TS: What inspired you to become a lawyer? And what did you do prior to becoming a lawyer?
Veed: I’m not sure I ever had a choice! I grew up in a legal family. Not only was my father a well-known trial lawyer and crusader, his two brothers-in-law were lawyers, too. My brother, three cousins, one brother-in-law, a niece, and a nephew also have become lawyers. My father frequently brought me or one of my siblings along on investigations and other legal adventures, so I sat through my first jury trial (a product liability case in Michigan) at age 11, and first appeared in the Nebraska Supreme Court at age 6. Some years later, when I argued my first case there, one of the judges was still on the bench and remembered me.
Trying to assert a little independence, I clerked for a business firm. But fate intervened, and the firm—which eschewed litigation—was called upon to try a jury case. I ended up walking my senior partner through the intricacies of jury selection, exhibit foundation, and instructions, and we ultimately won the case, including an appeal. Following that, the partner took me aside and told me I was welcome in his firm, but he thought I should pursue trial work. So, I did what everyone else expected and joined the family firm.
I do love trial work and was fortunate to be one of the first women in local memory to try and win civil jury trials. I loved the fact that being a lawyer makes it possible to solve difficult problems, build worthwhile businesses, and set wrong things right—and I still do. What I did not plan on was leaving the family personal injury practice to live and work overseas (in the Netherlands and Bermuda) before ending up in Chicago and ultimately switching to the “dark side” of insurance work!
TS: How did you become involved with the ABA?
Veed: In Bermuda, I worked for an attorney who was trying to raise the legal profile of the island by highlighting some of the creative solutions the Bermuda insurance and legal community had proposed to resolve multinational insurance insolvencies. He served as cochair (with David Spector of TIPS’s Excess, Surplus Lines, and Reinsurance Committee) of a TIPS National Institute on Insurance Insolvency, and he got me involved in planning it and writing a paper that broke some ground in the field.
I maintained my TIPS membership after returning to the United States but did not become active in the Section until November of 2000, when TIPS offered its members the opportunity for a formal admission to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Two things went wrong that week: First, the ballot count for the presidential election erupted into a case that landed before the Supreme Court for emergency argument on the Monday of our planned admission. With just hours to prepare for argument, the justices somehow shoehorned our swearing in into their morning but backed out of the planned lunch. Equally extraordinary, though, a blizzard buried Washington in deep snow and closed the airport.
The upshot was that my husband and I were stranded in the company of John Pavlou, Mitch Orpett, and dozens of other engaging TIPsters. John set out to recruit me to TIPS publications. The following spring, I was appointed to the editorial board of the Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Law Journal, and I have been involved in some form of Section leadership—ranging from committee work and the development of CLE programming to editing the Law Journal and The Brief—ever since.
TS: What is the benefit of a new lawyer becoming active with the ABA?
Veed: I am not sure the case for involvement with a national bar is as compelling for a brand “new” lawyer as it is for slightly more seasoned lawyers who want to make the move from “competent” to “expert.” But as soon as new lawyers settle into their offices, they should notice that working with the best matters. TIPS (and other ABA groups) boast an active membership that includes leading lawyers and judges from all parts of the profession. TIPS programming features speakers of national stature and (if I do say so myself) its publications have access to such a wide range of excellent work that they are simply a notch more sophisticated and wide-ranging than state bars can consistently deliver.
TS: What early career practices led to your success?
Veed: I have had a remarkably varied career in the law, but a common thread in its twists and turns is that I have never shied away from trying something new. That habit gave me the opportunity to be one of the first women in living memory to successfully try a civil jury case in Omaha; in Europe, it allowed me to contribute to the development of the European Union’s first product liability law and to help win an antitrust case in the European Court of Justice (with a brief in Dutch) and, back on home turf, to build a team of experts who enabled us to recover enough money for a toxic shock victim single mother to safely raise her family in spite of having lost both hands and both feet. I can’t honestly say that I ever saw those things coming, but when they turned up, I am glad I could accept the challenges they presented. When the next off-the-wall question presents itself, the sense that “I wasn’t planning on that” won’t be an excuse to say “no.”
TS: What is your advice for dealing with difficult partners, colleagues, or counsel?
Veed: “If it was easy, somebody would have done it already.” Lawyers solve problems, and difficult colleagues and opponents are all in a day’s work. Try to find common ground and a basis for mutual respect, then build little steps from there.
TS: What gives you the most satisfaction:
Veed: There’s nothing like the rush of working with a skilled team to develop a new solution or make a great case. Except maybe reading a shiny new issue of The Brief!
Mary Cannon Veed’s Advice for New Lawyers:
- Don’t pigeonhole yourself! Most lawyers pick their area of specialization because that’s where they got their first job. Having got one, they work hard at developing expertise in it, but rarely give another thought to whether it’s their best fit—which is silly. Use your personal network, CLE opportunities, and broad-based professional associations to expose yourself to other specialties, and don’t stay away from opportunities to pursue change, even if it means leaving a perfectly good job. Being actively curious about the work of other lawyers, and other professionals, not only builds you a better network, but can give you a toehold in new fields if the opportunity for change arises.
- Get comfortable with math and the sciences. Law schools largely ignore them, but accounting, statistics, biology, physics, medicine, and a host of other technical fields are where many of our clients live and work—and where evidence you need to understand and marshal can be found.
- Work to live; don’t live to work! Pursuing exercise, arts, the outdoors, or whatever else lights up your life can give you a better perspective on your day job and the energy to do it better.