Melody Hurdle Eagan

Alabama’s Lightfoot, Franklin & White, a regional litigation firm with a national practice advising universities and other higher educational institutions, has appointed Melody Hurdle Eagan as its first female managing partner.

Eagan, a products liability partner based in the 67-lawyer firm’s Birmingham headquarters, will assume her new post on Jan. 1, 2018. She will replace fellow litigation partner Wynn Shuford, who has led Lightfoot Franklin for the past four years.

“I do love this firm and am excited about what we have going on here and what our future holds,” Eagan said. “So I’m very thrilled to be a part of that process and stepping into a leadership role as we face the future.”

Eagan first joined Lightfoot Franklin as a law clerk in 1993, becoming an associate the following year. Since then, she has built up a products liability and personal injury practice handling trials and appeals for clients that include pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers.

As head of the firm, Eagan plans to continue expanding Lightfoot Franklin’s white-collar criminal defense and internal investigations practice, as well as grow its commercial litigation group.

“I think our success in that area in large part has been because of the good work we have done for clients,” said Eagan, noting several high-profile matters that the white-collar defense group has taken on over the years.

Jack Sharman, a Lightfoot Franklin partner who leads the firm’s white-collar practice, served as special counsel to the Alabama House Judiciary Committee that produced a 131-page report leading to the impeachment of former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. Sharman has also been retained by a Balch & Bingham partner facing federal bribery and fraud charges.

Over the years, the firm has built up a practice guiding institutions of higher education through various legal issues. In 2012, Lightfoot Franklin was one of several firms that advised Penn State University in connection with the child sexual abuse charges and subsequent conviction of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. (Penn State paid out millions in attorney fees as part of that scandal, and Lightfoot Franklin received at least $50,131, and likely much more, for its work in the matter, according to school’s financial reports.)

In late September, Auburn University retained Lightfoot Franklin to review its basketball program in the aftermath of federal bribery and fraud indictments that implicated Chuck Person, the head coach of its men’s team. In August, the firm was also confirmed to have been hired as outside counsel for longtime client Auburn to assist the school in a Title IX investigation of its softball program. In recent years, many large firms have sought to enter the Title IX enforcement space, which could become even more active after the Trump administration chose to revise regulatory guidelines by the U.S. Department of Education.

In addition to expanding its collegiate and white-collar expertise, Eagan said that she and Lightfoot Franklin want to grow geographically and transition away from being a predominantly regional firm and into a national player. The firm itself, founded in 1990, is now one of the largest in Alabama.

“I would say my prevailing goal and our goal as a firm is to become nationally recognized as the go-to leading litigation firm in the Southeast for corporate clients,” Eagan said.

In January, Lightfoot Franklin entered the Texas market, opening an office in Houston in an effort to capture work from the construction, energy and manufacturing industries in the Lone Star State. Led by partner Jerry Rios, the office brought civil litigator Angela Bongat as of counsel earlier this week from local shop Hartline Dacus Barger Dreyer.

Eagan sees her firm’s move to Texas as just the beginning of its expansion efforts during her tenure.

“Our longtime clients know what we can do,” Eagan said. “But we want to be recognized nationally as the go-to firm in high-stakes litigation when matters are filed not just in Alabama, but in the Southeast or even beyond.”