Stephen Glasser, co-founder of the Legal Times newspaper, dies at 79
The cause was congestive heart failure, said his daughter Susan Glasser, a staff writer at the New Yorker and former editor at The Washington Post.
When Mr. Glasser started the Legal Times in Washington with his wife, Lynn, knowledge of the legal profession was generally limited to “anybody who watched ‘Perry Mason,’ ” said William J. Perlstein, an FTI Consulting executive and former co-managing partner of the law firm WilmerHale. Stephen and Lynn Glasser “transformed the understanding of law in America,” he added, by founding a newspaper that “actually brought law firms and lawyers to life.”
Backed by the publishing firm Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, where Mr. Glasser had run a business and law division, the weekly tabloid reported on all kinds of legal issues, from Treasury Department regulations to energy, securities and environmental law. The newspaper had a Washington focus that was reflected in its original name, Legal Times of Washington, although its publishers technically lived in Montclair, N.J., commuting to the publication’s Dupont Circle offices each week via the Eastern Airlines shuttle.
For top editor, the Glassers hired David Beckwith, a Time magazine reporter who had scooped the U.S. Supreme Court on its own Roe v. Wade decision. Later hires included reporter Kim Masters, now an editor-at-large at the Hollywood Reporter.
“Before the Legal Times, there had never been a general interest, independent commercial publication that promised an objective outside look at lawyers, particularly the big firms operating in major cities,” Beckwith wrote in an email. He added that Mr. Glasser and his wife saw an opening after a 1977 Supreme Court decision that upheld the rights of lawyers to advertise their services, and after the American Bar Association loosened its own advertising rules as well.
The timing seemed especially right under the Carter administration, which passed “a torrent of new federal regulations on business,” he said, “making Washington corporate lawyers even more important than ever.”
Mr. Glasser had aspired to a journalism career in college, spending summers working at newspapers in Gloucester, Mass., and Detroit before his family insisted he go to law school. As publisher, he remained a steady, indefatigable presence in the office even as his newspaper “thoroughly frightened, amused and created howls of outrage among the corporate law community,” Beckwith said.
The Legal Times was especially known for a gossip column called Inadmissible, which was originated by Mr. Glasser and chronicled courtroom errors, law firm blowups and industry foibles, much to the irritation of subjects like the Washington firm Wilkes Artis. “A lot of people around our place would like to string them up,” one of the firm’s lawyers told The Post in 1979, after the Legal Times reported on an internal split at the firm.
The newspaper vied for readers and advertisers with two other national legal publications that debuted in its wake: the monthly American Lawyer, which was founded by editor Steven Brill, and the weekly National Law Journal, a sibling of the much older New York Law Journal. All three came under the control of Brill, who bought the Legal Times in 1986 for a reported $2 million to $4 million. By then, the paper had a circulation of about 6,000 and was dwarfed by its competitors, The Post reported at the time.
The newspaper merged with the National Law Journal in 2009. By then, legal news sources had proliferated, with websites and blogs including Above the Law, the Volokh Conspiracy and SCOTUSblog offering information that was once available only through newspapers like the Legal Times.
“It’s just a magnitude of a hundred of what was available before we got started,” Beckwith said in a phone interview. “I think we were kind of the door openers.” He recalled that when the newspaper got started, he and its staff had trouble getting basic information from law firms, including details on the number of lawyers they employed or who led their litigation department. But “within just a few months, they were giving out what would have caused them an aneurysm to share.”
The oldest of three children, Stephen Andrew Glasser was born in Memphis on July 27, 1943. His mother, the former Esther Kron, was a social worker. His father, Melvin A. Glasser, supervised medical field trials for Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine and was later an official of the United Auto Workers union and the Health Security Action Council in Washington.
His father’s career took the family to Arlington, Va., and then Rye, N.Y., where Mr. Glasser graduated from high school. He studied political science at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and received a bachelor’s degree in 1965, the same year he married Lynn Schreiber. She supported him through law school, working a day job while he attended the University of Michigan.
After he graduated in 1968, he practiced law for only a few months, working as a lawyer at the Labor Department in Washington, before going into business with his wife and moving to Montclair. Together they worked at the New York Law Journal, where Mr. Glasser became executive vice president and executive editor, and later at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, publishing legal newsletters and books by James C. Freund, a leading mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer, and Bruce W. Sanford, a First Amendment specialist.
In 1995, they started a new venture, Glasser LegalWorks, which organized law conferences and management forums. The company was sold to FindLaw, a subsidiary of the Thomson media conglomerate, in 2003.
Mr. Glasser was still working in recent years, organizing conferences and continuing-education programs through his latest venture, Sandpiper Partners. He also helped found a hospice in Glen Ridge, N.J., and worked in higher education, serving on the advisory board of Montclair State University’s communications school and as a trustee and former board chairman of Bloomfield College, a predominantly Black institution in New Jersey.
In addition to his daughter Susan, of Washington, survivors include his wife, Lynn, of Montclair, and three other children: Laura Glasser, a former TV writer who worked on “The West Wing,” of South Pasadena, Calif.; Jeffrey Glasser, a vice president and general counsel at the Los Angeles Times; and Jennifer Glasser, a partner at the law firm White & Case, of Scarsdale, N.Y. Survivors also include two sisters and seven grandchildren.
“It says something about my dad’s influence on all of us that of his four children, two are writers and two are lawyers,” said Susan Glasser, who dedicated her forthcoming book “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021” in part to her father. (The book was written with her husband, New York Times reporter Peter Baker, and is also dedicated to his father, Ted.)
In a phone interview, she described Mr. Glasser as a voracious reader who “understood the value of original, reliable information,” saying that he was focused on “news and scoops” both as a publisher and as a subscriber to three daily newspapers. “If you want people to pay for information, it has to have value to them,” she said. “That has turned out to be a very useful insight for transformations in journalism that he could not possibly have imagined when he started his career.”