One afternoon many years ago in New York City, I sat in a senior partner’s office on Wall Street. I was fresh from my second year of law school and close to the end of a summer internship at Milibank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, one of the oldest and most prestigious law firms in the the United States. The senior partner was John J. McCloy, a renowned lawyer. He was also the former United States High Commissioner of Germany following World War II and a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency. And he was a good story teller.
I don’t remember whether I invited myself in, or recieved an invitation. In any event I was privileged to spend most of the afternoon with Mr. McCloy. I was fascinated by all the things he had seen and done, and he rewarded my interest with his personal recollections and thoughts. Inevitably we came to what should be expected of a lawyer. Mr. McCloy said:
“People will come to you with their problems looking for advice, and they’ll pay you for it. Don’t wishy wash around with, ‘on the one hand and on the other.’ Tell them what they should do. That’s why you’re there.”
In Atlanta, Georgia a year later a dozen fledgling lawyers, including me, listened to Philip Alston’s remarks welcoming us to Alson, Miller & Gaines. Mr. Philip, as he was referred to by everyone, was a distinguished lawyer and a Southern gentleman. The firm is now Alston & Bird, one of the largest in the world. Mr. Philip said this:
“We practice good law here. We want you to do the same.”
All of us knew what he meant. We would know the law, we would be honest, we would give the firm’s clients sound advice. and we would represent them aggressively. At the same time we would be as polished and gracious as he was.
My mission statement rests on those two encounters with two great lawyers. I will know the law. I will be scrupulously honest. I will not leave clients with a list of options and no idea of which one to choose. I will tell them which one is best, and I will tell them what they should do. My advice will be prudent and economical. I will pursue their interests zealously. And I will behave like a gentleman, to my clients and to my professional friends and foes alike.