A LAW UNTO ITSELF: The Untold Story of the Law Firm of Sullivan & Cromwell by Nancy & Frank Lipsius Lisagor

A LAW UNTO ITSELF: The Untold Story of the Law Firm of Sullivan & Cromwell

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Despite the authors' tone of righteous outrage, this history-cum-exposÉ, of a top Wall Street law-firm (founded in 1879) is rather dullish and disjointed--with few surprising revelations, little depth, and no flair whatsoever. The book's first section centers on co-founder William Cromwell, ""The Law Bender,"" who--after the 1887 death of idealistic partner Sullivan--turned the firm into a ruthless protector of corporations and robber barons. He invented ways of circumventing the Sherman Antitrust Act; he defended E.H. Harriman's takeover shenanigans with ""deceit, bribery, and trickery"" (though ""it was all legal""); he lobbied and connived to get the Panama Canal built on his client's land. Meanwhile, William Curtis, the firm's #2 man, set the ""dubious precedent"" for S&C's ""overworked, underrewarded"" employees. The focus soon shifts, however, to Cromwell's protÉgÉ John Foster Dulles, ""The Lawbreaker""--whose ambitious, international doings dominate nearly half the book. Born into one of Washington's top social/political families, Dulles joined S&C at 23 (in 1911), using his connections to get clients abroad--and to get to 1919 Versailles as part of the US negotiating team. With Cromwell's enthusiastic support, he promoted the ill-fated policy of financing Germany's postwar rehabilitation with huge US loans; in the 1930's, the firm ""thrived on its cartels and collusion with the new Nazi regime""; even after Pearl Harbor, Dulles maintained his ""secret German ties."" Domestically, meanwhile, the S&C ""legal factory"" fought the New Deal's securities regulation, then welcomed it as a source of soaring legal fees. In the 1950's, when both Dulles and brother Allen (another firm member) joined the Eisenhower Administration, S&C was given ""an official part in the country's international relations."" And the post-1960 period is spottily rendered in brief discussions of: the firm's mistreatment of associates; its slowness in giving women equal treatment; its 1970's ""management crisis"" and 1980's recovery via mergers-and-acquisitions; recent embarrassments--especially the accusations of unethical behavior in the Johnson v. Johnson case; plus ho-hum rundowns on how associates become partners and how clients are treated at today's S&C. Those unfamiliar with Dulles' shady activities may be somewhat intrigued. Otherwise, however, this is a disappointing, flatly written exercise in muckraking-manquÉ--with neither the richness of social history nor the zip of such close-up studies as James B. Stewart's The Partners.

Pub Date: June 28th, 1988
Publisher: Morrow