In 1886, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., then a Professor at Harvard Law School, gave a talk to the students of Harvard College, which included a much-quoted line: “I say – and I say no longer with any doubt – that a man may live greatly in the law…. [H]e may wreak himself upon life, may drink the bitter cup of heroism, may wear his heart out after the unattainable.”
Holmes set a high standard for greatness. It was not enough for him that a lawyer succeed in “the greedy watch for clients and practice of shopkeepers’ arts,” but rather he had to “wreak himself upon life.”
Few can meet this standard, but Jack Greenberg is one of the clearest examples in our time of someone who surpassed it with ease, “living greatly” in the law in his own distinctive way – more understated and less rhetorical than Holmes but still attaining “the unattainable.” I recognize, of course, that Jack would have strenuously resisted the term “hero” being applied to him. Down to earth, modest, and never flamboyant, he nonetheless never ceased to “wreak himself upon life.”
John C. Coffee Jr.,
Jack Greenberg: Living Greatly in the Law,
Colum. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/103