From his Times Square office overlooking Manhattan, Michael Hess ’65 surveyed his 38-year career from public to private law–and back again. A native New Yorker, he is now blending his experience in both areas as senior managing director at Giuliani Partners, a crisis management firm hatched in 2002 after former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s eight-year tenure. Cordial, focused and committed to sharing his knowledge with young lawyers, Hess vividly recounted his multilayered experiences.
As a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office who rose to civil division chief, then a senior partner with three prominent firms and most recently chief lawyer for New York City, Hess has handled a wide spectrum of cases: In 1971, Attorney General John Mitchell asked him to obtain an injunction against The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case. (He watched his former tax professor, HLS Dean Erwin Griswold, argue the case when it went to the Supreme Court.) During the ‘ 70s and ’80s, he prevented a photographer from harassing Jacqueline Onassis, negotiated with Vietnam veterans who “seized” the Statue of Liberty and sued accounting firm Arthur Andersen for signing the financial statements of DeLorean Motor Co., which attempted to leave creditors unpaid amid charges of money laundering.
In the late ’90s, when he supervised 800 lawyers and 800 other staff members as corporation counsel for New York City, Hess restricted a Ku Klux Klan rally and a Million Youth March that, according to him, would have created chaos. “But their right to speak was still protected,” he said. Hess is particularly proud of helping to reduce drunk driving–and the number of people injured or killed– through the Automobile Forfeiture Program, which he and Giuliani developed and implemented during the same period.
Now among Giuliani’s faithful core advisers in his new enterprise, Hess says the team still meets every morning to discuss the needs of clients, including governments of worldwide cities and large companies. Based on the communication, teamwork and crisis management skills demonstrated in the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attack, Mexico City has hired Giuliani Partners to advise its police department on how to reduce crime. In addition, Giuliani’s team is counseling Nextel about safety communications for police and fire workers. Stressing the former mayor’s success in similar New York City efforts, Hess notes the company would use the same methods as a model for its clients.
“In emergencies, some might panic,” he said. “I think it’s very important for a lawyer to remain very rational and stay calm and focused, trying to make the best out of a bad situation and make it better. September 11 showed that Mayor Giuliani did that, and that’s what we’re trying to do for our clients here as well.”
After Sept. 11, Hess’ law department processed death certificates. He also gave eulogies at funerals, where many widows were in their 20s. “That was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” he said.
Hess has known Giuliani since 1970, when they first worked together as federal prosecutors. “I regard him as the most creative, ethical leader with wonderful, new ideas,” he said, referring to Giuliani’s role in the turnaround of New York City.
“I find the same qualities working with him here at Giuliani Partners,” he said. “So it was a privilege to be the city’s lawyer under him and to work with him now.”