Firm's longtime leader a model of modesty, wit, wisdom and dedication to excellence — with a wonderful flair for telling stories
PADUCAH, Ky. – Kentucky Lawyers Speak, Oral History from Those Who Live It is a book compiled and published by the Kentucky Bar Association in 2009, containing more than 500 pages of oral histories and reminiscences from 74 practicing Kentucky attorneys. Among them is the late Henry Oscar Whitlow, the firm’s long-serving managing partner and the founder of much of the culture and tradition that define the firm today.
In a style uniquely his own, Mr. Whitlow outlines life from his early days as a farm kid at the beginning of the 20th Century in rural Western Kentucky though his journeys in the practice of law. Throughout his warm, personable account are many glimpses of the humor, insight, appreciation and character that he brought to all he did – spun together with simple real-life stories of learning and hard work.
He tells many stories reminiscent of a young boy from Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, including the honor he felt as a child to win a contest for the best milk production of a cow – an achievement that earned him a trip to St. Louis, where he had his picture taken with “a very famous cow” that had been imported from the isle of Jersey. “That picture was run in the Courier-Journal so I felt quite elevated by being photographed with such royalty as this great cow…,” he recalls.
Mr. Whitlow also recalls his early days working with firm founder, Thomas S. Waller. “Working with Mr. Waller was a great experience,” he recounts. “He was a consummate legal scholar, and had a wonderful personality. I would work up a problem and give it to him and he’d say, ‘No, Henry this won’t get it. You go back.’ What he really imparted that differed from law school was the importance of facts. He was of the old school. He thought that a young lawyer had to be practicing ten years before he could try a case.”
Furthering this notion, Mr. Whitlow goes on to recount a case concerning dirt moving work done in connection with a highway project. “I went to the highway office and learned where the dirt was moved and how much was moved,” he tells. “I don’t know what the other side was using for facts, but it wasn’t the facts that came out of the highway department. The lesson I learned was to go where the facts are, no matter how detailed they are or how difficult they are to dig out.”
Finally, after a number of other accounts of practical experiences and observations, Mr. Whitlow offers in his chapter the heart of his philosophy on the practice of law:
“Suppose you had two firms here. And they were exactly the same in all respects, but you are going to have to decide which one’s best. You walk by the parking lot of one of them and it’s full of trash and all. You walk by the parking lot of the other one and it’s clean and looks in apple pie shape. Which one’s going to get the first-place decision? Well, they all say, ‘Well, the one that has the clean parking lot.’ But they still won’t pick up the dirt off our parking lot. They haven’t been up against the things that we of the Depression days have gone through, when you had to do your best to even get by.
“I guess every generation has thought the young ones were going to the dogs. But I still think in something like the practice of law, there are some fundamental concepts that you need to keep in mind. You are dealing with a very important phase of human existence. We are the lubricators of society, and there is no place for second place people who are satisfied with doing anything less than the best they possibly can do. If it means staying up all night and finding that key case, those things come to you at times when you are putting out your best.”