Philip L. Willman has been a member of DRI, the world’s largest defense bar organization, since 1985 and has been a member of the group’s board since 2013.
So he had plenty of time to get used to the idea that he would become president of DRI — The Voice of the Defense Bar. But knowing about something coming and experiencing it can be two completely different things, which is what Willman experienced in October.
“At the annual meeting, when we have a big gala where the formal transition happens, that’s when it hit me, that this is real,” said Willman, who added he never expected to become president until he was approached by several people about running. “It definitely feels different to be the face of the organization. I’m really excited about the opportunity.”
Willman, a principal at Brown & James who leads DRI’s executive committee, said he’s most looking forward to the challenge of trying to find a transformational leader to replace the group’s executive director, who had served DRI for more than 20 years.
But that’s hardly his only goal as head of DRI. Willman also wants to rebuild the organizational structure of DRI’s Center for Law and Public Policy and look into ways of improving how DRI provides education to lawyers — whether that involves restructuring online and on-demand programming or possibly delivering seminars in a different way.
“What’s interesting is how fast time is moving. It feels like I am just getting started, but time is just going fast,” Willman said. “I want to accomplish a lot, and I have only one year to make my mark.”
Willman also accomplished plenty in the courtroom in 2019. The attorney, who often defends physicians, medical schools, hospitals and other health care providers, tried eight jury trials — the most he has tried in a single year during his 40-year professional legal career. What’s more, he won six of those trials, also a career best for one year.
That tally includes:
- A case in St. Louis County in which two physicians were found not liable after a patient developed a rare infection and lost an eye
- A case in Madison County, Illinois, in which a jury sided with the defense in a wrongful-death case stemming from a woman’s death days after a twisted ankle sent her to the doctor
- And another in St. Louis County in which a jury found a doctor was not negligent in the case of an Illinois woman who suffered partial blindness after the doctor referred her to another physician.
When asked which of the jury trials was most memorable, Willman pointed first to one of the two trials he lost, in part because of time constraints. He quickly added that, while a few cases were more challenging than others, the most satisfying part was being able to help his clients.
“It’s kind of amazing that we did it because I have incredible help at the firm here,” Willman said, adding that all of the work preparing for trials and as head of DRI energizes him. Looking back at his sizable accomplishments in 2019, Willman said there’s no question it was his best year professionally by far.
“Ten years ago, I would not have dreamed I would be in this position,” he said. “I’m just honored to be able to do what I’m doing. Sometimes I look around and say I’m just a regular old trial lawyer, and here I am doing these wonderful things. It’s really rewarding.”