02 Feb #106 – Doing Right in Law “Without Faith”
ESSENCE: In a recent post we looked at a seeming anomaly–a secular business that appears to be faithfully “doing right” through business a better way (i.e., business as God intended in accordance with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities) seemingly without being faith-driven. In this post, we will highlight an example of what some cynics might say is an oxymoron–a law firm “doing right” without faith. A large Silicon Valley law firm reportedly chose to “do right” despite extreme pressure from a client to “do wrong or else”. Although we don’t know the real WHY behind their decision, we also don’t have any reason to conclude their decision did not come from that hard-wired, innate conscience that comes from being created in the image of God. The firm’s leaders made God’s Kingdom a bit more beautiful that day, whether they knew it or not. Whether or not consciously inspired by “faith”, leaders “doing right”–choosing beautiful–in business should be celebrated by the faithful as reflecting Imago Dei, and their choice should be held up as an example of business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities.
In post #104 (Business a Better Way “Without Faith”), we looked at a seeming anomaly–a secular business (SAS Institute) that appears to be faithfully “doing right” through business a better way (i.e., business as God intended in accordance with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities) without evidence of it being faith-driven.
In this post, we will highlight an example of what some cynics might say is an oxymoron–a law firm “doing right” without faith. This post was inspired by a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Cooley LLP and Elon Musk.
Case Study: Cooley
Cooley LLP is a big law firm:
1,500 lawyers (including 370 partners) spread globally across 17 offices.
3,000 total personnel.
Revenue of over $1.5 billion in 2020.
Cooley has long been one of a handful of quintessential “Silicon Valley” law firms, opening their first Silicon Valley office in 1980. Their website boasts that the firm advised on the formation of Raychem and National Semiconductor back in the 1950’s, took Genentech and Amgen public in the 1980’s and Qualcomm in the 1990’s.
Although rare in our experience for law firms, Cooley’s website has a section on “Vision and Values” (although you do have to look under “Careers” to find it). It says:
We don’t compromise on quality.
We are one firm.
We are ethical, fair and honest.
We take pride in our firm and its reputation.
We value diversity.
We give to our communities.
We strive for balance in our lives.
Cooley appears to be the type of firm that would love to land a client like Elon Musk and Tesla. It also appears that they had.
“Doing Right” Without Faith
Getting back to that Wall Street Journal article. On January 15, 2022, the Wall Street Journal published an online article titled “Elon Musk’s Tesla Asked Law Firm to Fire Associate Hired From SEC“, which appeared in the print edition on January 18. According to the Journal, a partner at Cooley received a call from a Tesla lawyer with a demand. Elon Musk wanted Cooley to fire one of it attorneys, and the Cooley partner was told that failing to fire the attorney would result in Cooley losing all of Tesla’s business. Apparently, the Cooley attorney targeted by Musk and Tesla is a former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer who interviewed Musk during an SEC investigation in 2018. The SEC investigation led to a $20 million fine and Musk stepping down from his chairmanship of Tesla. The lawyer was not involved in any Tesla matters at Cooley.
The Journal article goes on to say that Cooley declined to fire the attorney and there is evidence Musk was making good on his threat:
Since early December, Tesla has begun taking steps in several cases to replace Cooley or add additional counsel, legal documents show. Mr. Musk’s rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX, has stopped using Cooley for regulatory work, according to people familiar with the matter.
Sadly, in a world of business as usual, bullies often get their way, particularly wealthy, popular and powerful ones. It takes courage for a leader and an organization to do the “right thing”. Cooley did the “right thing”, despite the prospect of potentially significant economic detriment. But that is exactly what we said back in post #091 (Trust in God) is a requirement of Righteousness.
Righteousness is one of the components of Integrity (which is one of the two words that make up Integriosity®). Faithfully “doing right” through business a better way requires doing what’s right regardless of the personal cost, and a leader committed to faithfully “doing right” through business a better way will face challenges that require “doing right” in difficult circumstances.
It is exactly the example set by Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar gave Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego an ultimatum–“fall down and worship the image that I have made” or “you shall immediately be cast into the burning fiery furnace.” They did the “right thing” at the risk of death. Similarly, in Daniel 6, Daniel, knowing that praying to his God would be punished by the lion’s den, prayed anyway. James Hunter warns:
To enact a vision of human flourishing based in the qualities of life that Jesus modeled will invariably challenge the given structures of the social order. In this light, there is no true leadership without putting at risk one’s time, wealth, reputation, and position.
We can only guess why Cooley’s leaders chose to “do right” in the face of potentially significant financial harm. Perhaps it was purely a utilitarian cost-benefit analysis:
The harm done to employee morale and recruiting outweighed even the loss of one prized client.
The potential benefit in “reputation” of having done the “right thing” outweighed even the loss of one prized client.
On the other hand, perhaps it was a commitment to live out the firm’s values of being “ethical, fair and honest” and taking “pride in our firm and its reputation“. Or perhaps it is reflective of faith values of one or more of its leaders. While there is no indication that the decision was inspired by faith or conscious Biblical values, we talked in post #104 (Business a Better Way–“Without Faith”) about people having, in the words of Tim Keller, a “universal knowledge of God and of good“. C. S. Lewis wrote:
Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. . . . The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what every one, at bottom, had always known to be right.
To borrow a phrase, we “know in our knower” what Cooley did was “right” and what Musk and Tesla were doing was “wrong”. It doesn’t take faith or even knowledge of the Bible. We all know (even Musk and his Tesla lawyer somewhere deep down). We believe Cooley’s leaders just “knew” it was the right thing to do. What matters is that Cooley’s leaders had the courage and conviction to “do right”.
Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. (C.S. Lewis)
Celebrating Doing Right “Without Faith”
Although we don’t know the real WHY behind Cooley’s decision–and we have said over and over that WHY matters–we also don’t have any reason to conclude their decision did not come from that hard-wired, innate conscience–our “knower”–that comes from being created in the image of God.
Back in post #100 (Restore-World Beautified), we emphasized that everything we do–particularly every human interaction–can only do one of two things: (1) make the world at least a tiny bit more beautiful, or (2) make the world at least a tiny bit uglier. (Neutrality is a possibility, but missing an opportunity to beautify isn’t beautiful). We believe beautiful was God’s design when he created everything and declared it “very good”, and beautiful is where God is taking His Kingdom and what God calls us to live out each moment of each day.
Elon Musk and Tesla chose ugly. Cooley and its leaders chose beautiful. We believe human beings choosing beautiful comes from Imago Dei. Whether or not consciously inspired by “faith”, human beings choosing beautiful–choosing “doing right”–in business, particularly in the face of potential cost, should be celebrated by the faithful and held up as an example of business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities. It should be held up as an example of how God created each of us, regardless of our faith beliefs, to live as humans. Cooley’s leaders made God’s Kingdom a bit more beautiful that day, whether they knew it or not.
It is an example that should inform and inspire faithful leaders seeking to lead faithfully and other leaders seeking to understand that unidentifiable urge to “do right” against pressure to “do well”. Of course, faithful leaders are called and commanded to more than just following their “knower” from time to time–more than occasional waves of business a better way in a sea of business as usual.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): Back in 2018, I presented Integriosity at the Christian Legal Society National Conference (I believe every lawyer who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ should become a member of this extraordinary organization). In the spirit of the Integriosity step of RE-IMAGINE, I threw out some ideas on what a law firm faithfully “doing right” through business a better way might look like. Just for fun, imagine a law firm:
–Where all people feel like the firm “cares”
–Where all people feel valued for their unique contribution to the firm and its mission and not just for their billable productivity
–Where all people feel that their voice is valued in identifying areas of improvement and client service
–Where no “us-them” exists and all personnel (partners, associates, non-legal staff) feel like part of one community
–With a stated and inspirational vision and mission
–That ensures all personnel (and prospective personnel) understand the vision and mission
–Where people see the partners living out the vision and mission
–That regularly reinforces the vision and mission
–That recognizes personnel who exemplify the vision and mission
–With stated values it is prepared to live by
–That ensures all personnel (and prospective personnel) understand and “buy into” the values
–That ensures all other stakeholders (e.g., clients and vendors) understand the values and the firm’s commitment to them
–That puts the values in its engagement letters
–That regularly reinforces the values in the firm
–That recognizes personnel who exemplify the values
–That ensures people know they will be supported in upholding the values, even at the cost of a client
–That is prepared to terminate even the most productive partner who is unwilling to live by the values
–Where “should we do it” replaces “can we do it” in analyzing conflicts, taking on new clients, taking on new matters and advising clients on the best course of action
–Where all lawyers are valued based upon their contribution to a larger mission rather than merely their contribution to profitability
–Where caring for the faith, families and fitness of its personnel is valued more highly than potential additional profit
–Where lawyers pursue practice areas they love rather than those with the highest margins
–Where cases and assignments are taken based on what will maximize the flourishing of people internally and externally, while maintaining adequate profitability
–That is prepared to forgo a lucrative practice area, client, case or assignment that is contrary to its values
–That is prepared to forgo a lucrative practice area, client, case or assignment that would have an adverse impact on the flourishing of its personnel
–That is environmentally conscious in its use of natural resources as well as in its disposal
–That treats vendors fairly in negotiations
–That charges only fees clients feel are fair and reasonable
–That invests in its community
–That sets aside a percentage of its revenue or profit for charitable purposes
–Where supervisors intentionally try to create an environment where all personnel feel “connected” to the purpose of their work, to the firm and to each other
–Where there is a healthy balance between the emphasis of performance excellence and relational excellence
–Where all personnel understand and are energized by the culture
–Where the culture of the firm is explained clearly to prospective personnel
–Where everyone looks forward to Monday
–Where all people feel that their voice is valued in identifying areas of improvement and client service
–Where “do more good” replaces “do less harm” in HR, decision-making and allocations of firm resources
I can only imagine.