Published in 2004 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers magazine
on May 31, 2004
Updated on August 6, 2015
When Ralph Wellington was a young law student at the University of Michigan, an associate dean gave him sage advice that forever changed his life.
“He said, ‘Go east to a big city and big law firm for two years,’” says Wellington, 57. “So I came out here for a two-year experiment.”
And he hasn’t left the city or Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis LLP (SHSL) since, even though he’s had many offers to work elsewhere. But it’s paid off for the Three Rivers, Mich., native. He has grown with the firm, has litigated large cases and has been SHSL’s chairman for the past six years — and recently signed on for another three.
Wellington, who lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife, Peg (the couple has two grown sons and one daughter), argued a case in front of the United States Supreme Court involving the right of workers in the railroad and maritime industries to sue their employers for emotional distress. The Court sided with Wellington’s case, reversed the lower courts’ decisions and adopted significant guidelines on what grounds workers could sue their employers.
In another high-profile case, Wellington defended the United Engineers & Constructors, Inc., in the largest municipal bond default in U.S. history. In the case, the contractor had raised several billion dollars through issuing bonds to build two nuclear power plants in Washington state. When the owner utilities halted work on the facilities halfway through construction, theycanceled the bonds, which were to be repaid when the plants began producing power. The case stretched from 1983 to 1990, and most claims were settled before the trial, Wellington says.
Though he doesn’t get to play as often as he used to, Wellington is an accomplished jazz pianist. He began playing when he was 8 years old and played in rock ’n’ roll bands in high school. In his 30s, he was bitten by the jazz bug. Wellington played music with a church youth group in the 1980s. When the group broke up, he and the church’s minister formed the Trinity Jazz Ensemble and gigged around Philadelphia for most of the 1980s. Lately, Wellington tries to sit in where he can whenever the opportunity arises.
Litigating the Barnes case has provided its share of difficulties, including, Wellington says, the media’s fundamental misunderstanding of the case. The heart of the case involves a trust set up long before Barnes’ death, not his last will and testament, Wellington says.
“The public’s perception is ‘My God, they’re trying to break this guy’s will!’” he says.
Wellington says this has reminded him not to be distracted by press coverage of a trial, even when it might be inaccurate or slanted.
“Sometimes there’s a tendency with lawyers to try the cases in the press rather than in the courtroom,” he says. “Ultimately it’s not the media that will decide that outcome; it’s the judge or the jury.”