Nov. 28, 2023
Charles T. Munger, 1924 - 2023
Investor and philanthropist Charlie Munger founded Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP and was the longtime chairman of the Daily Journal Corporation.
To the world, Charlie Munger was a brilliant investor and dispenser of wisdom on living a good and successful life. At the Daily Journal, he was the man who built a revered law firm, a legal technology company and this newspaper, and took pride in their status as upstanding components of a noble profession.
Long after he stopped practicing law, Munger remained interested in the profession and was devoted to the idea that the U.S. legal system was a positive force that should not be taken for granted.
"We are very fortunate that the judiciary system in this country is by and large free of corruption," he said earlier this year in a meeting with Daily Journal board members and staff. It was a sentiment he expressed often in pointing out that this wasn't the case in other judicial systems around the world, or even in other parts of the U.S. government.
Munger died on Tuesday at a hospital in Pasadena. He was 99.
"Today, the world has lost a giant, and our firm has lost one of its founders, a man whose name we proudly bear. While Charlie's vision, philanthropy, and ability to tell it like it is are known to all, he was to us a dear and generous friend. He will be missed, but his values will live on, and that is great comfort at this time," Ron Olson, name partner of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, said in a statement.
Steven Myhill-Jones, Chairman and CEO of the Daily Journal Corporation, said in a statement: "While Charlie is of course most famous for his legendary contributions at Berkshire Hathaway, following his original acquisitions of what eventually became Daily Journal Corporation, and in his long-time role over many decades as our Chairman, Mr. Munger was instrumental in charting our course, contributing to our financial performance, and in ensuring the right kind of values are imbued into the fabric of our culture."
Charles Thomas Munger was born in Omaha, Nebraska on Jan. 1, 1924. His father, Alfred Case Munger, was a lawyer. His grandfather, Thomas Charles Munger, was a U.S. district court judge and a Nebraska state representative.
Charlie Munger dropped out of the University of Michigan to serve in World War II. After serving in the Army Air Forces, he persuaded Harvard Law School to admit him without an undergraduate degree, and received a law degree in 1948.
The firm that is now known as Munger, Tolles & Olson was founded in 1962 by Munger, E. Leroy Tolles and Roderick M. Hills, who had been partners at Musick, Peeler & Garrett.
Munger remained a partner at Munger Tolles for just three years before leaving to join Warren E. Buffett in an investment venture that became Berkshire Hathaway Inc. But he kept an office at the firm for years and his impact has been immense and long-lasting - in the legal work the law firm does for Berkshire and its entities, and for the values that Munger instilled.
"The way we think about strategic planning, the way we think about focusing on what's being delivered to the client - a lot of that comes very much out of the experiences that we've had with Berkshire and things we've learned from Berkshire," corporate partner Robert E. Denham, who has handled many of Berkshire's biggest transactions, told the Daily Journal in 2012. "Berkshire had an intellectual and values kind of influence on the firm way disproportionate to billings."
Munger despised gambling, cryptocurrencies and anything that had even a whiff of grift. "Good businesses are ethical businesses," he often said. That philosophy influenced his approach to the business side of law. Long after it became acceptable practice, Munger viewed with suspicion the marketing and advertising of legal services.
"The best source of new work is the work on your desk," Munger would tell lawyers. In other words, do good work and potential clients will notice.
Munger and other members of the Munger Tolles firm believed that these values would position them to punch above their weight in the legal market. And they were proven correct. The firm has drawn major corporate clients and attracted top talent, including many former U.S. Supreme Court clerks, despite for a longtime having just one office, in Los Angeles, far from the power centers on the East Coast. Even today, the firm has just 200 lawyers and two additional offices, in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., but continues to be a destination for top talent and clients including PG&E, Intel, Google, Disney, MGM Resorts, Northrop Grumman, Bank of America and Bechtel.
After he became a successful investor, Munger began giving away hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it to universities.
The dormitories at Stanford Law School were built with a $43.5 million gift from Munger and now bear his name.
"Charlie was a real character and could be a force of nature: a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, category 5 hurricane, and 1,000-year flood, all rolled into one. He was also generous and thoughtful beyond belief. The dormitories he contributed to Stanford, now affectionately known as Mungerville, transformed the culture of Stanford's graduate community in a profound and very beneficial way," said Stanford Law School professor Joseph Grundfest.
Munger's commitment to the legal profession was manifest again in the late 1970s, when he purchased the Los Angeles Daily Journal. The newspaper had been publishing since 1888, reporting on judicial proceedings in downtown Los Angeles.
One of his first decisions was the hiring of editor-in-chief Howard Miller, who appeared on the PBS weekly legal affairs show "The Advocates." The pair set out to build a bigger, more robust newspaper that would better serve the legal community. They shrank the size of the broadsheet to make it easier to read and began publishing practice pieces written by attorneys, among many other changes.
Miller recalled Tuesday proposing to Munger that they publish a new section in the newspaper that would feature summaries of every appellate decision issued every day, written by an in-house staff of lawyers.
"At that point, it was a striking idea. It required the allocation of resources, hiring people, developing a format. But it was then, and it remains today, a remarkable source of information for the legal profession," Miller said.
Early on, Munger also decided he wanted his journalists to write profiles of every judge in California. He believed these articles would shine a light on the judicial system, and aid attorneys in their work.
"All of this was to provide better and more information to the whole legal profession," Miller said. "The integrity of the profession and the judiciary was an integral part of his commitment."
In 1999, the Daily Journal Corporation purchased a case management software company, extending Munger's commitment to providing services to the legal profession. That company, now called Journal Technologies, provides software products to courts and related government agencies throughout the United States, Canada and Australia.
As the Daily Journal companies grew, shareholders from as far away as China, India and Europe began to attend the annual shareholder meeting in February to hear Munger speak and seek his advice. Munger called them "groupies" but was delighted to entertain them.
He wouldn't give the stock tips that many sought but he would offer them advice on building wealth and living a good life. These events often made international news, as when he said in 2016 that he didn't believe a man who made money in gambling was morally qualified to be president of the United States, and in recent years when he railed against cryptocurrencies. And almost every year, he told them that the greatest tool for building wealth was remaining in a long-term, stable marriage.
Brett J. Rodda, a partner at Munger Tolles and the Daily Journal Corporation's corporate lawyer, recalled Tuesday the first shareholder meetings in the late 1990s that were held in a conference room at the Daily Journal's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
"One shareholder would come. Some guy who was an early groupie wanted Charlie to sign the day's newspaper. There were donuts and Diet Cokes, of course. And then, somehow, over the next 20 years, the annual meeting grew into this event with hundreds or even thousands of people."
The event outgrew the conference room, then a hotel and one time the Los Angeles Cathedral. Since the pandemic, it has been a Zoom event. "Really remarkable for our little company," Rodda said.
Munger stepped down as chairman of the Daily Journal Corporation in March 2022, but remained on the board of directors.
On Tuesday, Ron Olson spoke for many in the legal profession who knew Charlie Munger. "He will be remembered for his wisdom, teaching, and the values that he shared with us, Berkshire Hathaway and the world. He will be sorely missed," Olson said.
Munger was preceded in death by Nancy Barry Munger, his wife of 53 years, who died in 2010, and a son, Teddy, who died in 1955. He is survived by six of his children: Wendy Munger, a former corporate lawyer; Molly Munger, a civil rights attorney; Charles T. Munger Jr., Emilie Munger Ogden, Barry A. Munger and Philip R. Munger; and two stepchildren: William Harold Borthwick, a trusts and estates attorney, and David Borthwick.