In Memoriam: Paul A. Vapnek

Michael E. McCabe, Jr.IP Ethics1 Comment

Paul VapnekThe Intellectual Property Ethics Bar lost a luminary this weekend with the passing, on February 28, 2015, of Paul A. Vapnek.  Mr. Vapnek was 86.

“Preeminent.” “A mentor.” “‘Dean’ of legal ethics in California,” were just some of the words used to describe Mr. Vapnek in an article published in the March 2013, edition of the California Bar Journal.

“Paul was a lawyer’s lawyer, and a gentleman, always willing to give of his time and knowledge for the legal profession,” said Mr. Vapnek’s long-time friend and colleague, Neil A. Smith. “He served as President of both the San Francisco IP Law Association and the Bay Area IP Inn of Court. Like few patent attorneys, he transcended IP and became one of the leading legal ethics gurus, for California and IP lawyers nationwide, literally writing the leading books on the subject in California.”

Mr. Vapnek was “a lion of the California ethics community and will be missed by all,” added Carol M. Langford, a professional responsibility and disciplinary defense expert.

While I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Vapnek personally, he clearly touched the lives of many in the IP ethics and discipline community.  Susan M. Spaeth, Kilpatrick Townsend’s  Managing Partner, wrote the following tribute to Mr. Vapnek:

Paul Vapnek Remembered

“It is with great sadness that I write to tell you of the passing of our colleague, Paul Vapnek. Paul retired from Kilpatrick Townsend in 2013, after 47 years with the Firm. In addition to his work for the Firm, Paul was recognized as a leading authority on legal ethics and professional conduct. Shortly before his retirement in 2013, the State Bar of California honored Paul with the 2013 Harry B. Sondheim Professional Responsibility Award for his long-term contribution to the field of attorney professional responsibility. He was only the second lawyer presented with this award, which is given only every three years, at the Seventeenth Annual Statewide Ethics Symposium held at the UCLA School of Law. Among other work that led to this recognition, Paul chaired the legal ethics committee of the Bar Association of San Francisco and the State Bar’s Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct. He was one of the original members of the Bar’s Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which led to the Supreme Court’s adoption of new rules in 1989 and adoption of further revisions in 1992. He was also recognized for starting the process that led to the creation of the California Compendium on Professional Responsibility, serving as its first editor in chief.

Vapnek ethics book“Put another way, Paul literally ‘wrote the book’ on legal ethics in California. Lawyers throughout the State sought out Paul to answer difficult questions and solve ethical dilemmas and in this regard he was a true “Lawyer’s Lawyer.” In addition to his work for the Bar, he cultivated and maintained a successful intellectual property practice covering everything from patent counseling and litigation to trademark and copyright law. He also represented clients in disciplinary matters and was known for his legal skill as much as his fierce advocacy. Over the years, he also provided expert guidance and counsel to the Firm on ethics and conflicts issues. Paul’s commitment to fairness and to the larger community was also evident in the work he did for the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center, where he served for many years as a board member.

“We all knew Paul to be a prodigious and hard worker as well as a true professional. The law was actually his second career – he worked as a mechanical engineer at General Electric following his graduation from Rensselaer in 1951 and only entered the practice of law when he joined what was then Townsend & Townsend in 1965 after obtaining his law degree from the University of San Francisco. He accomplished more in his second career than many do in their first and only chosen profession. He truly made his mark on the practice of law in California and will be missed.”

Funeral services for Mr. Vapnek will be held at 1:00 pm (PST) on Wednesday March 4, 2015, at Temple Emanuel, Arguello and Lake Streets, with burial to follow at Home of Peace Cemetery, 1299 El Camino Real, Colma.  For a link to Mr. Vapnek’s obituary, click here.

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