The Foxhole Test
Pierce Hamblin on friendship, fairness and whom he’d want watching his back
Published in 2008 Kentucky Super Lawyers magazine
on August 1, 2008
Updated on June 19, 2019
Pierce Hamblin knew from the start the path his life would take. Born and raised in Lexington, Hamblin wanted nothing more than to follow in his lawyer father’s footsteps. “I really admired my father, like all boys do,” Hamblin says.
The senior Hamblin was a retired Army officer who earned a Purple Heart for his service in World War II. “He took me up to Fort Knox a lot during my childhood,” Hamblin says. “I made up my mind early on that I wanted to be an Army officer like him.”
Hamblin enrolled in the Army ROTC program at the University of Kentucky in 1969 and remembers very clearly the tension surrounding the conflict in Vietnam. “There was a lot of protest, a lack of respect for the uniform,” he says. “It was so bad that one of my most vivid memories was that we were not allowed to wear our uniforms to drill at the university during the day because it upset a lot of folks and was not really politically correct. So we had to wear our uniforms at night.”
Either in spite of this pressure or because of it, ROTC gave Hamblin––now a mediation attorney and partner at Landrum & Shouse in Lexington––a strong dose of confidence. “They make you do a lot of things you think you can’t,” he says. “Like rappelling out of helicopters at 300 feet.”
Upon graduation from UK in 1973, Hamblin was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army, but received an educational delay to attend law school. After he received his law degree (also from UK), he went into active duty in the Army Reserve and was assigned to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School in Fort Huachuca, Ariz. “It was fascinating,” he says, “especially back then, because we were still in the middle of the Cold War, and the Communists were the big threat.”
Hamblin underwent tactical intelligence and counterintelligence training and qualified to join a Small Military Intelligence Detachment Team of the Army Reserves that was available for dispatch on a moment’s notice anywhere in the United States, although, as one might expect, he remains mum about his duties there. Hamblin completed his reserve obligation by getting his Judge Advocate General diploma from the Army JAG Corps School at the University of Virginia College of Law and serving as a legal affairs officer for an Army training brigade in Louisville.
Hamblin remains a member of the inactive reserves, but he’s not anticipating a call-up anytime soon. “Given my age, I think they’d probably be scraping the bottom of the barrel if they called me,” he says, laughing. “They’d have to be in bad shape.”
Looking back on his Army days, he’s got an impressive list of benefits from his service, including enduring friendships with his comrades from officer basic training in 1977. “They remain my closest friends and confidants,” Hamblin says. And his Army toughness recently helped him on a personal quest: he shed 100 pounds from his 6-foot-7-inch frame by hopping on a bicycle and burning up the streets. “I’ve kind of gotten bike-militant,” he says. “I think every city ought to have more bicycle paths.”
But the best skill the Army gave him is the ability to read people, he says. Hamblin’s post-Army legal career has been a successful one, built on his reputation for fairness. In the last five years, his 2,000-plus mediated cases have come to him by referral—every single one. How does he do it? “It’s very important in being a fair and neutral mediator to be able to judge a person’s character,” he says, “and I’ve developed a basic test for judging character that I learned while I was in the military––I’m a foxhole guy. If the person is someone I would want in my foxhole in the middle of a firefight, I think they’re OK. If it’s a person I think I would turn around and all I’d see was their asshole and elbows as they’re running off, then it’s a person I would probably have difficulty with.”