By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – If there’s one phrase that rings wretched for lawyers and their clients alike, it’s “billable hours.”
As a young attorney in 2002, Dan Klau channeled the stress of his professional life into what would become the first of many satirical songs and the title of a 2004 CD, The Billable Hour Blues. Last month, the appellate and First Amendment litigator and singer-songwriter-pianist released a second compilation, The Lawyer Is A Tramp Champ.
All net proceeds from CD sales through December will benefit Connecticut legal-aid organizations.
Klau is Of Counsel in the Hartford office of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP (MDM&C), where he focuses on appellate and First Amendment litigation. Along with MDM&C partner Louis R. Pepe, Klau recently served as pro bono legal counsel to Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he has taught privacy law since 2003. In addition, he is a supervising attorney for the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic; the immediate past president of the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government; and a member of the board of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. He writes regularly about the law on his blog, Appealingly Brief! (appealinglybrief.com).
Klau has been playing piano since age seven, an inevitability as the oldest of five children growing up in a musical and theatrical family. His mother, Barbara (Bobby), is well-known locally as a member of the Producing Guild of Hartford, where she was cast in several leading comedic, dramatic, and musical stage roles. His younger brother, Nathan, has appeared on Broadway and had a recurring role in Boardwalk Empire, among other TV series.
As a kid, Klau was also involved in theater “because that’s what Klaus did,” he says. When he turned 18, he worked at JP’s Good Times Parlor in downtown Hartford as part of the singing wait-staff, who would put on a Broadway revue every weekend. As an undergraduate at University of California, San Diego, he continued to play piano and write musical parodies based on famous Broadway shows.
“But in 1990, when I became a lawyer, that all came to a screeching halt,” says Klau, who lives in West Hartford with his wife, Dr. Jennifer Klau, and their three children. “I played piano at home but it was impossible to make a commitment to any kind of production that required substantial rehearsal time because I didn’t control my schedule. Particularly as a young lawyer moving up through the ranks, my life was pretty much controlled by the firm, responding to clients’ needs. It left a little hole: a very important part of my life sort of disappeared.”
But that relentless time crunch would eventually inspire Klau’s first law-related parody. Eleven years after beginning his career in private-practice law, a phrase came to mind and would not leave: “the billable hour blues.”
“The way lawyers in private practice generally make their living is with a timesheet, where every hour is broken down into six-minute increments and everything we do is recorded on the sheet,” Klau explains. “If I take a phone call for seven minutes from a client, I write down ‘phone call.’ If I’m writing a brief for an hour-and-a-half for a client, I write that down. Your life is all about this timesheet of six-minute slots. At least during the ‘90s and 2000s, there were all these stories about how young attorneys were expected to work 80-hour weeks and bill 2,500 to 3,000 hours a year.”
Finally, the phrase had to be dealt with. One weekend morning, Klau woke up and went straight to his piano, where he banged out the melody and lyrics to what became the title track on his first CD, The Billable Hour Blues. Over the next six months, the satirical ideas kept coming and Klau kept writing, putting some lyrics to original melodies and others to classic pop songs.
With eight compositions under his belt, he approached Vincent Valvo, publisher and editor of the Connecticut Law Tribune, where Klau was a columnist. The Tribune was gearing up for its annual black-tie awards ceremony honoring distinguished young lawyers, and would Valvo be interested in adding a short musical performance to the program?
He was. In November 2003, Klau debuted his first songs to a live audience of 300 attorneys and was a hit. Valvo offered to help Klau produce a CD, arranging recording sessions at a studio in downtown Hartford and marketing the finished product through the Tribune.
Over the next 11 years, Klau would occasionally perform at legal functions, and kept writing new songs until he had enough for a second CD. This time, he laid down the tracks using GarageBand recording software on his Mac. The 14-song The Lawyer Is A Tramp Champ was released for digital download on Sept. 1.
Klau chose to donate the proceeds of his latest compilation to the three Connecticut legal-aid organizations.
“These organizations are suffering from a severe financial drought,” he says. “Reductions in government funding and revenues from Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts [IOLTA], which are principal sources of legal-aid funding, have forced legal-aid organizations across the state to lay off employees at the very time that less fortunate members of our society need their legal assistance most.”
Klau gets a lot of personal fulfillment from his music. “I tell people that the reason I write these songs is because it’s a lot cheaper than going to a psychotherapist for $300 an hour,” he says. “This is true about any demanding profession, not just for lawyers. There are aspects of the profession that I love. I love to argue in the true sense of the word – not have fights with people, but debate. That’s what I do in my practice: I make legal arguments and try to represent my clients by presenting arguments that are more persuasive than the other side. That’s the core of the law. But the practice of law, the business of being a lawyer, could drive anyone to the brink of insanity and everybody needs a way to deal with it.
“Keeping track of our lives in six-minute increments turns time into a commodity. It means that five minutes or an hour on Shabbat is just as valuable or invaluable as five minutes or an hour in the middle of the week. Commoditization of time is a terrible side effect of the practice of the law. So these feelings that I have about my legal experience are by no means unique to me. I’m talking about universal concerns and that’s why I think most lawyers would get a chuckle out of the songs.”
Audio clips and downloads of the new CD are available at appealinglybrief.com/dans-music-3/.