University of Chicago Law School
had only been at Ross, Hardies 11 months before I left for the Army. When I left the Army, I was convinced I’d forgotten whatever it was I might have learned in law school or Ross Hardies. As I started the new chapter of my working life at The Bradford Exchange, I began to see I’d gotten all of this wrong. I began to realize that the intellectually rigorous education of the University of Chicago Law School and the role models of its extraordinary faculty of the day, had ingrained in me fundamental habits of applying reason and logic to the messiest problems presented to me by my legal clients. I began to think of the practice of law as simply applying high level common sense to the most tangled legal problems faced by a business. While technical competence in the various laws that might underly a problem was an ongoing requirement, I learned that you can always take time to study and master that, but you always have to pour that learning through a sieve of common sense and a practical assessment of how other people and courts might deal with your insights and recommendations.
Ross, Hardies had represented Peoples Gas, utility magnate Samuel Insull’s flagship and Chicago’s major supplier of natural gas for its cold winters. It also had the Northwestern Railroad, a host of major automotive enterprises, and highly regulated electric and telephone utility companies for clients. Newly minted lawyers hired into law firms with these kinds of clients needed rigorous early training if there were to grow into valuable senior attorneys and partners at the firm. With the high fees able to be charged these large clients, the larger law firms were able to construct serious post- law school training programs for their youngins.
Because of this structure, and to my great lifelong benefit, I received a first-class education in post graduate legal skills at the very beginning of my career at Ross, Hardies. This meant learning how to pay close attention to the smallest of details and the ability to digest enormous mounds of paper in search of the rare legal truffle that might be hidden within. On the Do Not Under Any Circumstances side of this training, you were clearly warned of the consequences of errors of any sort or of any magnitude. The high end of the penalty scale was dismissal or perhaps denial of an expected bonus. These penalties tended to be reserved for obvious and unforgivable misstatements or misjudgments on legal matters. This went both to research provided by young associates to partners and, God forbid, having these no-nos presented to clients. The low end of the penalty scale, reprimands, and pedestrian legal assignments was reserved for poor proofreading and the consequent escape of misspellings and typographical errors in legal research memoranda or letters.
Though at the time I hadn’t thought I’d learned much of anything in my first legal job before entering the Army, in later years I realized that in fact I’d had a first-rate hands-on education.
It fell to me to organize the legal structure of Bradfords nascent international expansion in Europe. Working with outside lawyers specializing in international tax law exposed me a new area of expertise that would become particularly useful in later years when I served as General Counsel for Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. EB had probably 50 or so subsidiaries in many different countries of the world and a highly complex international organization both in how it was managed, and also in how its businesses were legally structured. The latter factor was in many cases at least partly driven by the desire to minimize the payment of taxes. Getting this part of a business right meant knowing the difference between tax avoidance, every person’s, or company’s natural goal and right, and tax evasion, which is illegal and can result in severe civil or even criminal penalties everywhere.