Joseph Hinsey IV, 82; Harvard professor shared law expertise

Mr. Hinsey was a member of the Harvard Business School faculty for more than a decade.
Mr. Hinsey was a member of the Harvard Business School faculty for more than a decade.

When Joseph Hinsey IV joined the senior faculty at Harvard Business School in 1987, he brought to the classroom 30 years of experience in corporate law and his expertise in corporate governance.

Mr. Hinsey, who was partner at the New York-based law firm White & Case, gave Harvard’s MBA students a view of the legal hurdles they might face in their business careers, from antitrust issues to ethics concerns.

“He had such credibility with students and faculty,” said his colleague Samuel L. Hayes, an investment banking professor emeritus at Harvard. “He was not one to draw attention to himself. His competency was his calling card.”


Mr. Hinsey, who was on the Harvard Business School faculty for more than a decade and was the H. Douglas Weaver professor of business law emeritus, died June 13 in Brigham and Women’s Hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was 82 and lived in Lexington.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“He was a kind man who was involved, interested, and curious,” said Guhan Subramanian, who was a student when he met Mr. Hinsey and is now a professor at the business school and Harvard Law School.

“Joe was a mentor who made me think a lot about the disconnect between what corporate law scholars traditionally studied and what business people were actually thinking. All this influenced my research and teaching,” Subramanian said in a tribute to Mr. Hinsey that appeared on the business school’s website.

Born in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1931, Mr. Hinsey was the son of Joseph C. Hinsey, who was director of the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, and the former Sarah Callen. Mr. Hinsey was 4 when his father moved the family to New York.

“He always said he gave it careful consideration and decided to accompany his parents,” said his wife, Phyllis, recalling one of his favorite quips.


In 1949, Mr. Hinsey graduated from Scarsdale High School and headed to Cornell University. He entered Cornell Law School while finishing his undergraduate degree and completed law school in 1955. In addition to his studies, he was also courting Phyllis LaRue.

“We always found that very impressive,” said his eldest daughter, Carolyn, of Manhattan.

Mr. Hinsey was smitten when he first saw his future wife at a party during her freshman year, but they didn’t date until the next year.

“He came calling and said, ‘You want to have a cup of coffee?’ And that was that,” Phyllis recalled. They were married 58 years and had three daughters.

After Cornell, Mr. Hinsey went to Harvard Business School and graduated in 1957 with a master’s in business administration as a Baker Scholar.


He later became a senior partner at White & Case, where he specialized in corporate and securities law with a focus on corporate governance. He lived in Scarsdale, N.Y., for many years.

A recurring theme in the notes of condolence his family received from friends and colleagues was praise for his integrity, his daughter said.

“I asked him once why he wouldn’t consider running for office, because he’s so honest and I thought the government could use more like him. He said the effort of running isn’t designed for people like him,” Carolyn said.

When his daughters were young, Mr. Hinsey brought them to visit his offices on Wall Street. Carolyn recalled hearing her father greet the elevator operator by name.

“I asked him later, ‘Dad, how do you know that man?’ He said, ‘I work with him,’ ” she said. “That was one of the lessons we learned from my dad. He taught us everybody is equal and everyone has a story.”

At a restaurant, Mr. Hinsey liked chatting with the waitstaff. “We would know the waitress and where she was from before she read the specials,” Carolyn said.

Phyllis said her husband was encouraged to consider a teaching career by a friend, the late Boston attorney Joseph Auerbach, who taught at Harvard Business School for decades.

Mr. Hinsey reveled in his new work, his wife said, and he also enjoyed the short commute from his home to the business school. It was a welcome change after battling traffic from Scarsdale to New York City for so many years.

With his move to the Boston area, Mr. Hinsey also set aside years of rooting for the Yankees and the New York Giants. His motives for switching were practical.

“He said, ‘You can’t live in Boston and not be a Red Sox fan,’ ” Carolyn said.

A service has been held for Mr. Hinsey, who in addition to his wife and daughter leaves two other daughters, Nancy Hinsey Bakacs of Sudbury and Sara Hinsey Raveret of Wellesley; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Hinsey was remembered by colleagues as one of the giants of the corporate legal bar in New York. He was a founding member of the legal advisory committee to the board of governors of the New York Stock Exchange.

He also held offices in the American Bar Association, including chairman of the business law section and chairman of the bar’s committee on corporate laws.

In the 1980s, Mr. Hinsey served as editor of The Business Lawyer, a legal journal for corporate and securities lawyers. In the 1970s, he chaired the ABA’s committee on audit inquiry responses, which serves as a resource for lawyers handling financial reporting and disclosure issues.

Mr. Hinsey also chaired the drafting committee for several ABA publications, including the “Corporate Director’s Guidebook” and the “Auditor’s Letter Handbook.”

At Harvard, he taught a second-year MBA elective course called Law and the Corporate Manager, which focused on the intersection of business and law, and a course called Making Corporate Boards More Effective, which drew several chief executive officers and board members from other nations as his students.

Hayes recalled serving on the school’s academic performance committee, which Mr. Hinsey chaired.

“He was a very effective chairman who took the role of the committee seriously,” Hayes said, “and yet showed great compassion for students with special circumstances.”

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at