Over a month ago, I had a terrific conversation with a law firm leader whom I’ve come to know over the years. Paul Cereghini is at Bowman and Brooke, where he is the firm’s national chairman. Much to my chagrin, I am just now getting to report out on what we discussed and some news from the firm.
The honor that has come his way is a highly specific one: Paul is “the only lawyer based in Phoenix to chair a national law firm that was not based in Arizona.” (The 180-lawyer firm has 10 offices in seven states.)
When I talked with Paul in early May, I congratulated him but also chuckled at the legalistic specificity of that achievement. Nonetheless, Phoenix should be pleased at his accomplishment, which reflects well not just on the firm but on the city.
The news release interested me for reasons beyond city-pride, though. I also noted that Cereghini has been with the firm since joining right out of law school, and he is only the third chair in the firm’s 30-year history (Dick Bowman headed it up as managing partner for 23 years, then David Graves served as chair until early this year.)
Both of those accomplishments are noteworthy, and the first—staying with one firm from law school graduation through senior partnership—is increasingly rare today.
When Paul Cereghini took the associate job on Feb. 1, 1985, Bowman and Brooke was just opening its doors. On that day, he joined seven partners and six other associates in the new law-firm venture. And this spring, he became the firm’s third chair. Quite a career arc.
Cereghini said he expects to maintain his full trial practice—and pointed to the firm’s operations and leadership structure as reasons why that will be possible. When the firm moved away from a managing partner structure, he said, they adopted a chairmanship and took on professional nonlawyer staff leaders for other duties that used to occupy the managing partner’s time.
“Where other law firms might have their chair scale back,” said Cereghini, “we have a solid administrative side with a COO.” That person oversees the day-to-day activities of departments such as IT, facilities management and HR.
That structure frees Cereghini up to focus on his practice and the parts of leadership he enjoys most: “strategic planning and vision in the formation of strategic plans for the firm and administration.”
He also said that he enjoys lateral recruiting, finding people who “mesh with the culture of the firm.”
Cereghini said that those new firm lawyers have to embrace the organization’s core values: “collegiality, support for each other, sharing foxholes together.”
He also spoke about the firm’s product-liability and automotive practices, which have involved clients like Honda, Toyota, and Riddell. In March, a California jury returned a defense verdict of 12–0 in a defective products case arising when a woman was injured while riding in a Rhino ATV, manufactured by Yamaha. Bowman represented Yamaha, and Cereghini was lead trial counsel in the case. The claim in the case had been $16.7 million, plus punitive damages. According to the firm, “The trial involved the last active matter in the California JCCP Rhino litigation that at one time had more than 275 matters.”
In products-liability cases, Cereghini said, the landscape continues to shift. Federal court efficiency via the increased use of multi-district litigation (MDL) has changed the way such cases are defended. That means high-profile products cases may keep attorneys involved in multiple places simultaneously. And the fastest-growing areas in the field, he said, are in drugs and medical devices, and in consumer products.
Proud of his firm of trial lawyers, he said they continually to seek opportunities where younger attorneys can advocate before a finder of fact. He said that two dozen attorneys in the firm are first-chair qualified.
Asked if he can name a favorite element of trial practice, Cereghini ponders before mentioning the cross-examination of experts.
“That is probably the most fun I have in a courtroom. It lets me put in my case during the plaintiff’s case.”
Cereghini recalled that when he started at the firm, he had a unique opportunity: He was able to try two cases in 18 months with partners Dick Bowman and Jeff Brooke. “I received a tremendous education.” According to the firm, Cereghini has defended cases in 40 U.S. states.
As the firm prepared for its 30th annual meeting, Cereghini praised those who laid the foundation.
“Dick Bowman taught my generation how to be trial lawyers. And now, my generation has done the same.”
NOTE: The original post was edited to reflect the fact that Paul Cereghini is “the only lawyer based in Phoenix to chair a national law firm that was not based in Arizona.”Follow @azatty