By Steve Rivera –
As someone who has been practicing law in Tucson for more than six decades David Burr Udall has a lot of stories to tell. There was the time he put Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, on the witness stand when Udall’s drug company client was sued. And the times when his partner represented reputed mobster Joe Bonanno.
For the most part, though, Udall, who goes by Burr, said that when a case is over, he doesn’t dwell on it and moves on to the next one. While he doesn’t reminisce much about the cases themselves, he remembers Udall Law Firm’s early history like it was yesterday.
“The firm started March 1, 1952 and was called McCarty & Chandler,” for its founders Charlie McCarty and Tom Chandler, he recalled. “They were downtown in the old Valley Bank building, then moved to 177 North Church. That’s when I came, February 10, 1954.” That was right out of University of Arizona law school.
“I always wanted to go to U of A,” said Udall, who grew up in St. Johns, Arizona. He was the youngest of six siblings, including his famous brothers Morris and Stewart Udall, both of whom enjoyed prominent political careers.
Burr Udall said his brothers never worked for Udall Law, but that he worked for their practice while he was in law school. “They decided to run for office and told me I better get another job. In 1954 Stewart ran for Congress and won. Mo was a county attorney and ran for judge and got beat.” After President John F. Kennedy appointed Stewart as Secretary of the Interior, “there was a special election for Stewart’s (Congressional) seat and Mo ran and got elected. For 30 years, he was in Congress.”
It didn’t take long for Udall to earn his own identity as an attorney. In 1955, he was made partner and his name was added to the McCarty & Chandler name. Other partners over the years included prominent Tucson attorneys Robert Tullar, Jim Richmond and Jack Redhair. In 2007, the name was changed to Udall Law Firm. Today, at 88 years old, Udall still works while being the namesake of the oldest law practice that originated in Tucson.
“Burr is one of the best people I’ve met in my life,” said Terry Dwyer, the firm’s executive director. “He’s honest, sincere, humble and he’s what everyone should strive to be. Burr’s motto is to do the right thing and everyone knows it.”
In the early days of Udall’s practice, attorneys didn’t specialize in distinct areas of law, he said. “Everybody did everything back then. Probate, domestic, criminal. At some point, mid-to-late ’90s, lawyers started to be specialists.”
Udall Law’s specialty became insurance. “The firm has a long history of insurance defense,” Dwyer said. “Insurance companies have panel counsels they go to for a list of attorneys. We’re on most insurance companies’ lists,” which has contributed to the firm’s longevity, reputation and success.
“Our business practices are very good,” he said, “but our perceived size is where we struggle. Potential clients think we’re too big. But most of our business comes from small businesses and we can turn work around fast and our rates are well in line.”
To ensure their future survival, the partners have introduced growth strategies that include hiring law students directly out of school, hosting educational presentations to the public on various law topics, and expanding into Phoenix, where the practice has five attorneys.
Many of its longtime clients are in the healthcare industry, such as Tucson Medical Center, Banner Health, medical and dental practices and COPE Behavioral Health. Part of the firm’s strategy is to support them through donations and by attending their fundraising events.
Real estate is another important segment for Udall Law with a client list that includes Vistoso Properties and Stone Canyon.
This year marks the firm’s 65th anniversary and talks have begun about how to commemorate it. “For the 60th we had a big affair out in the parking lot. We did an Oktoberfest theme,” Dwyer said. “Maybe we’ll do something in the fall, probably less elaborate and save a big event for the 70th.”
After 63 years in the same place, Udall is happily working alongside and mentoring his younger colleagues. The good thing about practicing law, Udall said, “is that as you get older, if your brain is still working, you can still do it. The greatest joy to me is the exposure to so many different things.”