Teller, Levit & Silvertrust, P.C. has been with The National List for 33 years. This Member Profile is a condensed version of the history of the firm, written by Leo Feldman and published “a few years back” as The Founding Fathers of Teller, Levit & Silvertrust, P.C.
Having passed 82, I was asked by my friend and long-time colleague, Kevin Posen, for my recollections of the firm’s founders before they are reclaimed and lost by the passage of the years. By the time I joined the TLS community (March of 1955), the firm had been practicing in the area of Creditors’ Rights and Insolvency since December 5, 1920, or going on 35 years.
The founders were Leon Silvertrust, Carroll Teller and Lewis (Lou) Levit. They were all so remarkably different in their personal lives that I still wonder how they so harmoniously and profitably carried out their partnership for the rest of their lives. A wooden, framed, arch-shaped door, inter-latticed with glass frames, and made for the firm by a grateful client whose business was saved through the labors of Leon Silvertrust, became the logo that appears on our website and letterhead to this day.
The technology of the day was nothing like today. Consider dictating and transcribing letters. When I began the practice of law, a cylindrical hard plastic object was fitted over a rotating drum. When I dictated, a stylus engraved patterns on the surface of the plastic, and when affixed to the stenographer’s machine, it recreated my voice for transcription. Now, with the computer, many letters and short memos are created by the lawyer, saving the time of dictating and transcribing. Form letters and various court documents easily tailored by the lawyer to suit the unique circumstance of the case are also current time-savers.
Copying documents was a first class chore, and the “paperless file” was not even a dream. Today, copying requires only a touch of a key. Legal research of any significance required one or more trips to a fully “booked” library. The system for researching was arduous. Today, the same task requires one to go no farther than their desktop.
How Carroll, Lou and Leon navigated the “world of then” is a mirror into their differences and similarities.
Leon Silvertrust played the largest role in almost all aspects of the firm; his leadership role, not only in the firm, but in all his activities, was well known, and he clearly led the way in expanding clientele. He found strategic ways of maintaining oversight over the activities of the firm. One was the simple act of opening the mail. He began his day by arranging the mail in four piles: new claims, correspondence, any Court documents, and checks. The first pile gave him an overall view of the claims received each day, as well as their size and quality. From the correspondence he could quickly identify what, if any, problems required immediate attention. The Court documents gave him an overview of what the general court work was like. Obviously, the checks reflected the rate of collections and fees.
If a client or forwarder sent a prompt, i.e., a request for an immediate status report, Leon followed up with the attorney in charge, to not only ensure the request was handled as a priority but, more importantly, because he wanted to know why the lawyer had not reported this before. If you wanted to escape the ire of Leon, you made sure there were no prompts on matters you handled. Any remittance on a file was prepared by Leon, enabling him to judge how well the file was handled and the nature and quality of the result. He wanted to be sure all bases were touched and that the fee was the best available for the client and forwarder, as well as the firm.
Leon was a true business-getter. He was active in a host of organizations. From these activities he met a lot of people, many of whom became his clients. Among them were people doing construction work, sellers of building supplies, and even an architect. The Post-World-War II period was a time of great business development. Leon and his friends combined their efforts, and together they acquired desirable properties and erected four buildings on Marine Drive and Lake Shore Drive. They are among the leaders who rebuilt the new Chicago Lakefront.
Carroll Teller was the firm’s legal mind. His expertise was bankruptcy, and his reputation was nationwide. He was one of the draftsmen of Chapter 11, enacted while he was a member of the National Bankruptcy Conference. It was known as the Chandler Act, and it revolutionized the practice of business reorganizations, an area of law and of the economy that, in his time, was in desperate need of this legislation. Who knows how many businesses owe their continued existence to the new legal solutions that alleviated a number of problems common to a Depression-bound economy!
Reading Carrol’s work was a lesson in legal writing. It was thorough in breadth and in depth. It was easy to read. An intelligent layperson could understand his briefs, as well as a lawyer practiced in the same area of law. Judges looked forward to his presence in their courts, and the clerks working in the District Bankruptcy Court loved him. If I wanted something from the Clerk’s office, I would tell them it was for Mr. Teller, and they would run all over themselves to complete whatever was asked.
Carroll had the remarkable distinction of being a physician as well as a lawyer. He earned his Law Degree in 1906 and then a LLM in 1908. Seven years later, he earned his M.D. and was licensed to practice medicine. To my knowledge, he never did.
Lewis Levit (Lou) was the only one of the three founders to retire. He reached a time in his life when he had enough money and desired to spend his elderly years doing the things he loved, which, among other things, included golfing, playing the clarinet, painting, and enhancing his lesser known reputation for speed typing.
Short of stature and a bit on the stocky side, he talked with a slight lisp. To some who hardly knew him, he was not that impressive on first meeting. Any lawyer who dealt with him realized one acted at his peril if he relied on such an inaccurate first impression. When in the office, Lou would wear a red silk smoking jacket and slippers. In his office closet was an array of clothes, from suits to sport jackets, into which he would slip, depending on the occasion.
Lou seriously considered any matter that he handled. He worked largely on Assignments for the Benefit of Creditors. He created unique forms to obtain pertinent information regarding the financial position of the debtor and also analytically-focused information on the nature of the business, its prospects and the quality of its owners, to assist him in deciding how the business should be conducted.
He insisted that the younger lawyers understand the particular needs of a client and/or the agency who had forwarded the matter so they might better be served, and he urged us to carefully review a matter to insure that all bases had been covered. “Take the time you need to do the work, but make sure you do it right. That’s what we get paid to do.”
December 5th will mark the 96th anniversary of the firm. (Updated from the original.) The reader may recognize the names of the partners who followed in the footsteps of the Founders: They are Julian Silvertrust, Saul Groner, Joe Matz, Leo Feldman and today’s partners, Arthur Raphael, Harold Stotland, Edward Margolis and Kevin Posen.
All of the firm’s partners are direct spiritual descendants of the distinguishing qualities that were the hallmark of these gentleman, including devotion to the client, service to their needs, employment of the highest skills available, abiding faithfulness, and love of the law. These qualities, handed down though three-plus generations and for more than nine-tenths of a century, continue to generate enthusiasm as Teller, Levit & Silvertrust looks forward to our future in the next 100 years of legal practice.
By Leo Feldman, Former Partner, Teller, Levit & Silvertrust, P.C.
The National List is pleased and honored to have Teller, Levit & Silvertrust, P.C. as a 33-year member of our list of esteemed collection attorneys. If you would like to use their services, register your claims through National List so they can be insured, and you can have both teams behind your collection needs.