May 24, 2022

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Max Nathan, lawyer, Shakespeare scholar who found error in Louisiana law, dies at 86 | Courts

Max Nathan Jr., a lawyer, Shakespearean scholar and a mentor to law students and fledgling attorneys for more than a half-century, died Sunday at his home in New Orleans. He was 86.

Nathan was born in Shreveport and attended school there. He won a full scholarship in debate to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he was elected student body president his senior year and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, before entering Yale Law School.

But he wanted to practice law in Louisiana, and to do so he learned he would have to attend law school in Louisiana. So he transferred in his final year to Tulane, where he served on the Law Review, graduated with honors and was elected to Order of the Coif, a scholastic honor society for law students, wrote his daughter, Kathryn Leigh Nathan in an article for the New Orleans Bar Association.

Jason Waguespack, left, and Max Nathan Jr. pose at the New Orleans Bar Association’s President’s Award reception at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans on Aug. 28, 2019. Nathan was the award recipient.

It was during law school that Nathan discovered a foundational error in Louisiana law. While perusing the Napoleonic Code, which had been translated from Latin and French, Nathan, who had studied both languages, saw that “actuel” had been mistranslated as “actual” instead of “at present” in a section of state law on judicial mortgages, his daughter wrote.

While that might seem trifling, correcting it required rewriting of whole parts of the Louisiana Civil Code, she wrote. For his erudition, her father won an award from the Tulane Law Review.

It was an example of the scholarship that led Jacques Weiner Jr., a friend since childhood and a retired judge of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to call Nathan “the most brilliant person I have ever known.”

Max Nathan Jr.

Max Nathan works in the dining room of his New Orleans home on Sept. 9, 2015.

“He had an insatiable curiosity about everything,”’ Weiner said. “He was a true genius.”

At the time Nathan graduated from law school, the bar exam did not exist. Passing the test became a requirement for practicing law in 1965, and for more than 40 years, Nathan taught the review course for law-school graduates preparing for it.

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Nathan, who was part of the New Orleans law firm bearing his name – Sessions, Fishman, Nathan & Israel – specialized in successions, trusts and estates. He retired in 2019.

He also taught at Tulane’s law school, where his attentiveness to students became legend. At the end of Nathan’s last class in the 2015 academic year, dozens of faculty and staffers walked into the classroom to surprise him with a salute for his 50 years of teaching.

He was a member of the inaugural class of the Tulane Law School Hall of Fame, in 2013.

Nathan served on a host of Jewish-related organizations and was honored by many of them. He led the Anti-Defamation League’s local chapter and Jewish Family Services, and he was a former board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and Temple Sinai.

Carole Neff and Max Nathan Jr.

Carole Neff and Max Nathan Jr. post at the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana’s 50th anniversary celebration at the Westin Hotel in New Orleans on March 19, 2017.

He also was a founder of the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival. In addition to sitting on its advisory board, he participated in the New Orleans Shakespeare Society’s annual reading at Antoine’s Restaurant of a play by the Bard of Avon.

Survivors, all of New Orleans, include his companion, Fran Swan; four daughters, Nancy Gold Nathan, Kathryn Leigh Nathan, Marcy Nathan and Courtney Nathan; and four grandchildren. His wife, Dotty Lee Gold Nathan, died in 1988.

The funeral and burial will be private. Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Throughout his multifaceted career and rich life – as an attorney, educator, author, community activist and volunteer – Max Nathan Jr. has rec…

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