Law Scribbler

Sedgwick ex-chair writes about what he knows in new novel

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Former Sedgwick chairman Kevin Dunne is coy about how much of his debut novel, The Chairman, is autobiographical. Case in point: The main character's name is Boxer Tate, a former bouncer who beats up a patron one night, gets locked up, becomes a lawyer and works his way up to the highest echelons of the legal profession, all the while juggling two beautiful and powerful women. "Well, let me put it this way," he says with a laugh. "I write about what I know."

Dunne, who served as the firm's chairman from 2001 until 2007, had no shortage of material to draw on. A commercial litigator, Dunne represented the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. in several major class actions. He has also represented such clients as the DaimlerChrysler Corp., Genentech Inc. and State Farm Insurance Co.

During his time as chairman, Sedgwick expanded from 285 to more than 350 attorneys and added offices in Austin and Houston while establishing an affiliation with a firm in Bermuda. After stepping down in 2007, Dunne, now of counsel at the firm's San Francisco office, had some free time and decided to try his hand at writing fiction.

"As a lawyer, I have about 150 publications—mostly presentations and one law book that's been on the market for 15 years about depositions," Dunne says. He was inspired to write fiction after reading Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

King "really glorifies writing and makes you very excited about it," Dunne says. "He talks about the richness you can bring to yourself and others."

One of Dunne's biggest challenges was to take the business of law—something that's been second nature to him for decades—and make it accessible for the general public.

"People who have read it have said there's a lot of law in there," says Dunne, who takes his main character through multiple class action lawsuits on behalf of insurance, pharmaceutical and tobacco clients while moving his way up the ranks of the law firm world. "I think this book may be a challenge, but you also come away from it thinking ‘I could do this!' "

Dunne approached the writing process like a trial lawyer prepares for court. "When I first put my pen to the paper, I knew I'd have to shut myself off for at least six hours a day and divorce myself from the rest of the world," he says. "It was like preparing for trial. I'd work during the day, and I'd wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea."

Dunne says he is weighing the notion of writing another book and has a few ideas floating around in his head. "Writing this book was a lot of fun," he adds.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "The Author: Sedgwick ex-chair writes about what he knows."

Victor Li shares his reporter's notebook at and on Twitter as @LawScribbler.

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