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Joel A. Kozol, 83; Boston lawyer was first call for clients

Mr. Kozol was skilled at negotiating settlements without going to trial.

Mr. Kozol was skilled at negotiating settlements without going to trial.

Barely out of law school in the early 1950s, Joel A. Kozol was already much in demand.

When he finished a year clerking for Associate Justice Stanley Reed of the US Supreme Court, he was asked by Chief Justice Earl Warren to stay on as Warren’s clerk.

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Mr. Kozol could not get a deferment from the Army, though, so he honed his trial skills handling court-martial cases in Europe until he joined his father at Friedman & Atherton, a Boston firm whose reputation and caseload belied its modest size.

There he remained the rest of his life, becoming the first call for clients in an uncommonly wide range of high-profile cases. In the late 1980s, he represented the Sullivan family when it sold the New England Patriots and handled Mort Zuckerman’s fraud case against former owners of The Atlantic Monthly. Over the years, Mr. Kozol’s clients also included Patriots coach Bill Parcells, Cassius Clay before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and a mistress that a millionaire tried to evict from his Four Seasons condo.

“Our practice is active and exciting — and at times exhausting,” he once wrote in an anniversary report of his Harvard class.

Mr. Kozol, an ardent squash player who won tournaments and championships into his 70s, died of complications from cancer Wednesday in his Boston residence. He was 83 and in recent years lived primarily in his Melvin Village, N.H., home.

“Joel had a world-class mind and when he focused, there was no one better, so the profession has lost a truly great lawyer,” said R. Robert Popeo of the Boston firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo.

“When you tried cases with Joel, you earned your money,” Popeo added. “I was on the same side of cases with Joel, I was an adversary, I was involved in cases with him that were adversarial, and I’ve been involved in cases with him that were acrimonious, but always at the end there was mutual respect and admiration.”

That appreciation extended to clients who, having once sat on the opposite side of the courtroom, wanted Mr. Kozol at their table the next time around.

“Who did struggling financier Abe Gosman turn to when he got into a scrap over millions with the Fish family, his old friends who run Suffolk Construction Co.? Joel Kozol, the same lawyer who represented Gosman’s wife, Betty, in the couple’s contentious divorce,” former Globe business columnist Steve Bailey wrote in May 2000. “Call it the Good Lawyering Seal of Approval.”

During trials, Mr. Kozol “was courtly, he was literate, he was very controlled,” said William I. Cowin, a retired Massachusetts Appeals Court associate justice who practiced with Mr. Kozol at Friedman & Atherton for about a quarter century.

“He never got angry, he never got excited, notwithstanding whatever provocations there might have been from the other lawyers,” Cowin said. “He controlled the information, and to the extent you can in a trial, he controlled the process.”

Jeffrey D. Fisher, a Palm Beach, Fla., attorney who formerly practiced with Friedman & Atherton, said Mr. Kozol “never went into a courtroom where he didn’t command respect.”

Judges and opposing lawyers “always knew who he was because his reputation preceded him,” Fisher added. As for Mr. Kozol’s clients, “it was like they owned the horse that won the Kentucky Derby. You know: ‘My lawyer is Joel Kozol.’ He was a legal legend.”

The oldest of three brothers who all became lawyers, Joel Asher Kozol grew up in Brookline and went to Phillips Academy in Andover before attending Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1951.

The following year, he married Stephany L. Sandler, with whom he raised a family. “My children are growing up in fine fashion, due primarily to the dedication and competency of my wife, who is willing to give them all the time and attention they need, while still carrying a large load of charitable and community responsibilities,” Mr. Kozol wrote in 1966 for a Harvard class report.

At Harvard Law School, Mr. Kozol was awarded the Sears Prize, edited the Harvard Law Review, graduated second in his class, and realized the legal profession was “what he loved,” said his son David of Newton.

After two years in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, Mr. Kozol posted the top score in his Massachusetts bar exam and joined Friedman & Atherton, where he practiced law with his two brothers and their father. His two sons also joined the firm, as did nieces and nephews. “We at one point had eight Kozols working together at the firm,” David said.

As he rose to prominence, attracting marquee clientele in Boston and beyond, Mr. Kozol also became managing partner of the firm, which was big enough to represent large clients, even though it often was smaller than firms it opposed.

“What I particularly admired was how he ran the firm,” Cowin said. “He ran the firm very conservatively, very sensitively.”

Mr. Kozol built a reputation for his skills at negotiating settlements without going to trial.

“If there was a way to resolve it smoothly, and with gentle gloves on, he knew how to do it,” said his older son, Matthew of Brookline. But inside courtrooms he “was known for his toughness, for his intellect, for his brilliance. I heard judges say they had never seen a cross-examination as masterful as his.”

Still, Matthew added, “not everybody knows his other side. Everything for [him] was his family. You can’t get any better values in life than that.”

In addition to his wife and two sons, Mr. Kozol leaves a daughter, Andrea of Sudbury; a brother, Lee of Boston; and eight grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Temple Israel of Boston. Burial will be in Sharon Memorial Park in Sharon.

Even though Mr. Kozol spent his days in the office with family, including his two sons, he ended his night by speaking with them by phone.

“He’d check in with us at night and it was, ‘How are you? How was the rest of your day? I’ll see you tomorrow,’ ” David recalled, adding that he always ended those late-night calls with his father the same way.

“I’d say, ‘Thanks for everything Dad, I love you.’ I literally ended every phone call with my father with those same words,” David said. “But you didn’t have to thank him for anything. He was never looking for acknowledgment or thanks for anything he did. He helped so many people because he wanted to.”

Bryan Marquard
can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.

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