Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Sad Passing of "Big" Lew Kaster

It is with beyond a heavy heart that I report to you the passing of our colleague, friend and mentor “Big” Lew Kaster.

Of late Lew was dealing with a number of health challenges, and we have missed his presence.  Still, last Thursday evening, at the Lubaroff Award Dinner, a glass was raised to him with the hope that he would soon rally and return to our merry band.  We did not then know that earlier that day had been his time to “shuffle off this mortal coil.” 

Lew was the 2010 recipient of the Martin I. Lubaroff Award.  Here is what was written in connection with that event:

The 2010 Martin I. Lubaroff Award to be Presented to Lewis R. Kaster


This year's recipient of the Martin I. Lubaroff Award is Lewis R. Kaster, of counsel in the New York office of Bryan Cave LLP.  Lew has been an active member of our committee for many years. Lew’s practice includes real estate joint venture negotiation; legal issues concerning partnerships; LLCs and other non-corporate business entities; and tax advice to pension plans and other exempt organizations investing in real estate. Lew is a member of the adjunct faculty of Columbia Law School, lecturing on partnerships, limited liability companies and other non-corporate entities—Lew has been lecturing on unincorporated entity issues since the early 1950’s. Lew has been a frequent writer on real estate issues for publications such as The Journal of Taxation, the Practicing Law Institute’s Issues and Answers, the ABA Real Property and Probate Trust Journal and the Real Estate Review, and was the editor of the Real Estate Department of The Journal of Taxation. He has served on the Board of Governors of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers and has been actively involved over the years in The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the New York State Bar Association, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Managers, and numerous civic and charitable activities.

Vincent Alfieri - In the late 1960’s, Lew Kaster joined what was then the firm of Robinson Silverman Pearce Aronsohn Sand & Berman as a young tax lawyer.  (In 2002, Robinson Silverman merged with Bryan Cave, where Lew continues to practice as Of Counsel.)  As a result of the firm’s significant real estate practice, Lew developed particular expertise in real estate tax law and structuring real estate transactions.  In structuring real estate transactions, the choice of appropriate entities was important, so Lew also became extremely knowledgeable with respect to the law regarding the formation, use, operation and tax consequences of general and limited partnerships and limited liability companies.  He became the “go to” attorney in the firm with respect to matters relating to these unincorporated entities.  He was also an enthusiastic mentor to younger attorneys.  He broadened his knowledge and reputation by reading cases, maintaining a dialogue with other attorneys serving on bar association committees, lecturing and writing.  He was well recognized for his intelligence, knowledge, creativity and practicality in resolving issues.  He became a valued resource not only for our firm but for lawyers and clients throughout the country.  We are proud of his achievements and his long association with the firm, and we congratulate him on the well-deserved recognition of being the 2010 recipient of the Martin I. Lubaroff Award from the ABA’s Committee on LLCs, Partnerships, and Unincorporated Entities.

Bill Callison - I was particularly pleased several years ago to notice that Lew edited an article I wrote for the same publication in early 1987.  Lew did this quite a few years before we knew one another and he became my friend.  It was pretty much a career starter for me in the affordable housing area (I was then into my 5th year as a lawyer).  I remain eternally grateful for life's favors, such as this one by Lew Kaster.  Bill Callison

Tom Rutledge – I must confess to not being able to identify the exact meeting at which I met Lew Kaster, but it is my impression that as long as I have been attending Committee meetings, he has been there.  Over the years, we have both spoken a panel together and co-authored a short piece that appeared in Corporate Counsel Weekly.  Of far greater importance, Lew has often been both a professional advisor helping me think through troubling problems and more importantly simply a great friend whose wealth of experience at life (in the broadest sense) has benefited me, probably more than he knows.  Lew Kaster is a master of partnership law, of the tax code, of the law of governing real estate and of the bankruptcy code; any of us should aspire to master any one of those subjects.  More importantly, Lew is a master of life, and we should certainly aspire to follow in his footsteps.

Lauris Rall - I have had the pleasure of knowing Lew for over a decade.  Although our paths did not cross frequently in the Big Apple, the center of the legal universe, I was well aware of his scholarship in the alternative entities field, particularly partnership taxation.  As the lawyer to many high net worth individuals and family firms, using a pass through entity for sophisticated tax planning was an art form under Lew's tutelage.  I am well aware that his reputation in our legal community has been that of an intellectual, but yet practically minded counselor, whose negotiating acumen is, how shall we say, persistence. 

For most of my career I have enjoyed being a "backroom" lawyer, as it never seemed useful to me to be out front with the paparazzi any more than absolutely necessary.  However, Lew asked me to help his partner as an expert witness in a New York partnership law case in federal court.  It was an opportunity to see a side of the practice that I had not seen before, and I am forever grateful for that experience.   

It has only been in recent years that I have had the pleasure to get to know Lew on a more personal level, and that has been rewarding many times over.  Lew has stories from every stage of his life and career, and I have been fortunate during dinners and other times to have heard at least a few of them.  Listening to these stories has instructed me well on one facet of Lew's character - he is a keen observer of the human experience.  Lew has learned from his life and Lew has and continues to teach us much about that broad subject AND about the law of alternative entities.  He is a classic and I am glad to call him my friend. 

Congratulations Lew on this wonderful honor, well deserved.

Elizabeth Miller - On my bookshelf in my office are two out-of-print treatises, and these two old treatises are among my most prized possessions.  They are Crane and Bromberg on Partnership (1968) and Rowely on Partnership (2d ed. 1960).  Taped to the outside of each treatise when they unexpectedly arrived in my mail about five years ago were handwritten notes from Lew Kaster which I have tucked into each book and which evoke warm feelings in me each time I open the books and remember his kindness in passing along these treasures.   It seems that Lew was “cleaning out” as he prepared to phase out of his practice and thought I might make use of these reference works.  They have indeed been precious gifts in more than one sense.  I certainly did not foresee when I first encountered the learned Professor Kaster that I would one day receive such a touching gift from his library and that I would view him as such a gentle man as well as a gentleman.  The truth is I was quite intimidated by him after witnessing his passionate, booming argument on some bankruptcy issue that was under discussion at one of my first PUBO Committee meetings.  Sometime later I was tremendously flattered and a bit nervous when he contacted me and asked permission to use some of my materials for his class at Columbia.  Naturally, those feelings of intimidation and nervousness long ago gave way to great affection – what other outcome could possibly have resulted given Lew’s charm, wit, and kindness?  Admiration, of course, is a feeling that has transcended my entire acquaintance with Lew.  What a tireless student of the law of partnerships and unincorporated entities he is.  Since he sent me those books five years ago, I cannot tell that he has slowed down much.  I still regularly receive emails from him regarding a recent case or other development of interest.  I don’t think he knows how to stop contributing to this area of the law, and he certainly is a most deserving recipient of the Lubaroff Award.

Scott Ludwig - With respect to Lew, I can tell you that I first met Lew approximately 17 years ago--about the time I joined this committee.  Lew was then as he is now an imposing figure in the law.  Lew’s knowledge of real estate, tax, unincorporated entities and bankruptcy fascinated me and I knew immediately that Lew was one of those lawyers that you need to listen to carefully so that you absorb as much knowledge as possible while you were in his presence. 

     Shortly after joining the committee, I was asked to make a presentation and at the time I began preparing summaries on cases, rulings and other matters pertaining to the state taxation of LLCs and cases on professional unincorporated entities.  This combined effort was a daunting task for me and so when I made my first presentation and I saw Lew Kaster rise from his chair and move to the microphone I nearly swallowed my tongue.  I immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was about to receive the hardest question, one which was calculated to have no answer and one which was calculated to remind this poor dirt farmer that he was just that.  Instead of what I had imagined, Lew threw me a softball and then with a wink sat down.  In that single moment my impression of Lew Kaster changed from hardnosed stern New York lawyer, adjunct professor Columbia University and other scary monsters of the night to that of a gentle man who was attempting to help his peer.  After that experience, I began to know a different Lew Kaster than what I had imagined Lew to be.  I began to know the real Lew that everyone else knew and that I had, for whatever reason, placed on a pedestal and held at a distance out of fear. 


     What Lew taught me was that no matter how good you are or how preeminent you may be in your field, the practice of law is a profession in which we should extend courtesy and kindness to our fellow professionals and in which we should extend a hand to help guide those who may be less experienced or less knowledgeable then ourselves.


     I can think of no better legacy to leave in the practice of law than teaching fellow lawyers who aspire to be preeminent in their field to remain approachable and open to new lawyers in that field and to be willing to teach and educate those less experienced lawyers in order that the law and the legal profession is advanced.


In 2014 Dan Cullen of Bryan Cave presented at the LLC Institute.  While he was doing his final preparation in the lobby I interrupted to ask if he worked with Lew.  Dan put his materials aside and shared of his many experiences of working with Lew, including as to his expectations of precision in written product, whether it be a contract or an article, and his both ability and willingness to provide guidance to younger attorneys.

            Earlier today Scott Ludwig wrote

This is indeed sad news.  Lew was a wonderful person, lawyer and mentor – but more importantly, he was a devoted friend with an unbelievably big heart

The subject line of an email received earlier today from Bill Callison was simply “Tears.”

The obituary appears in today’s New York Times, and there is a guest book to which you can post any thoughts you may want to share.

            These words are far too little by way of acknowledgement of who was Lew Kaster to our shared area of interest and what his friendship meant to so many of us. I will close with the words that Ira Meislik wrote to me earlier today:


May his memory be for a blessing.

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