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.”

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