Bowman and Brooke chair Paul Cereghini in front of a Yamaha Rhino.

Bowman and Brooke chair Paul Cereghini in front of a Yamaha Rhino.

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.”

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So busy has January been that the holidays seem very long ago. But one thing that reminds me of December gifts still sits on my desk—where I expect it to stay for a long time to come.

I wrote before about gifts that trickle into offices during the holidays. There, I focused on presents of a caloric variety, like cakes and candy. But today I write about a gift that turned up the hotness quotient in another way.

Bowman and Brooke LLP have been out there lawyering now for 25 years. Because no one can describe a firm better than the lawyers themselves, here they are, in their own words:

“In less than 25 years, Bowman and Brooke LLP has become a nationally recognized trial firm and the fourth largest product liability practice in the country. The firm’s 150 attorneys defend a variety of corporate clients, including many Fortune 500 and internationally-based companies, in widely publicized catastrophic injury and wrongful death verdicts, and other complex litigation throughout all 50 states.”

Very nice, of course, but hardly the point of today’s essay—though it is connected.

Paul Cereghini

As the Bowman firm looked about for a way to mark their anniversary, they may have pondered Lucite plaques, coffee mugs, and even pens. Fortunately for us history and law buffs, though, they kept thinking, and came up with a great idea: a book of photographs of American courthouses.

Of course, there is a tie to the firm. As their press release says, “Anywhere. Anytime. Any Courthouse gathers an array of photographs of the 250 courthouses nationwide where Bowman and Brooke lawyers have tried cases.” (Read the complete release here.)

Boasting? Sure, maybe more than a wee bit. But the massive tome makes an impression on a reader (and on his lap!), and it is a wonderful visual tribute to those physical locations where we are pleased to report that the business of justice gets done.

Those places have great psychic and emotional power, which we saw again this past week, as the Ninth Circuit ordered flags flown at half-mast in honor of Chief Judge John Roll. As I reported, it is moving simply to gaze on the Circuit’s buildings fronted by flags.

Jeff Brooke

And so it is in this book. I found myself traveling page by page through the 282-page volume, looking with interest at courthouses I have no connection to and that I may never visit. And the lack of narrative was no deterrent. Or rather, the subtle narrative of American justice as wrought in buildings great and small made the page-turning easy.

I sat down and spoke with Bowman and Brooke’s own Paul Cereghini and Jeff Brooke about their courthouse book project.

Cereghini is the firm’s Executive Managing Partner. Brooke is a Founding Partner and the firm’s General Counsel. And both of them were excited to talk about a book of photos.

First, of course, we talked about the firm and its accomplishments. And there was much to discuss: The firm is lead defense counsel in Yamaha Rhino cases, and in Toyota unintended acceleration cases. It also has played important recent roles for clients like Altria and Briggs Pain Pumps.

Arizona Attorney Magazine covered the firm way back in December 2003. Back then, I spoke with them mainly in regard to their automotive/motor vehicle/products liability defense work. Today, Cereghini says, the firm has added more work in mass tort defense, class actions and national pattern litigation.

And, he adds, the firm has more than two dozen lawyers who have first-chair experience in defending catastrophic injury cases. And that, he says, is where the book idea came from.

Initially, Cereghini says, the firm considered a more traditional book focused on major trials. But that would necessarily have meant it would focus on particular individuals—lawyers and clients—rather than on the firm as a whole.

With about 684 confirmed trials under its belt, the firm moved toward a different idea: a book featuring a photo of every courthouse in which a Bowman and Brooke lawyer had handled a case. That would have meant about 350 buildings; Cereghini finally settled on about 250.

Cereghini admits he is moved by the photos, knowing that “someone from our firm passed through the doors of each one.”

Just as moving, the photos are unaccompanied by commentary—except for occasional enlightening quotations, which we’ll cover in a moment.

Jeff Brooke came to know quite a few of those courthouses firsthand. Semi-retired now, he said he had driven from Washington State to the firm’s office in Minneapolis. When he got there, he heard from a firm marketer.

“She was surprised I had driven across the country—and not told her!” She was gathering material for the book and had a database of courthouses, most of which the firm had hired professional photographers to shoot. But there were gaps.

“She said, ‘I need Bismarck. I need Fargo!’”

So Brooke, an accomplished photographer, agreed to take a more leisurely drive southwest, to Phoenix. Along the way, he and Sheila, his Australian Shepherd, stopped and shot about 20 courthouses. Later, he drove north through Northern California, photographing as he went.

His favorites?

“Some of the best pictures I took were in Iowa,” Brooke says. “But my favorite is of a courthouse where I tried a case, in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico. It’s very pretty.”

The book went as far afield as to shoot courthouses in Canada and Puerto Rico, but none are featured from the two states in which the firm has had no litigation: Delaware and New Hampshire.

Cereghini is pleased to share credit for the outcome with Dan Vermillion, in Phoenix, who handled post-production on all the photos. And their publisher in Minnesota, Brio, printed about 2,000 copies of the striking book.

The book’s jacket features images of courthouses from the firm’s first two office locations: the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth, Minnesota, and the Cochise County Courthouse from right here in Bisbee.

“Paul invested a lot of himself into this,” says Jeff Brooke. “Praise for the vision, the prose, the physical layout—that really goes to Paul.”

The prose, little that there is, compels the reader to pause and read. Along the way, we read inspirational musings by quite a few heavy hitters. Let’s end with a few of those quotations.

Muhammed Ali: “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.”

Harper Lee, in To Kill a Mockingbird: “But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentleman, is a court.”

Maya Angelou: “Nothing will work unless you do.”

Louis Pasteur: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Abraham Lincoln: “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left behind by those who hustle.”

Finally, Dizzy Dean: “If you done it, it ain’t braggin’.”

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