“In some respects, it’s almost like everything in life is a math problem,” says Anthony Behr. “You just have to figure out the formula and the variables.”
This is perhaps not how most lawyers approach life or the law, but it makes perfect sense for Behr, co-founder of the St. Louis firm Behr, McCarter & Potter. He earned a degree in civil engineering from Vanderbilt University in 1976 and, once out of school, was happily building bridges. But he also felt he should get as much education as he could, and he ultimately decided that a law degree was the best fit.
“I probably look at a lot of problems in the law a little more analytically and a little differently than many people with other backgrounds,” he said.
After earning his law degree from Saint Louis University in 1980, Behr practiced with Suelthaus & Kaplan, a predecessor to today’s Polsinelli. In 1992, he and colleague Dudley McCarter left to start their own firm.
“We decided we’d take a chance because we wanted to practice law the way we wanted to practice law,” Behr said.
Behr’s practice ranges from insurance defense to legal malpractice defense to commercial litigation. He is a winner of the 1990 Lon O. Hocker Memorial Trial Lawyer Award. Early in his career, he said, an older attorney advised him, “There’s litigators, and then there’s trial lawyers.”
“I’ve always tried to be a trial lawyer, and I think I’ve done that,” he said.
Increasingly, that’s hard to do. Behr estimates he had tried 35 to 40 jury trials at the time he earned the Hocker award, an unheard-of number in today’s settlement-happy world. During his career, he’s watched lawsuits shift from being a matter of justice and principle to one of risk and cost analysis.
“You feel, ‘I should try this case. I can win this case. I should win this case,’” he said. “And in your heart you know you’re ultimately going to settle it. It’s tough.”
Behr served from 1992 to 1998 as an attorney member of the 21st Circuit Judicial Commission, which he called “one of the best things I’ve ever done, inside or outside the law.” During his term, Behr helped to select finalists for 15 circuit and associate circuit judicial vacancies in St. Louis County, resulting in the appointment of six female judges and four black judges — including Judge George W. Draper III, now chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, who began as an associate circuit judge in 1994.
“We chose a really good cross-section of St. Louis County,” he said. “I’m very proud of the people we put on.”
It was a massive time commitment for an attorney working to build his own firm.
“If there were 50 lawyers who applied, I gave each one of them at least an hour to talk to me, whether or not I thought one minute into it that they didn’t have a chance,” he said.
One method he used to winnow the field was to ask candidates who in the courtroom is more important — the judge, the jury or the litigant?
“All of them that say the judge, I would pretty much say they’re out,” he said. “I didn’t want someone who in their mind thought they were going into a room and they were the most important person, because they’re not. A jury trial is for the litigants, and everybody else plays a little bit different role.”