May 20, 2020 Did You Know?

When I Was a New Lawyer

By Leo J. Jordan
Leo J. Jordan, then and now.

Leo J. Jordan, then and now.

What inspired you to become a lawyer, and what did you do before becoming a lawyer?

After graduating from King’s College, a small liberal arts college in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, with a major in Economics, I had absolutely no idea how I wanted to spend my life. Nonetheless, a few lawyers were serving as adjunct professors who made a subtle influence on my life. These impressions, however, were not in business or economics, but rather in the area of social services and politics. I drifted toward Fordham University with the thought of seeking a master’s in sociology or a related field.

But my career deliberations were interrupted by a call to active duty in the US Navy during the Korean War. I spent two years on active duty. The first was serving as an instructor at a boot camp, reevaluating young men who joined the Navy but were unable to meet basic qualifications for continuing service. My role was to work with these recruits toward the goal of active service or, sadly, to return home. (This year was one of the most satisfying of my life.) The second year was serving as a radar operator on a Navy destroyer. It was during this time at sea that I thought a lot about what I wanted to do. I finally concluded I wanted to be a lawyer but had absolutely no idea how to go about this process.

After the war, I was accepted into an evening program at the University of Maryland School of Law, calling for four years of study. I then had the fortune of being hired by the Insurance Company of North America as a claims adjuster. For me, this was an ideal position. I had great flexibility as an adjuster. This position allowed me to work during the day, return home to my family for a quick nap and dinner, and head off to school three nights a week. Serving as a claims adjuster nourished my interest in law. I had the opportunity to meet many lawyers, as well as learn much about contracts, insurance, and tort law.

Also, working in Baltimore, a major shipping harbor, provided opportunities to deal with insurance-related maritime issues. All this experience sold me firmly on a career in law.

How did you become involved in the ABA?

Following several years in claims-related supervisory positions, I was offered an opportunity to join the law department of State Farm in Bloomington, Illinois. At that time, we were living in Dallas, clearly enjoying the Southwest environment. I had no interest in moving to Illinois, even after being presented with three promising opportunities. Finally, after contemplating another offer from the State Farm Law Department, I moved with my family to Bloomington and began a whole new career as corporate counsel.

But this period also involved the Watergate scandal, and lawyers, including the ABA, were under severe criticism because of the improper and scandalous activities of several high-level government attorneys. There were developing efforts towards federal regulation of lawyers. The ABA responded to this ominous threat by forming the ABA Special Commission on Evaluation of Professional Standards, which led to the adoption of the ABA Model Rules for Professional Standards. The general counsel of State Farm was deeply involved in this effort. He called upon me from time-to-time to represent him at these hearings. My interest in public policy issues flourished, and the ABA became an important part of my career and my personal life.

There was no turning back. I was sold on the ABA and became interested in TIPS and its activities. The sense of professionalism permeating throughout the ABA and TIPS told me this is where I want to be, and here I remain after 50 years.

What is the benefit of a new lawyer becoming active with the ABA?

The benefits are enormous, especially if a new lawyer intends to view their participation as a serious part of their professional life, as opposed to just an opportunity to engage in the social aspects of participation. The leadership of TIPS openly welcomes new members and is quick to provide opportunities for active involvement. For me, as in-house corporate counsel, the chance to engage with lawyers on a national level certainly broadened my perspective in the field of tort and insurance law. Participating in national task forces with plaintiff, defense, and corporate lawyers, debating issues of major national importance prompted me to seek common ground on broad public policy issues. This ability to view the other side of these issues became a major cornerstone of my law career. But also of major importance, I cannot overlook the benefit of acquiring new and lifelong friends all across the country. This was not only an enormous social benefit, but knowing first-class lawyers across the country provides untold professional benefits.

Advice

There are an increasing number of new lawyers within the ABA and TIPS who have chosen a legal career as in-house lawyers—as corporate counsel, distinguished from insurance staff counsel providing legal services to policyholders. Those whose career is providing counsel to corporate management and executives must recognize the distinction of providing legal advice and not business advice. In-house corporate counsel must work to attain a solid reputation as a lawyer and not as a mixed-use lawyer and businessperson. This advice becomes especially important when attempting to assert attorney-client or work-product privileges.

In-house corporate lawyers must be aware of their responsibility to work to increase diversity among lawyers. This responsibility primarily involves promoting diversity within the law department. But equally important is the opportunity to encourage diversity among outside firms representing the corporation. This effort was started some years ago by past ABA president Dennis Archer and remains one of the important responsibilities of corporate counsel, especially those who are among ABA and TIPS leadership.

Short mentoring statement

In-house corporate lawyers are recognized today as professional men and women who have chosen a corporate rather than a private law firm environment. For those whose lifestyle and family responsibilities are not easily conducive to private practice, it might well be the flexibility of a corporate practice that would be a wise choice. There are both advantages and disadvantages to both choices; nonetheless, young lawyers should carefully consider what lifestyle is the better personal choice. My observation is that lawyers, both men and women with families, often find the benefits and flexibility of a corporate environment more advantageous to a highly successful career.

During a recent commence address at the University of Texas, Admiral William H. Raven told the graduates, “if you want to change the world, make your bed.” He added, in this way you would have at least accomplished something each day. I might add as a less inspirational, but perhaps more in your economic interest, suggestion: Wear appropriate attire when meeting corporate or would-be corporate clients. Many corporate leaders expect lawyers to look like lawyers, even when forced to accept casual dress among their own employees.

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By Leo J. Jordan

Leo J. Jordan is a retired vice-president and counsel for State Farm Insurance Companies. Since then he has served as an independent arbitrator and a court-appointed arbitrator for Cook and DuPage counties in Illinois. He has a long-standing affiliation with the ABA generally and with TIPS particularly. He has worked his way through the ranks of this Section. Among his many involvements, he has served as chair of the TIPS Property Insurance Law Committee, TIPS Long Range Planning Committee, several terms as a member of Council, and ultimately chair of the TIPS Section. He has also served several terms as the TIPS representative in the ABA House of Delegates. His contributions to ABA and TIPS include serving as chair of numerous task forces and author of professional articles, including Tort Trial and Insurance Law Journal, The Brief, and TortSource. He can be reached at leojordan@dc.rr.com.