The Old Briefcase

When I started out as a young lawyer, the first thing I needed to buy was a briefcase.  This was long before anyone but hikers used backpacks, and the idea of carrying one’s briefcase on a shoulder strap was akin to wearing a dress to court.  Real men carried their briefcases.

Generic leather briefcases abounded.  They were cheap looking and common, the sort of thing a commissioned salesman might carry on his way to the bar after work to make it look like he was above a Samsonite hardshell case.  The old style lawyer’s bag was stodgy and boring, And ugly.  It was functional, but looked wrong for anyone born after the Great War.

My bag had to be tough.  Not just big enough to hold what I needed to carry to court every day, but rugged enough to stand up to being tossed on the bench, carried in the rain, scraped on the sidewalk and withstand vermin on the subway.  There was no doubt in my mind that it would have to be made of harness leather, the type that got better with age and abuse.  I couldn’t bear any fussy leather, where a scratch would make it look “damaged”.

One day I saw it.  It was that belting leather that was meant to be scraped and scratched.  The style was the old messenger bag, the type that couriers used when bringing news from the generals to the men who might not survive.  It was . . . perfect.


I’ve now carried this bag for more than 25 years.  It’s seen courthouses across the country, and more than a few foreign cities.  It’s been through rain, snow and brilliant sunshine.  I’ve stuffed it beyond capacity, making things fit when they clearly shouldn’t.  It was stretched in odd ways, but always held whatever I asked of it.

It’s old now.  The leather is cracked, dry and worn.  The corners have worn out, revealing the old broken marker that I used at trial in the early 90s, the remains of a roll of peppermint lifesavers.  In the pocket are business cards going to back to my office in the Woolworth Building, and my old firm, Meyer & Greenfield, before Howie passed. There are a couple of decks of cards in there, in case I come across an errant inchoate poker game on a train.  There’s even a handmade deck on post-its, created in a moment of hilarious desperation.

In the last few years, people have asked me when I was going to get a new briefcase.  As if this was an idea that should have occurred to me.  A client actually bought me a Louis Vuitton case, which he thought would be more becoming my station.  I hated it.  It was so metrosexual.  So not me.  But after the question was raised a few times, I looked into getting a new bag.

My briefcase was made by a company called HH Brown, which has since been bought by Berkshire Hathaway and no longer manufactures bags. They now manufacture profits.

If I could find a new bag with the soul of my old one, I would consider changing.  It’s not that I’m stuck in my ways.  It’s just that I haven’t found anything that I would consider to replace an old friend that has served me so well for so long.  And to tell the truth, even though other people see an old, beaten-up briefcase, it still looks damn handsome to me, scars and all.

17 thoughts on “The Old Briefcase

  1. Shaula

    Scott, I’m glad you can still see the beauty in your scars-and-all bag.

    Years ago my husband bought a similarly rust-and-dent, primer gray, ’66 Bronco. He has rebuilt it from the axles up. (In fact, I helped him swap out the drum breaks with some funky hybridized disk breaks.) This will never be a vintage car and has always been worked on with function, not aesthetics, in mind.

    A month after we got married, a friend (of his!) said to me, “I guess you’ll be making him get rid of the Bronco, huh?”

    His friend had turned over the keys of his own motorbike when he got married, and had been driving a minivan for almost 20 years.

    I tried to explain that my husband loved the Bronco, that I was proud of all the work he’d done by himself on it, that I’d be crazy to ask him to get rid of it.

    And the guy’s response was, “Right. So anyway, what are you going to (make him) replace it with?”

    I tried again to explain that if my husband could see the beauty of this beat-up old truck, it sure boded well for us staying married as I acquired more rust and dents of my own over the years. Tell him to get rid of the truck would be like telling him to get rid of me.

    His buddy never understood. I guess decades of driving a minivan can do that to a person.

    Oh, and we’ve still got the Bronco.

    At any rate, I say your wife is lucky woman, and I wish you all the best on finding an equally functional briefcase when you retire your current one. Sounds like it has served you well.

  2. SHG

    My first trial bag was borrowed from some guys we shared the suite with.  It had some unknown initials on it, and a broken hinge.  I lost the trial.  I wish I could have blamed the bag.  Still, I never used it again, and went through 4 or 5 bags until I found one I really liked.  That company is gone today too.

  3. Cynthia

    Your bag looks like you have fought many a battle, represented many who needed you, and that you didn’t hold back on giving it your all. Perhaps you should give this one a rest on non-trial appearances – save it as your good luck charm for trials so that you won’t loose the karma we all need with the politics of it all. I love your bag!

  4. Prof Yabut

    Just last Monday, I dug my old briefcase out for the first time in years to take to a meeting (like myself, it’s been in retirement for a dozen years). It took only 20 years of practice for it to acquire its scars, and people (mostly of the female persuasion) began urging me to replace it after just a few years-worth of scrapes (often acquired on the D.C. Metro, with a few added at Schenectady’s Family Court).

    I’m glad I never replaced it. But, I take my hat off to your even-more character-filled bag. My bar certificate and old door sign join the briefcase in the attached photo to salute you and yours.

  5. Mark Bennett

    AVOS beat me to it. I got a chestnut Saddleback Leather XL briefcase for Christmas, to replace my aluminum Zero Halliburton that I’d carried for 14 years.

  6. SHG

    As I thought, those aluminum cases don’t last.

    And that Saddleback is quite a good looking case.  You must have been a very good boy.

  7. CB

    I’ve got that same H. H. Brown briefcase, still almost new.

    Glad to know it’ll last the years.

    Thanks. 🙂

  8. Marilou Auer

    My boss died in October, leaving several well worn and well loved briefcases. I can’t bear to discard them. Is there a briefcase Heaven, or a website where they can be offered to others who would love them and use them? Feeling wistful now; wishing for the boss back.

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