Archive for February, 2011


The Cravath Fee and Integrity in Law Practice

February 25th, 2011
Jim Thomas

In a statement of weight and insight, Walter Lippmann wrote that “virtue consists of holding fast to a principle when it is difficult or unprofitable.” the cardinal virtue of integrity–the one virtue many contend outranks all others–is exemplified in the following incident from the legal profession. It emanates from lawyer and client alike.

The law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore of New York city was, and is, one the country’s premier firms.  One or more upon information and belief, one or more of its founders served in the administration of president Abraham Lincoln.

Nelson a. Rockefeller was governor of New York from 1959 to 1973.  In 1962, he became involved in divorce proceedings with his spouse of 32 years.  He and Mary Todd Hunter Clark Rockefeller were parents of five children. Enormous wealth was at issue. Cravath represented the governor.

When the case closed, the firm  submitted a  final statement for services rendered.  The governor reviewed it—and if you can believe it—deemed it insufficient.  He requested a revised bill in a greater sum.

Cravath declined his request. Its lawyers informed the governor their statement, as submitted, “…fully compensates us for services performed.”

Converting Convictions into Realities: The Case of Herbert Birdsey

February 14th, 2011
Jim Thomas

Critical to performance with integrity is a willingness to act in accord with one’s convictions. This fundamental tenet is one of the big three, the other two being adherence to the truth and a willingness to stand and be counted when it counts.

 For a memorable example of conduct based on conviction, consider one from Macon, Georgia

In 1941 Herbert F. Birdsey was chief executive officer of Birdsey Flour Mills in Macon. A man of sterling character and Christian values, he became bitterly opposed to the rise of Fascism, the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler.

When World War II erupted, he was 35, far beyond draft age. He was also heavily burdened with business responsibilities. Nevertheless, he attempted to enlist. Because of his age several branches branch of service declined to accept; him. The Navy did enlist him, but when he came down with phlebitis he was discharged and denied readmission.

Undeterred he continued the effort. Finally the Merchant Marine took him. When friends and neighbors inquired why he was volunteering for military service he replied, “It’s time to act on the things I believe in.” 

He was aboard the liberty ship, the Richard H. Olney, in 1943 when a German submarine torpedoed it. Herbert was at work in the engine room. He was badly burned. He spent two years in treatment at Army burn centers on Sicily and at Savannah, Georgia. The war over, he collected an honorable discharge and quietly resumed his duties at Birdsey Flour Mills.

Did the man have integrity? Send me your comments…

Motivations for Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reasons at the Right Time

February 4th, 2011
Jim Thomas

In October 1972, Editors of The New York Times were asked to rank the great cardinal virtues. After due consideration, they determined that Integrity ranks first in importance. They wrote in an editorial announcing their decision that “With Integrity much is possible. Without it, nothing lasting can be achieved.” Legions of others from all walks of life agree with The Times.

Question: What is The First Great Virtue’s strongest motivation? It has more than one, of course. Reason, consciousness, will, pride, a streak of individuality are all factors. But, is there one that is weightier than others? The answer is “yes.”

None in power or usefulness exceeds the element of self-respect. Writing in the New Republic, Brad Blandshard concluded;

What above all else puts power into ideals, what sets the drive wheels of the moral engine securely in motion, is not a schedule of first dogmas of first and last things,, but the picture in one’s mind of something one has to be if one is to keep one’s self-respect. Self-respect if the most powerful of motives, for it is what no one can afford to lose; we try to be what we really admire because if we do not we despise ourselves.

Life, in its every dimension, requires making judgments. Self-respect is the inner belief that one has measured up to the task. Consequently, self-respect becomes the confidence that one has gained and established the capacity to achieve convictions, principles, and values. Self-respect manifests the individual has a good reputation with himself.

The breach of integrity diminishes one’s self-respect. Consider the person who stands by uncommitted when the very cause he favors comes under attack. Or, when the material question or issue comes to the fore, he who invokes the side step, the waffle, the dodge, or who then seeks to split the difference.

The state of one’s self-respect is determined across time, and the process is never ending. It is not—in most cases—the product of a single choice on a given issue. Similarly, the collapse of self-respect is not reached in a day, a week, or a month; it is the cumulative effect of a long succession of defaults, evasions, and avoidance—of making the right choice, the deliberate choice, at the right time, for reasons that will withstand scrutiny, for reasons that contribute to some extent to the greater good.