Washington attorney Nathan Lewin won’t admit it, but when it comes to languages and the law, he’s a natural.
That much was clear to Daniel Chill, a friend of Lewin’s all the way back to Yeshiva University High School for Boys in New York, where they met.
Chill, 80, called Lewin an “English literature maven” and an “analytical giant,” saying his friend could have been a literary scholar had he pursued the subject beyond high school.
Lewin, 81, who graduated from Yeshiva University High School in 1953, will be one of six honorees at the school’s Annual Dinner of Tribute on Feb. 28. Lewin will receive the school’s inaugural Centennial Leadership Award.
Lewin, a Washington fixture, has argued multiple times before the Supreme Court. His clients have included former President Richard Nixon, Beatle John Lennon and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson.
“He serves as an exemplary role model to our students and alumni, and truly embodies the mission of Yeshiva University High Schools,” Miriam Goldberg, who chairs the school’s board of trustees, wrote in an email.
Chill, a New York attorney, called his friend of 61 years one of the “great people in my life.” He recalled that they became friends almost instantly upon discovering they were both intellectuals.
“He’s a very fascinating guy to talk to about all kinds of subjects,” Chill said. “He’s one of the warmest people you could ever run into. I wouldn’t have the patience to talk to certain folks, but he’d sit and talk to anybody about anything.”
After the two finished their undergraduate studies at Yeshiva College in 1957, they went their separate ways for law school. Lewin headed to Harvard while Chill went to Yale. But they stayed in touch, with Chill often referring criminal cases to his friend in Washington. Chill, who handles government and administrative matters in his New York firm, said Lewin was instrumental in helping him with a case involving redistricting in New York State following the 1990 census.
Chill said he also gets together with Lewin at least a dozen times a year. Most recently they attended a reception for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, where Lewin introduced Chill to the justice.
Lewin said what motivates him is not the bar, but the bima.
“What gets me out of bed in the morning is going to shul,” he said. “One of my skills is I’m a gabbai of the early morning minyan at Beth Sholom [Congregation in Potomac].”
Lewin said he was “honored and humbled” when he learned he would receive the award from his highschool.
“I suppose it is the interesting mix of the litigations and the other matters that I’m involved in in the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds,” he said, speculating on why he was chosen.
Lewin said he is “delighted” to be law partners with his daughter, Alyza, and hopes younger lawyers will pursue pro bono work as he and his daughter have.
He said economic necessities mean young lawyers typically have little time or energy to take on cases for free. Lewin advised: “Try the course of pro bono work even if you don’t get rich doing it.”
Asked what he hopes his mark on the world has been, he said, “I try to benefit Am Yisrael [the people of Israel] using the legal skills that I was taught and, thank God, fortunate enough to be competent in.”