Son of a Son of a Sailor

David Adams raced boats around the world before deciding to work for the rest of his life

Published in 2018 Upstate New York Super Lawyers magazine

By Rob Kalesse on August 13, 2018


Many look forward to retirement, when they can finally get out on the sailboat for more than a weekend. David Adams spent his 20s doing that. Then at 30, he decided to go to work for a living. 

The “son of a son of a sailor,” as the Jimmy Buffett tune goes, Adams grew up in Buffalo, but his summers belonged to Lake Erie, home of the Buffalo Canoe Club. His grandfather and father both worked as engineers building pressure vessels. But any chance they found, they tinkered with sailboats—often the Lightning class—and raced on the lake.

“I was blessed growing up with a sailing club by my house,” says Adams. “I raced Lightnings and Lasers, and eventually went to work for my best friend, Tom Allen, whose family owned the Allen Boat Company locally. From my teens through late 20s, I raced and sailed all over the world.” 

From Florida to California and South America to Europe: “If there’s a body of water, we’ve been on it,” Adams says of he and his former teammates—a career high point was bringing home the North American Championship in 1989. But it wasn’t all racing, all the time: Adams learned the inner-workings of a sewing machine at age 14 so he could sew sails.

But as he neared 30, he realized that boats wouldn’t pay the bills. Convinced that engineering wasn’t for him, despite the family background, he was intrigued by a fellow competitor who thought he should go into law.

“We were competing in the Deep South Regatta in Savannah, Georgia, in maybe the late ‘80s,” says Adams. “Nowadays in competition, there is so much technology to not only determine the winner of a race, but if any rules are broken. Back then, it was up to each individual team to be prepared to argue their case if they wanted to protest the outcome.”

Adams says he was arguing a ruling on behalf of his team when a fellow sailor heard Adams’ defense. 

“I had never considered a law career, but he recommended I be a lawyer based on how well I argued and knew the rules to present my case,” says Adams. “Two years later, I was in law school at the University of Buffalo.”

Adams worked as a full-time clerk through school but raced on weekends. He once asked a professor’s permission to take exams early so he could fly to Brazil for the 1993 Lightning Worlds. Now a father of five, Adams still partakes in the casual “beer can race” at the club and tries to get out on the water as often as he can. 

“With sailing, we spent as much time as we could on the water so that we could test ourselves, as well as the sails, and get the feel of being on the water, so that we’d be ready for [any scenario],” he says.

Adams draws on that same “feel” when questioning a witness to help him determine which way the witness might be going with testimony.

“What I do is 100 percent defense work for the different entities being sued by injured employees and such,” says Adams. “The New York State Scaffold Law puts absolute liability on a property owner or contractor for a construction site if an employee is injured due to the effects of gravity. My cases involve workers who have fallen off ladders or scaffolding for the most part; I need to pursue or prove that the accident was the cause of the plaintiff, not my client.”

Adams owns a 25-footer stored at the Buffalo Canoe Club. Although his first four kids didn’t gravitate to the hobby, his youngest has leaned in. “My 12-year-old will start racing this year, so I’m looking forward to getting back into it,” he says.

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