Photo by Michelle Nolan.
Public service is often an inherent part of a plaintiffs’ practice, particularly at leading firms like Chicago’s Corboy & Demetrio. The firm’s managing partner, Kenneth T. Lumb, has taken that spirit to an even higher level through years of military service and ongoing commitment to U.S. veterans. Lumb served as a Captain in the Army JAG Corps at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before joining Corboy & Demetrio in 1995. As a reservist, he served again at Walter Reed after being called to active duty following the start of the Iraq war in 2003. The experiences have had a lasting impact on Lumb, who like his fellow partners has amassed a long string of multimillion verdicts and settlements for firm clients. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1988 and earned his J.D. from DePaul College of Law in 1991.
Lawdragon: Can you talk about why you wanted to do the ROTC program and join the Army? Did you have family members in the military, or how did this interest develop?
Kenneth T. Lumb: There certainly is a military background in my family. My grandfather enlisted in the Navy in World War II and served in the Pacific in the Seabees. My father was an Army artillery officer in in the 50’s and my older brother, who also went to Notre Dame on an ROTC scholarship, was an infantry officer in the Army. I guess I’m the black sheep, because I wasn’t a combat arms officer.
When I was growing up, my dad was a high school history teacher with a particular interest in military history. There were always military books and magazines laying around, which I found I enjoyed reading. My father used to say that historically there were three noble professions, but he always added the military and teaching to the list. So, the idea of public service was always a given. I think those experiences had much to do with my desire to be an Army officer.
LD: When at Notre Dame did you develop an interest in the law, or did this interest develop earlier?
KTL: It’s hard to pinpoint because I’ve wanted to be a lawyer or an Army officer for as long as I can remember. At Notre Dame, however, I took several undergraduate constitutional law classes that really galvanized me. I was fascinated by the subject matter and the arguments, and I also found myself rooting for the little guy, Clarence Gideon over the State of Florida, for instance. I think that experience foreshadowed my affinity for representing injured plaintiffs.
LD: What did you hope you would be doing with a legal career in the Army?
KTL: It wasn’t until I began applying for an ROTC scholarship in high school that I learned about the JAG Corps and realized I could be a lawyer and an officer. My plan up through my first year of law school was to make a career out of the Army.
LD: How specifically did you end up at Corboy & Demetrio?
KTL: Either through providence or a happy accident, depending on your outlook. My wife’s family came from the same town in Ireland as Mary Kay Rochford, now Illinois Appellate Court Justice, who is married to Corboy & Demetrio partner Mike Demetrio. As I was finishing my first year of law school, my wife’s aunt gave Mike a call, and suddenly I had an interview to be a law clerk. Other than the time I’ve spent on active duty in the Army, I’ve been here ever since.
LD: When did you know that you wanted to become a plaintiffs’ lawyer as opposed to a defense-side lawyer or other type of litigator?
KTL: After a summer clerking at Corboy & Demetrio, I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer representing plaintiffs. It was incredibly exciting to watch Tom Demetrio and Phil Corboy in action. But what left the biggest impression was their compassion for their clients, people experiencing enormous loss and often at the low point of their lives. To be able to help restore some of what was taken away is just enormously gratifying, and that’s why I do this kind of work.
LD: Please talk about your tour at the Walter Reed facility. What were your responsibilities and what types of cases did you handle?
KTL: When I graduated from Notre Dame, I was commissioned an armor second lieutenant but received an educational delay to attend law school. After I graduated from law school and passed the bar, the Army brought me on to active duty in the JAG Corps. I originally requested assignment as a prosecutor with the 82d Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, where I was looking forward to jumping out of airplanes, but the Army had other ideas.
The JAG Corps personnel folks decided my experience at Corboy & Demetrio fit well with Walter Reed, the defense department’s largest medical center. It didn’t seem nearly as interesting as Ft. Bragg at first but turned out to be an amazing experience, and I ended up spending my entire military career giving legal advice to Army doctors.
My first assignment was as the Medical Claims Judge Advocate, which is Army-speak for medical malpractice defense attorney. I represented the Army during the administrative phase of Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) cases arising out of care at Walter Reed and at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and worked with the local U.S. Attorney’s Office on claims that were put in suit. I was also the legal advisor to the quality improvement and peer review committees and provided advice on hospital law and federal administrative law.
Looking back on that time, the breadth of the experience was just amazing. As a young captain, I routinely met with colonels who were heads of departments to learn about the medicine involved in a case. I’d even get called to watch autopsies in deaths involving care with the potential for litigation.
LD: Very interesting. Did you then rejoin Corboy & Demetrio?
KTL: When I left active duty in early 1996, Tom and Phil were nice enough to give me a job, but I also stayed active in the Army Reserve for the next 15 years or so, with their enthusiastic support. I was never in a drilling reserve unit but was assigned to Walter Reed as the mobilization backfill for the deputy of the legal office. In peacetime, that generally meant 2-4 weeks of active duty per year to fill in while the deputy was on leave or on temporary duty elsewhere. But soon after the start of the Iraq war in 2003, I was formally mobilized and spent six months at Walter Reed, mostly as the deputy of the JAG office and sometimes as the acting head of the office.
Service at a medical center in wartime was entirely different than my earlier experience. Walter Reed was inundated with casualties, and the pace was somewhat frenetic. Military commanders tend to view their lawyers as problem solvers and not strictly as legal advisors, and the range of issues we dealt with was enormous, ranging from the use of deadly force at the installation’s gates to whether Jessica Lynch could accept gifts from the public, and everything in between. One of my favorites was a phone call about a wounded special forces soldier who refused to give up his sidearm. That was an interesting night.
One of the main jobs was simply to find creative – but legal – ways for commanders to make the lives of wounded soldiers and their families a little easier. That was important because misusing appropriated funds can land you in jail.
That six months was a humbling experience. It was certainly inconvenient to be away from my family for most of that time, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to the sacrifice of those casualties and their families.
LD: Can you please tell us about any of your extra-practice or community activities, including your ongoing connection to the military?
KTL: Much of my extracurricular activities involve veterans, service members and their families. I’ve served as the chair of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Military Affairs Committee and the American Association of Justice’s Federal Tort Liability and Military Advocacy Section.
LD: Let’s move to what matters are keeping you busy these days. Is there a recent verdict or settlement you can highlight?
KTL: While we are best known for representing plaintiffs who are individuals, we also represent businesses. In a recent settlement, we obtained $2.1 million for a law firm in an attorney-client contract dispute. The law firm had contracted with a corporation to handle all legal matters surrounding acquisitions of contracts with Volkswagen for the storage of vehicles. The contract was written so the law firm would receive either a set amount per month, or a contingency fee percentage of net income derived from the contract between the corporation and Volkswagen once net income reached a threshold amount. Plaintiff alleged that it was entitled to the contingency fee and we were able to able to secure an equitable settlement for our client.
LD: What about the months or year ahead? Are there particular cases on which you will be in trial or that will occupy most of your time?
KTL: I’m currently busy working on a number of mass tort cases involving numerous consumers with lymphoma related to Roundup and women with ovarian cancer from talcum powder. I’m also getting ready to try a case involving a gasoline pipeline spill that contaminated an entire community’s drinking water supply in central Illinois.
LD: Did you seek out the role of Managing Partner or were you asked to do it? Are there any leadership challenges right now or firm initiatives that you can discuss?
KTL: I was appointed Managing Partner in January. I help guide the overall strategic direction of our firm as well as manage the types of cases we become involved with. In addition, I assist in the training of our young attorneys and in the marketing of our firm. I also help manage our firm’s business operations, ensuring we are employing technology in all aspects of our law practice.
There are no leadership challenges at our firm. We are a well-oiled, 65-year-old firm that has a long track record of success. One reason for that success is our firm’s structure. Our firm also has a long history of community service and as managing partner, I want to continue that tradition and include as an initiative community service to our U.S. Veterans.
About the author: John Ryan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a co-founder and the Editor-in-Chief of Lawdragon Inc., where he oversees all web and magazine content and provides regular coverage of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. When he’s not at GTMO, John is based in Brooklyn. He has covered complex legal issues for 20 years and has won multiple awards for his journalism, including a New York Press Club Award in Journalism for his coverage of the Sept. 11 case. View our staff page.