We continue reflecting on the first 40 years of the Beasley Allen Law Firm with a look at the firm’s success in the face of adversity.
In 1981, the firm moved to a larger location on Hull Street, and Mike Crow joined the firm as a law clerk shortly after the relocation. He would become another named partner. At this time, the firm became known around town as “The Tort Fort.” The nickname, attributed to the firm by so-called “tort reform” proponents attempting to disparage its work, only encouraged Jere and his law partners to continue their work.
Tort law changes in the 1960s and 1970s improved victims’ access to justice through the court system in the U.S. In response, political operatives with significant funding from large corporations looking to reclaim the judicial advantage over the “little man” began pushing back and waging a public opinion war on trial lawyers.
The one-dimensional argument posed by those favoring tort reform can easily sway opinion with a cursory glance. A deeper look, however, shows trial lawyers play a critical role in improving health and safety and holding corporate bad actors accountable. Hard-won victories on behalf of consumers and workers have successfully removed defective products from the stream of commerce; uncovered false and deceptive marketing schemes and other fraudulent activities; exposed ruthless employers willing to jeopardize worker health and safety just to increase profits; and represented whistleblowers retaliated against for reporting corruption and fraud, and who assisted the federal government in recovering taxpayer dollars.
“Regardless of my circumstances, I really never let anything distract me,” Jere said. “I wanted to build a practice and to help folks who could only get help and justice in the courts.”
Still, the shift in the political landscape presented challenges on a larger than normal scale. The challenges were met with out-of-the-box ideas from Tom Methvin, who joined the firm in 1988 and became the firm’s managing attorney 10 years later. Soon after becoming managing attorney, Tom implemented several changes including expanding the firm’s reach beyond Alabama.
The firm’s first case on the national stage also positioned it to become a pioneer in a practice that is common today – Mass Torts, which handles matters involving dangerous and defective drugs and medical devices. The firm handled cases in Mississippi that involved the diet drug Fen-Phen, which was linked to long-term heart valve problems. It obtained sizable compensation for the victims harmed by the drug and solidified the new Mass Torts Section with Andy Birchfield leading the section. Under Andy’s guidance, Mass Torts continued winning large verdicts, which further heightened the firm’s national profile and helped grow the firm’s client base.
Additionally, Tom reorganized the firm’s structure. Taking his cue from the success of the Mass Torts Section, Tom realized that if attorneys could focus on certain areas of law, the firm could more effectively carry out its purpose of “helping those who need it most.” This move placed Beasley Allen at the forefront of another practice that is common today – organizing a firm in sections based on case type. The approach also allows attorneys to remain current on emerging trends and innovative in their practice of law, even in the face of significant challenges.
In the firm’s infancy, Jere told Sara he couldn’t imagine having more than five lawyers in the firm when she asked. That vision has long been surpassed, due in part to the changes Tom implemented, which resulted in a larger client base and encouraged success across the firm.
“My goal was to build a good law firm – one that would represent folks from all walks of life who both need and deserve justice – and I am blessed to still be an active lawyer in the firm,” Jere said.
Visit BeasleyAllen.com throughout the week for more reflections on the firm’s first 40 years.
University of California, Berkley