Richard Levick – From Eternity to Here

Editor’s Note:  Richard Levick is a loyal CommPRO friend and contributor.  We send him positive energy and much love.  Please contact Richard if you’d like to share your comments about this article. He is richard.levick@levick.com

 

“Ah death, a change of clothes.”
–The 14th Dalai Lama

The endless fields of amber grain. Valhalla so far in the distance it is, we are sure, just shy of eternity. Mortality, we have decided, is not for us. “Heaven can wait.”

I suppose old age and death are things that happen to others…at some point, and then only far in the future. We see it all the time, not the least of which is from the most judgmental among us. This current race to victimhood or pride over how patriotic, traditional, biblical, green, diverse, sexually identified, vegan, the most uncomfortable or whatever else it takes to win the imaginary contest has me thinking we are doing too much talking and not enough listening. It is not victimhood that suggests humanity but empathy and kindness – the two blessings that stem from asking the question, “How are you?” and then actually paying enough attention to heed the answer.

Maybe age, cancer and many other illnesses are not communicable diseases, as so many fear, but why take a chance? Let us discuss our victimhood ad nauseum while we largely ignore the aged (“OK, Boomer”), the infirm, the disabled and parents of the disabled. Let them suffer alone. We have our own victimhood to brag about.

When did advocacy lose empathy?

As spiritual writer and film maker John Harrigan wrote, “People need loving the most when they deserve it the least.” A tall order but a heck of a mission.

Age and infirmity most often teach a wisdom and humility that cannot be found in the latest email signature or rally cry. We are all on a limited runway. We just don’t know the distance. Maybe we should embrace our collective journey? Mortality—now there is a common theme.

When I was four, and then so many early ages thereafter, my quiet little world was filled with such a plethora of unexpected death that I thought it was fate, not theory. Sometimes overnight, sometimes after a protracted illness. Hope was always shattered but never eviscerated.

A few months ago I started having subtle, almost unnoticeable symptoms that could easily be confused with aging. Until they could not. The test results – blood, bone marrow, CT scans and so many more – started coming in, all “dark” as the oncologists and other specialists would say. It was palliative care, not cure, but remission can literally last decades so it is certainly not a likely death sentence.

When my life first fell apart 15 years ago, I asked myself how I could be a better person, what I could learn, how I could be more spiritual. Grace takes a lifetime or more; yet this time the results were so instantly in evidence that I was the one reassuring the medical teams. “Whatever it will be it will be and I accept it.” I am pretty sure it will be remission after six or eight months of chemotherapy and radiation, but it is not something I lose sleep over. Maybe the Hindus are right and we keep coming back until we get it right. Samsara. I would like that.

I am no little Buddha in training (though I humbly try). I am just a mortal man with all those many limitations, who has learned over the years to appreciate every little thing that surrounds me – the migrating birds, Beethoven, freshly baked bread, the beauty of an insect and a billion more formerly unnoticed gifts. I have learned the meaning of “enough,” something I only recently inherited from my late father. Contentment lies within, not the next purchase or conquest.

I am not sure what is out there – either in the universes of universes or the heavens themselves – but I am pretty sure that anything and everything is possible and that the certainty and bright lines we so desperately seek are answered by our faith, a dose of deniability and the strength we find in our connectedness and love, not our differences and judgment. In the end, what does it all matter if we have not practiced kindness and self-awareness?

Confession

The spirit is willing but the flesh is truly weak. I can no longer write my weekly columns or host my daily podcast for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal — which is a shame for so many reasons, not the least of which were all the remarkable guests from around the world and how we were soaring past 100,000 listeners annually, putting us in the top 10% of podcasts globally. But there is always gain in loss, so we are opening our weekly eNewsletter (circ: 55,000) to guests columnists. Just send your column to our Marketing Coordinator, Nicole Mailhoit at nmailhoit@levick.com with a bio line as well as your permission and we will do our best to run it. It is okay if it has run before, as long as it remains relevant and we have the proper permissions. The podcast will come back in time, too.

Ideas, like breath, are always welcome.

Today’s Final Thought

Eternity is what we make it, not what is handed to us.

Would it be me if I didn’t quote both The 14th Dalai Lama and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from The Terminator in the same column?

“I’ll be back.”

Richard Levick

Top podcasts and our first guest column:

The Art of War – Time Tested Corporate Crisis Strategies (Part I)

 

When Something is Lost, Something is Gained

 

An Unsung Hero: Rescuing Shirley Chisholm’s Life from Symbolism

 

 

 

 




Richard Levick – All The King’s Men…

Richard Levick - All The King's Men...

When there is a lack of honor in government,
the morals of the whole people are poisoned.”
– Herbert Hoover

In honor of Independence Day and our 500th podcast we dedicate it to the memory of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, the three Freedom Summer organizers murdered, June 1964.

I spent much of the July 4th holiday reading excerpts from speeches by American patriots, which sets the table for today’s column.

So much happened at the end of the most recent U.S. Supreme Court term that we are still digesting. It will take years—and endless litigation—to get our minds around it all.

In response, we are airing a series of programs on the daily podcast In House Warrior that I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal with lawyers and law professors to help absorb the extreme changes that have already begun to impact our collective lives. Our first show on the term appeared in last week’s issue, with Nicholas Nelson, an experienced litigator in the U.S. Supreme Court and appellate courts nationwide and Counsel at Faegre Drinker.

Of the two things that strike me the most about the series of earthshattering rulings, the first is Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which he cites 11 of his own opinions, 10 of them solo dissents in which no one—not even one of the other conservative justices—joined him. In his Dobbs concurrence, he argues that overthrowing nearly 50 years of settled law and Roe v. Wade was not enough. He suggests that the Court reconsider marriage equality, LGBTQ rights, access to contraception, privacy and substantive due process—the doctrine which allows courts to establish and protect certain fundamental rights from government interference, even if the rights are not enumerated elsewhere in the U.S. Constitution.

Justice Thomas is more honest than his brethren, Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote that Dobbs is limited to Roe. All of these cases are built upon each other—and they are a stone’s throw from the 14th Amendment. You cannot pull the Dobbs thread as written without pulling at all of these rights.

The second is the irony of Justice Thomas’s call to review Obergefell v. Hodges—the right to same sex marriage. Obergefell cites Loving v. Virginia—the landmark 1967 unanimous civil rights decision where the Court ruled that laws banning interracial marriage violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment—no less than three times. Of all the things Ginni Thomas is losing sleep over these days, I wonder if this is on her radar?

Following Justice Thomas’ reasoning to its logical conclusion is as frightening as it is honest. Over 30 years he has, largely alone, written dissents which now serve as his guidepost instead of stare decisis. In other words, he does not look to 246 years of jurisprudence for direction, but in the mirror.

For companies trying to adjust to the speed and depth of legal changes, the best advice I can give is to study three decades of Justice Thomas’ dissenting opinions. He has gone from “the silent Justice” to arguably the most powerful, and in his dissents are the tea leaves of what is to come.

I very much appreciate that as of this writing, 119 U.S. companies—from American Express to Starbucks—have expanded their reproductive health benefits or offered travel reimbursement to employees in states with partial or full abortion bans. Others can learn more about options on the Rhia Ventures website. But at the speed with which this Court substitutes stare Thomas for stare decisis on a host of issues, how do companies hope to remain true to their missions and keep employees, customers and shareholders happy without being thrust into the political melee?

Looking Backward to Look Forward

Five days after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson told Congress: “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.”

And so he did. Johnson celebrated the bill’s deep bipartisan support, which passed with more than two thirds of the lawmakers in Congress. On July 2nd, 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. He went on television shortly thereafter “to talk to you about what that law means to every American.”

“One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week, a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom—not only for political independence, but for personal liberty; not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men.

Those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning…. Americans of every race and color have died in battle to protect our freedom. Americans of every race and color have worked to build a nation of widening opportunities. Now our generation of Americans has been called on to continue the unending search for justice within our own borders.

The purpose of the law is simple. It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others. It does not give special treatment to any citizen…. It does say that…those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public.

Its purpose is not to punish. Its purpose is not to divide, but to end divisions—divisions which have lasted all too long. Its purpose is national, not regional. Its purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom, a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human dignity.

We will achieve these goals because most Americans are law-abiding citizens who want to do what is right. My fellow citizens, we have come now to a time of testing. We must not fail.”

In celebration of our 500th In House Warrior program, (now ranked as one of the top 15% of all podcasts globally), I interviewed former federal prosecutor and former President of the Black Women Lawyers of Greater Chicago, Kalia Coleman, a partner with Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila. From childhood she was inspired by Justice Thurgood Marshall and the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which she first learned about in sixth grade. It was, as she put it, “the first time I understood the power of persuasion that a lawyer possesses.” She also discussed the significant influence her partner, Judge Patricia Brown Holmes, and the appointment and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson have had on her life.

These bells cannot be unrung.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
– 
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address November 19, 1863

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again”

Enjoy the shows and happy Independence Day.

Richard Levick

This week’s podcasts include:

Former Federal Prosecutor & Former President of the Black Women Lawyers of Greater Chicago, Kalia Coleman

Protecting & Enabling Your Global Revenue Stream

A New Approach to IP




Richard Levick – Let Her Sing

Let Her Sing

Photo by Addison Scurlock, modified for LEVICK blog

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

How do we find the strength to keep going? I know from so many recent conversations that I am not the only one to have those days when the fatigue will not dissipate and getting out of bed feels like fighting gravity.

Collectively, we have started to appreciate what was once unimaginable—the pain and anguish of our grandparents and great grandparents, who, if they were born at the right time and right place, spent their first 50 years suffering through the Great San Francisco earthquake, World War I, the 1918 flu epidemic, the Great Depression and World War II. If they were lucky, over that time they got maybe a decade of prosperity which must have felt like an aberration.

If 9/11 and Covid burst our collective sense of security, then the last few years have rocked our very sense of hope. We have been shocked to learn we are not immune. Mass murders in Buffalo, Uvalde and 300 more shootings over Memorial Day weekend alone, killing 130 people; January 6th; George Floyd; economic fears; the war in Ukraine; the greatest existential threat to democracy since the Civil War; and, of course, endless Covid and its health care, supply chain and economic disruptions. To say the least, it has not been an easy time.

When my father returned from the Korean War, still a young man, he understandably found it hard to date. He had seen too much. The loss of so many friends, sometimes standing next to him when they were blown away. After some years, he met and married a beautiful and wonderful woman who gave him renewed hope and my sister and me. As life is often cruel and unfair, at 25, she passed away suddenly on Christmas Eve, 1961. A few days after the funeral, he went with my mother’s parents, my six-year-old sister and the four-year-old me to Atlantic City, then a quiet town, to spend some time mourning and beginning the long, slow process of recovery.

Poolside, my father saw a priest and asked if they could walk together, “Even though we are of different faiths.” When my father asked the priest how—after he had witnessed so much carnage in Korea and now the sudden loss of his young wife—he could keep going, the priest stopped and turned my father around. He pointed to my sister and me and said, “You don’t have a choice. You keep going for them.”

Hope is where we find it.

Victor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, writer and Holocaust survivor developed the theory of Logotherapy—“The search for meaning even amidst suffering can constitute a potential solution to human suffering.” In a word, hope.

One hundred years ago this week, we dedicated the Lincoln Memorial to Abraham Lincoln, “The Great Emancipator.” Just over a decade after its opening, the Daughters of the American Revolution, in an act that lives in infamy, denied African American opera singer Marian Anderson the opportunity to perform close by in DAR Constitution Hall because of her race. Not to bend to injustice, Howard University, Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR, United States Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and others worked their political muscle, and on April 9, 1939, she sang from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 people—25 times the capacity of Constitution Hall. To injustice, we respond.

On those days when fear strikes and oppression overwhelms us, listen to Marian Anderson sing Ave Maria from those steps. This is what it sounds like to hear the angels sing.

From the embattled steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine and the 21 crosses in front of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas to D.C. Police Officers Daniel Hodges, Eugene Goodman, Mike Fanone and Christina Laury who defended our Capitol on January 6th and the hundreds of unsung frontline Covid healthcare heroes, it is our job to offer solace, see the best and keep hope alive.

Rejoice in the music and be your best self. You are needed.

Richard Levick




Richard Levick –The Middle Road

Richard Levick - The Middle Road

“I was lyin’ with my mess-mates on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
Says I “Now listen up me boys”, each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear
“He’s singin’ bloddy well you know”, my partner says to me
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony
The cannons rested silent. The gas cloud rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war
As soon as they were finished a reverent pause was spent
‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’ struck up some lads from Kent
The next they sang was ‘Stille Nacht”. “Tis ‘Silent Night’” says I
And in two toungues one song filled up that sky”

— John McCutcheon’s song Christmas in the Trenches about the World War I Christmas Soccer Truce on the Western Front

Each year we produce a Year-In-Review eBook with a theme based on the year that was, filling it with our 50-or-so columns and hundreds of podcasts. 2021 seems to be about learning to live with loss — with nearly 5.5 million people worldwide dying of Covid-19. It was also a year for Americans and others in democratic nations to think the unthinkable: Will democracy survive?

As someone who has suffered great loss in this lifetime, the key lesson I have learned is that acceptance and adaptation — not revenge — is the path that works. But history is a long arc measured in eons, not a single lifetime, so perspective and certainty are a challenge. I suspect we know as much about the heavens as an ant does about humanity.

Although I never voted for him, one of the things I always admired about President Ronald Reagan was that he never took his suit jacket off in the Oval Office. He had too much respect for the institution and its symbols. I have never been much of a rule follower myself. Growing up in the shadow of the anti-Vietnam War protests and living in Washington, DC when Woodward and Bernstein were first writing about a break-in at the Watergate, I had a tangled relationship with authority. It turns out that symbols, manners, kindness and soft power — mean something. In fact, they mean more than something. They are the glue of civilizations.

I have always been a change advocate, working for Ralph Nader organizations as a first career decades before environmental and conservation measures were “cool.” But with something gained is always something lost. I remember the family-owned convenience stores in the 1970s asking how they could safely and cleanly store returnable bottles if the government was going to mandate them. Long before the era of superstores, it was a concern that could mean the difference between profit and loss for these local businesses. Today, as much as I like the idea of electric cars, I worry about the 85% of electric cars in Asia powered by dirty coal from China and the new minerals war shaping up over cobalt. It will not end well for the Congolese who will either do the mining under harsh conditions or be forced to move off their ancestral land with little or no consideration. At the risk of repetition, for everything gained, something is lost.

I think this is one of the reasons the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela sought change “via media” — the Latin phrase meaning “the middle road.” It is an aphorism for life which advocates moderation in all thoughts and actions. As Aristotle wrote, “moderation is the essence of wisdom.”

2021 started with the violent January 6th insurrection — nothing short of a presidential coup — and has ended with Covid-19 fatigue. We are fighting over masks and vaccines for heaven’s sake. The conversation is about individual liberties when it should be about shared responsibilities.

It seems we have all taken our jackets off when really, we should be doing the exact opposite. Fully stopping at stop signs, being kind to our neighbors, opening doors for strangers, listening before speaking or judging. Simply because the internet gives us newfound power of publication and amplification does not mean we should.

The late Harry Reid grew up without indoor plumbing and an alcoholic, violent and suicidal father. He would grow up to serve 12 years as one of the longest tenured Senate Majority Leaders. In America, everything could still be possible. It is a remarkable experiment in self-rule and well worth our dedication.

In late December 1890, 300 peaceful and cooperative Lakota men, women and children were gunned down with three mountain guns — the precursor to the machine gun — at the Massacre at Wounded Knee. 131 years later we still live with the shame of this tragedy committed by hung-over members of the Seventh Calvary seeking revenge for the death of General George Armstrong Custer 14 years earlier. This road to the extremes does not lead us where we want to go.

Via media. We need to find the middle way or be condemned to replace one injustice with another.

Peaceful process may be boring, make few headlines and be slow and plodding, but it is also the magic of long-lived societies.

In the linked eBook you will read essays about the news of the day for the past year and find links to more than one hundred of 2021’s most popular podcasts that we hosted on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, sharing views on dozens of issues from all points of view. Hopefully they are helpful and instructive. Some may even be inspiring.

Over the past week, we kicked off 2022 with new podcasts guests who, in fact, are finding via media.

David Bodanis, a New York Times best-selling author, spoke about his new book, The Art of Fairness: The Power of Decency in a World Turned Mean which seems like an essential read for what is likely to be a bumpy ride in 2022.

Danny Heitman, the editor of Phi Kappa Phi’s Forum magazine, an award-winning columnist who frequently writes for The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, Washington Post and others, discussed the joys and lessons learned from writing obituaries – an unusual but powerful source of daily inspiration.

On how to build for the future, my old friend, Dr. Habib Al Mulla, a partner at Baker McKenzie and one of the UAE’s most highly respected legal authorities, joined me for a show. He is a key architect of Dubai’s financial free zones, the legal framework establishing the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and how Dubai became a leading center for Foreign Direct Investment.

Looking forward, Kirk Nahra, a partner at Wilmer Hale and Co-Chair of both their Big Data and Cybersecurity and Privacy practices and a leading authority on privacy and cybersecurity matters for more than two decades, spoke about privacy and security laws and trends for 2022. He covered what to expect in state and international regulation; best practices for avoiding privacy and security investigations and how to navigate them when they occur; the unique challenges of privacy issues in health care; and career opportunities.

Looking backward, Chip Jones, author of The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South and winner of the 2021 Library of Virginia Literary Award for Nonfiction, discussed the tragic true story of Bruce Tucker, a middle-aged African American family man, who had his heart and kidney harvested after an accident, without consent or even notification to his family and before he was clinically dead. To those who wish to curtail or outlaw freedom in teaching, it is yet another lesson on the importance of learning from our history so that we do not repeat it.

Maybe 2022 can be the beginning of our own “Christmas soccer truce,” practiced for more than one day. Imagine.

“Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them in a great measure, the Law depends. The Law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Matters are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their while form and color to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.”

— Edmund Burke

Happy New Year.

Enjoy the shows.

Richard Levick

Download the eBook

Listen to The Art of Fairness

Listen to The Golden Age of Obituary Writing

Listen to The Miracle of Dubai

Listen to Big Data, Privacy and Security

Listen to The Stolen Heart




Richard Levick – The Message vs. The Truth

The Message vs. The Truth

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.
If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

– Emily Post

Early this morning I had the opportunity to give a keynote address and moderate a panel for the Law Firm Marketing Summit in London on Brand Authenticity: The Message vs The Truth. It was, of course, a great deal of fun, with a terrific panel on Multidisciplinary Perspective on Brand Authenticity.

We make our money usually by defending companies and countries in the court of public opinion, so I am reluctant to criticize companies and feed the beast; but truth, as they say, demands honesty. If there is a “versus” between your truth and your message, you are not authentic. Fish rots from the head and so do organizations. There is no more current example of a company struggling with the versus between its message and the truth than Facebook, which is having a bad fortnight, including a long outage, a brilliant and highly critical multi-part Wall Street Journal series, leaks, an exceedingly articulate and sympathetic whistle blower, congressional hearings and more.

Facebook has been using the same communications playbook for years, which includes three parts: 1) Denial and shock; 2) Diversion – ‘Look at all the good things we are doing;’ and 3) A promise to do better the next time. A promise seldom kept.

If Facebook was a movie, it would be Casablanca with Captain Renault on an endless reel. I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! Is it any surprise that Facebook’s algorithms are modeled on gambling algorithms?

If we want to come across as authentic, we have to be, well, authentic. This means that communications is never about spin, it is about fixing the problem – saying and doing the right things.

The key question at our session and for many large defense law firms is, “We are increasingly criticized for the work we do and the clients we represent. Do we stay neutral or do we evaluate our work politically?”

I keep thinking of those law students at Harvard, Yale, New York University and other elite law schools who last year threatened to boycott Paul Weiss because they represent Exxon, a contributor to – and for a long time, a denier of – global warming. Even though I spent my first career as an environmental lobbyist and community organizer, working on dozens of issues designed to protect the environment, I found myself offended by, rather than sympathetic to, the students’ protests.

The difference between democracy and mob rule is the rule of law. And the bedrock of the rule of law is that everyone deserves legal representation – a tenet so early recognized as essential to our Republic that John Adams defended Captain Thomas Preston and the eight British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre. Even though Adams bitterly hated the British cause, his commitment to justice and due process for all prevailed.

Like the opening shot at the battles of Lexington and Concord, the students’ protest was a shot heard around the law firm world today. Increasingly, large defense law firms are asking if their own brands will be tarnished by their clients’ reputations. This is an issue that companies need to wrestle with. But law firms?

What, pray tell, would Paul Weiss have done decades ago about its groundbreaking representation – often pro bono – in Brown v. Board of Education; of Thurgood Marshall; on early LGBTQ rights cases? They are the first law firm where Jews and gentiles practiced together. That’s right. This too was a barrier that needed to be broken. At the time, unpopular issues, all.

Were we to judge the protesting students by their own criteria – one strike and you’re out – we would find that they singled out a pioneering law firm that – long before it was popular – stood for civil and gay rights and helped to end religious discrimination in the practice of law. Sometimes the mirror is more powerful than the sword.

What can defense law firms do? The recent letter, quickly signed by more than 60 national firms condemning lawsuits targeting special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), is an example of how the legal industry can come together…and quickly.

Until then, global law firms will make their representation decisions on a variety of factors – ethics, conflicts, skill, etc. – but law firms should steer away from making decisions based on whether something is politically popular. Already, approximately three quarters of American college students are afraid to say what they are really thinking for fear of being castigated by those who disagree with them politically – an incredibly powerful form of prior restraint, also known as mob rule. We will rue the day when law firms make their client decisions under the same pressures. Will no one take the next Brown?

Each of the panelists – and the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Legal Post – was kind enough to appear on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal.

Bendita Cynthia Malakia is a former large law firm lawyer and in-house counsel at two global financial institutions who now leads Hogan Lovells’ global DEI strategy with the aim of ensuring that historically underrepresented professionals can thrive. She is a catalyst for underrepresented colleagues to be their authentic selves in the workplace and for others to structure for their development and success, including working across differences to create community – by building systems, inspiring investment and cultivating connections.

Legal rebel Michele DeStefano – Professor at the University of Miami School of Law, affiliated faculty at Harvard Law School Executive Education and Founder and Director of LawWithoutWalls – discussed the practice of law, legal education, law firm recruitment and the importance of humility, inclusivity and risk.

James Batham, a partner at Eversheds Sutherland in London, discussed his approach to selling long term “annuity” clients, which involves active listening and a “you, we, I” approach, which centers on the clients’ needs and not the lawyer’s expertise. As James says, “You can never ask the client enough questions.”

Moray McLaren, founder of Lexington, a premier global legal consulting firm, talks about the latest challenges for law firms including resilience, price sensitivity, doing too well during COVID-19, an age of unhappy but well-compensated associates, new competition and more.

Kenny Robertson is the In-House Lawyer of the Year at the 2018 Law Awards of Scotland who heads the Outsourcing, Technology & IP legal team at the Royal Bank of Scotland. He spoke candidly about what law firms get right and get wrong in their effort to be more technologically savvy and how they can improve their services to clients.

Global Legal Post Editor-in-Chief John Malpas, a longtime British, European and Chinese law firm journalist, discussed law firm challenges from fees and growth to ESG and DEI. He also spoke about the issue of law firms increasingly being criticized or lauded for the positions they take or don’t take.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Stephen Covey

Enjoy the shows.

Richard Levick

Listen to Getting DEI Right

Listen to Michele DeStefano, Legal Rebel

Listen to Brand Authenticity and the Law Firm

Listen to Law Firms and the Next Frontier

Listen to The Struggle for Law Firms to Get Technology Right

Listen to The View From Europe




Richard Levick on the Great Middle

Richard Levick on the Great Middle

“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”

– Confucius

From my days in Hebrew School, I always thought Hillel the Elder had said this first, but it turns out that Confucius, who celebrates a birthday today, wrote it about 500 years before Hillel. It is the Golden Rule, though I am not sure how many of us follow it very closely. We tend to judge others by what they say and ourselves by what we intend.

In law school, we learned that the law was not supposed to be outcome determinative but instead, to be applied neutrally so that the precedent established by the past could apply evenly to the future. I believe this is the highest calling of the Supreme Court, though it increasingly appears – as Chief Justice Roberts loses his argument on the criticality of process – to be a standard that this Court has little interest in meeting. A politicized Court will have its pyrrhic victories, but at exorbitant expense.

Jefferson’s idealization of the First Amendment was based on Socratic debate. Through the parlay of ideas we reach a higher, compromised understanding. Not something we do very well anymore in an atomized, increasingly technological world which monetizes disagreement.

I was thinking a lot about these issues more particularly this past week after three shows I did on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal.

The first was with author and old friend Charles Slack, who ghostwrote one of my books and is the author of four other books, most recently, Liberty’s First Crisis: Adams, Jefferson and the Misfits Who Saved Free Speech. It is the story of how John Adams – a Founding Father, mind you – would find the First Amendment too robust once he attained power as President in 1796. He would sign the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, outlawing seditious speech critical of the government. For those who cling to the legal theory of “original intent,” please note that a mere seven years after the 1791 adoption of the First Amendment, the Adams administration felt sufficiently threatened by their opposition that they passed the Act. It placed even alcohol-induced criticism overheard by a barkeep as ‘scandalous and malicious’ and worthy of imprisonment. For the feminists among us, it is worth noting that my personal hero, Abigail Adams, was a significant proponent of the Act. None of us, it seems, meet our current standards of perfection.

It is not too fine a point to make that if the law were not overturned, the United States of America would not exist. No unfettered freedom of speech, no City on the Hill.

The 1798 Act was driven by a new government too insecure to face criticism for fear it would rise into a serious political challenge. While the law was overturned a mere two years later, the fear remains. Today’s hottest political divide is driven by a conservative minority who increasingly finds it necessary to limit the voting power of those who do not look like them and by a left who describes unliked speech as “dangerous” and therefore cancelable. One is suppression by the government; the other, prior restraint by the masses. Democracy thrives in the middle.

On another equally sensitive issue, I was reading a recent column by Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, a self-described conservative, and publisher and editor of the Hillsboro, Ohio Times-Gazette, which was one of the few newspapers to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2016.

He wrote a column called Tighter abortion restrictions may really indicate the law is finally catching up to science, that was neither for nor against abortion but raised the question of science and viability – a central tenet in the Roe v. Wade decision. In essence, the 1973 Court ruled that without viability, a woman’s right to choose was largely unencumbered. With today’s science able to roll back the viability clock further and further Gary wondered if the reasoning on Roe can survive.

My own view of abortion is more closely aligned with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Courageously, she said at her 1993 confirmation hearing, “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

However, my fear of the limits of the majority opinion in Roe is based on Justice Sandra Day O’Conner’s critique of Roe in a dissenting opinion in a 1983 case around the prediction that the date of fetal viability was inevitably moving backward due to the advancement of science: “The Roe framework is clearly on a collision course with itself.” Texas notwithstanding, that moment seems to have arrived.

The third show of the week was with Hugh Hurwitz, who was appointed to serve as the Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in May 2018. In this role, he was responsible for leading the operation of one of the largest correctional systems in the world, including oversight of 122 prison facilities, 36,000 staff and approximately 177,000 inmates.

For a time, though separated by a few years, our careers were somewhat parallel, with both of us graduating from The American University’s Washington College of Law and clerking at the BOP. What struck me most about the show was how much Hugh would at times sound almost like an ACLU prisoners’ rights attorney. His belief in the core of the mission – 80% of federal prisoners returning to society – was at the center of all of his comments. And, he noted, this is only done through opportunity, resources and programs.

The three shows reminded me that democracy is best brewed in the middle; that speech, however uncomfortable, is not dangerous; and that all of us deserve second chances, if not more.

After Justice Thurgood Marshall’s retirement in 1991, Sandra Day O’Conner published an essay about her deep appreciation of and affection for Justice Marshall with whom she had served for ten years. Justice Marshall was “constantly pushing and prodding us to respond not only to the persuasiveness of legal arguments but also to the power of moral truth.” Good advice for all of us.

Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick

Listen to Cancel Culture 1798

Listen to Science & Abortion

Listen to The Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke & Brubaker Mythology




Richard Levick Shares the Golden Moment

The Golden Moment

“Community is a safe place precisely because
no one is attempting to heal or convert you, to fix you, to change you.
Instead, the members accept you as you are.”

– M. Scott Peck

You would have liked my father. He seemed to have a lama’s sense of proportion. Never one to be caught in the endless status wars, he was content. He understood the meaning of the word “enough” and was truly happy. It was never about the next thing; it was about us, in this moment.

Today is five years since he passed, and nearly 15 since we lost his wit and wisdom – but not his love – to dementia. I am not unique on this journey of separation, but we are all alone. Each goodbye that is forever has its daily reminders, not the least of which is the beacon of wisdom our late parents provided for us. They had a way, with just a few words, to lift the veil of confusion and illuminate the road to recovery.

In crisis, it seems, we are all orphans, seemingly alone in our conflict and confusion. And when it comes to public crises? We are either dealing with a firehose of far too much information all at once, or just the drip, drip, drip of too little information to know anything with certainty. The first one plays out on the most public of stages, the latter, initially, painfully alone.

At some point in an emerging crisis there is the fidelity question: to whom are we most loyal – the complainant? The institution? Ourselves?

This phase of chaos, of confusion, is an agonizing one. That period when we are confronted with minimal facts but a sense that something is amiss; when two equal and competing goals come into conflict; when we know the right thing but lack the courage to do it.

These are the moments that faith has prepared us for. Either we have the internal strength, or we do not. Either we do the right or the easy thing.

I just interviewed my old friend, Shan Wu, on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal. Shan is a partner with Cohen Seglias, a former federal prosecutor, and a CNN Legal Analyst. We discussed last week’s Capitol Hill hearing with Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles and three other elite gymnasts on the mishandling of the sexual abuse claims against Larry Nassar.

Shan asked the compelling question, “Does the inaction by multiple parties give rise to consideration of RICO sex trafficking charges against officials who facilitated and enabled Larry Nassar’s abuse of children and young women?” It is an important question and could mean that the legal journey for many involved who should have known better may not be over.

After our show, I kept thinking of what in crisis communications is known as the “golden moment,” usually early in a crisis when what you do next matters most. I keep wondering: what was in the minds of the executives at USA Gymnastics as they slowly gathered more and more information, as they heard more accusations? Of the FBI agents, whose job it was to investigate? Or of the fourteen – fourteen – administrators at Michigan State University who heard the growing accusations but decided to defend the institution, not the victims? I have a great love for MSU, going back nearly 45 years, but mission number one at a university is always in loco parentis. And yet, person after person forgot.

Of all people – having had a front row seat at thousands of global crises from Yemen to the Miami condo collapse – I fully appreciate that majority opinion is often wrong; that what first appears to be the case may not be; that the first news articles in a crisis frequently get crucial facts wrong and not all accusations are accurate. Accusations, in fact, have their own momentum, their own version of Stockholm Syndrome when people pile on. But this does not mean we ignore them, discount them or belittle the complainants, especially when they are children and young women, barely old enough to be away from home. Accusations demand investigation.

None of us have the superpower of the wizard Merlin in Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th century novel, Le Morte d’Arthur – the foundation of the Arthurian legend. Merlin lived backwards which allowed him to be certain of the future. He knew that Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere and his love for his best friend Lancelot would create a triangle which would ultimately lead to the destruction of the kingdom but could do nothing to prevent it.

For the rest of us, we have to play out the future in real time, but ironically have more power than Merlin, for all his magic. We can change the future if we act.

I also interviewed Tom Nichols, professor at the U.S. Naval War College, adjunct professor at the U.S. Air Force School of Strategic Force Studies, and the author of Our Own Worst Enemy: The Assault From Within on Modern Democracy, to discuss the fallacy of critics of liberal democracy on both the left and the right. We have gone from The Greatest Generation to Brave New World in a remarkably short period of time. Rather than make sacrifices for America, we sacrifice each other.

We have become an attention economy and fight over a new status – the status of our politics, our environmental footprints, our level of alleged wokeness, our anti-racism, our levels of self-aggrandized righteousness, even our own unchangeable pasts. Three quarters of college students now say they refrain from sharing their actual opinion for fear of public shaming and worse. As matriculated adults, we no longer do either, unless it is through the perceived anonymity of our social channels. “Shame, shame” we write with so much frequency as to suffer carpal tunnel. Judgment is the new opiate of the masses.

Being effectively human is such a hard thing to do, especially in the moments that matter most. In our rush to eliminate debate and criticism we have missed the fact that the collateral damage is an ordered society. Debate and constructive criticism are neither dangerous, toxic or patriarchal. They are the foundation of education, the rule of law and democracy. They are how we arrive at the best decisions, how we learn and how we change. In the 1960s we marched and sang “Give peace a chance.” This is how we handled peace?

I also interviewed Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky, author, historian and Scholar in Residence at the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies at Iona College and author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of An American Institution. Dr. Chervinsky’s book is receiving rave reviews, not the least of which from noted historian Ron Chernow. She discussed the power and risks of norms and customs, the fact that the Founding Fathers did not believe in “originalism” – George Washington, for example, was already debating the intent and power of the Senate in his first six months in office – how the first Cabinet worked and the divisive power of their differences.

It turns out that much of what we think we know about early American history is often inaccurate. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.”

What we are certain of is often wrong and what we don’t know, our subconscious does. Let us be less interested in changing everyone else and spend more time on ourselves so we can be ready for our own golden moments rather than criticizing everyone else for theirs.

Enjoy the shows.

Richard Levick

Listen to Is RICO Next for Larry Nassar’s Enablers?

Listen to Our Own Worst Enemy

Listen to The Cabinet – George Washington and the Creation of An American Institution




Richard Levick – Unplugged with Michael Caputo

Unplugged with Michael Caputo

 

“How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fishbowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here”

– Roger Waters & David Gilmour of Pink Floyd

Almost 40 years ago I was reading a short story by Jerzy Kosiński – the Polish novelist most famous for his novel Being There – about a protagonist who is drowning in the opening scene, only to find an island, where he builds a simple but sustainable life by his shipwrecked self. In the final scene, we realize that the only real scene in the story is his drowning and that his safety on the island was his imagination in his final minutes. The power and detail of this last illusion is so extraordinary that I can recall exactly where I was as I finished the story. Some scenes – real or imagined – we never forget.

What if – just as Kosiński’s protagonist – we could live a lifetime in the minutes it took to drown? Maybe that is why sleep becomes so elusive as we age, ruminating in the gloaming on the millions of decisions large and small which make up a lifetime. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet would soliloquize, “To sleep, perchance to dream.”

Isn’t that the demarcation of adulthood: the arrival of regrets; the search for forgiveness, redemption, and deliverance? What happens when our lives take a sudden turn? We read the news filled with stories of instant internet billionaires made to appear like Lipton soup. Just add water. An entire generation of entrepreneurs believes, as the National Lottery song goes, “This could be you.”

While many of us are fortunate enough to experience varying degrees of success, few enjoy the rocket-like propulsion of instant, glorious and permanent accomplishment that these narratives would have us revere. For most of us, life is a series of pendulums where we swing from success, health and happiness to the evisceration of one or more of these things. What happens when it all disappears at once? When the reality is the drowning and not the dream?

I hadn’t thought about that Kosiński story in years until I spoke with Michael Caputo, the former Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration. Michael was widely – and often incorrectly – criticized for his communications of the roll out of the federal government’s COVID-19 response. He was, among other things, instrumental in the branding and the communications of Operation Warp Speed. He joined me this week for a two-part interview on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal.

Michael has gone almost incommunicado – an unusual state for a lifelong professional spokesperson. Since leaving the White House, he has been living in an undisclosed location and has given only one substantive interview – a 7,000 word profile in Politico called “It Nearly Killed Me” – and now In House Warrior. He will do one more broadcast and then go back into isolation. Washington, DC – the town of the long knives – and a vitriolic internet will do that to you.

But it’s worse still. He is in isolation for safety reasons. He was used to some of the violence engaged against him – the media criticism and the public shaming – but soon came death threats, not only against him but against his family. I can tell you, as a recipient of death threats for some of our international work, there is an enormous difference between the idle threats and the ones where you are pretty certain they are watching you…and your family.

He left the Administration in literally an instant, after a doctor sitting in his HHS office noticed, solely by chance, an abnormality in his neck. He went to the hospital immediately and learned that he had a potentially fatal metastatic head and neck cancer originating in his throat. He went through state-of-the-art treatment that was simultaneously lifesaving and nearly medieval, which included a mask over his face bolted down to a gurney so that he could not move during treatment.

It resulted in 45 days in which he could not breathe without manual assistance every nine minutes. That meant not sleeping for more than nine minutes for six straight weeks, and what little sleep he could get would be interrupted at the nine-minute mark with the panic of choking to death.

He lost nearly 100 pounds in the process and almost gave up until a dream with a white light and a message gave him renewed hope. As Michael says, you “Can’t help not trying to drown when you’re drowning.”

I keep trying to imagine what those six weeks must have been like. The only thing I can think of to give us deeper empathy is a passage in John Matthews’ journal, the late 1780’s surveyor and pioneer in the Northwest Territory. He woke up one morning while on an encampment to two gunshots, one of which found its mark in the bare chest of the man next to him, just arising from his own slumber. “Oh God. I have been killed,” were his crewmate’s last words. Imagine living just long enough to articulate your fate and reliving that moment, every nine minutes, seven days a week for 45 days. That’s 7,200 moments of panic and near-death experiences.

Since recovering, he has deepened his spiritual commitment and decided to remake his life. “Stress gives you cancer,” he says, and he had way too much stress. He is in divinity school now and has chosen neither anger nor denial, but instead a painful but redeeming search for answers.

I don’t recall how I met Michael, though it was after the presidential campaign in which he had worked for Donald Trump and before he would be appointed to his HHS position. I do know in our first few meetings that we discussed our many differences – as an international agency, LEVICK is non-partisan – but I still have my own personal points of view. Michael and I are of different political parties, different faiths and geographies and, with the exception of our mutual admiration for Pink Floyd, even fans of different music. Michael is a Grateful Dead head, having gone to hundreds of their shows. I went to one in 1974 but left before the final encore and decided that once was enough

Michael and I couldn’t be more different.

But from the first meeting, it was also obvious that we liked and respected each other. When Michael got sick, I reached out to offer support and we communicated often. It was then that the relationship deepened. This is why I wrote about Michael, my friend and the human being, not our differences.

We have all changed since 9/11, perhaps never more so than in the past five years. We are even divided about masks and vaccines. It doesn’t end well if we keep on that same path. Only the relationships where we cross the aisle, listen, discuss, and become good neighbors hold hope. Maybe this show is a small step in that direction.

We all know how to do this. We’ve just forgotten.

As the Grateful Dead would say,

Keep on truckin’, baby
I got to keep on truckin’

Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick

Listen to Unplugged with Michael Caputo

Listen to Unplugged with Michael Caputo Part 2




Richard Levick on the Dark Side of the Moon

Richard Levick on the Dark Side of the Moon

“Even intellectuals should have learned by now…that
objective rationality is not the default position of the human mind,
much less the bedrock of human affairs.”

— Roy Blount, Jr.

For the duration of my second year in law school, I clerked at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) and spent a summer in England, studying and visiting Her Majesty’s Prisons (HMP). I’ve spent enough time inside federal and commonwealth prisons to appreciate Henry David Thoreau’s jail house answer to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s question about why Thoreau was in jail: “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?”

One of my jobs was to assist in Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests – which I found interesting. FOIA letters from prisoners required an answer within a statutory period and each one had to be read carefully to see if it contained a meritorious claim. The chief FOIA officer took ill, so I spent a lot of time with those letters. When he unexpectedly passed away, I temporarily and unofficially took over the position and reviewed all FOIA letters, setting up a system to answer them more efficiently – there were only about two dozen types of claims, so it was fairly easy to quickly categorize them, even in the days before personal computers.

Many of the letters were, as you would expect, drafted by prisoners with little else to do but explore every possible claim. But some were heartbreaking and required serious review. A few were from high profile prisoners, which made you feel for a moment like you had a small fingerprint on history.

One day I was reading a handwritten letter – which most were – that started out with what seemed like a reasonable claim but quickly descended into serpentine rambling alleging that an unidentified flying object had hovered over the prison yard in an attempt to beam her up. It wasn’t the existence of the UFO that concerned me but the timing. If a spaceship had come to earth in broad daylight to a heavily guarded prison, I didn’t think that the first time I would be reading about it would be in a letter from a prisoner many weeks later. Area 51 is one thing, but a prison yard?

When I got to the end of the letter, it was signed by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who, at the time, was serving a life sentence for attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford 46 years ago this week. Her defense had been that since the gun was not cocked, she lacked the requisite intent—her decades-long devotion to Charles Manson notwithstanding. Years later, in 2009, she would be released, and now apparently lives a quiet life in upstate New York, on planet earth.

Of all the thousands of letters I read that year, hers is the one I remember with the most clarity. The first half was so sincere and logical and then it just descended into something I am sure she knew to be true but most certainly was not. At the time, in the mid-1980s, I felt sorry for her being a prisoner of a mind that clearly functioned well part of the time, for part of the argument. Today, when reading the news, I often feel like I am reading a treasure trove of Squeaky Fromme letters. Are we really debating some of these issues?

When George Waters of Pink Floyd wrote the classic Dark Side of the Moon lyrics in 1973, he was saying that madness is like the dark side of the moon – always there, but something we never see. Until now.

Since World War II we have faced some remarkably challenging issues, but most seem fairly mundane by today’s standards. As Michigan Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg said in his famous bipartisan support of Harry Truman in 1948, “We must stop politics at the water’s edge.” Over the years, we have disagreed about policy but not our form of government. Today we worry about the very future of the Republic.

Maybe we should have worried all along.

This past week I was joined by Syracuse University Professor Dennis Rasmussen, author of the book Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders, on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal. In his extensive study of their letters in later life, he has learned that the optimism of the Founding Fathers – including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – migrated to pessimism as they aged. They lost a great deal of confidence in this experiment called democracy.

Those who like to refer to the Founding Fathers as if they were frozen in time miss their ever-expanding views and growing cynicism. Even French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America and an enormous fan of the revolution, would descend into pessimism in later life. “Original intent,” hardly. More like “momentary intent.” The Constitution’s beauty – and its vulnerability – is that it always evolves.

Civilization, like sanity, is on a finer edge than we would like to admit and holding onto order is a heavier burden than we ever imagined.

John Adams worried that we were a people better in war than in peace, prone to being easily spoiled in peacetime and not taking the time to engage in the activities necessary for a healthy Republic.

I worry about that too. Our fear today is not the external threat. As was first reported on an Earth Day poster in 1970 and later made famous in a Pogo cartoon, apparently, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

This is, after all, just a great experiment. Other than the pirates in the seventeenth century, self-rule had never been tried before. Leadership was God’s work, as interpreted by kings, emperors and popes. For the last two and half centuries we have found it the providence of mere mortals.

Despite our reverence, it turns out that the Founding Fathers were just mortals too.

We ended the show with Professor Rasmussen’s hopefulness – that America has been bent many times but never broken. If we have learned anything these last few years it is that America requires, as Barry Goldwater would say, “eternal vigilance.” It also requires listening and gentleness.

Let us not prove the demoralization of Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison right. Let us shine with our greatest selves or we will all end up on the dark side of the moon.

Enjoy the listen.

Richard Levick

Listen to Fears of the Setting Sun




Richard Levick -Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Richard Levick -Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

“It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over?
Ohh, it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word”

– Elton John

In the late 1960s, when I was in fifth through seventh grades, my best friend, Becky, lived a few houses away. I was a motherless child and she was my shepherd through the tumultuous years of early adolescence, helping me navigate childhood angst and the feelings of not belonging, not being cool, not fitting in. I don’t know how she did it, but she seemed to be filled with the wisdom of Yoda despite our identical ages.

In the terminology of the day, she was a “Tom Boy,” a girl who would prefer to play sports and get in the rough and tumble. A remarkable golfer, she taught me golf and how to caddy. She encouraged me to invent the sports board games I did, then would play with me for hours to make sure they provided the endless entertainment we hoped. What I remember most were our conversations – as if we had discovered our own magical wardrobe in our private Chronicles of Narnia. We discussed all the vexing issues of childhood: first crushes, the loss of a grandparent, our growing independence, the existence of God. She helped me fit into my budding teenage self-particularly challenging at a time when bell bottoms and long hair were the definition of cool and my father would permit neither.

If there is an apex of innocence, boundless transparency, and extreme honesty, it was those years and that friendship with Becky. When friends become family-you know that feeling. We find it seldom and when we do, it fills us. We understand and we are understood. It is peace in a tumultuous world.

As the years passed and we got into high school, our circle of friends changed, and while we always liked each other, we never did spend that kind of time together again. We went off to separate colleges and then she joined the Coast Guard. We lost touch. As far as I can remember, she never went to a high school reunion. But she always remained a warm memory. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”

It turned out that we shared everything except one secret. Becky wasn’t just a young Tom Boy. As she aged, she recognized her sexual preference and built a full life, but it wasn’t safe to come out during those years and certainly not in the military. Looking back, one of the reasons Becky and I were so close is that I had recognized in her a fellow outsider. In youth, readers, budding intellectuals, the sensitive, homosexuals (we didn’t have acronyms like LGBTQ back then), are the outsiders. We were fellow travelers in our un-coolness.

One day about 15 years ago I got a call at the office. It was Becky, only she had come out and her name was now Lee. We had not spoken in more than 25 years but we instantly bonded on the phone. She was in trouble and near her breaking point. She was going to lose her business; her home; her board positions; her ex-wife, with whom she remained close and shared a business interest; was going to lose her half of the business as well. Even the peacefulness of her home life and community were at stake.

As she explained the story, she said, “I have no idea what else to do, who else to turn to, but I’ve tried everything. And then this voice popped into my head and it said, ‘Call Richard. He will help.’” It’s not really important to this story what strategy we used with the media to turn this around, almost instantly, but it worked. Being a weekly columnist in a national business publication at the time certainly helped.

When people ask me, after all these decades, what the most rewarding moment in my career is, this story always pops into my mind. We have been honored to be at the crossroads of history so many times – Guantanamo Bay, AIG, the Catholic Church, January 6th, the Champlain Towers collapse, and on and on. I’m proud of every one of those moments when we have helped people in need and left a fingerprint on history. But the moment of pro bono service for an old friend – a friend who held my hand during a turbulent childhood – fills me.

Isn’t that what we are all looking for in life? That human connection that conquers time and distance? That knows no bounds? That has no secrets?

I was thinking about those human connections when I had Doug Wojcieszak, founder of Sorry Works! cohost my daily podcast, In House Warrior, for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, recently. Doug lost his oldest brother to medical errors in 1998 and his family successfully sued the hospital and doctors, settling the case in 2000. The hospital attorneys – not the doctors – empathized with the family, but only after the case was settled and money exchanged hands. The doctors never did admit fault or apologize for the fatal errors.

From this tragedy, Doug built an international movement which is changing the equation of organizations dealing with adverse medical events and reducing litigation costs, time, and distress through the power of the apology. It turns out that overwhelmingly, people want to hear an honest apology, to be recognized as human, to know that the people responsible for the error understand their loss. While we spend our days endlessly chasing dollars, what we really want is to feel whole: to matter, to be recognized.

Joining us on the podcast was Jean Martin, a board-certified emergency physician and attorney who works in the legal department of COPIC, a leading medical liability insurance provider. She discusses how COPIC implemented a Sorry Works! program and how defense lawyers learned to stop fearing the program and came to embrace it. It moves hospitals and their lawyers away from the “Delay, deny and defend” approach and helps move them to “Doing what is right for the patient.”

It turns out that the Sorry Works! miracle of reducing medical liability in patient care may also have applicability in other sectors as well, even with loss of life. A little love and humility goes a long way.

As lawyers we are trained to win, but humanity and an apology have a power all their own.

Enjoy the listen.

Richard Levick

The Sorry Works Miracle




Richard Levick on the January 6th Suicides

Richard Levick on the January 6th Suicides - Commentary

“From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I can’t comprehend
What all this war is for”

–Julie Gold

This week, we lost folk singer Nanci Griffith, whom I have been listening to for probably 40 years or more. Though she wrote dozens of songs, most were made famous by other artists such as Kathy Mattea, Juice Newton, Chet Atkins and Suzy Bogguss. Ironically, her best known song may be From a Distance, which Bette Midler also covered but which was written by Julie Gold. Each of the versions – including Julie Gold’s raw recording – always stop me in my tracks. I have to listen to every word.

When I was no more than five years old, there were three highlights to my day: my older sister coming home from kindergarten, the jingle of the Good Humor ice cream truck and the police car on its daily drive through the new neighborhood we called home (that was more rural than it was suburban, though it was only about 40 minutes outside of New York City, this being the very early 1960s). The police officer in the passenger seat who would wave back at me each time made me feel like I was a part of the social fabric. Someone in authority had seen me and I existed. I mattered.

Over the years, as a college student and then political community organizer born of the Civil Rights and nascent environmental movements, I would join dozens of protests – sometimes driving hundreds of miles to have my voice heard. Always peaceful, but always wondering, what were the police officers thinking who are working at the Lincoln Memorial, backstage, on the streets, as we marched by? Were they sympathetic? Angry? Supportive?

Information comes at us so quickly these days that the news fades as fast as a deleted email. We have few national collective moments. No Walter Cronkite to help us digest the instant. We are often quick to anger, quick to forget and seldom find time to process. What’s the headline? Next?

There are moments, though, that still linger, that touch our collective national souls. Sometimes the conversation in my head feels like Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire. George Floyd. Tiananmen Square. AIDS. Kabul. Timothy McVeigh. Columbine. 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. Sandy Hook. Charlottesville. The Birmingham movement. Phan Thị Kim Phúc OOnt – “the Napalm girl.”

We all have them. Pictures in our minds as real as if they were made of celluloid, not gray and white matter. It turns out that we live publicly but we often suffer privately.

January 6th is one of those collective moments that will not fade. Unfortunately, some companies have gotten it wrong, thinking that this was just another political moment in a period of upheaval, and that they can go back to bipartisan election funding. But January 6th lives on, as does August 24, 1814, when invading British troops marched into Washington and set fire to the U.S. Capitol. This was a riot in search of a protest. We will not forget.

I keep thinking about what was going on in the minds of the police officers, who, far shorthanded, defended the Capitol. They had no idea if or when the insurrection would end. If reinforcements would arrive. If they would survive the onslaught.

In the average year, more police officers take their own lives than die in active duty. This is an ongoing national problem made worse by our largely ignoring it. Since January 6th, four police officers who defended the Capitol – and the people within it – have taken their own lives:

Officer Gunther Hashida.

Officer Kyle DeFreytag.

Officer Howard Liebengood.

Officer Jeffrey Smith.

I do not know how to write infidelity and faithlessness in a way that does not appear partisan, but in June, there were 21 Republicans who refused to vote in favor of awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who defended the Capitol. We will protect you, but you will not protect us.

This week, on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, I interviewed Steve Hough, an activity duty police officer and the Chief Operating Officer of First Help, an organization dedicated to finding emotional, financial and spiritual assistance for first responders. How do police officers cope when they are under more pressure than ever before and often have fewer resources to turn to when they themselves are having trouble coping with what they see and the challenges they face?

We can be more than we are. We can march, protest and engage, but we can still make eye contact, still say hello and thank you when we walk past a police officer. As John Prine – a frequent singing partner of Nanci Griffith’s – sang: Hello in there, hello.

We do not need to change our politics, but maybe we can change our conversations. Listen more and judge less.

“God is watching us, God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

Enjoy the listen and hello in there.

Richard Levick

Listen to the podcast




Richard Levick on the Rush to Judgement

Richard Levick on the Rush to Judgement

“Which office do I go to, to get my reputation back?”
– Raymond Donovan, Former Labor Secretary Under President Ronald Reagan

 

Richard S. Levick, Esq., Chairman & CEO, LEVICK

Having worked on so many historic crises over the decades – the Catholic Church, AIG, the Gulf oil spill, Guantanamo Bay, the Dubai Ports fallout, the Boko Haram kidnappings of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, the Champlain Towers South collapse and hundreds more – the story behind the stories has always fascinated me.

It has been a great honor to be in these war rooms around the world, trying to get the truth out in the most challenging of circumstances. Sometimes journalists, in their rush to get it first, don’t always get it right. Make no mistake, we are zealous advocates of the First Amendment, devote pro bono work to journalists – and their families – who are in harm’s way and deeply appreciate the invaluable role they play in upholding democracies – nothing short of a miracle these days. They are the Fourth Estate for a reason. In other columns we will extol their virtues. In this one we will talk about some of their untended victims, when what is reported isn’t always consistent with what happened.

During the early days of the BP Gulf oil spill, some television networks used file footage from the Exxon Valdez, which influenced how people viewed the damage and explains why plants and animals native to Alaska were suddenly seen on television as if they were off the coast of Louisiana.

During the AIG crisis, video from pre-financial crisis events were used by local television as if these poolside retreats occurred after the company had received TARP funds, to give the false impression that AIG was being careless with the federal government’s lifeline.

Two years ago, critics of one of the nation’s largest professional writers groups resulted in so much online criticism – generated by a very few people and their fans – that all of the major media around the world carried the narrative and the defendants – who had the facts and accurate information of what really happened, wouldn’t dare communicate for fear of overwhelming criticism and career suicide.

The Boko Haram kidnappings coincided with a presidential election in Nigeria and quickly became political. To this day we see articles printed in self-described open government publications which infer that we represented the kidnappers, not the people trying to save the schoolgirls. An online campaign of harassment – including death threats serious enough to require full-time security – were part and parcel of the attacks.

Criticism, harassment and death threats for crisis communications professionals are part of the price of the profession. But what of the victims? The people who head the non-profits, associations and companies who were just doing their jobs and then found themselves the appointed villains in a Shakespearean tragedy, often not of their own making?

We humans, it seems, have a need to quickly assign blame. I think it is one of the ways we feel safer and more protected. “If I don’t do anything bad, this will never happen to me.” Unfortunately – like our belief in immortality and eternal youth – it is an illusion. We don’t really believe the innocent are never persecuted, but the myth serves us well.

Some prosecutors look to advance their careers by criminalizing successful – and innocent – CEOs. Online critics pile on and all-to-quickly call out injustice, long before the facts are in. Some plaintiffs join classes motivated by profit, not justice. And sometimes journalists – even very good journalists – in their rush to deadlines, infer blame in the early days of a story which metastasize to become the overarching narrative. They are, after all, the first scribes of history.

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be that executive? That lawyer? That person who, for any of a number of good reasons, can’t or isn’t allowed to get the facts out while everyone else is drawing lines?

In 2016, one of the nation’s great veteran’s charities, the Wounded Warrior Project, was taken to the brink of extinction by the rush of television and newspaper reporting which had the narrative substantially wrong.

The major media started reporting a series of stories over a period of months alleging mismanagement, corruption and self-dealing, virtually all of which turned out not to be true, but the damage was done to this rapidly-growing veterans charity. What is it like to live through a months-long crisis when adversaries are held to a different standard, the inaccurate narrative becomes dominant and the board makes mistakes along the way?

If you have never been in front of that tsunami, you don’t know what a crisis really is.

This week, on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, I interviewed Steven Nardizzi, now a senior Non-Profit Executive at Paragon Strategic Insights and the former CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project, who discusses what it is like to be the target of media and personal animus, particularly when the stories are largely inaccurate.

Enjoy the listen and remember the next time you are thinking of being publicly critical, ask the question, “What would I feel like, what would I do, if that was me?”

Wishful thinking is not a strategy.


Richard LevickAbout the Author: Under his leadership, LEVICK has set new standards in global communications and brand protection for corporations, countries, and major institutions. Mr. Levick is one of the communications industry’s most important spokespersons and thought leaders.

A powerful advocate for the strategic initiatives that companies must pursue in today’s perilous environment, he regularly addresses corporate boards as well as industry and government leaders around the world, providing guidance on their most complex communications and reputation management challenges. He is featured in, and authors, countless articles, and is a frequent guest on prime time national and international television programs.

Mr. Levick is a much-sought after keynote and graduation speaker and is a columnist for the top business blogs including Forbes.

Mr. Levick has co-authored five books including, The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis; Stop the Presses; The Crisis and Litigation PR Desk Reference; 365 Marketing Meditations; and Lessons for Absent Children.




Richard Levick on Finding Courage

“Justice is a train that always comes too late.”
–Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Knowledge may be power but too much of it at once can be, well, overpowering. I’ve been a consummate reader since childhood when Catcher in the Rye and Instant Replay captured my imagination and I realized that entire evenings could be lost in books. A decade later I recognized that a career could be built on words.

There are days, however, when, like Honoré de Balzac and his 50 cups of coffee per day, I am over-satiated with information and lose intellectual interest in almost everything – a sharp decline from my normal interest in almost everything – and I just cannot read one more article, op-ed or essay about the day’s news.

There I was, Saturday morning, and I thought I would take in information in my second favorite medium, via audio, so I listened to the New York Times’ podcast The Daily, one of the best news analysis podcasts in existence.

This time, it was a mistake. Not because it wasn’t perfectly executed audio, but because it was too well done, too painful. It reminded me of why I so often listen to the radio serials from the 1930s through the early 1970s, where mysteries, westerns, police dramas, science fiction and comedies sooth an overtaxed mind. The most emotionally dangerous shows in that genre are War of the Worlds and the lesser-known The Outer Limit and The Parade.

I listened to the tragic stories told by Garry Gottfriedson, who, at the age of five in 1959, as a member of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia, was mandated to be separated from his family and attend the Kamloops Indian Residential School. It is a brutally powerful show if you can afford the emotional toll of listening. The stories he shared about the schools – the pedophilia, the physical and mental abuse that drove at least one young girl he knew to suicide, the slave labor under the guise of “education” – leave you wincing and wondering the existential question, “Where was God?”

These were largely Catholic priests and nuns, operating under the dictates of the Canadian government. Our kindly neighbors to the north, led by “people of God,” mandated by a government intent on eviscerating every last vestige of First Nation people – their land, language, culture, family, beliefs. These acts are only now coming to light because of two ghastly discoveries of the remains of hundreds of First Nation children in unmarked graves. Beware, these stories of atrocities are likely coming south as the U.S. Department of the Interior begins its own domestic investigations.

For all of our unbridled optimism – the days when all we see are rainbows and all we hear are the birds symphonically chirping – this was a day to fixate on man’s inhumanity. The Holocaust, the Cambodian killing fields, Darfur, Bangladesh, Rwanda, nearly a half millennium of slavery, Manifest Destiny and on and on. If the Unidentified Arial Phenomenon we are seeing are real, is there any doubt why they aren’t stopping here?

As 19th century American Unitarian preacher and abolitionist Theodore Parker wrote, and as Martin Luther King, Jr. later made famous, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I think so, but there are days when I am not so sure. Just who has the courage to bend it?

Who has the strength to work like Sisyphus bending the arc of the moral universe inch by inch? The ones who are self-aware but not self-righteous, who have doubts but are ultimately indefatigable?

After years of us being aware of each other but never working together, I had the honor to interview Ted Boutrous: a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a member of the Firm’s Executive and Management Committees, a specialist in First Amendment law and “Top Lawyer of the Decade” (Los Angeles & San Francisco Daily Journals, 2021), “Litigator of the Year, Grand Prize Winner” (American Lawyer 2019) and “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” (National Law Journal, 2013) among many other honorifics. He joined my co-host Michael Zeldin of That Said with Michael Zeldin on CommPRO and me on our weekly podcast, Real Washington. The conversation went so deep and was so interesting we immediately all agreed to do more shows together.

Ted discussed the growing threat to New York Times v. Sullivan, a landmark First Amendment case and the bedrock of modern First Amendment law; the Critical Race Theory debate; the current Supreme Court makeup; representing Mary Trump and other issues before the courts.

As The New York Times has noted, Mr. Boutrous has “a long history of pushing the courts and the public to see the bigger picture on heated issues.” He has argued more than 100 appeals, including before the Supreme Court of the United States, 12 different federal circuit courts of appeals, nine different state supreme courts and a multitude of other appellate and trial courts in complex civil, constitutional and criminal matters.

He successfully represented CNN and Jim Acosta in bringing First Amendment and Due Process claims against President Donald Trump and other White House officials, forcing the White House to restore Mr. Acosta’s press credentials and doing the same successfully for Brian Karem, Playboy’s White House Correspondent (who previously appeared on Real Washington). In a landmark ruling, along with Gibson Dunn partner and legal legend Ted Olson, they successfully overturned California’s same sex marriage ban (Proposition 8).

In the early part of the last century, Learned Hand of the United States District Court for New York was coincidentally on a long, snow-delayed train ride with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes, and over nine hours they discussed Justice Hand’s view of the First Amendment. Over the next 20 years, this would grow into regular correspondences between the justices and judicial philosopher and civil rights advocate Professor Zechariah Chafee, Jr., and go on to form the foundation of the modern First Amendment. Were it not for this accident of history, few of the First Amendment freedoms we enjoy and take for granted today would be protected. As New York Times v. Sullivan comes under increased criticism, do not take them for granted tomorrow.

At the end of the show, Ted called this “A precarious time.” A precarious time indeed.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

–Winston Churchill

Enjoy the listen.

Richard Levick

Listen to “A Precarious Time” Real Washington With Ted Boutrous, A Partner With Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher




Richard Levick – Finding Grace

“News is what people want to keep hidden, and everything else is publicity.”
– Bill Moyers

There is a story in the Talmud – though I have heard variations from other religions – which says that while still in utero, a baby is filled with all of the knowledge of the Torah but that just before birth, an angel touches the baby’s lips and all is instantly forgotten. Why? So that in our moments of greatest challenge, we find the wisdom that has been inside of us all along.

In Buddhism, it says that once we find grace, we are surrounded by countless opportunities to share it but that the moments are often so frequent and so subtle that they are like the beetle tapping on the windowpane. We have to pay great attention in the rush of life.

When yogis utter the Japanese phrase, namaste, which you hear whenever you enter a Japanese restaurant, it means both “hello” and “may the godliness in me recognize the godliness in you.”

We are all, it seems, on the road to Graceland, though these last few years have been more about acting on and emphasizing our differences rather than being good guardians to the present, or as Scottish linguist of landscape and explorer Robert Macfarlane says, “practicing being good ancestors.”

When I was a child, I was heavily influenced both from growing up in Washington, D.C. in the shadow of the dome and by the four political assassinations of my youth in the 1960s – Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. It was a time when the television interruption of a “Special Report” was synonymous with a punch to your soul.

Call it my own age of innocence, but I thought all lawyers and jurists were like Thurgood Marshall and all politicians were like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Shirley Chisolm, Jeannette Rankin (before my time but an icon for her independence, being the only member of either chamber of Congress to vote against World War II) and Frank Church (we were neighbors and his son, Chase, was a close friend in elementary school, where everything felt local and personal).

Journalists were all like Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. They weren’t local, but their evening television appearances made it feel like we were all neighbors.

State attorneys general were all like Walter Mondale who wrote – and led 22 other state AGs – on the rare Supreme Court amicus brief on the side of the criminally accused, urging the Court to recognize indigent defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to appointed counsel in felony cases (Gideon v. Wainwright). Nothing politically expedient in it for the Minnesota AG in 1960, other than to see the scales of justice balanced.

Giants all. Men and women who stood up for what they believed in – and they believed fiercely in democracy. Imagine a political and media landscape that aspired to grace?

During the week on our podcast In House Warrior for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, I interviewed Lori Kalani, a partner at Cozen O’Connor and a pioneer in the rise of the state Attorneys General practices at Big Law. She envisioned and developed this practice which is now more widespread amongst large law firms. During her almost 10 years as in-house counsel for DISH Network, she recognized the need to have personal relationships with each and every state attorneys general and would set about over the next two years meeting every one of them. Imagine what it would be like to be an in-house counsel who had personal relationships with each state AG? When was the last time they reached out to you as a courtesy on a matter?

I also spoke with an old friend and a Washington legend, Bob Bennett, former counsel to two Secretaries of Defense – Clark Clifford (Democrat) and Caspar Weinberger (Republican) – and was President Bill Clinton’s personal lawyer in the Paula Jones case, among many other high-profile matters over a long and distinguished career. Two years ago, Bob and I had lunch in Washington, where he reflected on a time when he could neither enter nor leave a Washington restaurant without dozens of handshakes. There is nothing Washington is infatuated with more than power nor more dismissive of when it senses it has waned. Bob, as always, is well worth listening to, both for his insights and his humanity.

“And that’s the way it is.”

“Goodnight Chet. Goodnight David.”

Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick

Listen to Do You Know Your Attorney General? With Lori Kalani of Cozen O’ConnorListen to A Word with Bob Bennett




Richard Levick – Great Scott!!

“What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he
has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely.”

Christopher Reeve

“Great Scott!” Although it didn’t make it into many of the movies, this was a favorite exclamation of Superman (spoiler alert, AKA, Clark Kent) on radio and television from the 1940s through the 1960s. It seemed our superhero, despite all his powers, had the endless ability to be surprised.

We all know Superman came from the planet Krypton, but where did “Great Scott” come from? The book War Slang (1994) ascribes its development as a reference to General Winfield Scott, an American hero of the War of 1812 and a Whig candidate for President in 1852 (he lost to Franklin Pierce) while A Brower’s Dictionary (1980) disagrees and claims it is a derivative of the German “grüß gott” (pronounced “gru-ess got”) or “good day,” a common greeting of warmth amongst German immigrants to America. Regardless of its derivation, it became a Superman moniker for 30 years. When you heard him say it, you knew that crisis — and a heart-racing intervention — were coming, all before the end of the episode.

For a similar period — well over 30 years — we’ve had the honor to work with nearly 400 of the world’s leading law firms. The AmLaw 200, the Of Counsel 700, the Global 100 and some of the world’s leading plaintiff firms. High-profile litigation, transatlantic tie-ups, sexual harassment and false allegations, the loss of significant partners, existential threats, cyber breaches, DEI, revolts, mergers…the list goes on. When it comes to law firms, it is hard to imagine a matter where we haven’t been at the table.

During this period, we have all heard the challenges to law firms — pushback on fees; calls for far greater diversity in hiring and partnership; the threat to the middle market; grow or die; artificial intelligence; Alternative Legal Services; growing in-house practices; the Big Four and litigation finance, to name a few. This week, we interviewed four superheroes of the legal consulting world as part of our ongoing informal series on challenges to law firms and legal departments (other recent guests have included Trevor Faure, Paul Smith and Peter Zeughauser, among many others). They offered their perspectives on the new law firm cultural challenges, post-Covid re-emergence and making the transition to in-house counsel.

Protecting Your Legal Career During a Time of Great Disruption: Jeffrey Lowe, the Global Practice Leader of Major Lindsey & Africa’s Law Firm Practice Group, and the Managing Partner of their Washington, DC office, discusses what makes a great law firm and in house candidate, particularly today, a time of great disruption. Listen

General Counsels – Proving Themselves Worthy: John Gilmore, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of BarkerGilmore and Admiral (Ret.) A.B. Cruz III, a Senior Advisor and former CLO, GC, CECO, CRO and Corporate Secretary, discuss what makes a great general counsel, how best to interview for the job and how GCs are emerging from Covid tested and ready for even greater leadership roles. Listen

To Go Boldly Where No One Has Gone Before: Michael Short, founding Principal of LawVision, has counseled over 700 law firms of all sizes over the past three decades. He discusses the post-Covid challenges, real estate, Alternative Legal Services, DEI, financial pressure and the coming squeeze on the legal market. He ended the show with the advice that if you are not in the AmLaw 12, it is time to be bold. Listen

“What’s special about Superman is that he will always make the right choice.” – Max Landis

Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick




Richard Levick – Ahoy, Matey

“The truth springs from arguments among friends.”

–David Hume

Long before the nascent democracies represented by the Corsican Republic in 1755, America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 or the French Revolution in 1789, pirates – those sailors so grossly caricatured by the movies – practiced an early form of democracy. It dated all the way back to the 1650s. Pirates were the first to practice a form of universal suffrage in the election of captains – every sailor, including former slaves and indentured servants – got a vote, and there are multiple examples of female pirate captains.

They created Pirate Councils that could remove and replace captains; established an elected quartermaster system which served as a de facto prime minister; introduced a universal health care system; and developed a wealth distribution system according to skill and duty.

As pirates would say, “Avast ye” – pay attention and check this out! Those swashbucklers created the first “republic” – such as it was.

Where does genius come from? New ideas to inspire entrepreneurial zeal? The courage to take great risk, financial and otherwise?

This past week we had four podcasts with leaders that inspired me with their leadership, vision and creativity.

Great Governance – ESG and the Purposeful Corporation

Former USTR Ambassador Ron Kirk, Senior Of Counsel at Gibson Dunn and Co-Chair of the Firm’s International Trade Practice Group, and Hillary Holmes, partner at Gibson Dunn and Co-Chair of the Firm’s Capital Markets Practice Group, discussed their recently launched multi-disciplinary ESG practice, how corporations of all sizes navigate the challenges of evolving and not fully measurable ESG requirements and more. Listen

Is the U.S. Senate Still the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body?

Alex Vogel, CEO of The Vogel Group, the former Chief Counsel to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., a lawyer and expert on federal regulatory and legislative strategy, talked about today’s Senate. Is it still the same after Harry Reid’s nuclear option, the denial to President Obama of hearings for a Supreme Court justice, the rushing of confirmation hearings at the end of President Trump’s term and the January 6th insurrection? Is bipartisanship still possible or even desirable? What happens to the filibuster, PAC funding, debt and the infrastructure bill? Alex has views on all and generously shares them with us. Listen

How Did JPMorgan Chase’s Risk Committee Miss the Tsunami That Swallowed Its Planned Super League?

Nir Kossovsky, CEO of Steel City Re, discusses lessons learned from how the highly respected JPMorgan Chase and its internal risk committee missed the regulatory, political, media and grassroots storm that engulfed the launching of the abruptly abandoned football Super League. The collapse was as rapid as it was mercurial; it points to the importance of looking at risk not just from a legal, financial and regulatory point of view, but of seeing risk in the larger context of global dynamics, geography and history. The discussion includes lessons for GCs and how they can help steer their companies away from myopic mistakes. Listen

The New World of Digital Advanced Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Rich Lee, CEO and Co-Founder of New Era ADR, speaks about his new company and how it is offering an online approach to ADR as a way to dramatically reduce cost and increase trust in the digital environment. He also opines on how businesses can adopt digital ADR and what the future holds. Listen

Shiver me timbers. Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick




Richard Levick – Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.”

—John Newton

In an age of instant judgment, declining appreciation for due process, no apparent statute of limitations and little forgiveness, I keep being reminded of people who grew and changed. It is, after all, the purpose of life. Otherwise, wouldn’t we all come back as Hindu-worshiped cows on our first pass with no need for lessons on this earthly plane? As M. Scott Peck wrote, “We are all broken,” working to constantly evolve and improve. Or, as the 14th Dalai Lama said, “Enlightenment is my full-time job and I am still evolving.”

Before we jump on the judgment bandwagon, we might want to distinguish between intention and mistake.

Mahatma Gandhi was an absent father; Winston Churchill dictated memos to his secretary in just a robe from his bed and bathroom; Eleanor Roosevelt wrapped wire around a child’s thumbs to stop them from thumb sucking. Imagine the world for a moment if they and millions of others like them hadn’t been given the opportunity to evolve?

“Licentious libertine” and 18th century slave ship captain John Newton survived a horrific storm at sea off the coast of Ireland, after praying to God and offering to devote his life if he would live to see the morning. Miraculously, the cargo, tossed about by the rough seas, moved about just so to fill a hole in the ship’s hull. There was no overnight conversion, but in time, John Newton fulfilled his promise, renouncing slavery, consulting to politicians who fought for abolition and wrote thousands of hymns, one of the most famous being, of course, Amazing Grace. Who among us was not moved by President Barack Obama singing it at slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral, and those killed at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, by white supremacist Dylann Roof?

From John Newton to Barack Obama. May the circle be unbroken.

There is an inner peace that comes with being around people who accept, do not judge, listen and work to make the world a better place. It is always quite something to be around them. This past week I had the opportunity to interview three of these remarkable people for different podcasts.

On In House Warrior, I interviewed Hal Donaldson, President and Co-Founder of Convoy of Hope, about a childhood family tragedy – at seven, he lost his father to a drunk driver with his mother so severely injured that he would grow up in poverty and for a time, in the care of neighbors. As a young professional he interviewed the late Mother Teresa, who asked him “What are you doing to make the world a better place?” Faster than John Newton and with far less to be forgiven for, he changed his life and co-founded Convoy of Hope with $300 of groceries he bought for the less fortunate. Flash forward 27 years and the charity has grown to 82nd on the Forbes list of largest charities in the United States, feeding over 387,000 children around the world every day and empowering local adults with the skills and support to become economically independent to escape the cycle of poverty. An extraordinary story, particularly for companies looking at their CSR and ESG footprints. Still, Hal looks from inside the fences outward to the faces of more hungry children and knows, “There is always so much more to do.”

On The Innovators, the weekly podcast I co-host with Clark Atlanta University President Dr. George T. French, Jr., we interviewed Kermit Jones, MD, JD, who can only be described as an over-achiever. He is a doctor, lawyer, member of the patent bar, speaks English, Hindi, Urdu and Spanish, is a former flight surgeon for the U.S. Navy and a former White House Fellow. We talked about Covid, the vaccine rollout, the racism of low expectations by “protectors” and, of course, his beloved Clark Atlanta University, where he received a Chemistry degree.

On Real Washington, the weekly podcast I co-host with Michael Zeldin, radio and television commentator and host of That Said with Michael Zeldin on CommPRO, we spoke with attorney Mark Zaid about the delicate practice of protecting whistleblowers on a show entitled “‘You Can’t Handle the Truth’ – Whistleblowers and the Fight Over Transparency.” Mark’s practice focuses on national security law, freedom of speech constitutional claims and government accountability and is well known for his work on the Ukraine whistleblower case which led directly to the first impeachment of President Trump and the successful $2.7 billion settlement against Libya for the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, among many others.

Extraordinary people all.

Was blind but now I see.

Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick

Listen to Turning Tragedy into A Global Charity – Hal Donaldson, President and Co-Founder of Convoy of Hope

Listen to Whistleblowers and the Fight Over Transparency with High Profile Lawyer Mark Zaid

Overachievement with Kermit Jones, MD, JD, Patent Bar Member, Former White House Fellow, Veteran




Richard Levick – Everyone Gets Disrupted

“And you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
saying you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”

 Barry McGuire

What would have happened if Jack Kerouac hadn’t broken his leg at Columbia University while on football scholarship? Would he have met poet Allen Ginsberg or writer William Burroughs? Would they have started writing short stories and poetry? Would Kerouac have written On the Road? Would the Beat Generation have existed without it? And without the Beat Generation, would there have been the Hippies, the countercultural movement which led to, among other things, societal acceptance of the natural (now organic and local) food movement, gay marriage, single parenthood, and a love of the environment?

Progress, it seems, is never a straight line. Failure is often the first price of success.

By the time I was 13 or 14, with a growing political awareness based on the counterculture sandwiched between political assassinations (John, Martin and Bobby), American apartheid, the war in Vietnam, the nascent environmental and women’s movements, one song among many played like an anthem for a generation – Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction.

We were going to save the world. But we know how that turned out. The Great Society brought us the expectations of entitlements; the environmental movement, a saturated recycling market and an approach to conservation that is often more about greenwashing than solutions, while climate change bares down on us; the antiwar movement ended the draft but harmed our sense of collective sacrifice for country; and Watergate reforms and open primaries have, in part, led to a 24-hour news cycle and endless campaigning, just to name a few. None of us, no matter how well intended, will be preserved from the criticism of future generations.

And through it all, especially after this past year, optimism is returning. The dark days of the pandemic, while not eviscerated, are waning; the nadir appears passed and the future seems, if not promising, hopeful. The human spirit endures.

I was struck by this sense of hope when I was interviewing Jay Samit, the former Independent Vice Chairman of Deloitte, an American digital media innovator, serial entrepreneur and bestselling author of the book Disrupt You. He famously said, “There are two types of people: those who look for opportunity and those who make it.” He spoke to me on In House Warrior, the daily podcast of the Corporate Counsel Business Journal about anticipating and preparing for change; how being dyslexic helps him see the world differently; and how powerful positive thinking can be in changing the world around us. What struck me most about the interview was his sober optimism. Change is painful, but to be changed is empowering.

On Real Washington, the weekly program I co-host with Michael Zeldin, TV and radio commentator and host of “That Said” on CommPRO, we spoke with former Congressman Charlie Dent (R), who represented suburban Philadelphia for seven terms. He is the kind of politician we always imagined in grade school – called to service, thoughtful, open-minded, country above party. He spoke about the newly-passed stimulus, the filibuster, infrastructure and the future of the GOP. Among other things, Mr. Dent is now a Senior Policy Advisor at DLA and the head of Congressional Programs at the Aspen Institute.

On another broadcast of In House Warrior, I spoke with Patricia Harned, Ph.D. and CEO of the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI), about the evolving world of ethics and compliance. She spoke about the importance of strong corporate cultures, the race to retaliation in some countries, trends in ethics and compliance, the importance of purpose and the findings of their recently released study, The State of Ethics & Compliance in the Workplace: A Look at Global Trends.

And finally, on Garage to Global – co-hosted with Louis Lehot, a partner at Foley & Lardner –  we spoke with highly regarded early-stage investor Ben Narasin, a Venture Partner at NEA, a global venture capital firm whose mission is “to make the world better by helping founders build great companies that improve the way we live, work and play.” Ben, who successfully spotted trends leading him to make seed investments in companies such as Dropcam, Lending Club, TellApart, Kabbage and Zenefits, discusses what moves him to invest and why he is looking for “founders who make me say wow.” Pitch Ben at https://pitch-ben.com/.

Hope springs eternal.

Richard Levick




Richard Levick – Look

 

“’Siehst du?’ in German, ‘Do you get the picture?’ in English, and ‘Tu vois?’ in French are more often than not metaphors that ask about understanding rather than vision. Across a broad range of human cultures, the visual sense has risen to such a position of prominence that to envision often means to understand.”

—Michael Paesler

We were a Life family, receiving the stunning photojournalism magazine each week for years. You didn’t so much turn the pages as see the world’s mysteries unfold.

In an age with only three television networks and a nascent local station on a fuzzy black & white television (eventually replaced with a color set that was furniture-sized and became the epicenter of most living rooms) you enthusiastically embraced anything that let you see the world. Life Magazine was one of the few windows to the universe, along with Chicago’s WGN-AM 50,000-watt superstation, which you could receive hundreds of miles away with the combination of a clear night and a surgeon’s touch on the dial. If you were lucky enough to subscribe, once a year, the World Book from Encyclopedia Britannica made you feel like you were a part of the Jet Age spawning the Space Age. I can still hear the spine cracking on that textured white and green cover.

We knew the universe was big and growing bigger, but our access was miniscule. No cable television, no satellite radio, no Internet. When the television flashed “Breaking News” you stopped, because it meant Dwight D. Eisenhower had died, Martin Luther King had been assassinated or Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee had died on the launchpad fire in the Apollo I capsule.

Life Magazine wouldn’t come and go like a newspaper. It would linger at your home like a work of art, a coffee table book that said with its closeup covers that you were sophisticated. You wanted to see the world.

Yet, after all these years, the cover I remember best is the late 1960s cover not of Life but of Look Magazine. It is the one that celebrated “Black Beauty” at a time when a new generation of Civil Rights leaders were transforming its identity from Negro to Black and with it, no longer trying to conform to White social standards.

Look didn’t try and explain the transformation, it showed you: Here is Black Beauty. I can still see her face on the cover, over 50 years later. I wasn’t more than ten, but it touched my soul. That was the power of Look.

Look Magazine, as it turned out, wasn’t the poorer cousin to Life, as so many of us thought, but a magazine that stands alone, not only compared to Life, but compared to the more serious news magazine of its time or any other.

Heroic and courageous in its coverage, Look Magazine changed America far more than we understood at the time. It covered birth control in the late 1930s, a full quarter century before the sexual revolution. It called out the first “White nationalism” 75 years before the phrase became more commonplace. It hired the first full-time African-American journalist long before other predominantly White publications did. Its pages were where baseball superstar Jackie Robinson chose to announce his retirement. It was where Norman Rockwell went to draw iconic and powerful imagery about the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement after spending years drawing safe “Americana” covers for the Saturday Evening Post.

Rockwell’s transformation was classic – to look at a Rockwell is as safe as apple pie. If Norman Rockwell was drawing it, it shattered our defenses without even being conscious of it – and forced us to look at the world with fresh eyes.

If Life let you see the world through the eyes of photojournalists, Look let you see the world through the eyes of the subjects.

This past week we interviewed Andrew Yarrow on The Influencers, the weekly podcast I co-host with Dr. George T. French, Jr., President of Clark Atlanta University. Andrew’s forthcoming book is a retrospective of the enduring power and influence of Look Magazine.

Also, this week on The Influencers, we interviewed David Casey, the Vice President of Workforce Strategies and Chief Diversity Officer for CVS Health, on the challenges and leadership required to effectively distribute Covid-19 vaccines to African American, Black and Latino communities.

On Real Washington, the weekly program I co-host with Michael Zeldin, the radio and television commentator and host of “That Said” on CommPRO, we interviewed prolific Princeton historian Julian Zelizer—who is working on his 20th book and is a pioneer in the revival of American political history. We take a look at the filibuster (used almost entirely during its 100-year history to perpetuate Jim Crow bigotry), President Biden’s first 100 days, the 2022 election and the alleged wisdom of crowds.

Enjoy the listens and remember to see the world through the eyes of others. To see is to understand.

Richard Levick

Listen to The Challenges of Covid Vaccine Distribution To Minority Communities

Listen to How Look Magazine Changed America

Listen to History’s Lessons for 2021




Richard Levick On The Final Episode of M*A*S*H

 

Almost 38 years ago to the day, CBS aired the final episode of M*A*S*H, a two-and-a-half-hour episode which was, as we used to say, appointment television. Long before the days of VCRs, America made it a point to be home in front of their televisions to hear for the last time that “Suicide was painless, it brings on many changes” over the whup, whup, whup of whirling helicopter blades.

Seventy-seven percent of the television viewing audience, which is to say, almost everyone in America, was glued to the screen. Since it was also long before the ubiquity of personal computers and mobile phones, we watched together, on our couches and in our living rooms. Not unlike Ed Sullivan and the Beatles, the moon landing and the Rumble in the Jungle, America and the world were transfixed by a singular common event.

Years before, at the end of season three, M*A*S*H’s producer Larry Gelbart had set the stage for tempestuous television. Tell me you didn’t shed a tear – or more – when Radar O’Reilly reported that “Lt. Col. Henry Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan [East Sea]. There were no survivors.”

It was classic M*A*S*H. Unexpected and seemingly “unnecessary” tragedy amid a comedy, but absolutely necessary to remind us that war inflicts brutality. It was not far removed from the Vietnam GI death counts that haunted the nightly news during the first few years of the show. Comedy may be “tragedy plus time” as Steve Allen said, but tragedy is tragedy magnified when it is most unexpected.

What was remarkable about M*A*S*H was exactly that. It managed to weave genres; you weren’t sure if you were watching drama, tragedy, comedy or even a protest song in 3-D. It even spawned a new term “dramedy.” M*A*S*H was a lifetime of emotions in 30 minutes.

Set at a surgical hospital – M*A*S*H 4077 – near Seoul, South Korea and taking place during the Korean War, it was, of course, really a thinly-veiled stand-in for the Vietnam War, which was at the time tearing America apart.

But for 30 minutes each week and 150 on February 28, 1983, its salved those wounds. It became a beacon during a challenging decade. Somehow Hawkeye, Trapper John, Radar O’Reilly, Nurse Houlihan, Lt. Col. Henry Blake, Corporal Max Klinger, Father Mulcahy and Frank Burns would help us figure it out with laughter among the tears. They were our Aesop’s Fables with life lessons slipped in amid the ruins.

We kept coming back, for eleven seasons, from childhood through our first jobs, to see if they could somehow guide us through the challenges of the 1970s and early ‘80s. And then to say goodbye, as three-quarters of a nation did four decades ago.

When was the last time so many of us came together on anything?

How can we come back together as a nation? Who are our emergency surgeons who will put us back together today? More than the significant divide is how we have institutionalized our differences with gerrymandered districts that reward political division; cable contracts that enrich networks that propagate opinion parading as news; endless, divisive campaigns; and a dis-functioning Washington?

Supermen or Superwomen insiders or outsiders won’t save us. But our institutions will.

This week, we launched two new weekly programs running on our In House Warrior flagship podcast in partnership with the Corporate Counsel Business Journal: Real Washington, with my co-host Michael Zeldin, a well-known and highly-regarded TV and radio analyst/commentator and host of the new podcast, “That Said With Michael Zeldin” and Great Governance, with my co-host Greg Ballew, Executive Director of the Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance at the University of Texas at Dallas. We interviewed three thought leaders, in executive power, electoral reform and corporate leadership.

Joe Lockhart, partner at Rationale 360 and the former White House Press Secretary to President Bill Clinton and former press secretary to Walter Mondale, Paul Simon and Michael Dukakis, to discuss the new Biden Administration, corporate political activity, the NFL and more.

Katherine Gehl, a veteran of the public and private sector and the former president and CEO of Gehl Goods, a $250-million high-tech food manufacturing company, and founder of The Institute for Political Innovation, a nonpartisan nonprofit founded in 2020 to catalyze modern political change in America. She is the co-author with Professor Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School of The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save our Democracy. She spoke about the Politics Industry Theory, “Final Five Voting” and how we can innovate to inspire and save a functioning democracy that is bursting at the seams.

Don Springer, Chairman of the Colton Group and a veteran of multiple international and domestic technology and service company boards, discussing the transition from shareholders to stakeholders. Don weighs in on issues ranging from ESG and DEI to the historic evolution of the role of boards.

There are some terrific insights here by remarkable leaders. Enjoy the programs. And let’s hope that something – anything – brings us together like the whup, whup, whup of those M*A*S*H helicopter blades.

Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick

Listen to Real Washington with Joe Lockhart

Listen to Great Governance with Don Springer

Listen to In House Warrior with Katherine Gehl