Alumni Notes & Newsmakers:

Friends in Deed

Reading the law out loud

From left: Joseph F. Nocca and Arthur J. Greenbaum

Credit: HLS YearbookFrom left: Joseph F. Nocca and Arthur J. Greenbaum

Back before students could get all their readings in a digital format and listen to them on their computers, Joseph F. Nocca ’55, legally blind since childhood, found his own way to get through his law school assignments. A friend of his from college who had also enrolled at Harvard Law, Arthur J. Greenbaum ’55, offered to take the same classes as Nocca and read all the material to him aloud.

For several hours each day, the two would sit in the living room of their dorm and Nocca would listen to Greenbaum read. As Nocca recalls: “Reading at a conversational pace takes quite a bit of time and patience. He was a gem, an absolute gem.” Greenbaum says that he benefited from the arrangement as well. “Joe’s a very smart guy, so if I didn’t understand something, we could talk about it, and figure out the theory of law together. We would stop the reading to discuss it—you learn it better that way.”

After graduation, Nocca founded his own practice in Yonkers, N.Y., focusing on trust and estate law. By that time, a kind of specialty glasses had been invented that magnified text without making it blurry—so he could read his own cases, albeit slowly. In 1989, he was elected a judge in the criminal division of the Yonkers City Court. There, “[i]t was a breeze,” he says. Two legal secretaries would read his cases to him, and he would dictate his decisions.

Greenbaum eventally became a partner and trademark law expert at the firm Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman in New York City. Now retired, he and Nocca are still friends, and they still think back to their unusual working relationship at HLS. “It was an adventure,” says Greenbaum.