Andrew Chamberlin Leading International Association of Defense Counsel

Andrew ChamberlinThe International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC) celebrated its centennial anniversary this summer, convening virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The historic proceedings were especially noteworthy for one North Carolina Bar Association member, Andrew Chamberlin of Greensboro, who was installed as president of the IADC.

Chamberlin is a founding partner of Ellis & Winters LLP, which was established in 2000. A North Carolina-based trial attorney, his practice has been devoted primarily to product liability, catastrophic injury defense, and commercial disputes, frequently on a national or international basis.

In other words, he is perfectly suited for membership in the IADC, which he now leads.

“The IADC is an invitation-based, peer-reviewed association of attorneys who represent defendants and corporate interests in legal disputes,” Chamberlin explained. “There are many fine attorneys in the world, but the ones we invite to join this association are either defense trial attorneys or arbitration advocates.”

The global presence of the organization is impressive. “We have members in all 50 U.S. states and about 53 countries, including members on every continent except Antarctica, so we do span the globe.”

Given its international scope, the 2,500-member IADC is well suited to address the 21st century landscape of the legal profession. “We are increasingly seeing evidence that the world is a global marketplace for goods and services, and included in that are legal services,” Chamberlin said. “Sometimes it may be as simple as a German or Chinese manufacturer selling products in the U.S., or a matter may be related to your U.S. client seeking to protect their global supply chain.”

That raises interesting questions, he added, especially during COVID-19. “How do you resolve disputes in those situations and move them forward? Is it through litigation or arbitration?”

Though the IADC is an international organization, the majority of its members are U.S. attorneys with local practices. As Chamberlin stated it: “I want to emphasize that you don’t have to be an international practitioner to be in the IADC. You could just as well be a solo practitioner from a small state with an outstanding local litigation and trial practice. If you are a premier lawyer in your area, then we are interested in you. We are always interested in learning from talented people.”

Beginning with his term as president-elect and extending now into his year as president of the IADC, Chamberlin has been at the forefront of the efforts of the organization to maintain its relevance and connectivity in these historic times. “In the past, we primarily delivered value to our members through legal meetings, which provided opportunities to teach, to socialize and to network,” Chamberlin said. “From this past March forward, we’ve spent that time converting the operation of our organization to deliver a much higher percentage of the value of membership virtually.”

To do so, the IADC has relied on an impressive array of technological resources.

“Fortunately we had great leaders in the past who invested in our future, and as a result in the Spring of 2020 we rolled out a new interactive website and a new app that allows all of our members to communicate with each other with great ease. We are fortunate that our past investment came through in those areas at the right time.”

For organizations and practitioners alike, he added, many of these changes are here to stay. “While we look forward to the day when we can go back and have in-person meetings and share a true sense of personal connection, we think the world is going to be changed forever,” Chamberlin said. “Even when we can all re-gather at a meeting or at the courthouse, our reliance on technology will have been expanded and accelerated.

As a result, Chamberlin expects courtroom procedures, depositions, mediations, arbitrations, and law association meetings to increasingly rely on technology to achieve efficiency in the future.

Although the IADC has now been in existence for more than 100 years, it is difficult to imagine a year filled with as much upheaval and uncertainty as 2020.

“It is an honor to be president of the IADC,” Chamberlin said, “and it has been an  interesting challenge to lead the organization during the triple crisis of COVID-19, the related economic impact of the virus, and the social unrest related to the death of George Floyd and subsequent events.”

The IADC has responded well to these challenges. “One overarching thing we’re trying to do is deliver value to our members wherever they practice. We are trying to go about our business and provide value as we always have, just in another way, and while doing that we have had to address the consequences of COVID-19. So we have cancelled multiple live meetings and negotiated our way out of contracts to avoid penalties and costs, while simultaneously launching more virtual meetings, webinars and podcasts than ever before.”

The economic impact of the crisis has also required the attention of the IADC.

According to Chamberlin, “we have also confronted the fact that some of our members are suffering due to the economy, and we have been working to preserve the memberships of in-house counsel and insurance executives, to provide free CLE opportunities to our members, and to reduce future meeting costs.”

Significantly, the organization, he added, is also addressing the difficult issue of racial injustice. “We have a diverse membership,” Chamberlin said, “and we cannot ignore what is going on out in the world. We have to provide opportunities for our members to have difficult conversations about what is going on and learn from each other.”

That has led to additional programming outside the normal CLE format. “We are having diversity and inclusion presentations about once a month, having presentations on the real-world consequences of discrimination and how we can all be allies. We are having frank conversations about how people’s perceptions are changing, whether they need to change more, and whether these events are incidental or systemic. Most importantly, we are trying to provide a safe, non-political place for those conversations to take place among our members in real time.”

Amidst all of these challenges, he added, it is too early to assess whether the IADC’s efforts have been successful. “We are trying,” Chamberlin said. “Ask me in July 2021 how we did.”

Because of his father’s position with Xerox Corp., Chamberlin’s family relocated often during his formative years. His first opportunity to settle down came after he graduated from the University of Georgia in 1987 and the University of Georgia School of Law in 1990.

“I came straight to North Carolina,” Chamberlin said. “I had moved around so much as a kid – Rochester, San Antonio, Dallas, Albuquerque, Marietta, Athens. I wanted to go live somewhere for a long time; friends of mine were going off to New York or D.C. for two years, but I wanted to go someplace and put down roots.

“We had a family friend who was a lawyer with Smith Helms in Greensboro. I was really impressed with the firm and North Carolina in general. So my first stop was Smith Helms and I was there for 10 years, and became a partner at that firm. Then, in 2000, eight other attorneys and I split off to form Ellis & Winters.”

Ellis & Winters initially was established as a Raleigh-based firm, but true to his word, Chamberlin has called Greensboro home throughout his career.

“Even then my practice required me to travel out of state frequently,” Chamberlin said, “so I remained in Greensboro, and when I was in town, I would go to the Raleigh office. After a few years, Ellis & Winters decided to open a Greensboro office, and now we have 35 lawyers total including 10 in Greensboro.”

Benjamin Davis was the family friend who brought me to Smith Helms, and he is retired now but remains a good friend. North Carolina has been good to Chamberlin. He met his wife, Sheri, here, who was from Greensboro and went to Page High School, and they have two children. One just graduated from college and one is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“I wanted them to have the opportunity to grow up in one place,” Chamberlin said, “which was entirely different from what I did. I have always loved North Carolina and I am grateful that I moved here.”

While Chamberlin has been an officer in the IADC and the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys, he is also a longtime member of the NCBA who has attended and presented at various CLE programs. His strongest ties to the NCBA, however, stem from his years with Smith Helms.

“One of the great honors of my life is that I had the chance to practice with and learn from a number of past presidents of the North Carolina Bar Association. Ozzie Ayscue, Don Cowan, Larry Sitton and Alan Duncan were all leaders of the NCBA, and I had a great opportunity to learn from those folks at Smith Helms.”

Chamberlin confesses that while he did not always dream of becoming a lawyer, once he set about on that career path, he knew he wanted to be a litigator. “I was a political science major in college and was generally interested in being a lawyer,” Chamberlin said, “but was not committed to the idea at the outset.”

The more he studied, however, the clearer it became that law school was his destination.

“The deeper I got into my political science degree, the more it became obvious to me that all of the things you think about as political science-oriented are based on the rule of law. I became fascinated with that aspect of it, and long story short, that led me to go to law school.”

Once he landed in law school, Chamberlin knew what he wanted to do. “I really wanted to do litigation and trial work. When I was a kid growing up, I would watch reruns of ‘Perry Mason,’ and to me that was the quintessential definition of what a lawyer does.”

Whereas the fictional Perry Mason ended up in court every week, Chamberlin’s practice also includes some work premised on the goal of managing emerging crises and avoiding litigation.

“While there were generations before us who tried hundreds of cases over a career,” Chamberlin said, “the practice of law has changed, and the number of true trial opportunities has decreased. I have been fortunate to try some large cases and that is one of the things I enjoy most, but I have spent a lot of time working with clients to address their crises and disputes when they arise.”

The result has been the development of an Early Case Assessment Program, which guides clients faced with emerging crises that require immediate investigation. Getting the call immediately as the crisis unfolds is critical. “If you don’t call me until four years after the fire, explosion or other event, the path forward is limited to traditional dispute resolution methods: litigation, mediation, arbitration or trial. But if you call me the day of the event or immediately thereafter, we can get right to it. We might be able to prove that client was not involved during the initial investigation, or alternatively, we might ascertain that client was involved, and then take immediate steps to limit media and litigation exposure.”

Either way, the goal is clear.

“My plan is to get the best result for my client. That could be trying the case to a defense verdict or resolving the case at the outset for a variety of reasons. If the client thinks we’ve achieved the best possible result, then they will call me back. Ultimately, the practice of law is a service industry.”

Russell Rawlings is director of external affairs and communications for the North Carolina Bar Association.

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