The Super Lawyer
One of the top trial lawyers in the nation, Lorna Schofield (BA, 1977), says her most memorable - and most fun - case was representing Rosie O’Donnell in the lawsuit with the publisher of her magazine. In 2003, O’Donnell’s publishers sued her for $300 million over her decision to terminate her interest in Rosie magazine after the company attempted to seize editorial control from her. By the end of the contentious litigation, the presiding judge, not content with merely stopping the case, admonished lawyers for the publishing group, saying their case was “ill-conceived.” Following the O’Donnell trial, Schofield was interviewed by many news programs, including the Today Show. Dan Rather on Sixty Minutes II interviewed her on corporate confidentiality agreements and sealing orders.
Now a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City, Schofield has been named a Super Lawyer for five years in a row by Super Lawyers magazine*. She is the first Asian-American to chair the 70,000-member litigation section of the American Bar Association. Of Rosie O’Donnell, Schofield says, “She’s a genius in a completely different way from the lawyers I work with, and she’s earnest and funny and larger than life.” Heady stuff for a woman who started out life in tiny New Haven, IN, the product of what use to be called a “mixed marriage” – her mother was a Filipina war bride who married an American serviceman.
Her childhood imbued her with both an identity and with the strength that has carried her to the top of the legal profession. “My father left us when I was 3,” she says. “My mother came to the United States because of her idealism about the country that had saved hers during World War II, and remained here, I believe, because of the stigma and shame she would have suffered had she returned to the Philippines as a divorced woman. She was a pharmacist and stressed achievement, independence and self-sufficiency as essential values.”
Schofield double-majored in German and English, graduated with honors, and considered pursuing an academic career. She soon settled on law school, however, and a stint as a prosecuting attorney sealed the deal: she was going to be a litigator.
Her law practice reads like best-selling legal novel: she took the Zenith Electronics Corporation private on behalf of its largest shareholder and creditor, a Korean multinational company, in U.S. Bankruptcy Court; she obtained a $10 million award on behalf of an individually owned business for breach of a finder's agreement; she secured a multimillion-dollar damages judgment in a business fraud case on behalf of a foreign bank; and she secured criminal convictions in multiple jury trials as a prosecutor.
“One interesting case was early in my career as a prosecutor, against a group of African-American radicals, defendants who were charged with plotting to blow up armored cars and break political radicals out of prison. The verdict was split – an acquittal on the conspiracy charges, and convictions on the weapons possession charges. I guess it was hard to argue with the sawed off shotguns, Uzis and ammo found in their homes,” Schofield says. “I remember their supporters taunting me outside the courtroom and saying ‘Go back to your country. You don’t belong here. You have yellow skin.’ I was young, and stunned that people who themselves had endured racism could be so racist.”
“I did not feel like a minority student at IU. The atmosphere at IU was fun. It was so big it had something for everyone – culture (high brow and low brow), sports (basketball and swimming), and all the craziness of thousands of kids living away from home for the first time and trying to figure out who they were.”
Recently named one of the 50 most influential minority lawyers in the US by the National Law Journal, Schofield says, “It’s important for people who are involved in the justice system – lawyers, litigants and judges – to see lawyers of every type leading the profession. The message is that our legal system is open and accessible to all, whether they come as advocates or litigants. Because the world we live in is diverse, and becoming increasingly so. We can learn from each other. Every unique perspective brings something valuable to the table. “
*According to its website: “Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.”