20 Questions Larry L. Turner
1. West’s Encyclopedia of American Law defines “Philadelphia lawyer” as a “shrewd attorney adept at the discovery and manipulation of legal technicalities.” Did you leave Georgetown after law school wanting to become a Philadelphia lawyer because of the challenge or were Tony Luke’s cheesesteaks the primary reason? Seriously, how did you become a Philadelphia lawyer?
I was lucky. I was introduced to a partner in a Philadelphia law firm. He took the time to speak with me and then to his partners. I think I made a favorable impression on them during the interview process. I know they and the city made a great impression on me. As for becoming a Philadelphia lawyer according to the West’s Encyclopedia definition, I am still working on it. While Philadelphia does not have a lock on legal talent, I believe we have some of the finest lawyers in the country.
2. You are our second interview from Philadelphia. As you know, Steve Cozen of Cozen O’Connor, another top 100 law firm, spoke with us a couple of years ago about a variety of salient topics on everyone’s mind these days. Of particular interest are your thoughts on where the profession is going. That is, what influence do you think the business side of law is having on the dignity and honor of the profession?
The practice of law is a service business. We must evolve to meet the current and future needs of our clients. As the methods and manner in which information is created, shared, valued, sold, and protected change, we must also. Nevertheless, there will always be room for dignity and honor in the practice of law. I have found that the really good lawyers take great pride in being creative and fighting hard for their clients, while realizing that their adversary today may be their ally tomorrow. The central pivot upon which each of these interests is balanced is individual character.
3. What was your evolution toward litigation, and did it begin before, during or after law school? That is, did you want to be Perry Mason growing up, or did you want to become a trial lawyer after getting out of law school and reading contracts all day long for the first six months of your career?
Perry Mason and Thurgood Marshall! I grew up in a rural area of North Carolina. Two lawyers set the standard in my community – one fictional and one very real. The fictional character Perry Mason was larger than life because he was smart, drove a cool car, and had a presence about him that conveyed confidence and an iron will. He almost always won. Even Della and Paul were neat. What a team! I can still remember pretending my five speed bike with the banana seat was Mason’s convertible car as I peddled to the local Boy’s Club. I was “really” driving to a crime scene to meet Paul.
Thurgood Marshall, however, was a real hero in my community. He and his team of lawyers provided two things that many my world at that time doubted were possible - hope and opportunity. I will be eternally grateful to him and to those who worked with him for their courage and perseverance. While he and his team are famous for their appellate work, the stories to which I listened as a boy of their work at the trial level inspired me to follow the path that I continue to follow today. From my selection to portray a trial lawyer in my fifth grade play until … well, until I meet my maker, I have been and will continue to be proud to be a trial lawyer.
4. What impact do you think the discovery process has had on the number of cases being tried?
Huge! It has changed the litigation gauntlet focus from trial to pre-trial. As a result, fewer cases are being tried because the cost benefit analysis – particularly after extensive discovery – many times does not warrant taking the risks associated with trial from a business perspective.
5. What do you consider your most unusual accomplishment?
Driving a cool car on the autobahn.
6. I once practiced with a fantastic, though legendarily difficult, trial lawyer named Olin Zeanah. One of my partners, beginning when we were associates, kept a list of “Zeanahisms.” They were little gems of knowledge that Zeanah would occasionally impart. Did you have a trial icon or mentor in your early years of practice who shared with you the wisdom of years of practice? If so, please tell us about them.
I believe I am still in my “early years,” so I will include the three lawyers who have influenced my approach to trials:
Jeffrey R. Lerman - “A half-truth is a lie.”
Edward T. Ellis – “Keep your eye on the ball.”
S. Gerald Litvin – “Be yourself.”
7. What has been the biggest change in the way law is practiced between the time you first began until now?
Balancing family and professional obligations. There are still only 24 hours in a day, but we are all pushing to get more done in the same amount of time.
8. Okay, let’s lighten things up a little. You went to the University of North Carolina for your undergraduate degree, followed by Georgetown Law, and saw both win NCAA basketball championships while you were in law school. Which team would have won had you played? Tar Heels ’82 or Hoyas ’84?
Clearly you have not seen my jump shot in the last few years. It does not exist! The team for which I played would have lost. Seriously, I am a Tar Heel— born and bred. If the Heels are not playing the Hoyas, I will cheer for the Hoyas.
9. Litigators tend to travel a great deal. What are some of your favorite cities or places, and what fascinates you about them?
The Outer Banks of North Carolina – the beaches and pace
Kiawah, South Carolina – the beaches and pace
Philadelphia, Pa - manageability
Washington, DC - museums
New Orleans – the food
10. Have you ever had a case in which your opposing counsel went over the line ethically in representing their clients’ interests? How did you deal with it?
Not really. The few situations of that type in which I have been involved have been addressed by a letter to the other side. Conduct of that type addressed in writing usually brings it to a stop.
11. What intrigues you about prior generations of trial lawyers?
I am intrigued by their ability to create and perpetuate a legal system that has survived and continues to be effective.
12. If you were a judge, what would you do differently from what you deal with most frequently in your practice before presiding jurists?
Most of the jurists before whom I appear are very good. The trait that I find most helpful is when they keep cases moving.
13. How about another softball? What was the last fictional lawyer book you read, and was it on point?
I recently read To Kill A Mockingbird again. Yes, it was on point – particularly with respect to life in a small town.
14. What is your greatest extravagance?
15. What object in your office serves to re-energize you when your mood needs an adjustment?
Two paintings of beach scenes and “art” prepared by my kids.
16. If you could meet anyone from history, who would it be, and why?
Thurgood Marshall. Please see my response to question 3.
17. Diversity, along with excellence and integrity, is central to the LCA’s mission and plays a fundamental role in our selection of Fellows, growth, and goals. We want to quote you on diversity in the next issue of Litigation Commentary & Review, as well as the Diversity Law Institute's new website. So in a word, sentence, or paragraph, what, in your opinion, is the significance or importance of furthering diversity within the profession of law and throughout our system of justice?
Furthering diversity is essential to our system of justice and the legal profession. To ensure that both the system and profession remain relevant and effective, those affected by both must believe that the system and profession are fair and works for all. In modern society, without a diversity of cultures, ideas, and people, visibly involved in both, the basic cornerstone of faith in the system and the profession will erode away. For a historical example of how powerful diversity in the profession can be, take a close look at the composition of the team of lawyers that worked with Thurgood Marshall during the various cases in the desegregation litigation. They were diverse.
18. What trait do you most value in your friends?
19. If you could not be a lawyer, what would you like to be?
History professor or museum docent.
20. What is your motto?
By G. Steven Henry