Rex Linder, a senior partner with the law firm of Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, was recently chosen president elect of the International Association of Defense Counsel. It is an organization of approximately 2,500 leading attorneys from North America, Europe, the Orient and Australia specializing in the defense of civil litigation. He will become president at the annual meeting in July 1998.
After graduating from Hyde Park High School in Chicago, Linder came to Peoria to attend Bradley University. He received his bachelor’s degree in history in 1969 and his law degree from Washburn University in 1973. He has practiced his entire career with Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, where he concentrates on the defense of professional and product liability cases involving potentially significant damages.
Linder has authored a number of articles in professional journals and chapters in legal handbooks. He is a director of the Defense Research Institute and is a frequent lecturer at various seminars dealing with the defense of professional and product liability cases and trial tactics.
In the community, Linder has been chairman of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, the Peoria Area Tricentennial, The Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross, and Family House. He has served as president of Children’s Hospital of Illinois, the Bradley University National Alumni Association and the Bradley Chiefs Club. He is on the Bradley University board of trustees and is currently president of the Creve Coeur Club, secretary of the Peoria Historical Society, and chairman of its Museum Committee. He also serves on the Peoria Sister City Commission, Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau board, Forest Park Foundation board, Children’s Hospital board, Saint Francis Foundation board, the American Red Cross Regional Committee, and Gridiron Dinner, Inc. board. He and his wife Laurie will co-chair the Salvation Army Tree of Lights campaign this holiday season.
The Linders have three children: Mark, age 23; Jamie, age 17; and Stacie, age 16.
How did you become interested in the practice of law as your profession?
Since childhood, I wanted to become a lawyer. I am not sure why, but I have always had an interest in history, government, politics and the law. I guess I was fortunate to have developed a career goal at a young age and be able to achieve it.
Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen is the largest law firm in downstate Illinois. Can you give us some history of the firm, how it grew and the scope of its practice?
Our firm is the largest in Illinois based out of Chicago or St. Louis. It was founded by Clarence Heyl in 1907. After World War II, Bill Voelker and Lyle Allen joined Clarence Heyl and John Royster. The firm’s rapid growth began with the opening of an office in Springfield in 1970. Additional offices were then opened in Urbana, Rockford and Edwardsville. Firmwide, we have 86 attorneys and a total of approximately 275 employees. In the Peoria area there are 33 lawyers and a total of 100 employees.
While I concentrate on the defense of civil litigation, the firm has a very broad scope of practice. We have specialists in commercial litigation, estate planning, corporate law, international law, employment law, workers’ compensation, government, real estate and banking.
It would seem that in today’s highly competitive legal profession it is not only important to be a good lawyer, but to be a good business person as well. To be successful, don’t today’s attorneys have to be comfortable in both dimensions?
You are correct. In the old days, lawyers spent very little time on the business aspect of the practice. They concentrated on being good lawyers and didn’t worry too much about business management. However, with today’s pressures, simply being a good lawyer is not enough.
In the last ten years there has been a revolution in the way law is practiced. The ever increasing complexities of the law have required lawyers to specialize. The computer has changed not only business, but also the legal profession. Communicating with clients through e-mail and faxes, computerized research, document production and similar technological advances have dramatically transformed the practice. Now being a good lawyer does not automatically allow you to be a successful lawyer. You need to manage both the professional and business aspects of the practice.
You were recently chosen as president elect of the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC). What does this entail, and place in perspective what it means for a “downstater” to be selected for this honor?
The IADC is a select group of leading defense trial lawyers who represent corporations, insurance companies and other business entities in litigation. Applications for membership are carefully screened and the backgrounds of potential members researched. It often takes six months to a year after nominations for the investigation to be completed and the nominee either accepted or rejected.
The International was originally formed in 1920, and its membership was from the United States and Canada. However, in recent decades, business has become more global and so has the practice of the law. Our firm in Peoria is illustrative. We have clients in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Similarly, the International’s membership has broadened significantly beyond North America with members now from most European countries, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
As president, I will be responsible for guiding our executive committee and staff in the organization’s management. We will select issues of importance on which to take positions such as promoting tort reform, controlling litigation costs and advances in technology. Together, Laurie and I will also be responsible for coordinating activities for the annual meeting, mid-year meeting and executive committee meetings.
It is unusual that the International will have a president from a town the size of Peoria. I will be replacing someone from San Francisco, who followed someone from Cleveland. Other recent presidents have been from New Orleans, New York and Chicago. Therefore, I am not only proud for our firm, but also for Peoria.
There was a time, in the not too distant past, when it seemed that lawyers as a profession were not as involved in community affairs as they are today. How would you explain the change in participation and the degree of community leadership by lawyers today?
There have been some lawyers, such as Bill Rutherford, who have been deeply involved in community affairs all of their lives. However, the number was small. In recent years, it seems that many lawyers have recognized good citizenship means more than to simply work hard in their legal career and pay taxes.
As you know, I have served on many boards and commissions in the community. Fifteen to twenty years ago I was usually the only lawyer. Now, I am proud that as I look across the table I see many members of the Peoria County Car deeply involved in a variety of community projects. In fact, the Tom Connor Award is probably the highest honor for a volunteer in our community and three of the recipients have been lawyers.
How would you evaluate the public’s general perception of lawyers?
There is an old saying that people do not like lawyers, except for their own lawyer. If there is a negative perception of lawyers it is probably the result of our adversary system of justice. What a case goes to trial, there is usually a winner and a loser. You will often hear the winner comment on their renewed belief in our judicial system, while the loser would have a different perspective. Inherently, the system is one of conflict, and conflict can result in disappointment or frustration.
While our judicial system is less than perfect, on balance, no other system in the world today affords the same degree of protection for individual and property rights. While there may be occasional shortcomings, that is usually caused by individual weaknesses.
Your firm seems to have a large number of people volunteering for community activities and also providing leadership to professional organizations…lawyers and other professionals as well. What are some of the outside things your colleagues are doing?
There are a number of people in our firm who have been very active in community projects. Tim Bertschy, Craig Young, and Calista Reed are probably the most visible. However, there are many others who are also very active. Some of these organizations where our people are involved include the Red Cross, United Way, Bradley University, Junior League, Diabetes Association, Easter Seals, Salvation Army, St. Jude and The Children’s Miracle Network just to name a few.
Professionally, Bob Dewey is on the board of a national legal organization and is president of the Peoria County Bar Association. Next year, when I become president of the IADC, we will also have Tim Bertschy as president of the Illinois State Bar and Doug Pomatto will be president of the Illinois Defense Counsel. Other partners hold a variety of significant committee assignments in a number of professional organizations. This involvement allows our lawyers to have contacts in the profession and community which can often benefit our clients.
I am proud that so many people in our firm are active in a variety of professional and civic organizations. It speaks volumes about their commitment to their own professional development and to community responsibility.
You are involved in a number of worthwhile community activities. How did you get started and what are your favorite and most valuable experiences?
Shortly after graduating from law school, I attended the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce Community Leadership School (CLS). It was a wonderful program that continues to furnish a new group of leadership in the community each year. It was through CLS that I met different people who asked me to help with community projects. That led to service on various boards and committees.
It is difficult to select a favorite experience in my community activities. However, a few highlights would have to be the Peoria Area Tricentennial, the construction of a new facility for the American Red Cross, watching Children’s Hospital grow from an idea to a leading pediatric medical institution, and working with the Junior League in founding Family House. Also, the work the Chamber of Commerce did in the late 1970s and early ‘80s with respect to formation of the Economic Development Council, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Peoria Area Labor Management Council and other projects are all very meaningful to me.
While it’s not unique that a Hyde Park guy attended Bradley it certainly isn’t the rule. What attracted you to Bradley and what motivated you to return to Peoria following law school?
I have two sisters. Beverlie attended the University of Illinois, and while she enjoyed it she thought a smaller school would have some benefits. My other sister, Joyce, attended Drury College, which is a small liberal arts college in Springfield, Missouri. She also enjoyed it but thought a bigger school would afford more opportunities. Bradley seemed to be the right size and had an excellent academic program for someone wanting to go to law school.
While at Bradley, I had an opportunity to discover Peoria and make many good friends. The beautiful setting on the Illinois River, an abundance of recreational and cultural activities, and a number of college friends who remained in the area were all very strong draws. While I had the opportunity to go with firms in other cities after graduation, it was always my intent to live and practice law in Peoria.
You provided leadership to the Peoria Chamber of Commerce during some of the more challenging economic times in recent history and helped “keep the lights on.” How do you see the current direction of the community?
I was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce from 1982 to 1984. Caterpillar had significant layoffs, Pabst closed its brewery and Hiram Walker became history. However, it was fortunate that in the late 1970s and early 1980s the chamber was instrumental in forming the Economic Development Council, Convention and Visitors Bureau and Peoria Area Labor Management Council. As the economy worsened and unemployment rose, these organizations were working very hard to attract new business and diversify our economic base. They all have done excellent jobs and continue to serve our area very well.
I see the future of our community as being very bright. Caterpillar continues to be the anchor, but we have much more – a tremendous medical community providing thousands of jobs and an ever growing hospitality industry. Numerous businesses have expanded such as L.R. Nelson, CDC, Ruppman Marketing, RLI, Vonachen Industrial Supplies and others.
How can Peoria increase the velocity of its progress?
It is important that our area be business friendly. This takes on many dimensions. It includes a reasonable tax structure that does no discourage expansion on both facilities and work force. It means creating incentives when necessary to attract new business or further develop existing ones. It means appropriately marketing the Peoria are for tourism and business relocation. It also means having a well-developed infrastructure, good transportation, communication capacity and an educated skilled work force with a strong work ethic.
Bradley and Illinois Central College do a wonderful job educating our citizens. In recent years they have continued to develop partnerships with businesses and organizations to foster economic development. We need to continue to encourage and incorporate both of these fine institutions into our economic planning.
We should focus on continued support of Congressman Ray LaHood’s efforts to develop a Chicago to Peoria interstate. We need additional jet service for the Peoria airport and completion of the riverfront project.
We also need to continue to foster a spirit of cooperation between the City of Peoria, Peoria County and neighboring units of local government. Fortunately, in recent years, most of our elected officials recognize we are one economic unit that transcends artificially created political boundaries.
I note that your wife Laurie is also quite involved in community activities including providing leadership to the Friends of Friedrichshafen and the Peoria County Lawyers Auxiliary. How do you and Laurie balance the demands of profession, community, and your personal interests?
I am very lucky to have a partner like Laurie. She is one of those people who has the talent to balance her own career, community involvement and family responsibilities. I am also fortunate that Mark, Jamie and Stacie have been great kids who have accepted that their parents occasionally miss an activity because of other responsibilities. They have all done well in school and have made us very proud.
Laurie and I recognize that there are many benefits with community involvement. While it does take a lot of time, some of the greatest benefits are the friendships we have made. It seems that most of our closest friends have been those we originally met through various community projects.
Peoria has a rich and colorful heritage. How can we preserve and enhance it?
Peoria is unique for many reasons. One of those reasons is its long and rich heritage. It is believed to be the oldest European settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. At one time or another, the flags of Spain, France, England and the United States have flown over our town.
We need to form a public and private partnership to create a history museum. This should be in a high place of our list of community priorities. For many years, there has been a nucleus of people committed to promoting and developing the heritage of our area. I think the Tricentennial helped expose this to a broader section of our citizens and raised awareness of our fascinating past.
Wildlife Prairie Park is cooperating with a group to promote an annual pageant about “Illinois, The Land Before Lincoln.” The Peoria Historical Society continues its extraordinary efforts to preserve our history, and the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (PACVB) is very committed to its promotion. In fact, Greg Edwards at the PACVB will tell you historical destinations are considered to be one of the strongest motivating factors in tourism today.
This is such a wonderful community in so many ways, but its heritage is unique. We need to continue the efforts to develop ways to promote and portray it to our citizens and tourists. The benefits we receive will not only manifest themselves in increased community spirit, but also tourism dollars. IBI