Jimmy Walsh Talks about Work, Family, Community and General Schwarzkopf

12.27.12 | Permalink

When Jimmy Walsh graduated from West Point, he had no idea that he’d go on to become an attorney.  Today, he is a partner at Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell, where he focuses his litigation practice in the areas of commercial litigation, consumer practices with an emphasis on breach of warranty and Lemon Law claims and product liability defense.

Jimmy, can you tell us what led you to practice law?

James_WalshAfter graduating from West Point, I served in Viet Nam under (then Ltc.) General H. Norman Schwarzkopf as a Recon Platoon Leader. When we returned stateside after the war, the Army started to reduce and then aggressively scaled back. I was about to get married and wasn’t sure what my next career step should be.  I was actually thinking of getting out because of the drastically reduced chances for command. I went to Washington and my old boss General Schwarzkopf was in charge of assignments.  In an effort to keep me in the Army, he suggested that I go to law school.  He said that he didn’t know anyone who liked to argue as much as I did.

It turned out to be a good decision.  After intensive trial work in Germany, I practiced both criminal and civil law in D.C. for several years. After leaving the service after twenty years, I joined a law firm in Birmingham and practiced there for 18 years. The firm merged with a larger firm with a different culture and I decided to move to Rumberger. It’s a great firm to work in.  The lawyers are good, ethical and devoted to their clients, while still being fun-loving in a good way. I’ve been very happy here.

Tell us a little bit about what makes your practice interesting.

I work a lot in product liability and with insurance companies.  But lately, I’ve been doing more fraud work; especially defending small banks from efforts of borrowers to avoid paying their loans. The variety of the work keeps me on my toes and you’d be surprised to see some of the messes people can get themselves involved in, which we try to clean up.

One case I tried is a good example of variety.  It was a refinery explosion case that resulted in several really bad burn injuries. These injuries were just awful. Anyway, the case required delving into an incredible amount of science and engineering.  We really needed to understand what happened and why, in order to figure out a good trial strategy to be able to explain the circumstances to a jury in terms they could understand.

Smaller banks generally don’t have in-house legal counsel. Knowing that you do a lot of work for these institutions, what do you see as some of the more pressing challenges they face?

Knowing  when to hold and when to fold.  It is important to know the difference, and to help your client to understand which is which.   Walking away from a bad problem can often invite more expensive repeat problems, but chasing your tail to prove you can is not a good strategy either.  Having good forms, which are both utilized and filled out correctly, and observing bank guidelines, unless a written reason is in the file for not doing so avoid many problems and solves most.

What advice do you have for young attorneys?

The most important thing you can do is to really listen to your clients. It is challenging sometimes because so many times your client’s focus is on unimportant things. You have to have the patience and ability to listen and cut through the chatter to get to the real legal issues and begin developing strategies to solve them.  It takes practice to sort through what is important and what isn’t – what will make a difference in a case. We have to take care of our clients. Sometimes they don’t understand because they don’t try cases, and when that happens, they can be their own worst enemies. It’s our job to keep them safe.

Your relationship with General Schwarzkopf has endured throughout the years. Can you share some antidotes?

When I first moved into this office, the General was the first person to call me. The receptionist told me some “kook” was on the phone claiming to be General Schwarzkopf, but I told her to put him through. I first met him when taking an advanced physics class, which he taught at West Point. After first being deployed to Viet Nam, I found that the senior leadership in our battalion was awful. One day a helicopter came in bearing the new battalion commander. When I found out who it was, I knew there was a “new sheriff in town.” The General, a Lieutenant Colonel at the time, took good care of his men. I remember being in an especially nasty firefight and a general officer in a helicopter above us kept shouting orders to me on the radio.  Schwarzkopf interrupted and told the officer to leave us alone so we could do our job.   He never worried about himself; he always took care of us.

When he was in Birmingham on a book tour, two of my sons were eager to go see the General. When we got there, the line was really long and I knew I would not be able to be away from the office long enough to wait our turn. Suddenly an announcement was made that autographs would be limited to one book per patron. The person who was fourth in line approached me to ask if my sons would hold two books for him, so suddenly we were towards the front of the line. As we approached the table, the General looked up and smiled, stood, shook my hand and told my boys, “Your dad was one hell of a soldier.” It was a wonderful moment and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. The General is a great leader and bonded with the men in his command. He would never ask anyone to do something that he wouldn’t do himself.

Tell us a little bit about what you do outside the office. Any hobbies or special interests?

I was a Scout leader from 1981 to 2008, spending 15 years as Scout Master and working with a lot of great kids. We participated in many boy-led activities outdoors, including backpacking and camping – traveling all around the country. Now we have a group we affectionately call the ‘Geezers’, a bunch of former Scout leaders and even some of the, now grown, boys we mentored. We get together once a quarter for canoeing, backpacking or some other outdoor adventure. I love the outdoors – it clears the mind.

Today I am introducing my grandsons to the outdoors. Family life is full. I have three sons, a daughter and eight grandchildren. I’m proud of the accomplishments of all my kids have achieved, but I must say that my one son who has battled bi-polar disorder and owns a landscaping and yard maintenance company is really special. I also have a sibling that battles this mental health problem and that is what led me to become active with the local affiliate and State Executive Board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  Mental illness is really misunderstood throughout our communities.  When people who are afflicted have support and the proper care, they can become productive citizens and live normal lives.   A huge portion of our population is affected either as family members or are those who suffer from the diseases.  It is not a problem that goes away if you only shut your eyes.

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