With the nation ushering in a new era with President Barack Obama, many are citing a heightened expectation of excellence for all Americans, and there are scores of African Americans who have upheld standards of triumph and success in their own professional arenas.
One such man is Theodore V. Wells Jr., a partner at New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison L.L.P. With minorities making up just 3.9% of all lawyers in the U.S., according to a 2007-2008 report by the American Bar Associationâ€™s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, Wells has remained a living example of how hard work and dedication can lead to progression and promise for betterment.
Selected as Lawyer of the Year by the National Law Journal in 2006, and named one of the most influential lawyers in the country today, Wells saw victory in an October case in which Citigroup Inc. beat a $1.92 billion lawsuit brought against it by Parmalat, an Italian food and dairy company, and won $364.2 million in damages when a jury found that the dairy committed fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and theft.
In his latest case, which begins March 2, Wells will represent American International Group Inc. (AIG) against Starr International Co. Inc. (SICO), seeking control of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of AIG shares held by SICO.
Wells talked with BlackEnterprise.com about his motivation to win, what drives him to succeed, and how others can find their own success.
BlackEnterprise.com: What inspired you to get into law?
Theodore V. Wells Jr.: I was always very good at helping people solve their problems, even when I was in high school. My friends would come to me if they had a problem. In college, I started to think about what profession I should go into, and I realized that what lawyers do is help people with their problems.
You’ve had some high-profile cases such as the Citigroup case. How do you choose your cases?
I really don’t choose my cases. Like most lawyers, my cases come to me. I choose cases based on who comes to me, what cases come to me, and how I feel about the case or the people I’ll be representing. It doesn’t have anything to do with winning or losing because even if it’s a bad case, my job is to do the best I can with the facts presented to me.
But most of these cases, I end up having emotional commitments to my clients. That’s just how I’m built.
Youâ€™ve always been involved with activism, and youâ€™re a chairman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s board of directors. What drives your passion for activism and pro bono work?
I guess because of my age and my background. I came up under the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that made segregation illegal in public schools. Brown really involved five different school districts, including Washington D.C., where I am from. There are