NEW YORK—Canonical writers such as Balzac and Goethe left the law sector to effect change with their words. For Raymond Dowd, however, it was the other way around.
Dowd had spent some time in college studying French literature in Champagne, France, and once seriously considered becoming a writer.
Today, Dowd, 48, has practiced law for over 20 years and is a partner at Dunnington Bartholow & Miller.
He said it was only when he mastered the power of speech in a courtroom that he “really learned the ability to paint pictures with words.”
“There is a moment of magic when you have a conversation with a judge,” he said. “There’s an alchemy that happens when you’re able to change the direction of the case with your words.”
Dowd feels there is more power to move people by using words through law.
When writing fiction, the author tells a story by going into the interior of made-up characters, he said. But with the law, it’s about getting inside the head of real, human beings, and articulating their stories in a way that will help them.
“You have to be inside of [clients] to understand their problems and translate it to the world. You’re living someone else’s life,” Dowd said. “It’s an interesting experience every time I have a new client.”
“It’s three dimensional,” Dowd said. “I find that with writing, it’s a lot of sitting in a room by yourself. …In law, it’s personal interactions.”
Role Models and Heroes
Dowd was born in Brooklyn and raised in Long Island. He was the oldest of six children.
He recalled his fireman father coming home with burned off eyebrows, eyelashes, and sometimes missing tufts of hair.
“He was not particularly mindful of the personal consequences,” Dowd recalled. “He went into burning buildings to save people without hesitation.”
“I always thought of that as being one of the highest ideals to have, to care about other people and not look too closely at the harm that might befall you,” he said. “It’s something I aspire to. At least in my professional life, it’s something I admire in people.”
But Dowd is a successful lawyer with an unconventional hero.
“One of the people I admire most in history was actually a character,” he said.
Dowd said he respects the courage of Don Quixote, a fictional character in Cervantes’s 1605 classic “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.”
The book is a parody of chivalrous romance stories, telling a comical tale of a farmer who read so many books on chivalry that he set out to become a knight.
Dowd said he admires how Quixote had the courage to try, even if the character’s actions were compelled by delusions.
“It’s the story of someone who dreamed the impossible dream and fought until it became true,” Dowd said. “That’s something that I aspire to regularly. … If I get knocked off my horse a few times on the way, that’s much, much better than giving up your dream.”
At the end of the story, Quixote regains a clarity of mind and feels sorrow for the chaos he caused by his knightly endeavors.
But from Dowd’s perspective, at least Quixote pursued a dream.
“It’s better to dream the impossible dream and to fail than to look back at your life and say I’ve always wanted to do this or that and I never had the courage to try,” he said.
Dowd said he has met many people, especially lawyers, who had never tried to do anything else. Such people “have a deep regretful look and feel about them,” he said.
“A lot of people go into law because they don’t know what else to do [to make money],” he said. “I think you really want to follow, to the extent possible, what your passions are.”
Especially, Dowd said, when a person holds back because of fear.
“Some say they really wanted to be a musician but their fathers said they can only make money if they went into law,” he said. “I see a lot of people like that in the legal profession, particularly younger people.”
Dowd said he recommends that if circumstances permit, young people should pursue a creative talent before going into their permanent careers.
“Life doesn’t let everyone follow their dreams, but people who give it that shot are much more at peace,” he said. “Some of these lawyers who spend a few years as a musician and then become a lawyer, they’re much more at peace. They’ve tried.”
“Whether they failed or succeeded I’m sure they had one night of performance when they felt that playing their musical instrument was why they were put on Earth,” he said. “They have stories to tell their children.”
After studying French literature and traveling around Europe, Dowd realized he was meant to become a lawyer.
When he was a young child, his grandmother once said he “had a mouth like a Philadelphia lawyer.”
“She was born in 1900 … that wasn’t exactly a compliment at that time,” he joked. “I was always, perhaps, argumentative and very interested in talking.”
But argumentative does not necessarily mean unkind.
Dowd attended law school at Fordham University, where he said he learned that one of the most important roles of being a lawyer is not to just win cases, but to help one another through interpersonal relationships.
He said there was no destructive competition like what he had heard about in other schools.
“When they sat us down as first year law students, they said, ‘Look at the people around you. For the rest of your lives, these are the people who will be helping you in your career. … They are not only sources of friendship, but also professional advancement,’” he recalled.
“We thought it was a little bit of a corny speech that everybody got every year, but over time it resonates more and more. We see people 20, 40 years later who still have strong friendships,” he said. “There’s something unique about that.”
Dowd specializes in areas such as copyright, trademark, and stolen art. He is involved in recovering art lost during Nazi looting.
He is currently the vice president for the Second Circuit of the Federal Bar Association, and is on the editorial board of The Federal Lawyer Magazine.