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Profile: Stanley S. Arkin

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-02-07

The phrase "Stanley Arkin for the defense" has a special resonance in America, and certainly in California and New York, where the 67-year-old legal maestro makes his homes and conducts a flourishing practice.

That phrase resonates for three reasons: Mr. Arkin has a stellar record of high-profile cases (he represented the late Edmond Safra, and his widow, Lily); he is widely considered a tough guy who gives opposing counsel the shivers (he's the lawyer for Thomas Jones, the African-American Citigroup executive who's challenging his dismissal); and for more than 40 years he's been at the leading edge of American jurisprudence when it comes to white-collar crimes, ensuring fair treatment of the accused, and relentlessly campaigning against what he calls "cruel laws."

So it seemed natural for a reporter yesterday to ask Mr. Arkin: 'Well, do you see yourself as a tough guy?"

This was his reply: "When I was in the Army, a drill sergeant said that being strong didn't mean being without fear. What's important is disciplining and understanding your fear. I see myself as somebody who's never allowed himself to be afraid or cowed into submission. I have a direct way of dealing with people. And I'm not afraid of anyone. I have no hesitation in doing what I think is right. If you want to call that being tough, you can call me tough. But I sleep well at night."

His sound sleep may also result from the packed schedule that Mr. Arkin keeps. A typical day starts at dawn, when he jogs to a gym near his Fifth Avenue home. Then he walks to the Madison Avenue offices of his firm, Arkin Kaplan. A series of client meetings follow, after which there's usually a lunch meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations -- where he's an active life member -- or at the Four Seasons, where he's seen with a parade of celebrity clients. There are court appearances. There are art shows to attend, or engagements at any number of philanthropies that Mr. Arkin supports.

Several times each week, he takes his wife, the former Suzanne Salter -- a Sarah Lawrence graduate who once worked for Mademoiselle Magazine -- out to dinner.

Then there are weekend trips to his home in Malibu, where his idea of relaxation consists of taking four-mile hikes in Big Sur, playing tennis relentlessly, and socializing with other lawyers as well as members of the social and entertainment elite.

Somewhere in all this, the cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and of the University of Southern California (Phi Beta Kappa) packs in several spy novels each week. Devouring John le Carre and just about every other author of the genre, Mr. Arkin characterizes himself "not as merely a fan but a consumer of spy fiction."

Such consumerism isn't only a matter of literary sensibility; it's a professional preoccupation, too. The lawyer founded the Arkin Group, a company that provides businesses and industry with the capacity to acquire human intelligence and what Mr. Arkin says is "the organizational capacity to get things done, subject to the law, of course."

"It's my private C.I.A.," he said of the company, which employs former members of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and former soldiers and mercenaries -- and former journalists -- from many parts of the world. It's run by Jack Devine, former deputy head of the C.I.A.'s global operations.

Mr. Arkin had the reporter spellbound with tales of his emissaries' adventures. In Colombia, for example, former members of the crack American Delta Team confronted leftist guerrillas and "persuaded" them to stop extorting money from a U.S. corporation. In China recently, Arkin Group representatives journey up the Yangtze River to recover more than $100 million that had inexplicably disappeared from a local corporation's coffers. In Russia, the group was asked by an American company to investigate alleged mob connections of an associate. In Liberia, Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Argentina, its operatives surreptitiously uncovered information that helped Mr. Arkin's clients.

"The best lawyers are also the best spies -- and being a spy doesn't mean you have to wear a costume," Mr. Arkin said. "Remember "Wild Bill" Donovan, who founded what later became the C.I.A.? He was also a distinguished lawyer. In the uncertain world we live in -- a world where terrorism is growing, economies are buffeted by the forces of globalization, where corruption is rampant -- in such a world it's absolutely essential to have the right information. Such information provides the basis for understanding complex issues -- whether in business or in the court room."

Such information provides the marrow for something that Mr. Arkin is particularly noted for in legal circles: detailed preparation. "Good lawyering is all about finding solutions that are favorable to your client but are also beneficial all around," he said. "A good lawyer also helps adjust his client's expectations, helps the clients gauge risks."

And what does he like most about the law?

"The opportunity to strategize, to creatively think through complex questions, to come up with a campaign to resolve disputes," Mr. Arkin said. "Most of all, a good lawyer can make a difference in the society in which he lives -- I tell this all the time to young lawyers whom I bring under my wings. Law is about subtlety and nuance. People who think that they can mathematically compute their risks are being delusional. I have a devotion to solving things in an effective manner."

The conversation came around to the question of the 'tough guy" moniker. The reporter tried another tack with Mr. Arkin. Did he see himself as being sentimental at the core?

"Look," the lawyer said, "I've always believed that any man who seeks universal affection is, in the end, ineffectual. Even worse, he's not being true to himself. I'm happy with whom I am. I am active, I like being challenged by the wonders of this remarkable city, I'm in a position to help open up people's minds to creative solutions to their problems -- to help them think differently and to also be active in their community. You can say that I've been privileged to be able to make a difference. It's given me great pleasure in life. I'm comfortable with my principles. I'm at peace with myself."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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