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Our guest today is Paul Bland, the executive director of Public Justice.

Unlike many of his peers, Paul didn’t go to law school to practice as an attorney. Instead, he wanted to run for Congress one day.

In the 80s, after getting his Juris Doctorate from Harvard, Paul was working for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. From there, he found himself at a law firm where he was introduced to consumer class actions, which seems to be where his life trajectory shifted.

Working on toxic torts and forced arbitration, Paul became an advocate for the rights of consumers, and that eventually led him to Public Justice. In today’s episode, we discuss the twists and turns of Paul’s career, taking a case and arguing it before the US Supreme Court, and the joy of being a father.

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Luke W Russell:

Hey everyone. We are giving away 10 sets of signed books from our Lawful Good guests. The books range from memoirs, to business advice, to thrillers, to personal development, enter to win at lawfulgoodpodcast.com.

Paul Bland:

It’s not something that people need to feel shame about, but it is something that will really help if you can make up your mind that you want to get better and you can ask for help. I think that shame is really dangerous because what shame does is it convinces people not to ask for help. For a long time, I knew I had an issue, but I didn’t want to say anything to somebody because that would be acknowledging weakness and I was too important to acknowledge weakness kind of thing. I think that’s a really dangerous place to be, so I think if people can get past their shame and ask for help, they can really improve their lives.

Luke W Russell:

Welcome to Lawful Good a show about lawyers and the trials they face inside and outside the courtroom. I’m your host, Luke W Russell. I’m not a journalist, I’m not an attorney. I’m trained as a coach, I love human connection, and that’s what you are about to hear. My guest today is Paul Bland, the executive director of public justice. Unlike many of his peers, Paul didn’t go to law school to practice as an attorney, instead he wanted to run for Congress one day. In the ’80s, after getting his Juris Doctorate from Harvard, Paul was working for the U.S. Senate judiciary committee. From there, he found himself at a law firm where he was introduced to consumer class actions, which seems to be where his life trajectory shifted. Working on toxic torts and forced arbitration, Paul became an advocate for the rights of consumers, and that eventually led him to public justice. In today’s episode, we discussed the twists and turns of Paul’s career, taking a case into arguing it before the U.S. Supreme Court and the joy of being a father. Paul, what did you learn from being the only brother of three sisters?

Paul Bland:

I grew up where my dad had died when I was very young and my mom remarried a guy who was a very difficult guy, who could be very unpleasant, drank a lot, had a lot of issues. Then I had three sisters, I got along with them like I got along with my mom. I grew up being much more comfortable talking to women than men. It’s funny that it took me a while as a grown up to find my way towards healthy friendships with guys. I hope that, at some level, that it might have helped me become a better listener or some of the things that you would identify with coming up with a particularly strong influence of women in my life, but I don’t know.

Luke W Russell:

Oh, I love that. You grew up in south Florida, if I have that right. Did you spend most of those years in the same house?

Paul Bland:

I lived in a house in West Palm Beach until I was going into third, until the end of the second grade, and then my dad had died in 1968 and he was not wealthy, but he was an insurance salesman, he was very well insured. My mom took the insurance money and bought a house in Palm Beach which is this incredibly wealthy area. I ended up growing up in Palm Beach and I imagined that I was really poor because I was in this area in which people had tennis courts and pools and yachts and so forth, and we weren’t like that. Also, it was a place that could be a really snotty place. I remember being mocked in school, in elementary school, for having crappy clothes compared to other kids and this kind of thing.

Paul Bland:

I think that move, in some ways, influenced me later on in having a little bit more of a populous sense towards wealth, that there are some people who have enormous wealth and that they can abuse the power that comes with that. I was really glad when I got old enough to go to high school back in West Palm Beach and nearly all the kids I’d gone to junior high school and elementary with disappeared. They were all super wealthy, so they went on to private schools. I got into a more normal world again when I went back to high school. I hated junior high school and then thrived in high school, which is not necessarily a common pattern, but it was my life anyhow.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Would you describe your childhood experience as different?

Paul Bland:

I think that the thing from my childhood that really shaped me was on the death of my dad. I was sitting in second grade and the principal comes to the classroom, which in of itself is news, because why is the principal in your class? It hardly ever happens. They call me out and they told me that my godparents are there, so I’m thinking, well, this is going to be good. My godparents are coming and getting me, I’m used to them giving me stuff and whatnot. I go with them, get in their car, and then they tell me that my dad had died. I didn’t know he was sick, no one had even told me, they didn’t want to upset me. I had a family where, there was this very strong ethos of, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. People didn’t talk about their feelings or problems, that kind of thing.

Paul Bland:

I was shocked and anyhow, my godparents are driving me home and I start becoming aware that there is a bunch of chaos outside and actually there’s smoke in the air, there’s some sirens, there’s some military vehicles on the streets and so forth. What turned out had happened was that by some, whatever coincidence, my dad’s death was very close in time to the day that Martin Luther King was murdered. Where we lived in West Palm Beach at the time, West Palm Beach was this very segregated town at the time, it was much smaller than it is now. The African American population in West Palm Beach was overwhelmingly clumped into this rectangle of city blocks, and we weren’t that far from it. Basically what the national guard did was set up a perimeter and treated the black people of West Palm Beach like they’re an invading force or enemy or something and pointed their guns inward.

Paul Bland:

It was this really weird chaotic situation where, out of nowhere, my dad’s died, and then all of a sudden there’s all this stuff going on in the streets, really upsetting, really difficult to deal with. I think that one of the things I took away from this was, I think it’s a cliche that you’re supposed to live each day as if it was your last day and that you should try to seize the moment because you never know what’s going to happen next. That was a vivid idea to me. This idea that somebody is just there one day and suddenly gone, was something I took really strongly and the chaos that went with that, I think really hammered that home. I think that from growing up, I think that’s the thing that probably had the biggest role in shaping me that I really do feel like I have a lot of days where I’m thinking, wow, if this is my last day, I’m really glad this was it, kind of thing. Of course there are other days that you feel the opposite about, but it’s easier for me to fall into that way of trying to be in the world.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What was young Paul spending his time doing at different times of youth?

Paul Bland:

I was extremely preoccupied with the goal of trying to be a great basketball player. I used to imagine that if I tried to stretch myself, I would become taller and become better, and I spent tons of time out on the driveway shooting baskets again and again. I read a lot of books, particularly science fiction, but a range of things, and I was encouraged to read. It’s sort of funny, I went through the school system in Florida, which at the time was 49th in the country. It was ahead of Arkansas, but behind Mississippi, I think. It was really a terrible school system, and I never learned any of the rules of grammar or so forth, but I ended up reading and writing decently well, because I was reading a ton growing up. That was a big thing for me. Growing up in Florida, I was close to the beach, so if I wasn’t in school, I probably wasn’t wearing a shirt from the time I went into junior high school until I graduated from high school and left. I was always outside. Every year now they’re carving off various things off of my body that may or may not be skin cancers because I spent all my time outside.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. How did basketball enter your life?

Paul Bland:

Part of it was, where I lived, where I was growing up, I lived near a couple of other kids, so we would play basketball in people’s driveways and I spent a ton of time playing basketball in a solitary way. It was funny when I started playing in teams, in intramurals, in law school, and then later in some leagues in DC, I started off having no skills other than shooting and trying to make my own shot. When I first started, everyone hated playing with me because I didn’t play defense and I didn’t pass, and so I learned in college and law school, that those were essential elements to the game and other people wanted to see you do that, particularly if you weren’t that great, which was my situation.

Paul Bland:

I thought it was a great place to be competitive, it was a place to try and strive for something, try and be a perfectionist. Then it later grew into something where you really learned a lot about cooperation, about joining with other people who had skills at different things. It was a big part of my life for years, that when I was 28, I had a really bad ankle injury and tore up my ankle and got really bad medical care for it at the time. I went into a big hospital and I had nerve damage and ligament damage and stuff, and I went in a day that there had been a big shooting among some drug gangs and there had also been a car accident, so they just didn’t get to me for eight hours and put me in a hard cast. I’ve never been able to play any serious sport again, since I was 28, so it was a pretty frustrating turn of events. I’d watch a lot of pro basketball, but I don’t play anything anymore.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Did you breeze through school?

Paul Bland:

I had this funny experience of school, my mom really wanted me to get into a good college and she really wanted me to succeed there. What she told me at the time was essentially that elementary and junior high school didn’t matter, that no one was keeping score and you could just do whatever you wanted, so I did not work very hard in elementary school or junior high, I didn’t get very good grades. I got a lot of lectures from teachers about, well, your test scores indicate you’re smart, but you’re getting crappy grades, which means you’re lazy and you have bad character. Then when I started high school, my mom said, okay, now it matters, you have to get really good grades in high school. I took high school pretty seriously. I was in this really huge high school, there are about 2,500 kids in the high school.

Paul Bland:

It was a high school that had a lot of racial tensions. It had only desegregated, I don’t know, half a dozen years before I got there. During the years I was in high school, several people were killed on campus in different incidents, and it was a big tough and rough and tumble place. I loved high school. I was away from the kids I’d not gotten along with particularly well in junior high, I felt like I fit in, and so I joined the debate team, I was very competitive in the debate team and we used to drive around the country. We would get in a van and six of us and this one teacher would drive. We went to debate trips in Los Angeles and New York and Boston, Wisconsin that we drove to. There’s nothing like six kids in a van, flying across the country to have this sense of freedom. I was in the student council and a bunch of different things like that. I had a great experience in high school, it was fun for me.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. When did you discover you loved music?

Paul Bland:

Gosh. There was this funny thing where, when I was a kid, everything was around sports, but I was really, really small for a long time. When I started high school, I was four foot ten and weighed 92, 93 pounds or something. I was the smallest kid in this high school of 2,500 kids, including the girls, I was just really little. There was this way, where I grew up, how you defined yourself as masculine was, were you good at sports? I was terrible at sports so I was looking for something else to stamp myself, in my own mind anyhow, as masculine, in the world that I was in. Loud music did that to a certain extent. I discovered, Led Zeppelin and big guitar hero music and listened to a ton of that, and I joined the band for about a year and a half until my voice changed and I was kicked out, but it was really a fun experience for me.I just grew to love loud guitar music.

Paul Bland:

Then when I got to college, that wasn’t how I needed to define myself in the world as, hey, I’m male because I listen to Led Zeppelin. Instead I was in a different kind of space and a friend of mine inviting me to go see the Grateful Dead my sophomore year of college, and we hitch hiked to the show. We made a series of things that could have been bad decisions, but that worked out perfectly well. They were absolutely astonishing to me, I just thought Jerry Garcia was the most talented person I’d ever seen. Then I spent a big chunk of the next 15 years, until Jerry’s death in 1995. That was a big part of my life was that kind of music. It took me a while to find my stride and listen to other things after Jerry’s death. That was a huge part of my life.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Growing up, if I have this right, you thought you might one day run for Congress. When did you become engaged or interested in politics in your youth?

Paul Bland:

I had this idea that I wanted to get involved in politics from a really early time. I’m not sure that I associate with anything particular, I don’t have memories of candidates or politicians who I really admired when I was young, I just had this ambition. Then as I got older, I started to see people who I really liked and who I admired, who were running for politics. I worked on a congressional campaign one summer in my college years and got to help write speeches for the candidate and have a voice in what the candidate’s positions were going to be, and I really loved that. I loved seeing him out on the stump, speaking and could picture myself doing that. It got stronger and stronger for me, but I really don’t know where it first came from. I had this idea that I wanted to make an impact, I wanted my life to matter, and the idea of going into politics myself, felt like the way to do it for a long time.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. From my understanding, your parents weren’t particularly worried about whether your sisters went to college, but their expectations of the boy in the family were different. What did you think about that then, and what do you think about that now?

Paul Bland:

At the time, I’d like to say that I was really conscious of it and alert to the injustice of it when I was younger, that would be giving myself too much credit. I think that when I was growing up, I had this, oh yeah, of course I deserve this, I’m the male, and it really strongly came from my mom. The extent to which I’d later realize that I’d get feedback from two of my sisters, you were favored, you had advantages over us. There was a period of time where I was like, oh no, that’s not true, everyone was treated equally in my family. I later grew up to realize that really wasn’t true, that I had a lot of privilege.

Paul Bland:

I was like privileged in my family for being male. There’s no doubt that I was really privileged in a lot of ways for being white. I have memories of being in high school and driving around in a car and being pulled over and having a beer in the cup holder and having the cop talk to me and then let me go. I feel certain if I had, been an African American kid that wouldn’t have happened. I had a lot of advantages and a lot of them I didn’t particularly see at the time. I grew up thinking like, wow, I’ve had some hard things in my life and I’ve overcome them, aren’t I amazing. I didn’t see a bunch of the ways in which I really had huge advantages. It’s a fair point, and so I hope that I’m a better brother to my sisters now around that kind of thing, but it’s something where I had some growing up to do, to be honest.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. After high school, you went off to Georgetown University for your undergrad where you had a focus in government. Did you learn more about laundry than you expected at this prestigious university?

Paul Bland:

Yeah, I had a great experience in college, I got there and I had almost no practical skills. I understood I needed to do my laundry, so the first time I carry my stuff down and there’s a machine and there are these very cute girls standing, talking, hanging out in the laundry room. I’m like eyeballing them, and I put all my stuff in this machine, I put my quarters in, I put in the detergent, I start the machine and it’s a dryer. They like go into hysterics. I had not branded myself as a really competent, cool guy, I had branded myself as an idiot. It was funny, it was embarrassing.

Paul Bland:

Georgetown was a really good experience for me in a bunch of ways. Two things, one, I was on the debate team and the debate coach was this brilliant guy, and he was really, fearsome guy, he had a big temper. I remember when the movie came out a couple years ago where the actor, I think something Teller was a drummer, jazz drummer, and the guy from the State Farm commercials was yelling at him, that reminded me of my debate team experience, to some extent. I was with really smart people, the coach was really smart, there was this incredible feeling of intellectual challenge, and that was really exciting to feel like I was with these very smart people, arguing about smart things and learning a lot about how to think, how to express myself.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Did you meet your first wife at Georgetown?

Paul Bland:

No, actually my first wife was from high school. Long story, but anyhow, I asked her out without us knowing each other very well to go to the prom. The prom was coming up my junior year, I did not have a date, I’d asked several people out, I could not find someone to say yes to me. I got together with my two best friends at the time, and their advice was, you should ask out a freshman because she won’t already have a date. Then basically you should ask that the best looking freshman. This was not a feast of feminist advice I was getting from my friends, but I also wasn’t really in that place either.

Paul Bland:

Anyhow, I asked out this young woman, so I was 16. It was the day before she turned 15, we were really young. We met in high school, we were long distance through college, then when I was in law school, she was at Smith College in North Hampton so I was driving out there every weekend. We were together for years, and my son Alex, is from that marriage. Danielle, my first wife, is this wonderful, super smart woman, and we just met at a time of our lives where we were both really young and there are a lot of ways that we ended up not being compatible, but she’s a wonderful person. We were high school sweethearts.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Okay. Thinking back about government and what you were learning at Georgetown. What do most of us not know about government, or do we just forget what we learn?

Paul Bland:

Well, I feel like the way the government operates has changed so much in my lifetime, that I feel like half of what I learned doesn’t apply anymore. I remember when I was studying government, the things that were really driving political science professors were things like, the parties got weaker in the late ’60s and early ’70s, that the party used to have this, both parties were run by experts who knew how to run politics. Then George McGovern came from the far left and he took over the Democrats and weakened the institutions, so what we needed to do was give unions and major brokers, more power over politics. I don’t think almost anyone thinks that that’s the issue anymore. I don’t think that’s something that affects people.

Paul Bland:

I think that money was really different in politics at that point. When I started looking into politics as a possible career out of law school, a couple of congressional seats opened up in places near where I lived. Essentially what you would need to do to run for a seat would be to raise like $2 million, mostly in thousand dollar increments, from people. I did not have a Rolodex with a thousand people who were going to be able to give me a thousand dollars. That felt like it was overwhelming. But, you saw candidates who spent the vast majority of their campaigns making one phone call after another to wealthy people asking for their small contributions. Now, in the wake of Citizens United, in the wake of other Supreme Court decisions, constitutionalizing campaign finance, people who run for politics, a single billionaire can put a million dollars into a race, and even if you’re not supposed to officially coordinate, the amount of money that goes into races is wildly different. Mitch McConnell and his reelection campaign in the last cycle spent more money in Kentucky than Bill Clinton spent for the entire United States to be reelected in 1996, so money in politics has completely changed.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. When you graduated Georgetown, did you go straight into law school at Harvard at that point?

Paul Bland:

Yeah. I went straight into law school. It’s funny, I did not take law school as seriously as I should have in the sense that I thought I was going to go into politics principally, and so I didn’t think I was ever going to practice law. For example, I never took evidence, and this would later matter. The first time I was in a trial, I’m sitting there, my client testifies and then he’s getting cross examined and I feel like this is going really badly. At some point there’s a question that sounds wrong to me, and I say, objection. The judge says finally, which was an indication that I had not been killing it in defending my client, and it was very early in my career and I was still learning.

Paul Bland:

I’d never studied evidence. I just didn’t know what the evidence rules were. The first couple times I took depositions, I’d get all these objections and was getting tied up, and later when I practiced law, my having goofed around in law school and played lots of basketball and traveled around to see Jerry Garcia here and there, would later feel to me like it hadn’t been the best possible decision. I mostly took classes from people who I thought were going to be entertaining. I would see which professors I thought were going to be lively and funny and characters and so forth. I would not recommend the way I went to law school to anyone, even if you don’t think you’re going to be a lawyer, but I had a great experience there.

Luke W Russell:

You graduate with your JD from Harvard and you went on to work at a law firm called Skadden Arps for a little under a year. Did that firm close or did you get bored and move on?

Paul Bland:

Skadden Arps is one of the biggest corporate law firms in the country, it’s huge. It’s this big, big money firm. I tried to get public interest jobs coming out of law school, and I went to Public Citizen, Environmental Defense Fund, a couple other places, and essentially what they said was go to a law firm, get some skills, and come back to us in six or seven years, but we don’t hire people out of law school, was what they were saying in 1986. I had this idea that this big law firm had a practice, that they didn’t have big oil companies and so forth in their energy practice, but rather they were going to be pushing alternatives and trying to get other big corporations to build windmills and so forth. I actually went to a big corporate law firm imagining I was going to be fighting climate change, that did not happen.

Paul Bland:

It turned out that I did not in any way feel like the work that I was doing was actually trying to advance the public interest. I got there and that wasn’t my experience of what the place was about, even in the slightest. I was working there and not having a great time, not loving the work. My friend, Ron Klain reached out and he’d been working for Joe Biden, he’d been working on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and essentially reached out and said, I’m leaving. He was taking a job as a clerk for Justice White on the Supreme Court and a spot was opening up. I wasn’t in a position to do the kind of work Ron had done, he was a super sophisticated political genius, but they needed somebody to do some more mundane things like writing position papers and so forth.

Paul Bland:

I jumped over and started working for Joe Biden after nine months at Skadden Arps. Skadden Arps has gone on to thrive and make as much money as any big law firm in the world, but they’ve done it all without me. I think I was a terrible investment for them. I think I had just finished, most of their first year educational programs and training programs and then left. I feel a little bad about my experience there.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Heading back to the ’90s, after your work for Biden, you spent a few years, in the ’90s working for the law firm, Quinn Ward & Kershaw. At this point, I believe you were getting into consumer class actions and you handled toxic tort class actions. Was that ever like living in a novel?

Paul Bland:

It was really an exciting time in my life, getting to work in this law firm in Baltimore, I worked for this guy who was a wonderful mentor to me and this super smart character, Kieron Quinn, who became a very good friend. We worked on some very cool cases, and I got to work on this case in Denver involving smelter. This company, Asarco, had the same facility in four different cities in America, and in three of the cities, the smelter was located in a principally white area, and they put these very strong scrubbers, air pollution controls, on the smelter so it wouldn’t pollute that much. This facility in the Globeville neighborhood of Denver was overwhelmingly a Latino neighborhood, and they just decided to leave the air pollution controls off and save the money. They were dumping this unbelievable amount of lead, but also some arsenic, cadmium, some other things in this Latino community.

Paul Bland:

They were really seriously poisoning people. We had a number of clients who, their kids would be playing in the yard and their hands would get dirty and they put their hands in their mouth, they could get lead poisoned. You had people having to go and have medical therapies to try and reduce the lead levels in their blood. We filed, I was involved in this toxic tort class action, and it was certified, ultimately, just on property damages. None of the personal injury or those sorts of cases were being considered. This was so long ago in my career, I didn’t have any sensitivity, the idea that there were probably a lot of personal injury cases that shouldn’t be done as a class action, just seemed like the only way to actually help this community.

Paul Bland:

The case ended up going to trial, and I was in Baltimore, I wasn’t part of the trial team, but this was at the very dawn of the internet. The judge would, in the morning say, okay, I want briefing on some evidentiary question that would be coming up the next day. The lawyers in Denver, one of them would go out to a payphone and call us in Baltimore and say, here’s what we need, we need a brief on this. Then I would spend all day working on writing it, in the middle of the night, we’d send something, and we had this email address. We didn’t have the word email at the time, but you didn’t want to fax it because the local council needed to put on their letterhead.

Paul Bland:

You would hook up this system, and then the computer would take like three hours to send five pages across the country and they would print it out on their letterhead and sign it. I was writing all these evidentiary briefs and briefing class certification challenges in the middle of the trial and so forth. I was hearing a lot about the trial and the lead trial council was this guy, Macon Coles, who’s a brilliant trial lawyer and did this great job, but there are a lot of other really great lawyers on the team. Bill Rossbach, who’s become a friend later in life, and Kevin Hanon in Denver were in this case. He ended up getting a 28 million dollar verdict. Then the great thing was, is that there was prejudgment interest that went back, and so the prejudgment interest was going to be substantially more.

Paul Bland:

They ended up settling for 35 million dollars, so they settled for 7 million dollars above the verdict. Then Macon went out, would do all these, meeting with the clients and they would meet people, I think in a church or community center or something, and the people in the community all agreed that they wanted a remediation. A lot of the money was used to remove the top, I can’t remember, 18 or 30 inches of top soil and truck it away and replace it with clean top soil, so people no longer had lead, so kids in the neighborhood were able to go outside and not run the risk of lead poisoning from being outside. Then there was also money left over so that everybody in the class is also going to be getting $15,000 or something. Which for a low income neighborhood is real money, you can buy a car or something with it. It was a really exciting case to work on, and I just had a great experience.

Luke W Russell:

When did consumer protection go from being something important to you to becoming part of Paul’s mission?

Paul Bland:

In the ’90s, the dream of wanting to run for Congress really started to leave me. I was realizing that what I would be doing would be fundraising around the clock, and I began to realize that most members of the house have fairly little power. It seemed to me their vote matters, but other than being up for the right party, on most issues, the parties end up lining up. Then I was practicing law and the work really seemed to matter to me. The case, the toxic tort case, I felt terrible about what’s happening to the clients, the extent to which people were being poisoned. The consumer protection cases really appealed to me. I saw people being ripped off in a series of ways that I thought were really horrible and it just began to matter enormously to me. I began to love being a lawyer and began to really like it and getting to practice on these kinds of cases was really exciting to me, so it just became what I wanted to do with my life.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. When was your first oral argument in court?

Paul Bland:

Gosh, my first argument in court was, actually, I was representing a defendant who was being sued in a defamation case, I think. There had been some previous litigation between the parties in which the plaintiff had also argued that our client had committed defamation that had lost that case, and a judge had ruled against them. It was basically just a race judicata, the same case, this is the same case, you’ve already sued for a defamation lawsuit, you can’t sue this guy again. I got up and started talking and I was talking for, I can’t remember, 25 minutes, and the judge, I feel like I’m killing it, and the judge says something to Kieron, my boss, who’s sitting next to me, he says, Mr. Quinn, you should tell your young colleague that he’s about to commit a rule two violation.

Paul Bland:

I did not know what that meant, so I lean over and he says, it means quit while you’re ahead, he says, wrap up in one sentence. I was like, so for all these reasons, you should dismiss the case and I sit down. Rule one, apparently it was, always get paid first, which I gather was a rule for a criminal lawyers, rather than plaintiffs lawyers in civil cases. Then rule two is quit while you’re ahead. So I was committing a rule two violation, and heard about it. After that, then I was trying to learn how to modulate how long I talked, which has been a lifelong piece of work, the challenge.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. We’re in this mid-’90s space and I believe this is when you met your now wife Anne.

Paul Bland:

Yes. I’d gotten divorced in 1992. It was a funny thing, where this friend of mine from college was living up in Baltimore, also working, and said to me, I was at a party, and he was at a party with his wife and he said, I met this beautiful, really lovely woman who you really would like to meet, and I told her since he was already married that you should meet this friend of mine. She had agreed to talk to me, so I called, we had a blind date, and it was a funny thing where I had, by whatever coincidence, had to have a root canal. My mouth is numb and I’m worried about am I drooling. Then she had testified in Congress with David Kessler on this thing about the tobacco companies. I had a lot of feeling about the tobacco companies, because both of my parents had died from tobacco related diseases. It was like I was going, and it felt like she was in this incredibly interesting job and I was a mess and so forth. But, we had a great first date and got along really well, and we’ve been together all these years since, 26 years.

Luke W Russell:

I love that. At the time, your son was about three years old, but what about you, had you grown up yet?

Paul Bland:

I still had a lot of arrested development. I stopped drinking in 2005, for a variety of reasons I really needed to. One of the things that they say about people who drink too much is that you stop growing up at the time you started to drink. That for me was probably when I was 13. I think I continued to be 13 until I was 43, at some level. I definitely had some boy, man characteristics.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Anne described her impression of you on your first date as a good guy, the loveliest person to talk to, really filled with life, a great storyteller, and the most lovely father to his little boy.

Paul Bland:

Oh, that’s really wonderful. We hit it off in a lot of ways, there were a ton of ways that Anne was way more sophisticated than me, emotionally and was much further into her journey as a grown up than I was. I had a great relationship, still do with my son, Alex, he was this incredibly fun lively kid. One of the things that’s funny about him is that when he was little, he was this super destructive, running around, and we kept having teachers say, we think your kid’s hyperactive. Then we’d have him tested, he’s not hyperactive, he’s just high energy. Now he’s this incredibly laid back guy who, his outside affect is more like the dude in The Big Lebowski than it is a hyperactive boy. It’s sort of funny the way his life journey has evolved a long way.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Around the time you met Anne, was also around the time when your mother would pass away from lung cancer. How difficult is that for an only son?

Paul Bland:

It was really painful when my mom died of cancer. We found out that she was sick just after Thanksgiving in 1995, and then she was gone by the following July and she was very, sick very quickly and it had spread a long way. I don’t mean to be overly political about a thing that’s personal, but I really do have a lot of resentment at the tobacco company. This last weekend I was at an event and saw my mother-in-law from my first marriage, Danielle’s mom and she’s deep in her 90s, and my mom died 26 years earlier than she did. Anne’s out visiting her mom right now and her mom’s 95. My dad died at the age of 53, so I’m going to turn 60 in a month and a half. My dad died at 55, so I’m going to be five years older than my dad was at the time he died, and I’m seven years older than Jerry Garcia was when he died, he’s my other comparator.

Paul Bland:

These big corporate decisions have this big impact, and every once in a while I will look at numbers around something and pause, like remember when September 11th happened, which is an incredibly terrible tragedy and huge impact on so many of us. The number of people who died from the bombings was around 3000, and the number of people who die of cigarette smoking every year in the U.S. is like 400,000. It’s the number, the amount of harm that those companies cause, is enormous. It’s one of the things that made me like plaintiff’s lawyers, because when I was working in Baltimore, Peter Angelos who’s not necessarily… Peter Angelos, anyhow, was leading the charge in Baltimore, but the lawyers in Minnesota, Mike Ciresi and the lawyers of Robins, Kaplan were changing the world. They were holding these companies accountable in the courtroom and I felt like they were, in some ways, sticking up for my family almost if that makes sense. There’s a way in which I take my feelings about tobacco as a personal resentment, and I feel like some of the litigation against those companies seems great to me.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. I think sometimes we think that when we point one tragedy, it somehow is supposed to take away from another and it’s like, no. September 11th was a horrific tragedy and we’re also having this other tragedy happening, that has enormous, huge swaths of the population that are being affected by people who are knowingly making profits off of that.

Paul Bland:

Absolutely. One of the things that really struck me about Anne was that, she was working with David Kessler, on tobacco, and they were looking at whether or not the FDA could regulate tobacco. The definition of a drug, or a medical device, is something that’s supposed to change the way the body operates. They were making this argument that the tobacco companies knew that nicotine was an addictive substance, they were using nicotine. They were manipulating the level of nicotine that was in, and they were doing studies, particularly abroad, sometimes with teenagers, sometimes with disabled teenagers, where they could study them more effectively. They were doing studies to try and figure out just how much nicotine did they need for it to be as addictive as possible, then they were using a variety of additives that they found would have interactions that would multiply the extent to which it was possible. It’s not an accident that it’s incredibly hard for people to stop smoking, it’s something that they’ve really aimed at. They do this because it’s a way to make money, they know that more people will buy their product if they make it super addictive. I have a lot of feeling about where the tobacco companies are and I admire some of the efforts that have been made to go after them.

Luke W Russell:

When we come back, Paul tells us about his early years working for public justice and what it was like stepping into the Supreme Court for the first time. Stay with us, I’m Luke W Russell and you are listening to Lawful Good.

Speaker 3:

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Luke W Russell:

When we left off, Paul talked with us about how he met his wife and how losing his mother to cancer led to personal resentment against the tobacco industry. As we continue the conversation, Paul tells us about how he landed his position at Public Justice and how he’s never looked back.

Luke W Russell:

In June of 1977, you started working as a staff attorney at Public Justice, a nonprofit, I think it had a slightly different name in ’97.

Paul Bland:

My old boss was on the board of, then it was called Trial Lawyers for Public Justice or TOPJ, and TOPJ was quite small at the time, it was maybe 12 people. I was doing a ton of discovery fights where, every case I was just filing motions to compel, trying to get the documents, was doing depositions where every other question was an objection and trying to block the answers. The discovery fights were not really the thing that I found the most fun about being a lawyer, I was much more interested in the ideas and the appellate arguments. I discovered that there was an opening at Trial Lawyers for Public Justice or TOPJ, and I applied for a job in 1997, and was lucky to get it.

Paul Bland:

I’ve never looked back in a lot of ways. I’ve been in the same place ever since then. We changed our name to Public Justice in 2008, which was really, I think, a recognition of a couple of things. One was that we were calling ourselves Trail Lawyers for Public Justice, which was centering the lawyers rather than the clients and the mission, which I don’t think was the best decision in retrospect. Also, we were calling ourselves Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, but most of the people on staff, to the extent we got in court, were doing appellate work rather than trials. I’ve only handled a handful of trials and I haven’t tried a case since 2001, but I probably argued 50 appeals in that time.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Can you take me back to the very first time you stepped into the United States Supreme Court?

Paul Bland:

It was six weeks after I stopped drinking, so that was an exciting thing, because I was like, all this stuff going on in my life at the same time. I was involved in this case, Buckeye Check Cashing versus Cardegna, where our client had taken out loans from a payday lender in Florida, and payday lending was illegal under Florida law at the time that this happened. They had a statute that said any loan that had a more than 48% interest rate was a crime, it was the crime of loan sharking. You think of Tony Soprano beating people up if they don’t come up with the vague every week. The Florida Supreme Court had said that if a contract’s main purpose is a crime, that no provision in the contract would be enforced.

Paul Bland:

Imagine there’s a murder for hire contract, and it has a liquidated damages provision, so if you try and murder the person, but you miss, you have to give them back a hundred thousand dollars, and it has an arbitration provision that says, well you hit the person, but he’s in a persistent vegetated state, does that count as murdered or not? Do you they have to pay? Would any of this be enforced and the courts absolutely would not enforce any of that. The Florida Supreme Court said the main purpose of this payday lending contract is a crime and the arbitration clause can’t be enforced.

Paul Bland:

The Supreme Court took the case, which was a bad sign, and at the time we felt like we had really good arguments, this was not what the Arbitration Act was meant to do, it was meant to try and achieve. I got in front of the Supreme Court and the questions were overwhelmingly negative, and we got very, very negative policy questions, including from the democratic appointed justices. Steven Breyer asked me a question along the lines of, well, I can really see your statutory language argument, but I’m afraid that if we make a decision that makes it harder to enforce the arbitration clauses, it could hurt the gross national product of the United States. You could run for Congress if you want to make economic policy, I thought we were all interpreting the Arbitration Act here. Then Justice Ginsburg asked a very hostile policy question.

Paul Bland:

We ended up losing seven to one, and there were some frustrating moments in the arguments. The guy I was across, this lawyer, Chris Landow, was an amazing lawyer, but there was one point where he was struggling with a question, and the clerk for Justice Scalia and Justice Scalia threw him a softball. I was like, hey, you guys. Anyhow, it was a frustrating case, I felt like we were in the right and we lost. The Supreme Court essentially said that it doesn’t matter, even if the entire contract is void, the Arbitration Clause stands separately and alone because they’re special, and in 1925 Congress supposedly loved them. It was a frustrating experience. I felt subjectively, like I had done pretty well, I went back and looked at the transcript and I made the points I wanted to make. I didn’t have a sense that I could have changed how it came out particularly, but it was exciting, and it was really frustrating to lose this case.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. In 2014, you’re now the executive director of Public Justice. Were you a man on a mission?

Paul Bland:

Public Justice was an amazing place, when I was lucky enough to get this job as executive director, I got to work with wonderful, brilliant people. We had a lot of really good work going on. I think that the work needed to have a little bit more of a focus, so we had lots of different projects and lots of different types of work. What I was hoping to do was to try and bring in a little bit more of a strategic focus, and so I had some ideas, I worked a lot with the staff lawyers at the time, trying to hone them, we did a lot with trying to get the board into an agreement on it. We essentially decided we were going to focus on what seemed to us, to be the three biggest problems in the country.

Paul Bland:

One is the sustainability of the Earth. Particularly things like climate change, but other things that destroy watersheds and wipe out an ecosystem in a place. The second was predatory corporate conduct that made the country really much, much less equal. These were things that, Elizabeth Warren and others were talking about in the halls of Congress, and in presidential races and Occupy Wall Street and whatnot was about. There was just a huge amount of corporate cheating, so there’s predatory lending where people are getting these very high cost loans, you have wage theft in which people are working but not being paid what they’re supposed to be paid, and a variety of other corporate cheating, that moves a bunch of money from lower income people to a handful of billionaires. The third was civil rights, that there was this entrenched set of racism and sexism that was really influencing a lot of ways that the law and society operated and that there were really good legal arguments against that to try and change those systems.

Paul Bland:

We tried to focus in on those three areas and to bring a little more concentration to the work. It was an exciting time, and the place I think was primed to grow. We’ve more than doubled in size in the last seven years, we have a bunch of new work that we’re doing, there are a number of people who have been there all along, that I still get to work with every day. It’s been a really exciting time for me at the place.

Luke W Russell:

How exactly does Public Justice get involved in a case? You are a nonprofit, correct?

Paul Bland:

Yeah. Public Justice is a nonprofit and in most of our cases, we’re co-counsel with people and the vast majority of our cases come to us from lawyers. There’ll be lawyers who will know us and they’ll be familiar with us being expert in some particular area. Sometimes we do cases where we get a share of a fee if they come through, there’s some cases that we handle on a pro bono basis, we work as co-counsel in all of our cases with people. Now, a lot of our cases, we work with other non-profits and other allies. Also, in addition to lawsuits, a big part of our theory of change is trying to change the narrative in certain areas. There will be certain false ideas and premises that get out there in the world, and so we spend a lot of time working on communications campaigns and sometimes organizing to try and change the narrative around some of the cases that we work on.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Okay Paul. We’re going to step into what we call a high velocity round. This is where we have a series of mildly ridiculous questions, they’re all yes, no questions, and the only rule is you can’t answer just yes or no. You can say yes or no, but you got to say more.

Paul Bland:

Okay.

Luke W Russell:

Can you tell me a good story?

Paul Bland:

That’s so open ended.

Luke W Russell:

Yes.

Paul Bland:

Gosh, in the abstract, I’m actually drawing a blank right now. I feel like I have all these different topics of stories. At some point in the early 1980s, I was seeing The Grateful Dead in a place where there was an incredibly heavy rainstorm and they were playing this song that starts as a very slow burning song, and then there’s this moment where there’s a very big, dramatic thing, there’s a big line from the base and they go into these chords and it becomes a really loud song. Just as they’re about to have the line where he has the big baseline and the big booming chords, lightning hits the pavilion, and all the lights go off for a second. They don’t seem to notice that up on stage, so they just continue to play, so all the sound goes off, all the lights go off, and then all the lights come back on and the music is unbelievably loud and it was blowing your hair off. There was this incredible feeling of this combination of the power of the storm and the energy from the crowd and the energy from the music. It was really thrilling, it was one of the most cool things I’d encountered in my life, it was really great.

Luke W Russell:

Wow. That’s fascinating. Do you know about your nickname? The persuader man?

Paul Bland:

Yes. At some point when my son was about seven years old, I’m walking with him and several kids, and they’re all arguing over what would be the superpower you would most want to have. One kid’s like, I want to be the strongest man in the world, another kid said I want to fly. One of them says, hey, what would your power be, Mr. Bland? I think about, and I say, I would want to be where if somebody had this view that I disagreed with, I’d be able to talk them into seeing it the way I see it, and talk them into seeing the world the way I like. The kid says, like persuader man. I’m like, yeah exactly, and he’s like, that’s the stupidest superpower I’ve ever heard. I just started laughing, and of course later you realize that it’s a fantasy that you could ever have that power, it’s about as likely as me flying without a plane.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Yeah. You like to listen to music, but do you also make your own music?

Paul Bland:

No. I was in a band in high school for about a year and a half, and then my voice changed and I couldn’t hit any of the notes and they fired me. I insisted that I had quit before they could fire me, but that wasn’t really true. There was a period where I was learning how to play the harmonica, so I spent a bunch of time learning to play the harmonica, mostly to play to my son, to get him to fall asleep, but never anything real. I listened to a ton of music, but I haven’t played anything, really ever.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Okay. Is it hard for you to slow down and watch TV?

Paul Bland:

It can be really hard to slow down and watch TV. I used to have a bunch of judgments, I thought TV was stupid and that I loved movies, but I didn’t like TV. One time I walked by, Anne was watching what seemed to be this movie and I stopped and watched it for a while, and the cinematography was really good and the acting was amazing, and the script really popped. I said, what movie is this? She said, no, this is episode four of the Sopranos. I sat down and watched through the rest of that series, and now I think the TV show, The Wire, is probably better than any five movies you could pick ever, it’s one of the most amazing pieces of art. My views on TV have evolved a lot over time. It can be hard, I feel like you get wound up about life and watching sports events, I watch a lot of pro basketball and NBA finals I can hardly ever sit to watch the game. I’m stalking around, trying to will somebody into playing better defense or something.

Luke W Russell:

Is it possible to attend too many Grateful Dead concerts?

Paul Bland:

Well, I haven’t seen any of the things that they’ve done since Jerry died. The thing about them was that they improvise an enormous amount, so there are times that that works out really well, and there are times it’s terrible and sometimes even in the same song. Sometimes, you’ll go back and listen to some concert and it’ll feel like, wow, he’s really lost here, he’s just meandering, he has no thread, and then a couple minutes later, two of them start bouncing ideas off of each other and it breaks into something really exciting. There was enough that was different, and surprising, and new, that for me, it was always a lot of fun. He was my favorite musician ever.

Luke W Russell:

Is the capacity to store 40,000 songs on a device enough?

Paul Bland:

Yeah. When they had the big iPods, I just loved those things. I’m really struggling to adjust to the idea of the streaming model that you don’t own things now, but you just have a subscription to something, and a lot of the stuff that you want isn’t there. I’m very suspicious, my corporate suspicions come up. There was a period where on Netflix, they had virtually every major movie ever made available to you, and then they realized, wow, we’re paying a lot for intellectual property, why don’t we just make 200 movies every month available, and then none of the others out there. I keep waiting for Spotify and Apple Music to suddenly cut back 90% of their offerings. I’m very suspicious of the streaming model, I feel like I’ve got this real little old man difficulty of technology thing going on right now.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Are you pretty good at officiating weddings?

Paul Bland:

Yeah. A number of years ago, one of my nephews was getting married and he did not want to get married in a church, for a number of reasons. He reached out to me and I was really honored, but then I realized that you have to have certain types of qualifications. I went to this thing, the Church of Universal Life on the internet and became, for like $48, became more ordained as a minister in the Church of Universal Life. My son, it was really touching and exciting, my son and his wife, Maya, invited me to officiate at their wedding in May of 2019. It was one of the great experiences of my life, it was really fun.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Have you ever felt like you’ve failed?

Paul Bland:

Gosh. Yeah. There have been a number of times where I feel like I’ve worked on some cases that really mattered to me, where I felt like terrible things had happened to my client and was not able to come up with the right argument, I was not able to come up with something that made it work, and that’s been very, very painful. I’ve had a couple of friends, who were really close friends in my life, who particularly had addictions and tried to help and tried to support through them and it didn’t work out, and I think that that’s a feeling of failure. Now there’s an arrogance to the idea that you can change everyone else’s life, realistically, people are captain of their own ships and you can only do so much. I think it’s easy to carry a feeling of, wow, I wish I could have helped somebody get through that and it didn’t work out. The feeling of failure can be really powerful when it hits.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. How do you know when you failed?

Paul Bland:

I think that the first reaction is to say that you failed because things didn’t work out the way you want it to, you lost the case, something terrible happened to a friend, you couldn’t prevent it. I think, as I grow up, that I have an understanding, there are things that are outside of your control and you just have to accept that, you can only change the things that are within your control. Being able to emotionally reach that conclusion, it can be a real challenge. I’ve worked with a couple of people who were addicts or alcoholics who didn’t make it, and you carry that for a long time. It’s one thing to say intellectually, oh, well, you couldn’t control that, but emotionally, that’s a really tough thing.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. You mentioned earlier, in 2005, you decided to stop drinking. Can you tell me a little more about that?

Paul Bland:

I’m an alcoholic. To some extent, there’s family tendencies, so there’s some strong things, alcoholism going back, particularly in my father’s side, I have an uncle who died of cirrhosis of the liver and so forth. I think that it’s a great anti-anxiety medicine, so having my father’s death and so forth, I was an anxious, fearful person, and that was a way of tamping that down. It reached a point where it was becoming a real problem. I didn’t crash a car or anything like that, but there was times that I was probably lucky.

Paul Bland:

Anyhow, in 2005, I decided to stop. October 15th is my sobriety date, so I hit 16 years a couple of weeks ago. I do this with help of a lot of friends and it’s not something that you do alone, and it’s not something that ever stops. There are people who stop drinking and it’s like, they never want to again, and they never have the compulsion, I’m not that person. I frequently am around people who are talking about what a great glass of red wine something is, and I can say, oh my God, I really see that, and so it’s an ongoing challenge, it’s something you have to keep thinking about.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. There’s a lot of alcoholism and alcohol use within the legal industry, and for the lawyer or judge or person listening who’s like, maybe they experience shame around their use of alcohol. What would you say to that person?

Paul Bland:

You’re absolutely right, it is really common for lawyers to have alcohol or substance issues. If you’re around people in recovery, you’ll bump into all sorts of lawyers. I had a case in a state Supreme Court and went to a recovery meeting the day before the argument, and happened to bump into the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, at a recovery meeting. It’s a very, very common thing, and it doesn’t respect occupation, social class, any other social identity, and it happens to a lot of people. It’s not something that people need to feel shame about, but it is something that would really help if you can make up your mind that you want to get better and you can ask for help. I think that shame is really dangerous because what shame does is it convinces people not to ask for help. For a long time, I knew I had an issue, but I didn’t want to say anything to somebody because that would be acknowledging weakness and I was too important to acknowledge weakness. I think that’s a really dangerous place to be. I think if people can get past their shame and ask for help, they can really improve their lives.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Do you ever wonder if you were too emotionally invested in your cases?

Paul Bland:

There have definitely been times I’ve been really emotionally invested in cases, where I’ve represented people to whom terrible things had happened and it mattered so much how it was going to come out and you really don’t control the outcome sometimes, you can make all the right arguments and not have a case work out well. Nobody wins all of their cases, and that’s a really frustrating thing. When I worked for Joe Biden, he had this sign on his desk and I can’t remember the exact language of it, it was from some baseball, famous person, like Casey Stengel or some damn thing. But anyhow, it said something like, even the best teams in the history of baseball lose 60 games a year, and so you shouldn’t play this game with gritted teeth. I feel like being a lawyer’s a little bit like that too, the best lawyers in the world still lose some cases, you have to be able to take the lumps and move on. It’s a real challenge, it’s much easier for me to say this as an intellectual proposition, than it is to feel it, when you lose certain cases, it just really weighs on you.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What’s important to you these days?

Paul Bland:

Well, I feel like my family’s really important to me. I love my kids, my son, Alex, and my daughter Suki. It’s so much pleasure watching them grow, watching them move through their lives and thrive. I love a lot of parts of my life, I have friends who are so important to me and really close and I feel like understand me and get me, and I can communicate with in ways that really connect. I do love my work, I get to work with extraordinary people, it’s a real joy to see the people I work with, to hear their thoughts and go back and forth, and I feel like we get to pick to work on really important things, and so we spend a lot of time, how can we make the country fairer? How can we clean up some watershed? How can we do something that’s going to really improve the world? We brainstorm and try and come up with it. It’s a really exciting prospect.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. You mentioned your friends and you have a lot of people that have been in your life for decades, really rich relationships. What’s the value of a friendship?

Paul Bland:

Connection with other people is just one of the sources of joy, I feel like being understood, understanding someone else, hearing what they’re feeling, connecting with them, just feels so essential to me. I feel like a lot of times it doesn’t have to be something very heavy. My best friend Mike, is this incredibly funny guy who says all kinds of completely outrageous stuff and is regularly wild and offensive and so forth. But is a really, wonderful deep, goodhearted person and having a relationship like that. We met, we were roommates for several years, then I discovered, I think I was the last in Georgetown University that realized that Mike was gay. When he came out of the closet to me, I think everyone else had known, and my radar was turned off at that point in my life. Learning about where he was different from me, where we were the same, what we had in common, was really a great source of pleasure, just it’s really fun.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What’s the best thing about being a dad?

Paul Bland:

Gosh. Well, I think you really want to see your kids blow by you and leave you in the dust, you want your kids to go out and thrive and succeed, and I feel like that’s been really wonderful. My daughter had some challenges earlier in her life and watching her turn these things around, watching her have a job, watching her going back to school, watching her doing really well in school, it just feels wonderful to me, it’s great seeing her succeed and thrive that way. My son is, he’s married this wonderful woman, Maya, they’re such a lovely couple, they’re so close together, they really take care of each other. He’s got a job that he likes, he’s out there in the game and just connecting with them feels wonderful.

Luke W Russell:

I love that. Speaking of being a dad and having kids, I have two kids and they’ve been asking me when they get to ask a question again on an interview. If it’s all right with you, do you mind if I bring them over so they can ask you a question?

Paul Bland:

No, of course.

Speaker 4:

My dad says you’re really good at winning arguments.

Paul Bland:

I try.

Speaker 4:

Do you have any tips for winning arguments with my parents?

Paul Bland:

I think that you have to think about how the other person thinks. Think about, what do your parents want? Say you want to go someplace, you could say, oh, well, I’ll learn a lot if I go there, if you think your parents want you to learn a lot. Or if you think your parents want you to have friends, you could say, oh, I could do this because it would be a good thing to do with my friends. If you said, I want to go there, because I’m going to eat as much sugary candy as I can, that’s probably not where your parents, what they’re thinking. You think about what do they want to hear, and then is there some part of what you’re trying to do that actually goes in their direction? Does that make sense?

Speaker 4:

Yes. Yes.

Luke W Russell:

Thank you, Paul.

Paul Bland:

That was so fun.

Luke W Russell:

How has your relationship with Anne changed over the years?

Paul Bland:

I feel like at the beginning we didn’t speak the same language at all. She wants to talk about feelings, she wants to talk about all these difficult things and that was not where I was at all. It took a lot of time for me to learn and catch up with her a little bit. I think that we’re all at different stages of our journey in some respects. I think that, I hopefully, could be a good person and so forth, but I think there were a lot of times, early on, that I wasn’t hearing her. I feel like we’ve understood each other a lot more, we’ve also been through some hard things, her dad, for example, died a couple of years ago. We’ve had, several friends who’ve been very, very sick in the last couple of years and lost a couple of friends.

Paul Bland:

Learning how to support each other and be around each other during these hard things, I think is a big issue for us. I think that one thing that started to happen as life has gone on, is we’ve had an opportunity to travel more than we did. There was a long time where we couldn’t afford travel at all, we were putting a bunch of money into day to day things. We’ve been able to go out and see the world a little bit more and that’s been really fun and really healthy for us. I think we travel really well together, were interested in fairly similar things, lots of times, and we both like to walk a lot, we take in a lot, and pick things up.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. As a person who is into self-proclaimed progressive politics. How do you approach relationships with people who have different political views?

Paul Bland:

I think it’s a real challenge on how to have a powerful relationship with someone who has a really different worldview. I did better at it at some stages of my life than I have at other times.

Luke W Russell:

Sure. Yeah.

Paul Bland:

One thing you can do in a lot of relationships is just agree you’re not going to talk about certain types of things, and so you can connect on the things you can connect around, sports, your kids, your pets, this kind of thing. I think there were some things that are hard, so I’ve had some relationships with people, growing up in south Florida, who you grow up and they start saying things that are really racist, and how do you continue to maintain a close relationship? One rule I’ve had is that I have some relationships with people where we won’t talk about politics generally, but if they say something racist in front of my kids or kids that I’m related to, that I feel like I have to say something, I can’t let that pass. There’s some relationships that have struggled with, some of these issues in the last couple of years, I think that the division has been really harmful. I think trying to find things that are in common. Some of the legal issues I work on are ones where if you describe them fairly to a conservative voter, the conservative voter is actually really, really friendly with them.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Reflecting on your life, who do you most want to be proud of you?

Paul Bland:

Well, I feel like I’m really proud of my kids and I feel like I’m there in an unqualified way, so it’s not based on what do they do. I don’t want to feel like they have to jump through some hoop or something to get my approval and my love. At some level, I feel like you want to be a good person, you want to have lived a life of purpose and to have helped people. You want to be proud of yourself, that seems important. I think it’s that you’re trying your best to do the right thing, is more important than, how much money you make or what you’ve achieved in some external sense.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. If your parents were around, what do you think they would be proud of when they look at what you’ve done with your life?

Paul Bland:

It’s hard for me to say with my father, because I was so young when he died, I can’t remember what he looks like outside of photographs. My mother was very politically conservative and so I think that the kinds of work I’ve done, some of it would seem crazy to her. She herself sometimes used the word that she was prejudiced about herself, so some of the work I’ve tried to do on racial justice issues probably wouldn’t have been her thing. I think that she wanted to see me succeed and be happy. I think she was worried, are you going to be happy? Are you going to be all right? At the time she died, I was in a rougher part of my life, and I think she was really worried that I wasn’t going to succeed. I think just that I’m happy, that I’m in a happy relationship, that I’ve got kids who are doing well. I think she’d be happy.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Is it possible to live long enough to do everything you want to do?

Paul Bland:

Gosh, no. There’s so many books, my bedside table is piled over with books, there’s so many cases that come in that I would love to see us do and we don’t have enough people to do them. However many cases you’re doing, it’s never enough, there are some really good cases you’re turning down that you just don’t have the people. I feel like my hunger for life feels like it does not have a bound. I feel like there are all these things I want to do. I know that that’s somewhat in tension with the idea of, if today’s my last day that I’m still happy. But, I do feel like I have a real hunger for wanting more in life.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Feel free to pass on this question, but I’d like to ask, if you had your first 30 or 40 years to do all over again, what would you do?

Paul Bland:

In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t had so much to drink because I think it did tamp down the extent to which you feel your feelings. I think that if you’re drinking to a certain amount, you fuzz everything over and everything gets a little bit gray and gets a little quiet. It keeps you from being anxious in some way, but it’s not a way to live your life very fully. I think that that’s one thing I would really want to change. In retrospect, I feel like I was not at all a good listener for a big chunk of my life, and I sometimes marvel, that I have some of the really good friends and good relationships that I do, because I can sometimes look back at events and realize I talked too much, I was showing off, I was trying to tell stories, I didn’t let other people through. I wish, in retrospect, I could be better around that.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Okay, Paul, it’s your 80th birthday celebration and people from all throughout your life are present, a gentle clinking on glass can be heard and a hush washes over the room, people raise their glasses to toast to you. What are three things you want them to say about you?

Paul Bland:

I think the thing I would want most is for them to feel that I was kind. I feel like that’s the characteristic I would most want to have, that I cared about people and tried to make them feel better. I feel like if people felt like I had helped people in a significant way, that would really matter a lot. Some of that’s personal, trying to help people who I’m friends with or people in recovery or whatnot, and then a lot of that’s professional. I feel like I’m very, very lucky to be one of the people with their hands on the steering wheel at this organization that feels like it’s a super, amazing sports car or something, and you want to be able to be effective with it and use it in ways that helps people.

Paul Bland:

I think that that really pops out to me. I guess the other part would be, the flip side of that is, you want not to have caused harm, you want not to have made bad decisions that hurt people. I think that that would feel like the third thing you would really want, that with doctors, they say first do no harm and I’m trying hard, but every once in a while, you’ll, in good faith, do something that turns out really to backfire or something like that, so that waves on me.

Luke W Russell:

To learn more about Paul Bland visit publicjustice.net. A few notes before we wrap up, please check out our season three sponsors, be sure to check out Jason Hennessy’s book titled Law Firm SEO, if you want the best knowledge available in the industry. To any plaintiff’s attorneys who have clients in need of simple interest loans, check out the milestonefoundation.org. If you’d like to join a growing group of attorneys that are actively working to improve their trial skills, head over to trialschool.org. For personal injury lawyers looking to acquire big cases through social media, visit 7figurecases.com. And if you want to experience rich human connection, join our LinkedIn group by going to joinbettertogether.com. Thanks so much for listening this week. This podcast is produced by Kirsten Stock, edited by John Keur, and mastered by Guido Bertolini. I’m your host, Luke W Russell, and you’ve been listening to Lawful Good.