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Donald Sommers turned 96 in July. He still shows up in the office every morning after 68 years of practicing law in Albany. He keeps a cane in the corner of his office, out of reach from his desk because he never uses it. He stopped golfing at 95 but plans to get back on the course after his current ailment passes.
He has served clients, the children of his clients, the grandchildren of his clients, and now their children. He has tried cases against area lawyers, those lawyers' children, and even a third generation.
"We used to try a lot of cases back then," he said recently, from his office that abuts Washington Park in Albany. "Things were a lot less formal. If you needed an extension, you picked up the phone and asked the judge for an extension. Now it's very different and you better have a good reason to put your client before a jury."
His son Andrew joined the Sommers & Sommers law firm some 36 years ago and moved into their present office—"February of 1989," Sommers said, remembering specific dates from decades ago throughout the conversation.
"He has always taken in lawyers with broken wings," said Andrew, describing how his father would recognize young, floundering lawyers in court and commit to helping develop their skills and confidence.
"There's an older lawyer in town who still tells me how my dad helped him 40 years ago," Andrew said. "When the man won a multi-million dollar verdict later in his career, he told me he was just following my dad's original advice."
"The key is to be yourself," the older Sommers said, describing his profession and personal style as diplomatic and gentle.
The Early Years
graduated from the former Milne High School in 1941, and Union College
in 1947 (class of 1945). His years at Union were interrupted when he
enlisted in the Army in October, 1942, and he spent his military time in
Europe. With years left on his GI Bill, he enrolled at Albany Law
School and graduated in 1949.
He likes to say he "would never do
law school again," and for decades he had bad dreams about the bar exam.
But he also recognizes the career it afforded him.
feeling the envelope at the end of each semester. If the envelope was
thin, he said, you knew you were returning to school. A thick envelope
meant you failed, and included papers for applying again.
"His work is valued here. I still get to
watch him hit a few homeruns, even after all these years." Andrew Sommers speaking about his father.
were around 100 people in my class, with one woman," he recalled with
precision (note: a quick record check shows that he is accurate). "At
graduation there were many less. It was tough back then." He noted that
they all graduated well-prepared to practice, but not like today.
"The graduates today are quality lawyers, they know a lot more than we knew when we came out," he said.
advised today's practitioners to stay within their area of expertise.
"Too often lawyers wander outside their area of qualification, and you
can see it."
Asked about his revered reputation in the region,
Sommers waved off the compliment with his right arm and said humbly:
"When you are around long enough, they suddenly see you as a sage."
continued, stepping into the role of a sage: "There are three sets of
lawyers. There's the champions division, the club fighters, and the
rest. I was a good club fighter."
His son countered instantly:
"He's absolutely in the champions division. He won a ton of verdicts. He
knows and has forgotten more law than most lawyers will ever know."
wife passed away last year, at the age of 82, after 62 years of
marriage. Since then he has spent more time at the office. "I spend a
little more time here, and get in my son's way as much as I can," he
"That's not true Dad," Andrew replied. "His work is valued
here. I still get to watch him hit a few homeruns, even after all these