Stephen H. Paley, one of the leading lights of the local legal community, passed away recently. In the weeks since his passing, I have heard repeatedly from colleagues, clients and friends that Steve was “larger than life.” He was such a force and had such a presence that his passing has left a big hole in so many peoples’ lives.
Steve was the epitome of the trusted advisor; he also became a friend to so many of his clients. His charm, his wit and his insight made him one of a kind. I remember being in complete awe of Steve when I started out as his associate; he seemed to know everything. The passing of years did not diminish my admiration for his keen mind and his legal skills. He was a passionate advocate for his clients and a tireless worker.
In the final difficult months of Steve’s life, he was ever optimistic and always looking forward to the next challenge. All of us at the firm never ceased to be amazed at both his physical and mental toughness. On several occasions after undergoing major surgeries, he would show up at the office within hours of being discharged from the hospital. We used to make bets on how soon after surgery we would find him at his desk. When he was confined to a hospital bed, he would be on the phone with clients, reviewing documents and otherwise conducting business as usual. Despite the seriousness—and I can only imagine the painfulness—of his health, he never complained. He was an inspiration to all of us at Paley Rothman.
His college years signaled the success that was to come in Steve’s professional career.
He was a Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa at Washington & Lee University. He played goalie on the W & L soccer team and regularly reminded us that he was the only attorney in the firm to have played a Division 1 sport in college. Steve went on to Georgetown University Law School where he graduated with honors and was a member of the Law Review. Following graduation, he went to work with the Department of Justice arguing appellate tax cases all over the country. After a brief stint in private practice with a D.C. firm, he and a colleague from the Justice Department, Mark Rothman, decided to form their own firm. It wasn’t all wine and roses at the outset; Steve and Mark shared a tiny office and had to count the weekly receipts to see whether they could take any salary. Their collective legal talents, tireless marketing efforts and a willingness to see clients at all hours eventually allowed them to move to nicer quarters in Chevy Chase and have their own offices.
Steve built a formidable reputation as a lecturer and writer, publishing a number of articles in local and national tax publications. He was one of the founders of Montgomery-Prince George’s Continuing Legal Education Institute and was one of the founders of The Group, a national organization of leading tax attorneys.
He was very demanding; sloppy thinking and writing were not tolerated. I recall a time in the pre-word processing days when wills and trusts had to be retyped in their entirety because a comma was missing. Steve always maintained a keen eye for typographical errors. We learned the hard way not to submit anything in writing to him without reading and re-reading it repeatedly. He also expected his associates and colleagues to get right to the point. When I was an associate and had an audience with Steve to go over the status of several matters, I learned to get to the point immediately. I figured I had about 10 seconds to grab his attention before he would move on to the next matter demanding his attention.
A man of many passions, Steve loved his family, his horses, his dogs and his cars. He adored his wife, Lana, and he shared his love of fox hunting with her. His children, Kevin, Shawn and Stacey, were his pride and joy, and he reveled in their accomplishments. I think his most joyful moments in the past few years, however, were the times he was able to spend with his grandchildren.
Steve always maintained his perspective on life. He was always approachable in and out of the office, and he knew everyone’s name, lawyers and support staff alike. He made a point of asking about their families and always found time to regularly interact with them. His genuine interest in their well-being was obvious to all. He will be missed by every single one of his colleagues and friends at Paley Rothman, his many clients, personal friends and by anyone in the legal community who had the good fortune to cross paths with him.
Robert H. Maclay