History Project: The 1980s

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Untimely Deaths

1981 Death of

Dick H. Brandon and his perennial side-kick Sidney Segelstein, Esq. were such pioneers in what we call Computer Law. Both were friends to many members of the Association. Regrettably, what distinguishes Dick and Sid from Roy Freed, Bob Bigelow and the many other members of the Association that were also pioneers in Computer Law is their unfortunate and untimely death – together – when Dick’s new, high performance Mitsubishi dove into a Dakota field on their way home from a vacation trip to Alaska in 1981.

Many members may know of Dick and Sid from their book – Data Processing Contracts: Structure, Contents, and Negotiation – first published in 1976. It was a pioneering effort. Despite their untimely demise in 1981, that book is now in its third edition by reason of revisions by George Brandon, Dick’s oldest son, and a co-author, John Halvey, a partner of George’s at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. Dick was also the author of at least five other books, Management Standards for Data Processing; Management Planning for Data Processing; Project Control Standards; Data Processing Organization and Manpower Planning; and Data Processing Management: Methods and Standards.

I met Dick as a young associate of Cadwalader in the mid-70s. I was dispatched to assist The Bowery Savings Bank in cutting a computer deal for a system to replace their aging Univac 490s. At the table was the Bank’s technical and contract consultant, Dick Brandon. He had suggested using his good friend and co-author as the lawyer on the deal, but those were the days when client-loyalty still counted for something, and Cadwalader was The Bowery’s lawyers. I later learned of his low expectations for the youngster from Cadwalader. I suspect that they dropped further when one of my first questions was whether his first name was Richard. Suffice it to say that it isn’t.

The Bowery deal took a while to negotiate, and the Bank eventually decided to go with a Burroughs system, where Dick and I both had the privilege of meeting and dealing with another pioneer and member of the Association, Ed Langs. Fortunately, Dick was able to get beyond first impressions and we became quite good friends, professionally. He was even kind enough to send me an autographed copy of his book when it was published a few months after the deal was done.

Sid was a Harvard law graduate practicing in New York City with a small firm Goldstein and Schrank. It is not clear at this point just when Sid first met and befriended Dick. What is clear is that Sid was Dick’s lawyer. But there was more to their bond than just that. Their bond had invisible origins but very visible effects. In fact, the bond may have grown out of what I think was Dick’s secret wish to become a lawyer. He loved law. Sid was able to fill Dick’s curiosity about law in the friendly context of computer transactions. Sid had a very special ability to communicate his deep legal knowledge in very simple terms.

In preparing for this memorial, I reviewed several amateur video tapes made back in the early days of the PLI Computer Law Institute that included talks by Dick and Sid. Regrettably, none of the footage was of a quality permitting capture and sharing any of it here. However, I did get to hear Sid’s wonderful story about an advertisement for a watch that he saw in an airline seat-pocket magazine. It was quintessential Sid and Dick, and quintessential computer contracting, early 70’s style. The ad promoted a titanium case, crush proof, shock proof, water proof down to 1000 feet, solid state, atomic powered watch that would keep time to the microsecond for over a century and tell the day of the week of any date within that century. Yet it came with a LIMITED 30 day WARRANTY.

In a nutshell, that was the crusade in which Dick and Sid found common ground. The mutual groping by unsure and often naïve users and vendors in those early days. Many computer deals were more akin to joint ventures than the buyer-seller forms prepared by counsel for sellers. In fact, software was only just emerging as a separate product and main-frames ruled the day. There used to be long debates between users and vendors about just what the term "source code" meant, much less user access to it.

Dick was a driven and very bright person. At age 11, he arrived in the U.S. from Holland with his mother, both of them survivors of the holocaust by the barest of margins. His father had not survived. Dick spoke not a word of English and was understandably undernourished after three years of literally living under a table in Northern Holland hiding from the Nazis by day and being a courier for the underground by night.

Knowing these things about him, he once shocked me when he described his early years in the U.S. as "excruciating." What I have just described is more than just excruciating. Dick’s U.S. existence had to be better than that.

Only later did I realize what an eloquent statement Dick had made about his own character. His boyhood in the U.S. was excruciating because of his brilliance, his need to get things done, and to get them done right. He arrived here young and ill equipped to meet his already high standards of performance. Lesser people might have excused shortfalls in their performance based on their wrenching experiences in Europe, lack of preparedness for life in the U.S. and knowing that even if they loafed along they were much better off here than in the Europe of that day. Not Dick. He just raised the bar higher to accommodate the improved situation and was pained by his inability to deliver up to his standards.

Those early years are probably also what gave Dick his deep appreciation for every moment of life and thus helped create the drive that served him (and those of us privileged to know him) so well.

In any case, Dick’s quickness and energy stood him in good stead. He eventually had a distinguished career at Columbia University and landed a job with IBM in 1955. By then he had married a fellow graduate student, Sonya. The first of their children, George, was born in 1956. Two others followed, Doug and Marja. Sid had two children, but they were with Dick and Sid on that fateful trip to Alaska.

Dick did a stint at Diebold and then, in 1964, struck out on his own by forming Brandon Applied Systems, Inc. That proved to be a very successful management and technical consulting firm for the next several years. In the late ’60s, Dick decided that he needed to get into publishing. He brought in a friend – Barry Nathan – then with Van Nostrand/Reinhold & Company, the eventual publisher of Dick and Sid’s book, to enter the publishing business as Brandon Systems/Press. The resulting capital requirements and the recession of the late ’60s conspired and eventually led to a Chapter XI filing by Brandon Applied Systems.

But that was only a momentary setback. Dick was not easily defeated. He and Charles P. Lecht – then President and Chairman of Advanced Computer Techniques Corp. - even had a widely publicized open debate. Eventually, Mr. Lecht and Dick created an affiliate of ACT called ACT-Brandon Inc. to continue Dick’s international management consulting and technical consulting. As the fact of a debate may suggest would be the case, ACT Brandon had a short run. Dick left about two years later for Brandon Consulting Group. There Dick once again flourished. He even created a U.K. offshoot called Brandon Information Systems that was eventually sold to NYNEX.

In 1977 or so, in addition to their other activities, Dick and Sid teamed up for about a three year run producing seminars with Joe Auer. Joe is still in that business and known as International Computer Negotiations or ICN. Joe and Charles E. Harris are co-authors of Major Equipment Procurement, published in 1983. Joe reports that it was Dick who suggested that Van Nostrand approach Joe to do such a book.

In 1981, Dick was quoted in a Business Week article to the effect that "As many as 500 [user vs. vendor] cases are now in the courts, 10 times more than a decade ago." Dick went on to mention that since most cases are settled before getting to court, such figures represented only the tip of the iceberg. That single quote found its way into numerous newsletters, articles and the like. It was about the only quantitative estimate respecting the growth of Computer Law that other authors could cite.

Dick’s brilliance and energy left those of us privileged to know him in awe. Sid seemed to be able to keep up with him. Most of the rest of us could not. Both were more than just early adopters of the automation mantra. Dick traveled with luminaries. Dick was technically gifted. He had an ability to pass that along in understandable terms to businessmen, and to lawyers such as Sid and myself. Dick had technical and management insights rare in those early days where few had the slightest idea what computers did and even fewer knew how to use them. Sid had the ability to absorb all that and cogently apply what was then a very fuzzy body of law.

But that was not all. Although always moving at 150 miles per hour, Dick and Sid had very human sides. They had time to take a callow young associate from Cadwalader under their wing and show him the ropes. They even gave him and the new PLI Computer Law program a boost by taking time out from incredibly busy schedules – the very schedule that led to Dick’s need to fly, to his eventual love of flying and ultimately to his and Sid’s untimely deaths – to be speakers. They willingly did so several times. That was at a time when they were running their own competing programs with Joe Auer. Moreover, as most members of the Association well know, speakers fees are all but unheard of on the CLE circuit, so they did this for love of their subject and the people with whom they found themselves. They also supported the Computer Law Association with mentions at their own programs as well as PLI’s. All this from men already luminaries in the emerging Computer Law business. They were focused on making the pie bigger rather than their own share of it.

They both also had family sides. Although by then divorced and always a very private person, Dick was very proud of his kids and told you so. Sid shared those traits. Typically, Dick would tell you in a staccato burst of specifics about George, Doug or Marja’s latest and greatest achievements. Sid would ramble on a bit more with corroborative details. As between Dick and myself, the subject of kids arose more frequently than with Sid. As a Columbia grad, Dick never missed an opportunity for some good natured provocation of me, a Princeton grad, with stories about the great achievements of his Yalie oldest son.

In sum, Dick’s vision and industry were unique among early proponents of computer technology and among all but a few of the early practitioners of what Association members know as Computer Law. Sid’s analytical ability and practical legal insights complemented Dick’s computer knowledge nicely at a time when application of the law to technology was at its earliest and least certain stages. Together they knew the computer business and the difficult technical, business, and legal issues and risks that it presented to vendors and users alike. They both knew how skillfully and cheerfully to teach those of us following them to address the issues and balance the risks.

They were very special people, professionals and pioneers in Computer Law to whom we all owe a great deal.

Daniel T. Brooks
April 15, 1996

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