While other attorneys might run marathons, swat tennis balls or swing Big Berthas, Bruce Day prefers to navigate the face of a vertical rock. Nothing like a little danger to help a guy unwind.
“You can run or bicycle to keep fit, but if you do that you can still be thinking about your cares and the issues of the day,” says Day, a trial lawyer specializing in securities law. “Rock climbing requires complete concentration. The intensity of the exercise and the focus required put you right here, living in that moment.”
Day, the principal and president of Oklahoma City’s Day, Edwards, Propester & Christensen, did not set out to be a rock climber. He aspired to become a lawyer, the way his father had planned it for him back in Pond Creek. His father had stopped there for coffee once when Day was a month old, and ended up staying in Pond Creek to raise his family.
While studying accounting as an undergrad at the University of Oklahoma, Day worked for the securities commission investigating swindling cases. “In the Bible Belt, people are particularly susceptible to swindling because of their willingness to believe in and trust their fellow man,” he says. He calls the crime a “black-hearted act.”
The experience gave his career direction. Upon graduating from the OU law school in 1972, he worked for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C., then returned to Oklahoma in 1973 to work for an Oklahoma City firm with a high-profile securities practice.
In 1978, Gov. David Boren appointed the 29-year-old Day to head the Oklahoma Department of Securities, where he prosecuted regulation violators at a time when oil and gas swindles were prominent. Four months later, a rival for the appointment uncovered the state requirement that the administrator be at least 30 years old. All of Day’s rulings during the four months of his tenure were “set aside,” as Day puts it. Boren reappointed Day on his 30th birthday, and Day served legally for another three years. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to act out a lot of the reforms and pursue active enforcement programs.”
During that time, he had to supplement his modest government income with borrowed funds to support his family. That cut short his term as securities administrator. “My banker told me I had to go back to work,” he says.
Day opened a law office with Lewis Mosburg, an attorney from his former firm. In the early ’90s, Day merged his securities corporate group with Joe Edwards’ commercial law and banking group to form Day, Edwards, Propester & Christensen, which currently employs 23 attorneys in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
The nine-person group Day heads specializes in securities issues and has represented almost all the major security firms in litigation and arbitration proceedings across the country. The cases — some of them cutting edge, such as defending against an action brought against a client by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer — have involved the enforcement of various business contracts, wholesale and retail securities disputes, employment and regulatory proceedings.
The national focus has also paid off locally. “By sharpening our skills in a larger market, we’ve become more efficient in local markets,” Day says. “We want to have a larger role in the next few years in the emerging energy industry here.”
Fellow Oklahoma City attorney Harry Woods sparked Day’s interest in climbing. The two had known each other for two decades. One day they met in Day’s office as opposing counsel on a case. Day asked Woods what he had done on a recent vacation. Woods described and later showed Day slides of his backpacking trip in the Alaska bush. Day was impressed. “I’d love to get into mountain and rock climbing with you,” he told Woods.
They began with Mount Rainier. Soon after, Woods asked Day to join him on a rock-climbing trip in the Wichita Mountains. They climbed a face near Fort Sill beside a wildlife refuge where the buffalo literally roam.
Day was hooked. “I loved the height, the sense of risk and the effort required,” he says.
He’s quick to point out that the skills required in rock climbing — using one’s back or hands and feet between vertical faces or grasping and balancing upon small knobs, among other skills — exceed those involved in mountain climbing. “It’s much different from mountain climbing, which to me is just trudging up the mountain,” he says. “Rock climbing is quite addictive.”
He and Woods began traveling the West — Colorado, Wyoming and Montana — in the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza that Woods pilots to scale various rock faces. On one trip, they topped Devils Tower in Wyoming.
For Day’s 60th birthday last year, they celebrated by summiting the Grand Teton in Jackson Hole Valley, Wyo., along the Exum Ridge, which runs the top 1,500 vertical feet. The peak, a pointed stone slab that rises some 13,700 feet above sea level, is not readily accessible. Woods and Day spent a full day hiking 5,000 feet from the valley floor to their campground. They rose the following morning at 3:30 in 33-degree temperatures to continue hiking to the Exum Ridge, where the real challenge began.
To access the route, they had to take a long stride over a crevice several thousand feet deep onto a stone extrusion called “the hockey puck” and clutch a handhold out of sight. Day missed the grip on his first try. He barely managed to step back safely.
He took a deep breath and made it on his second try.
They continued up steep stretches that required hip belays, a technique where the top climber braces himself, wraps one end of a rope around his waist and throws the other end down to the climber below to secure that climber’s ascent. Day and Woods had committed the technical aspects to memory, but performing the maneuvers on the exposed face of a mountain 13,000 feet above sea level, butterflies cartwheeling in their stomachs, was no small feat. “Considerable self-discipline was required to control my mounting anxiety,” Day wrote in his travelogue for The Oklahoman.
The danger only upped the adrenaline rush when they finally reached the summit and straddled that craggy peak in the cold sunshine. It’s the kind of excitement you just can’t find on the driving range.
Day classifies rock climbing as sui generis. “That physical effort is absolutely unique in the degree of satisfaction that you can achieve in completing a climb that you set out to do,” he says. “It has been an experience I don’t think I could have achieved in any other manner.”
Perhaps it is not so unusual to find an attorney above the tree line. “There are all kinds of analogies between rock climbing and law,” Woods says. “You have to analyze the situation and make a decision about a plan of action, then implement it. Bruce is good at that. He’s got those talents both as an attorney and as a climber.”
The two train together on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays at OKC Rocks, an abandoned wheat elevator converted into a climbing center five minutes from Day’s downtown office. They also trained for the Grand Teton climb in the stairwells of the Oklahoma Tower, which houses Day’s firm, striding up the 32 floors several times with weighted backpacks and climbing boots. When they walked back down to Day’s office on the 29th floor drenched in sweat, he admits, “We were not a pretty picture. There’s that expression that nobody likes to watch an older man in extreme physical distress. But others were encouraging.”
His wife, Tina, accompanied Day on a sampling of climbs, but her fear of heights halted her interest in climbing. She and the couple’s three daughters sometimes urge Day to take up a safer hobby. “She’d like me to outgrow it, gain a sense of maturity and put it behind me,” Day says.
But he’s not ready to give up that peak experience anytime soon. He and Woods are plotting another adventure on the Top 25 Classic Rock Climbs list, the east face of Mount Whitney in California. “I don’t plan to quit,” he says. “Not as long as I am physically capable of doing it.”