lunch boxes has frequently come head-on with the fact, or so-called fact, that in 1972 Florida banned the sale of steel lunch boxes. This fact has been widely accepted, and to my knowledge, never proved or disproved.” It continues:

“The story goes… In 1971-72, a concerned group of parents, mostly mothers, decided that metal lunch boxes could actually be used as weapons in school-yard brawls. Losing sleep over the fact that their son/daughter may be on the receiving end of a Bobby Sherman lunch box assault, these parents got petitions signed, and marched all the way up to the Florida State Legislature, and demanded ‘safety legislation’ be passed.”

With a little lunch-pail-law-student research effort, I bet there’s a fine law review article waiting to be uncovered inside those rusty old lunch buckets.

Disney School Bus (1957) – the biggest seller of all time.

Update (Nov. 29, 2007): I’m pleased to report that Rich McNally sent me a friendly and informative email on Nov. 22, 2007, that answers some of the questions asked above:

Fun Stuff David. The term “lunch pail lawyer” was coined about 15 years ago. A bunch of us get together around the holidays and enjoy a little holiday cheer. We call ourselves the Downtown Troy Lunch Pail Bar Association, we meet once annually, or as requested by the various members. Membership is by invitation only.

We are all hard working stiffs who get the job done without a lot of razzle dazzle, no 1-800-Law etc guys in this bunch. We stole the phrase from John Madden, the footbal coach/commentator.

s/ Rich McNally

FYI I have a Coleman mini cooler type lunch box.

For more on Rich’s lunch pail of choice, click here.

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