Tough as Nails
That’s Linda L. Addison, the daughter of Holocaust survivors and current leader at Fulbright & Jaworski
Published in 2010 Texas Super Lawyers magazine on September 13, 2010
When Linda L. Addison was in college, she traveled through Africa, stopped off in Tanzania and climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro without any previous mountaineering experience or training. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to,” she explains. The young student pushed through miles of altitude sickness and was met with deep skepticism from more experienced climbers along the way. While the mountaineers may have been surprised when the novice reached the summit of Africa’s highest peak, no one is who has faced Addison in the courtroom.
Addison isn’t easily intimidated and tends to operate on overdrive. She was the first female managing editor of the Texas Law Review, won the Texas Club’s bench press championship twice, wrote the leading guide to Texas’ evidence rules, and regularly knocks down courtroom opponents in all manner of high-stakes commercial litigation.
“I specialize in big, hard cases that involve a lot of money,” she says with a laugh.
In one such case, Addison was lead counsel for Northern Trust, the former directed trustee of Enron’s 401(k) plan, in the largest Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) class action in U.S. history. She helped negotiate a $37.5 million settlement for her client, a bit less than the $1 billion-plus sought in damages. Lynn Sarko, a Seattle lawyer who represented the Enron employees suing Addison’s client, says, “This was full-out warfare and Addison was tough as nails.”
In 1984, she won a case for Handy Dan Hardware that became the catalyst for changing Texas Blue Law. “The media didn’t even staff the case because they were so sure we would lose,” she says. After Addison won in a trial court, which resulted in a judgment declaring the Blue Law unconstitutional, the law was repealed before she got a chance to argue it on appeal before the Texas Supreme Court.
“Linda is a very, very formidable adversary,” says Houston litigator Steve Susman, who encountered Addison when he and fellow powerhouse litigator John O’Quinn worked on a trial involving a diamond mine. O’Quinn and Susman were considered to be a virtually unstoppable team. Addison won in trial, but the Texas Court of Appeals reversed. At the Texas Supreme Court, Addision won again. Susman says with admiration, “I would not look forward to being adverse to her in the courtroom again.”
Addison’s ability to take on tough challenges links to events that occurred long before she was born. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she says, “There was never a time when my parents’ experience was not a part of my consciousness.”
Her parents, Marcus and Theresa Leuchter, were married in Krakow in 1941. Soon afterwards, the couple went into hiding for two years in Warsaw, after the Nazi invasion. They were discovered, and then shipped to separate concentration camps. Her mother ended up at Ravensbrück, the notorious all-women’s camp, where she nearly died. Both of Addison’s parents were liberated in 1945, after which Addison’s father spent months traveling to countless villages in search of his wife. “Eventually, with the help of the Red Cross, the two were reunited.
To this day, Addison is amazed at the unlikely events that conspired to bring her into the world. “Fewer than 75,000 people survived Nazi concentration camps,” she says, “and so few of the survivors were adults. To think that two of them were reunited and that’s the reason I’m here.”
Addison spoke only Polish until she was 5 years old. As a child, she remembers her parents telling her, “You must get a good education; it’s the one thing they can’t take away from you.” She says, “I had no clue who ‘they’ were and why anyone would want to take something away from me.” As she got older and learned more about history, Addison says a lot of pieces came together. “I’ve come to realize that my interest in law comes in every way from my parents’ experience—the interest in upholding the law, a strong belief in ethics, the understanding of the danger of a lawless society.”
Addison was also influenced by her maternal grandfather, an attorney, and her own father, who was also an attorney before he was forced into hiding. Her motivation to become a lawyer wasn’t so lofty. “I loved watching Perry Mason, and basically, I just wanted to be the center of attention and wear great clothes,” she says. Addison knew early on that the best way to do so was to become a litigator. Unfortunately, when she graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1976, most firms didn’t consider litigation to be a suitable career path for women. She joined Fulbright because it was the only firm that promised her opportunity. Along the way, she’s tried more than 50 cases to judgment as lead counsel. Her ability to break through gender barriers at Fulbright extended beyond her work in the courtroom—Addison also became the first female member of the firm’s six-person executive committee.
She’s used to being the only woman in the room. There’s a photo in her office in which she and nine male Fulbright attorneys wear Viking hats. The hats are souvenirs from a 2004 patent case involving cell phones that required frequent trips to Sweden. “I honestly didn’t even think about the fact that I was the only woman in the room,” she says.
Nonetheless, Addison works hard to ensure that women are nurtured as leaders in the legal profession. She helped found the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas, a center that encourages leadership and gives a scholarship that benefits female attorneys. Addison is also a mentor for a program sponsored by Fortune magazine and the U.S. State Department pairing young businesswomen from developing nations with female leaders from the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in the American business world. Last year, Addison was awarded the prestigious Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, an ABA honor named for the country’s first female lawyer. Past winners have included U.S. Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Though she’s known among the legal community as an impeccably dressed fashionista, she doesn’t wear a lot of jewelry during trial—even lucky charms. But she’s not without a trial attorney’s superstitions. “I consider certain pairs of shoes ‘lucky,’” she says.
Last year, she was named partner-in-charge of Fulbright & Jaworski’s New York office, but she’s keeping her Texas office, too.
So how does she find time for all she does? “I don’t sleep much,” she says.
She’s a strong believer in the importance of family, and has worked hard to foster Fulbright’s support of a healthy balance of career and family goals for its attorneys. When Sept. 11 found her stranded in Austin, her daughter on a school retreat, and her husband at home in Houston, she says, “The distress of being separated really reinforced how important family is for me.”
Addison says her family has also changed her relationship with the Jewish religion. Like many children of Holocaust survivors, Addison grew up without much connection to Judaism as a religion. “It affected me in secular ways,” she explains. “I consider how I go about the world as stemming from a Jewish background. I’m truthful and direct, and I try very hard to do the right thing.” She emphasizes that while she might try very hard to get a fair advantage, “I would never, ever try to get an unfair advantage, either personally or professionally.”
Addison married her law school sweetheart, Max Addison, who comes from a long line of Methodist ministers. “I just assumed our daughter would take the more conventional route and identify as Christian.” But Addison’s daughter, now 20, decided at 8 to have a bat mitzvah. In an unusual, yet somehow very American twist, Addison’s husband wound up being very involved in his daughter’s Jewish spiritual development. He took her to Hebrew school and helped her with her bat mitzvah lessons. “He considers it the most important spiritual event of his life,” Addison says.
Both of her parents have passed away—her mother over a decade ago, and her father almost two years ago, not long after his 99th birthday—but Addison feels extremely fortunate that her father emerged from the Holocaust a positive person. “He focused on the good things that happened to him during that time—the extraordinary kindness of the people who hid him, and the many others who helped him along the way,” she says. It’s a rare attitude in those who survived, a fact that was confirmed for her when documentarians from Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation came to interview her father.
Her father’s positivity and resilience continues to give Addison perspective even in the most adversarial situations. It also gives her motivation to push harder.
“Because of my parents’ experience, I’ve always had an intuitive sense of the ability in people to survive insurmountable odds and accomplish great things,” she says.