Life, Liberty, etc. _______________________________ Published 12/03/01 in the Connecticut Law Tribune
The Diamond Thief By Martha A. Dean ________________________________ There is an elderly attorney who was one of the original partners in a large law firm in Hartford who tells the story of the diamond thief. It is a true story, I am told, that occurred years ago in Hartford. Its message is so timeless and compelling that it is worth retelling here. In the early days of his career, the attorney received a call from an acquaintance seeking legal advice. The client owned a jewelry store in Hartford, and was distressed over the theft of a particularly valuable diamond. Years before, at the time of the store’s opening, the client had held a large party at the store in celebration. The guests were all friends or acquaintances. After the party, the client discovered that a large and unusual diamond was missing from the store. Without any leads or clues to share with the police, the client eventually accepted that the diamond’s disappearance might never be explained. But years later, quite unexpectedly, an unusual event occurred. A woman entered the store, interested in purchasing jewelry. The client recognized her as the sister of an acquaintance. Set in the ring on her hand was the missing diamond. So distinguishable were its characteristics, that it could not be mistaken. Trying to understand how this woman had ended up with the diamond, the client recalled that the customer’s brother had been one of the guests at the store-opening party years before. Seeking legal advice, the client met with the attorney. The attorney listened intently, and then said he needed a couple of days to think of what to do. When the client and the attorney next met, the attorney gave this advice: Send the woman’s brother a bill for the diamond. No police involvement, no formal charges or allegations -- just an invoice. The client followed this advice. Shortly thereafter, a check arrived for payment in full. At this point in the story, the elderly attorney -- clearly proud of the elegant simplicity of his advice -- points out that, today, the matter would be handled very differently. With a chuckle, he speculates that four associates and two partners would be assigned immediately to the file. Research papers and lengthy memos on conversion and every other related legal topic would spew forth, ultimately leading to a solution far more expensive, more costly socially, and less satisfying than the solution he devised back when law was a more practical profession. Today, many firms believe it makes good business sense to charge the highest rates possible, bill for every incidental item or service, and crank out work product in volume on every file. But whether this is due to a lack of creativity and problem solving ability or to an undue focus on the short term benefits accruing from such an approach, it is clear that there are significant long term costs for such lawyers and for the profession What ultimately made it possible for the lawyer in the story above to build a large and successful law firm was the loyalty of his clients. This was won by his superior service and ability to solve problems. These were not skills obtained in law school -- they flow from a character ethic that instructs: first and foremost, solve the problem; secondly, do so while
causing the least damage to the client (in legal fees, reputation in the community, and otherwise) or to others. There is a quality associated with such an approach that is so refreshingly correct that all who come in contact with it are forever loyal. It is the development of such loyalty that is at the origin of most highly successful law practices.
_______________________________ Published 12/03/01 in the Connecticut Law Tribune By Martha A. Dean ________________________________ Life, L...