Stories of Jewish lawyers in Nazi Germany are both tragic and inspiring

Sitting in the reception room of the Law Society’s representative office in Brussels last week (where I was covering a conference), I happened upon an excellent pamphlet produced by the German Federal Bar and the American Bar Association, ‘Jewish Lawyers in Germany under the Third Reich.’

German-Jewish lawyer Dr Michael Siegel forced by Nazi police to walk through the streets of Munich barefoot with a board round his neck that read: "I will never complain to the police again"

When Hitler came to power in January 1933, more than half of Berlin’s 3,400 lawyers were of Jewish origin. All of them, alongside the thousands of other Jews practising law throughout the rest of Germany, were forced to re-apply for admission to the national bar. At which point, only German-Jewish lawyers who had qualified before 1914, or who had fought at the front line in the First World War, were granted the right to continue in their profession. And in November 1938, even this select group was banned from practising. Many German-Jewish lawyers would subsequently be murdered in concentration camps.

Others managed to flee to the US, where some, like the late Coudert Brothers lawyer Ernst Stiefel, eventually re-qualified as US attorneys. Before being admitted as a lawyer in the States, Stiefel — who had been a renowned expert in insurance law in Germany — completed spells as a chauffeur, busboy and dishwasher in New York, having undergone a period of internment as an “enemy alien” in the UK.

Another amazing story detailed in the pamphlet is that of Hanna Katz, who for five years was the only Jewish woman in Hitler’s Germany allowed to practise law. With women only admitted to the German legal profession in the 1920s, the ban on German-Jewish lawyers who had qualified after 1914 meant no female Jewish lawyers could continue in their jobs after 1933.

But competition specialist Katz held a coveted position on the board of the international law association — which, to the frustration of the Nazis, would have gone to a British lawyer if she had been disbarred. So an exception was made for her. Katz was, however, subject to the 1938 general ban prohibiting all Jewish lawyers from practising. Two years later, she secured the necessary documentation to fly to Portugal, and then take a boat to the US. Her husband and their four children were murdered by the Nazis.

I’ll pick out one more of the stories here (the full pamphlet is available here). On September 25 1938, at around 2am, Berlin lawyer Wilhelm Dickmann got a phone call. “Hello, I understand that you are going on your vaction tomorrow. I just heard the latest weather report. The weather will change radically in the morning, so it would be advisable to take the earliest possible flight out.” The caller, who Dickmann didn’t recognise, then hung up.

That night Dickmann bid farewell to his sister and father — who he would never see again — and fled, first to Copenhagen, and then New York. After a number of odd jobs, Dickmann re-qualified as a US lawyer, and joined the US army. As an American officer, Dickmann — now using the name William Dickman — returned to his hometown of Berlin in 1945. Two years later, as a staff member of the American high commissioner general Lucius Clay, he wrote the Control Council Law No. 26 that decreed the dissolution of Prussia.

Alex Aldridge is a journalist specialising in law and education

Law firms’ hot air on climate change

Surprised none of the legal press picked up the recent pledge made by 20 corporate law firms to slash their Co2 emissions. But, then, times are tough right now.

The firms which have signed up to the pledge are listed here.

DLA Piper CEO Sir Nigel Knowles broke off from his daily tree planting ritual to comment on the pledge, speaking of law firms’ enthusiasm to “drive change” and adding that meeting climate change obligations is increasingly a “moral and business imperative.”

To which Times journo Alex Spence responded on Twitter: “Law firms are leading the way at cutting carbon emissions, says Sir Nigel Knowles. What about all their work for big mining companies etc?”

There’s more about law firms’ commitment to the social pronouncements they make in my Guardian law column this week.


Yesterday I was surprised to receive a call from Allen & Overy PR supremo Campbell McIlroy, politely but firmly asking me to slightly alter the blog I did that morning on his firm’s involvement in the hackgate saga (which I did).

My first thought upon taking the call: oh no, I’m gonna be sued – and to justify the picture below, I then contemplated life in an 18th century debtors’ prison.

Having composed myself, I went on to marvel at how people must be actually reading what I wrote on my battered old laptop and then self-published!

In other news, interested to see in The Lawyer that Freshfields is launching an internal investigation into one of its business support functions.

Frank Maher, a partner at Legal Risk, a leading law firm in the specialist field of professional regulation, recently told me some crazy stuff about corruption in City law firms.

According to Frank, alongside former Hogan Lovells partner Chris Grierson there are another three City lawyers currently being investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – with one of the cases involving “one of the biggest law firms in the country, millions of pounds and a truly unbelievable set of facts”.

The legal profession’s own version of hackgate/MPs expenses on its way?

Gordon Brown and the law firm that got tricked

So, yesterday the revelation that London law firm Allen & Overy was tricked into handing over details from Gordon Brown’s file by a conman working for the Sunday Times (subsequently clarified by Allen & Overy).

“The question is how on earth any major firm could be ‘tricked’ like this?! Did they hire an impressionist?” tweeted journalist and Midsomer Murders fan @JohnHyde1982

But is it really so amazing that lawyers were tricked? From my experience, lawyers – who’ve often spent their whole lives institutionalised, going from boarding school, to boarding school-like Oxbridge college, to boarding school-like big law firm – aren’t always the most streetwise. (Although, as Allen & Overy head of PR Campbell McIlroy has just pointed out to me, in this case it was a support staff member who got conned).

I was more surprised that a City firm like Allen & Overy, which usually advises corporations rather than individuals, was acting for Brown. Then Legal Week reported they were only involved with him indirectly (via adminstrators Arthur Andersen) which makes more sense.

In the past, though, City law firms used to regularly act for big name public figures. Drawing upon my overly developed knowledge of legal trivia, I recall hearing that Allen & Overy made its name advising King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis of 1936 (with Theodore Goddard, which is now Addleshaw Goddard, on the other side for Wallis Simpson).

Other good law-related stuff on phone hacking:

The Lawyer editor Catrin Griffiths on her long running puzzlement – since resolved – at the fact leading media lawyer Keith Schilling had no voicemail on his phone.

Richard Moorhead in Legal Week: Hackgate, where were the lawyers?


Some interesting comments on my Guardian column about lawyers’ clothes this week – revealing, amongst other things, a united loathing of dress down Fridays.

Auntie Bee summed up the prevailing sentiment: “dress up or dress down just puh lease save us from casual fridays.”

I’m with you Auntie Bee. Pre-ordained fun occasions = not fun.

The inspiration for the column was a piece by Vivia Chen, who writes the Careerist blog which is published by the American Lawyer magazine.

In it she quotes William Urquhart, founding partner of the international law firm Quinn Emanuel, as saying: “We take casual dress to a whole new level. The only dress code we have is that you to have something between your feet and the carpet–and that’s because our insurance company requires it!”

Note the ever-so-slightly tragic explanation mark – highlighted in a subsequent piece by Jay Shepherd in the US blog Above the Law. Shepherd also mentions a good story about another big law firm that has taken the opposite approach to Quinn Emanuel.