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Strong Advocate

The Life of a Trial Lawyer

Thomas Strong

Publication Year: 2012

In Strong Advocate, Thomas Strong, one of the most successful trial lawyers in Missouri’s history, chronicles his adventures as a contemporary personal injury attorney. Though the profession is held in low esteem by the general public, Strong entered the field with the right motives: to help victims who have been injured by defective products or through the negligence of others.


            As a twelve-year-old in rural southwest Missouri during the Great Depression, Strong bought a cow, then purchased others as he could afford them, and eventually financed his education with the milk he sold. After graduating law school and serving in the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, he rejected offers to practice in New York and San Francisco and returned to his hometown of Springfield.



Strong exhibited his lifelong passion to represent the underdog early in his practice, the “trial by ambush” days when neither side was required to disclose witnesses or exhibits. He quickly became known for his audacious approach to trying cases. Tactics included asking a friend to ride on top of a moving car and hiring a local character called “Crazy Max” to recreate an automobile accident. One fraud case ended with Strong owning a bank and his opponent going to prison. When he sued a labor union for the wrongful death of his client’s spouse, he found his own life threatened.



With changes in the law that allowed discovery of information from an opponent’s files as well as the exhibits and witnesses to be used at trial, Strong and fellow personal injury attorneys forced a wide array of manufacturers to produce safer products. When witnesses of a terrible collision claimed both roadways had green lights simultaneously, Strong purchased the traffic light controller. After three months of continuous testing at a university, the controller failed, showing four green lights, and Strong learned that fail-safe devices were available but had not been implemented. These fail-safe devices are now standard on traffic lights throughout the country.



In his last venture, Strong represented the state of Missouri in its case against the tobacco industry, culminating in a settlement totaling billions of dollars.



He reflects on the changes—not always for the better—in his oft-maligned profession since he entered the field in the 1950s. Thomas Strong’s story of tenacity, quick wits, and humor demonstrates what made him such a creative and effective attorney. Lawyers and law students can learn much from this giant of the bar, and all readers will be entertained and heartened by his victories for the everyman.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Why did I write a book?
It is all the fault of my daughter, Stephanie. At various times she has made suggestions to the effect:
Dad, you should record some of your stories. Many are funny, all are interesting, and they will be lost if you don’t preserve them. Tell how the world has changed in your lifetime; how much of your life was before TV, interstate highways, copy machines...


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pp. xi-xii

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1. What Is a Trial Lawyer?

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pp. 1-5

Several years ago, a St. Louis attorney called to ask if I knew “X,” a lawyer who had just settled a case for a paraplegic who was policy limits of twenty-five thousand dollars for a release. The problem was not with the client or the insurance company. “X” had charged a 40 percent fee for a result the client could easily ...

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2. A Shaky Start

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pp. 6-20

They say we are products of our environment. Were we raised by two parents, one, or none? Was our home religious or atheistic? Were our mentors honest or devious, criminals or saints? Were they intelligent or dull, industrious or loafers, white or blue collar? Were their examples good or bad? Did we live in luxury, comfort, or poverty? Were we taught good moral values...

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3. Movin’ Up

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pp. 21-37

When Papa (Mother’s father) died suddenly and unexpectedly in November 1942, Mother inherited the residence and twenty acres of Papa’s 120-acre farm. It was located on Old Wire Road, which was dirt surfaced with a single lane, so when automobiles met, each had to depart from the worn tracks in order to pass. But the road had an important and proud history...

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4. I Want to Be a Lawyer

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pp. 38-53

Everyone in the family knew that I was deeply affected by Mother’s death. Great-Uncle S. M. Sewell, concerned that I might not continue my education, gave me a dictionary and urged me to enroll in college immediately. He need not have worried. Even in grade school at Bennett, when not one penny could be wasted, there was no doubt that I would go to college. After all, as...

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5. Five Good Years

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pp. 54-71

The year I applied for law school, no Law School Admission Test, better known as the LSAT, or undergraduate grade requirements existed. Any college graduate in 1952 could enroll at the tax-supported University of Missouri School of Law. But having the right to enroll did not mean the right to graduate...

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6. Into the Maelstrom

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pp. 72-108

I had made my decision to be a plaintiff ’s trial lawyer in Springfield, but there was little money in that part of the law at the time, and only one Springfield lawyer, “P”, pretended to concentrate in that area. “P” was not held in high esteem by the lawyers in Mann, Mann, Walter, and Powell, where I had worked for two summers while in law school, and seemed unprepared when...

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7. A Bad Case of Accident

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pp. 109-127

This “trial by ambush” case began in September 1960 when David Holden, a friend of mine since high school, came to my office with the hope that I could persuade E C Curtis to represent him. David’s client, Roberta Ward, had come to him because her husband, Marvin, had just been killed, and Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company had refused to pay its two policies that...

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8. The Malicious Tow Bar

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pp. 128-144

No “trial by ambush” case enhanced my legal reputation more than my 1967 encounter with the “malicious tow bar.” Carl Kollmeyer, who became its eventual victim, was a typical teenage boy with typical teenage friends. School was out for the summer, and there was plenty of time to spend, or waste, depending on one’s viewpoint. One of Carl’s friends, Jim, had just purchased a...

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9. A Supportive Family

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pp. 145-151

The “malicious tow bar” and a host of other cases brought an end to the first of an almost five-decade career. Throughout those years I was not tempted by the afflictions that have sidelined so many: a weakness for liquor, drugs, or gambling; extramarital affairs; bitter divorces; the inclination to take advantage of a client; or the need to belong to numerous organizations and...

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10. Breaking Away

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pp. 152-160

The best part about Farrington, Curtis, and Strong was that the senior partners never attempted to dictate how I prepared and tried lawsuits. I could do it my way, as long as I did not ask for anything from the firm. With this latitude, I handled cases as no one else in my part of the world did. I developed a unique and personal relationship with every client, partly because it was the right thing to do, but also because no case can be successfully...

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11. Love, Marriage, and Fraud

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pp. 161-190

Our law practice continued to grow in the next decade but no case then proved more significant than the one covered in this chapter. Its origins began on September 4, 1981, when our receptionist told me that two rather somber and depressed-looking ladies were in the lobby. They had no appointment, preferred not to tell the receptionist their names or what they wanted, but they...

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12. Growing Pains

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pp. 191-230

After a year and a half in our new venture, it was apparent that we needed more lawyers and more space. In 1978, I had built a new building on two levels (one underground) at 2060 East Sunshine that would accommodate five lawyers and an adequate support staff. We then added a new lawyer, John Wooddell, the following year...

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13. The Great Tobacco Case

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pp. 231-252

It was the largest recovery in the history of Missouri litigation! It involved the most intense effort by the largest number of Missouri lawyers, searching the most records, retaining the most experts, accepting the greatest challenge, risking the most personal assets to finance a case, and all this to sue a foe most people still thought unbeatable. It was the case of Missouri against thirteen...

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14. Retirement and Beyond

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pp. 253-280

After the November 22, 2002, settlement was put to bed, I was prepared to fade quietly and gently into retirement. But there was to be one last hurrah! Several days after the June 2006, convention of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, its new president, Tom Stewart, came to my office. I barely knew Tom from casual contacts at MATA functions, and he...


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pp. 281-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272966
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219978

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012