Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Legal Elite – Corporate

Corporate: Douglas R. Edwards

By Kathy Brown

As a fourth-year associate at a Buffalo, N.Y., law firm, Doug Edwards represented a bank in a series of Chapter 12 bankruptcy hearings involving dairy farms. He had to inspect the value of the farms’ collateral — in this case, cows. “We had court in the morning and then met out at the farm to look at the state of the cows and equipment. I had boots on but stepped mid-thigh into a hole filled with a combination of mud and cow manure. I had to get rid of my suit because I couldn’t get the cow-manure stains out.”

It was a low point in his career, and it had him thinking he wasn’t meant for greater things. But Edwards has come a long way from that spring day 15 years ago in upstate New York. As deputy general counsel of Charlotte-based Wachovia Corp., he oversees the litigation-practice group. It’s no small task. He heads an 85-person team of lawyers and support staff. “Any time somebody sues the company, it comes to this group.” What kinds of cases does his team see? “I’d rather not comment on that. I don’t want to give anyone any ideas.”

The role of Wachovia’s litigation group goes beyond handling a lawsuit filed by a disgruntled employee or shareholder. When the bank merges with or acquires another financial institution, such as its recent merger with Birmingham, Ala.-based SouthTrust, his team is responsible for the due diligence on the merger partner’s litigation and regulatory problems.

He wanted to be a history professor. After earning a bachelor’s in history from the University of Virginia, he worked construction a year before enrolling at the University of Kentucky to study pre-Civil War U.S. history. He was “to some extent argumentative.” One professor convinced him that he would make a good lawyer.

With his course work for his master’s in history complete, he headed for law school at the University of Buffalo. He graduated in 1985 and earned his master’s that year, too, after finishing his final paper and taking his oral exams.

He started his law career in Buffalo in the litigation group of a firm now called Hodgson Russ. Most of his work involved banks. “I got interested in the business mix of things as opposed to just representing a client on an issue and moving on.” He moved to Buffalo-based Marine Midland Bank in 1991 as an internal counsel and stayed about a year before returning to Hodgson Russ. After about three years, he started looking for a warmer climate.

A law-school classmate helped him land a job in Jacksonville, Fla., as a staff lawyer at First Union, the predecessor to Wachovia. “I’ll never forget the day I left Buffalo — May 12, 1995. It was 60 degrees in upstate New York and 95 degrees in Jacksonville.”

First Union transferred him to Charlotte in 1998. The bank’s general counsel, Mark Treanor, tapped him to head the litigation group two years later. “Too many lawyers are good at pointing out problems but not providing workable solutions, which is a real pet peeve of mine,” Treanor says. “Doug is a problem solver. He identifies the problems and always brings a solution to the table.”

These days Edwards does little courtroom work. That’s fine with him. He doesn’t miss the all-nighters and weekends spent preparing for trials, especially now with a 1-year-old son romping around the house.

Edwards describes himself as “a fairly average guy.” He plays golf and fishes, but he hasn’t had much time for either since his son was born. French fries and a cheeseburger — cooked as rare as possible — make him happiest. And parked among the BMWs and luxury sport utility vehicles at Wachovia’s headquarters is this lawyer’s green Ford F-150 pickup truck.

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