Judge Richard Holwell Reflects on White & Case
Judge Richard Holwell, a US Federal Judge in the Southern District of New York, was a partner at White & Case for 24 years before joining the Court. He started at the Firm in 1971. He became a partner in 1979 and worked for White & Case as a litigator until 2003 when he was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush.
Judge Holwell has served with distinction for the Southern District of New York for the last eight years. Recently, he presided over the trial of Raj Rajaratnam, founder of the Galleon Group Hedge Fund, perhaps one of the most high-profile and widely followed insider trading trials in recent history. Judge Holwell recently met with Chairman Hugh Verrier to share his recollections of White & Case.
HV: Let us go back to the beginning when you joined the Firm. Who hired you?
JRH: Tom Ramseur, a senior partner in the corporate department, who could not have been a more engaging representative of the Firm. He always had the reputation of being one of the nicest guys at White & Case, and I thought at the time, and still think, he represented a strong aspect of the Firm's personality.
HV: What aspects of his personality made you feel were an important part of the Firm?
JRH: It was his ease of manner and his obvious ability to articulate the vision of the Firm at that time. I just got an impression that if the Firm were populated with Tom Ramseurs, it would be an exciting and enjoyable place to work.
HV: What other firms or cities were you thinking of working for at the time?
JRH: I was considering White & Case versus the public sector, clerking and then going to work for the government. I graduated from high school in '63 and from college in '67, which were very formative years for me and I think probably for a lot of people. A lot of us were imbued with the spirit of the new frontier—Bobby Kennedy and John Kennedy—and so the public sector always was an area of interest for me, and I was trying to decide whether to become the next Bobby Kennedy and make a life in the public sector or to stay in the private sector.
HV: So, what made you choose White & Case?
JRH: I was attracted to White & Case because I knew people who worked at the Firm. I graduated from law school in 1970, but took a year to study criminology at Cambridge in England and so my classmates started a year earlier. They all thought it was a great place, so I did not spend a lot of time choosing between a White & Case or a Paul Weiss.
I must say that I came into White & Case with the firm intention that I was going to work here for two years, be gone and become a fabled prosecutor for the United States Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York. It was run at that time by a gentleman who is still alive today, Robert Morgenthau, who was the US Attorney who had been appointed by President Kennedy. He went on to become a New York County District Attorney for 30 years. And that was my life plan when I walked in the door.
HV: How did your studies in criminology relate to your career? Did that nurture your ambition to be a prosecutor?
JRH: By the time I graduated from college, I had never been west of Villanova, Pennsylvania, or east of Montauk Point, so it was an opportunity to see the world. But, yes, I was interested in being a prosecutor, and criminology, of course, is a multidisciplinary study of deviant behavior in a broader sense. So it was vaguely related and had two purposes.
HV: Which partners did you work with at the beginning—the ones who became your greatest influences?
JRH: The Firm had a rotation program, where you were required to spend three rotations for four months in three different departments. Although I was as sure as the day was long that I was going to be a litigator, I rotated first through the Trust & Estates department and then through the Corporate department. In the Trusts & Estates department, I worked with one of the legends of the Firm, Sims Farr, and surprised myself how interesting the practice was.
Sims was such a consummate professional. He was smart. You could not find an individual who you could learn more from in terms of client relations. I have always found over the years that the way you become good at almost anything, and certainly the way you become a good lawyer, is a little bit like kindergarten—it is "Show and Tell." You find that one lawyer in the Litigation department is a fantastic trial lawyer; another lawyer may be not so good at trials, but can settle a case that others would be unable to settle; some people write briefs that sing; and other people have fantastic client generation skills; and you kind of filter that through your own personality. I do not think you can be anything other than who you are, and if you try as a lawyer to be just like Sims Farr, you will fail. But there are aspects of Sims Farr that you can adapt to your personality as you develop your own set of judgments.
HV: And what were the things that Sims drew out in you?
JRH: The energy with which he represented his clients. He had a wonderful capability of making sure that everybody who was working on a particular project was enthused with its special importance, whether it had special importance or not. Sims could take a matter that might seem mundane to a number of people but get everybody invested in finding the best solution to it.
HV: He felt very deeply for the Firm. After I was elected head of the Firm, he called to congratulate me. He was long retired, but I appreciated that strong personal touch. The Firm is now so large, at 2,200 lawyers. I often think about how we can develop the close connection between young lawyers and partners, similar to the way it was when I was an associate, when we were 200 or so lawyers. I felt a strong connection with Jim Hurlock and Gene Goodwillie and later George Crozer and others. I wonder how in a large firm you can put that in place, where people can be stirred and connected with people like Sims. Did you notice that changing over the course of your career?
JRH: Yes. I do not think there is a lot to be learned by looking back to what White & Case used to be because the landscape has changed so radically. At 200 lawyers, you know everybody in the Firm, you work with a high percentage of the lawyers and you are more easily unified around a common set of values. Starting in the late '70s or maybe more into the mid-'80s, I thought the practice of law irretrievably changed as a result of almost a single phenomenon, and that was the publication of all law firms' financial performances. I suppose this was part of the globalization of all business, but once industry publications started saying, well, if you are a partner at Cravath, you will make X dollars and if you are a partner at Thacher Proffitt, you will make Y dollars, it started a competition that changed the face of the legal practice.
When I was recruiting and ran the hiring committee at White & Case for several years, I felt that in order to attract the top students from the top law schools, you had to persuade the law students that your business organization was going to be just as, or more, successful than the shop down the street. It became a deciding element, and I do not think you can put that genie back in the bottle.
So it is a lot more difficult today. It is not just the fact that White & Case is now 2,200 lawyers and used to be 200. The type of firm that we are or can be, in many respects, bears little relationship to 1970 because of these radical changes. I think it is a mistake to look back and talk about the good ole' days, because they were fine—they were good ole' days—the issue we need to focus on is about the good days in the future.
HV: What were some of the distinguishing features of the Firm?
JRH: The chair of the Firm when I was hired was Orison Marden, who remains a luminary in the legal landscape in the 20th century. He had recently been president of the ABA and was known to, and friends with, leading practitioners around the country. With his assistance, when I was a first-year associate, we had a meeting with Jack Greenberg, who is the last surviving lawyer to have argued Brown v. Board of Education and at that time was executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense Education Fund at Columbus Circle. With Orison's oversight, the Firm represented a class of Afro-American and female workers working on the Long Island Railroad, on a race and sex discrimination case. This was an important case to Orison.
There were times when there were pressures from fee-paying cases and Orison would always tell me to keep focused on all my cases and not to worry if there was an imbalance in my billable hours from time to time, because the Firm's public work was important to who the Firm was.
And you could do that, because the financial structure of the Firm was largely known internally, and so the partners could make a decision on the fabric of the Firm that they wanted to create. Partners lost some of that capability once the issue of financial success became a matter of public debate. I do not frankly think we can ignore the impact of that fact because the Firm now competes in a very public way for law students and clients.
HV: Orison Marden, as you say, was a larger-than-life figure. How would you describe him as the head of the Firm, his leadership style, or his view of the Firm?
JRH: He passed away at a relatively early age, in his low- to mid-60s. I was a senior associate at the time, and the most I heard about his leadership was that he was too laid back or that he was not forceful enough. He had fixed views of who White & Case was. I think he saw the Firm as committed to doing only the best work for the most important clients in the country—as a firm that did not take a second seat to any other American firm in terms of the quality of the work performed or in the importance of the work we did for clients—for example, representing United States Steel in critically important tax cases, or representing various industries in the great wave of the Sherman Act price-fixing cases that were sweeping the country.
Orison Marden believed that the Firm was a responsible participant in American society and understood that, in addition to representing our clients, we had a role to play in representing the legal system and the best part of the legal system. Orison never saw those as competing goals, although they can be seen as competing goals.
I get disappointed in how the leaders of the financial services market are addressing the fallout of the recession in the country. They need to step forward as a group, address the problems and take action to take care of them. Orison was the type of leader who was prepared to step forward and do just that, and that was his view of the role of the big firm. After all, we were and still are a leading player in the marketplace and with that comes responsibilities.
I think White & Case has done a much better job than many other firms in preserving that aspect of our professional obligation. Certainly it did through my career. I did a lot of pro bono work over a period of time, working variously on death penalty cases and race discrimination cases, sometimes spending huge chunks of time, and I never got the impression from any of my peers or any of my superiors when I was an associate that the Firm begrudged that. I think the Firm's reputation in the community for being progressive is a strong one.
HV: Where did Orison's strong sense of what the Firm should be come from? Was he an iconoclast within the Firm?
JRH: Certainly there were others in the Firm at that time, such as Lowell Wadmond and Sims Farr, who were of the same view. It would maybe be unfair, but not entirely untrue, to say that some of that emanated from the old view of noblesse oblige. These were gentlemen who came from comfortable backgrounds and went to Princeton, Yale and Harvard and understood in a broader social sense that success in life carries with it obligations to the rest of society. Perhaps that is a little unfair because it is an old school view, but they adapted that view and there is something to it.
I welcome new lawyers to the bar every couple of months in the courtroom, and I always end up telling them that they really should be proud of themselves; they are among the most privileged and well-compensated group of individuals in the country and with that success comes the obligation to represent people who can not pay for representation. Not everybody has to be a Clarence Darrow to be a great contributor to the pro bono practice of the bar. There are a lot of ways to do it, and it is a challenge to find those ways. One of White & Case's leading aspects is that it continues to this day to have the reputation that emanates from people like Orison Marden.
HV: Who were some other mentors during the course of your career?
JRH: My particular mentor when I became a young partner and as I moved up through the ranks of the litigation department was Rayner Hamilton, who had a very un-White & Case-type background, to the extent that one thinks of old White & Case as one of the original white shoe firms. Ray joined the Marines out of high school and afterwards went to Penn law school. He was a farm boy from Kansas, and his Kansas accent trailed him for all his life. But he was a very wonderful mentor. He was smart and honest. People could disagree with him, but no one for a second ever doubted his integrity or thought that he was being duplicitous. He had wonderful judgment—the ineffable and most important quality that a lawyer can have and a real reason why clients hire White & Case. Clients are not paying for a lawyer's ability to write a brief that sings or put together a particular transaction. Clients are paying for your judgment.
Rayner had that type of judgment—he was well-respected by clients, opponents and the court, as somebody you could listen to and trust what he was saying. He knew how to try a case as well, and he was a great mentor to me. He allowed me to make mistakes, but he handled it with great magnanimity. He was a wonderful mentor.
HV: He was a mentor to me as well in my early days out in Asia. He was a straight-shooter and really spoke his mind.
JRH: He is probably the only partner, certainly at White & Case, and probably at any major firm in the country or, indeed, the world, to have come to practice with large tattoos on each arm. One was a snake around the world—he was in the Marines afterall—and the other might have been a heart with "Mom" on it. He had the disconcerting practice, which I do not think he did intentionally, of wearing short-sleeved shirts, "cause it's just too hot to wear long-sleeve shirts in summer." I think he did it because he was a boy from Kansas. Whether at a meeting or in deposition, he would take his jacket off and start speaking, and you could see the people around the room prop their heads up with an expression that said "are those really tattoos on his arms?" And, of course, they were.
HV: Rayner is a remarkable person. Orison was remarkable and so is Duane. Was there something about White & Case that attracted remarkable people?
JRH: I am not sure I have ever thought of it that way, but to the extent that the Firm was not necessarily eccentric but more broad-minded, which I think was and still is an aspect of the Firm's persona, then you would attract people like Duane Wall, who has written six unpublished novels, and is probably still working on his seventh.
HV: You have been a real champion of the Firm's culture. You are famous for articulating a number of rules about how partners should conduct themselves. One that is cited often is "always give your partners the benefit of the doubt," one that John Reiss and many others come back to all the time. Could you explain how your ideas developed and what led you to codify them as you did?
JRH: It is central to my personality that whether we go through the business world or through life, you should expect the best from people and from yourself and give people the benefit of the doubt.
I played football when I was in high school and was a 215-pound defensive tackle. I actually went to college with every intention of having a great football career. On the first day of football practice, I tore up my knee and never played a day of college football. Had I done so, I would probably be selling insurance in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, as a result of the lifestyle that I was attracted to at that time. But having played football in high school, I learned how much more you accomplish when you have a group of people who act as a team. Looking back, I was amazed at how poor an athlete I was, but how successful our team was because there was not an ounce of recrimination among the teammates. We had a great coach, and everyone would turn to everybody else to support them.
I have always been of the view that any organization, whether it is as simple as a soccer team, or as complex as a 2,200-person law firm, works on the same principle. Our business organization should not be led through fear or enticements, it should be led by example. When somebody on your team makes a mistake, sometimes they need to be straightened up, but more often than not, they need to be pulled back into understanding what the business organization is doing. And so you have to establish relationships among your partners and with your associates that go beyond the requirements of the job. People like Orison Marden did that; actually, it is still being done today.
HV: How do you reflect back on all of this, your time with White & Case?
Alumni Share Their Views on Working at a Law Firm vs. In-House
What are the differences between practicing at a law firm or working for a corporation? Perhaps the best person to answer this question is someone who has worked on both sides. We interviewed White & Case alumni, who now work for corporations, to gain insight on the differences and challenges of working at a law firm versus in-house. Our distinguished panel of alumni comes from diverse backgrounds and worked at different White & Case offices, and each took a unique career path after law firm life.
Daniel J. Arbess is a Partner at Perella Weinberg Partners and Portfolio Manager of its Xerion strategy, which he founded in 2003. Daniel previously worked in the Stockholm, Brussels and Prague offices.
Maureen Brundage is the Executive Vice President and General Counsel at The Chubb Corporation. She is also the Chief Ethics Officer, responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of Chubb's legal compliance and ethics program. Maureen previously worked in the New York office.
Pauline Crouzillat is the in-house counsel for Carrefour, dedicated to the Mergers and Acquisitions group. Pauline worked in the Paris office.
Gurinder (Gary) S. Sangha is the President and CEO of Intelligize who worked in the Hong Kong office.
W&C: Tell us about your background and current position.
DJA: I came to White & Case in 1987 because I was fascinated with the decline of the Communist world and thought there would be great opportunity in the transition. I spent some time in the Stockholm office working on Soviet joint ventures, then relocated to Brussels and Prague. I became a partner and Head of Global Privatization in 1992 and resigned in 1995 to pursue post-privatization restructuring-oriented private equity. My career has been defined around the development and investment in markets of the former Communist world for the past 25 years.
GSS: I worked as a securities lawyer in the Hong Kong office of White & Case from 2005 to 2007 (prior to that, I worked at the New York office of another law firm). After leaving White & Case, I moved to the United States to start Intelligize (www.intelligize.com). Leading law firms, accounting firms and public companies use our legal analytics software to prepare, analyze and review SEC filings. I currently serve as the Chairman and CEO of Intelligize.
PC: I worked at Freshfields for seven years before joining White & Case's Paris office in 2007. I was drawn to the dynamism of the Corporate M&A department, its vision and the team (where everyone can contribute to matters and, more generally, firm life). However, two-and-a-half years later, I was given an opportunity to join Carrefour, the world's second-largest retailer, as in-house counsel dedicated to the Mergers and Acquisitions group.
MAB: I began my career as an associate in the Corporate department of White & Case's New York office in 1981. In 1989, I was made a partner focusing on securities law, mergers and acquisitions and general corporate work. Eventually I headed the Firm's global securities practice. In 2005, I left to join Chubb, which is a worldwide property and casualty insurance company, as its General Counsel. In 2008, I was appointed by Chubb's Board of Directors to also serve as Chubb's Chief Ethics Officer.
W&C: What made you decide to make the switch from a law firm?
PC: To be honest, I think that nothing prepared me to leave a law firm and join a corporate environment. My higher education (a Masters Degree in Private law at Université Paris 2) was exclusively legal and it was therefore natural for me to work in a law firm. Consequently, the decision was not an easy one to make, even if I was conscious of the prospects this offer presented, to accept the position meant putting my career as a lawyer on hold. However, the wish to renew myself and the idea of a challenge was what drove me to take on this new adventure with Carrefour.
DJA: I left to become an investment principal, first pursuing restructuring-oriented private transactions in Europe, and later managing portfolio workouts and distressed debt investments for Triton Partners. In 2003, I launched my hedge fund, Xerion Capital Partners and in 2007, I sold it to Perella Weinberg Partners, an independent, privately owned, global financial services firm that provides corporate advisory and asset management services.
GSS: Running my own company has always been a dream of mine. The work experience I gained at White & Case significantly mitigated my downside risk because I figured that if my startup venture failed, I could always return to practicing law. The biggest change from working at a law firm to running a company is that the majority of my time is spent focusing on sales and closing new business. This, of course, was not my primary responsibility while working as an associate at White & Case.
MAB: In my many years at White & Case, I worked very closely with many clients and always enjoyed being involved in a matter from the beginning to the very end. I also liked to understand and be involved in the business aspects of the transactions. As outside counsel, you do not always get the opportunity to be so involved. So when I was contacted about the Chubb General Counsel position, I was intrigued by the opportunity to get involved at a deeper level than you can as a "hired gun". In addition, the opportunity to become part of the management team of a company with such a stellar reputation as Chubb's was a big draw. Since Chubb is a public, NYSE-listed company, as General Counsel I could continue utilizing my securities law and corporate governance expertise, while developing my insurance industry knowledge. The fact that it is headquartered a half-hour from my home in New Jersey also did not hurt!
W&C: What was the biggest change for you from working as a partner at White & Case to working as General Counsel at Chubb?
MAB: Not keeping time records or diaries. Although that sounds like a joke, it is a serious benefit! In addition, as the Head of Securities at White & Case, I had a narrower and very deep expertise. As a GC, my role is much more general and broader—I handle everything from HR issues to litigation.
W&C: What do you enjoy most about your job?
GSS: Every day brings new challenges and lessons. Since founding Intelligize, I've learned an incredible amount about sales, product development, management and fundraising and each day I continue to learn more.
PC: I appreciate being at the heart of a large CAC 40 company. Being thrown into a very international and dynamic environment, I am able to make use of the skills that I acquired during my years as a lawyer. Notwithstanding the fact that the retail industry has the reputation of being extremely regulated, which implies a large amount of technicality as well as important political issues. This is very stimulating and challenging!
MAB: I like the variety of work—it is never boring. Before coming to Chubb, I didn't have an insurance background. I quickly learned that insurance touches everything—from product recalls to helping homeowners and companies rebuild after Katrina, or workers' compensation claims and even Ponzi schemes. I also really like my staff and peers and the collegial and supportive work environment.
W&C: What are the greatest challenges in your job?
MAB: In this economy, you have to be more mindful of budget and how money is spent and learn how to do more with limited resources. We are a cost center, so I have to be creative in using and allocating resources and prioritizing work. I continually remind my team that we must focus on high-value/high-risk work.
WC: Daniel, you left your footprint at White & Case as the partner who established the Prague office, which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. Can you please share your experience?
DJA: I was involved in White & Case's privatization assignments in Russia, Vietnam, Belarus and Israel. This was, in many ways, the most exciting and rewarding opportunity of a lifetime— the chance to be in on the ground floor of some historic developments in the world economy. I was focused on cultivating connections in the Czech Republic and spent vacation time and weekends traveling to Czechoslovakia to meet with members of the economic delegation. This investment paid off and opened many doors for White & Case to win business. White & Case became a major player in the Czech Republic and was propelled to the top of Privitasation International's league table of legal advisors.
W&C: What skills did you learn during your time as a lawyer at White & Case and which ones do you find most useful in your current role?
DJA: Multi-stakeholder negotiation, the importance of process to transaction outcomes and attention to detail.
GSS: In no particular order: an attention to detail, effective time management and the importance of customer/client service.
PC: The reactivity and the team spirit. These for me are the driving forces, which are indispensible within any law firm or company.
MAB: Since working at White & Case was the only legal job I had before joining Chubb, everything I know about being an attorney and a manager I learned at White & Case. One of the most useful skills, I think, is the art of juggling matters with competing priorities.
W&C: What is your fondest memory of working at White & Case?
DJA: Building a team and business from the ground up with the supervision and support of Hank Amon. The earliest negotiations with Bata over the Czech footwear industry and Anheuser Busch over "Budweiser." The restructuring and sale of Skoda to Volkswagen remains the transaction about which I am most proud in my career.
GSS: My angel investors were actually all senior attorneys from White & Case. Accordingly, my fondest memory is the day I learned that they would be financially backing my business idea.
PC: My fondest memory is the interaction between different teams and the quality of the relationships between associates and partners, which contribute to the sociable atmosphere. White & Case, for me, is a very "human" law firm—and as proof of my affection, I attend the Alumni event in Paris every year and am in regular contact with my former colleagues.
MAB: That is the toughest question, because I have so many. I had the honor of working with such phenomenal folks in the Securities Department at White & Case that they even made all-nighters at the printer and spending Easter weekend working around the clock at a client's offices in the Netherlands fun! I still have broadly displayed in my office a picture of a bunch of us bowling at a summer associate outing my last summer at White & Case. It brings back very happy memories (and not of my bowling abilities, which left much to be desired).
W&C: Did you have any mentor(s) or was there any particular individual(s) at White & Case who made a significant impact on your career?
DJA: Hank Amon guided and taught me. The most important lesson he shared was to recognize and make the most of everyone's strengths. Jim Hurlock, as the Chairman of the Firm, had the vision to support White & Case's early expansion into the European emerging markets.
GSS: Ken Ellis, Ian Hardee, Shawn Woosley, Jason Ng, Lee Hill, Jeremy Low and Josh Zimmerman were instrumental in my development as an attorney. Several of them also backed my business venture.
MAB: The whole notion of "mentors" did not really exist when I was coming up the associates ranks. But looking back, Jack McNally, Don Madden and Mort Moskin clearly helped guide me and my career, so I would call them my main mentors.
W&C: What's your best career advice for young lawyers?
GSS: White & Case is a truly international law firm and I would really encourage young lawyers to leverage this, either by working at different offices or working on international projects. Even though Intelligize is headquartered in the United States, most of our team members are based in South Asia. If I had not worked at the Hong Kong office of White & Case, I would never have learned how to do business in the region and my company wouldn't be where it is as a result.
MAB: Focus on the job you are doing. Focus on being your best now and on developing the next step up. For example, a third-year should try to figure how to be a good mid-level associate, not how to be a GC or a partner. Hone your craft and your style by observing other lawyers at the Firm.
DJA: Learn the technical skills; they will always be useful. Learn the interpersonal skills; they will help you in every aspect of life. Above all, find an intellectual path that inspires passion. Put in 10,000 hours to be good at anything.
White & Case Alumnus Burt Fohrman Takes Home the Gold for Award-Winning Olive Oil
Some people dream of the day they can retire, while others finally get there and do not know what to do with their new life. That is not the case for White & Case alumnus Burt Fohrman, who created an ideal retirement for himself by keeping busy with three engaging activities: producing an award-winning olive oil business, riding horses and continuing to practice law.
In fact, Burt's olive oil business, Quattro® Sonoma County Extra Virgin Olive Oil, recently won gold medals for "Best in Class" and "Best in Show" at the world's largest and most prestigious extra virgin olive oil competition.
So, how did this successful "retired" lawyer get into the olive oil business?
The making of Quattro
Burt and his wife, Raleigh, own a small ranch in Sonoma County called Riebli Point Ranch, where they raise olives for their olive oil brand, Quattro. The Ranch is located on the upper slopes of a small mountain and overlooks the Russian River Valley. It is the last large parcel of a historic sheep ranch.
When Burt and Raleigh were living in Tokyo, they tried to think of ways that they could make the Ranch economically productive, bearing in mind that they were not physically present to oversee activities, since during that time, Burt was immersed in "some wonderful" assignments working as a partner in White & Case's Tokyo office.
He claimed, "The best olive oil produced in Italy is from some of the hill town areas of Tuscany. The hill town orchards are 200 to 500 meters above sea level." Burt's former sheep pastures are within that range and are primarily west-facing slopes. "Since the land, climate and soil on the Ranch is very similar to Tuscany, I thought about planting Tuscan varietal olives," he said.
"After you plant olive trees, there is no production for at least five years and possibly longer, and production keeps accelerating each year until the trees are 15 years old and then it levels off," he explained. Burt obtained studies from the University of California, Davis that analyzed growing Tuscan olives in Sonoma County.
After some additional research, he decided that it was reasonable to proceed. So, 13 years ago, he planted the first part of the orchard with four classic varieties of Tuscan olive trees, assuming that by the time he retired, the trees would be starting to produce.
During the years prior to production, the orchard requires modest physical attention—watering, fertilizing and pruning. Each summer when Burt returned home on summer vacation, he checked the orchard and determined that the trees were doing well and planted additional areas. "I limited the plantings to 500 trees, since I thought that was the limit that I could personally handle and, in addition, with that limited number, I could concentrate on efforts to produce the best quality oil," he said.
Burt retired from White & Case at the end of 2003. Following retirement, he spent 23 months working on the Ranch, building deer fences, installing irrigation systems and expanding the orchard. "Although working the Ranch was great fun and an interesting and challenging diversion from legal practice, it did not involve adequate mental stimulation, so I also took on the position of editor-in-chief of the International Law Journal ( published by the California Bar Association)," he recalled.
The Ranch is operated by Burt, Raleigh and their eldest son, who lives on the Ranch with his family. The family basically does everything themselves, except picking and pressing the olives. According to Burt, it takes a crew of 16 people to pick the olives. Fortunately for the Fohrmans, they have friends who have a small olive press and have an operator who comes from Italy every year to press the olives for Quattro. All other services that the Fohrmans need related to the business are obtained either through specialty providers using the Internet or by an occasional consultant, so they have no permanent employees.
Burt explained, "It was my belief that the best way to produce high-quality oil was to do everything by hand and that is the way we operate. The only machine that we use in the orchard is a weed whacker. We do all the sales ourselves via the Internet, and that includes everything that goes along with it (packing, shipping, etc.). We are a true artisan family operation. As we proceed with our business, my wife and I basically learn each activity required and as we make mistakes, we work to correct them and improve."
Reflecting on the differences between lawyering and operating an olive oil business, Burt says, "The biggest challenges have been doing everything ourselves (we are the staff) and more importantly, dealing with Mother Nature. As a transactional attorney, you learn to deal with the elements of any transaction and with enough years of experience, you can anticipate many situations. Having been a transactional attorney and advising business, it is not a big leap to handling your own business. However, you cannot anticipate Mother Nature. We have to respond quickly to events that swoop down on us—no rain, heavy rain, snow, extreme heat, Mediterranean fruit flies or gale-force winds."
Winning the Competition
The Fohrmans have been selling Quattro olive oil for the past six years. Although they never entered a competition, at one UC Davis class, Burt's classmates and the professors all gave Quattro the highest possible marks for its second year's olive oil. Over the years, the Fohrmans have received numerous email and phone calls from customers remarking about the excellence of their oil. Raleigh, who is also an attorney, had been suggesting for the past several years that they needed to enter a competition to get some feedback on the quality of their olive oil via a professional judging in a competition.
The world's largest and supposedly most prestigious extra virgin olive oil competition is held annually in Los Angeles. Burt contacted the people running the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition and found out that they expected 600 entries for the 2011 judging. "Given the number of competitors, I was hesitant to enter, but finally decided I would proceed, but not tell anyone other than my wife since I did not want to be embarrassed if we did not get a medal," he said.
Burt and Raleigh had been out to dinner one night and when they got home, their telephone message light was blinking. When Burt checked the voicemail, he had received numerous telephone congratulations from people in the olive oil industry for a win at the competition. Since he had not told anyone about entering the competition, he was a little surprised. "I went online to the competition website and was stunned to find that we were the top winner. We won "Best in Class" for our type of olive oil, "Best Extra Virgin Olive Oil—Domestic Medium" and then in the comparison competition with all the other winners of other classes, we won "Best of Show."
"Since I had never been in a competition, after seeing our name on the website, I called the woman in charge of the competition and asked her to please explain what we won. Her response: "Mr. Fohrman, you won everything!" On June 26, 2011, the Fohrmans attended the competition and received three gold medals.
Living a "Retired" life
Quattro olive oil is not the only thing that keeps Burt busy these days. Except for his years working abroad, Burt and his wife have always owned and ridden horses and had a number of small home ranches. Following retirement, Burt immediately purchased horses and has been participating in three equestrian groups. Each group is different, but all of them involve trail riding either on ranches or in the High Sierras.
Burt's other passion is the practice of law, and he still practices today. Approximately two years after retiring, he joined Perry Johnson, a small law firm in Santa Rosa (the nearest city to his ranch), and shortly after, Raleigh and their son Jeremy Olsan also joined and created a "family trio" at the firm. Many of Burt's clients are owners of famous wineries or vineyards. In addition to representing them, these clients are willing to share expertise in marketing, branding and other activities that pertain both to the production and sale of wine and olive oil.
It is with great sadness that we report that retired White & Case partner Steve Piga passed away on September 25, 2011 at the age of 82.
Steve's time at White & Case spanned five decades, from 1955 to 1992. He was a partner in the Firm's Tax Practice, noted for his work on clients like Dunn & Bradstreet, BTCo, Federal Paper Board, Newmont Mining, Goodrich and ADT. His contemporaries remember him as a wonderful lawyer, both careful and thorough, and unexcitable even when the pressure was on.
Steve is also remembered for his efforts establishing many of the Firm's employee benefits plans as well as his work with the New York State Bar Association Tax Section.
His contemporaries remember him as a wonderful lawyer, both careful and thorough, and unexcitable even when the pressure was on.
Steve was born in Jersey City and had lived in Oakland for the past five years. He served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. He was a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School.
Steve will be greatly missed.
Robert "Bob" Grondine
Our partner Bob Grondine passed away on October 20, 2011. He was 59.
Bob joined White & Case in Tokyo in 1992, and he is one of those credited with expanding the office to serve our clients in a truly international way. His practice focused on corporate, commercial and financial transactions in Japan, with an emphasis on M&A activity and asset-based structured finance. He was dedicated to helping foreign companies build successful businesses in Japan, and his many clients included General Motors, Sony, IHI, GE Capital, Cable & Wireless and Mattel.
Bob was a leader in the community as well, serving for almost a decade on the Board of Governors of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and as its president. He also served on Prime Minister Koizumi's task force for increasing foreign direct investment into Japan.
His dedication to Japan, his study of Japanese (which he spoke fluently) and his appreciation of Japanese culture began when Bob was a university student. He graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth College and went on to study Japanese at Cornell University. He received his JD from Boston University School of Law, and he later pursued East Asian Legal Studies at Harvard Law School.
Though he grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, Bob believed one of the keys to his success was his desire to explore the world around him. His love of learning led him to become a full Professor of Law at Keio University Law School in Tokyo, where he taught M&A and Corporate Finance for seven years. He once said, "You must know something about the world going in, but you also must have a real desire to find out more."
Those who were fortunate to have worked with Bob knew him to be a great lawyer, a tireless mentor, and a man whose enthusiasm for work and life were boundless. He was a prominent figure in Tokyo and his contributions to business in Japan—and the United States—are immeasurable.
It is with great sadness that we report that our friend and former partner Alexis Rovzar passed away on January 7, 2012 in Mexico at age 60.
A banking and corporate lawyer, Alexis was instrumental to the Firm's success in Mexico City. During his career at White & Case, he was the Executive Partner of the Mexico City office and the Head of the Latin America practice.
He was a selfless contributor to the development of the Firm's practice in Latin America, advocating the establishment of the São Paulo office and acting as a mentor to our lawyers there.
Alexis championed pro bono activity and played a key role in developing a culture of pro bono in Mexico. He was the Secretary of the Board of Directors of Appleseed, where he helped transform Mexico's practice of law to include pro bono service.
He was committed to building a better world and supported a wide range of philanthropic and civic causes, including the Qualitas of Life Foundation, which he and his wife Marcela founded. He helped launch the US-Mexico Foundation, which facilitates cross-border philanthropy. He served as a board member for several non-profit organizations, including the Council of the Americas/Americas Society in New York, and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas.
He also served on a number of corporate boards, including Coca-Cola bottler FEMSA, our client Grupo Bimbo and Canada's Scotiabank.
Before he joined White & Case, Alexis had a successful career as a name partner in one of Mexico City's most prominent firms (Ritch, Rovzar & Heather) and later as an investment banker and investor. As such, he was a client of White & Case before he joined the Firm as a partner in 1995.
He was not only highly respected, but also truly loved by those with whom he worked. His colleagues described him as a man of uncommon grace, elegance and style, ever caring and thoughtful. He will be remembered as being positive and upbeat, always focused on the possibilities, never the impediments.
"Back to Business" in Tokyo: A Client Reception 20 Years Strong
White & Case's annual "Back-to-Business" client reception was held in Tokyo at the Shangri La Hotel on September 28, 2011.
More than 170 clients of the Firm gathered alongside our lawyers to connect with old friends and new. The clients included executives from corporate and financial institutions such as Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, BNP Paribas, Boeing, Chanel, Citi, Coca-Cola, Credit Suisse Securities, Deutsche Securities, FedEx, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, ING, Intel, J.P. Morgan Securities, JBIC, KPMG, Lenovo, Marubeni, Microsoft, Mitsui & Co, Molson Coors, NEC Corporation, Secured Capital, Shinsei Bank, Société Générale Securities, Softbank, Sumitomo Corporation, RBS, TEPCO and the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
An antitrust seminar titled, "The Global Expansion of Competition Law: Recent Developments, Emerging Enforcement Regimes and Anti-Bribery Laws," was held during the afternoon before the reception. It included presentations from partners from New York, Washington, DC, Brussels, Mexico City and Beijing.
The reception included a brief presentation by the Ashinaga Foundation, an organization the Firm is supporting globally. The Foundation is focused on providing educational and emotional assistance to children who lost one or both parents in the March disaster—official estimates show that nearly 1,800 children have been affected this way.
Partner Brian Strawn summed up the evening as follows: "Although this has been a challenging year for Japan, this was a great event. Our clients enjoyed it and we enjoyed playing host to a very loyal group of people. Twenty years is a milestone for an event of this nature."
Partner Toshio Dokei added: "It was a good opportunity to share the spotlight with an organization which is in the right place at the right time, making a huge difference to children's lives in Japan. This was appreciated by all in attendance."
White & Case Celebrates Its 110th Anniversary and Other Milestones in 2011
Established on May 1, 1901, in a two-room office at 31 Nassau Street in New York City, White & Case celebrated its 110th anniversary in 2011. One of the Firm's first clients was Bankers Trust Company, which was acquired by Deutsche Bank in 1998. At its annual client reception for Deutsche Bank, the Firm recognized this important anniversary with a celebration on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. More than 250 guests, including White & Case lawyers from around the world and their colleagues at Deutsche Bank, celebrated our longstanding relationship together.
In 2011, White & Case offices around the world also celebrated the following milestones:
- Paris office: 85th anniversary
- London office: 40th anniversary
- Los Angeles office: 25th anniversary
- Moscow, Prague, Warsaw, Budapest and Mexico City offices: 20th anniversary
Click here to download Highlights from the Winter 2012 Alumni Newsletter.
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© 2012 White & Case LLP