The first piece of litigation Daniel Pipitone handled as a young associate in 1982 was a federal Jones Act suit for King Fisher Marine Service Inc. of Port Lavaca. Thirty years later, Pipitone still represents the company, now the Orion Marine Construction subsidiary of Houston-based Orion Marine Group.
It’s a long-term business relationship that illustrates how a lawyer can provide the level of service that keeps a client coming back again and again. To learn about his client’s business in the 1980s, Pipitone worked on a dredge; 24 years later, he helped organize a lobbying group to make venue laws more defendant-friendly in Jones Act cases.
Waymon Boyd, a son-in-law of the late King Fisher who founded King Fisher Marine, says Pipitone has been the company’s go-to lawyer for three decades, handling most of the company’s Jones Act suits because of his dedication, honesty and skill at handling litigation.
Pipitone is “a winner. We don’t play to lose,” says Boyd, chairman of Orion Marine Construction.
The Jones Act provides a means for injured seamen and the families of seamen killed while working in the maritime industry to seek damages,
“I don’t think we ever had a cross word,” Boyd says about his relationship with Pipitone, a shareholder in Chamberlain, Hrdlicka, White, Williams & Aughtry in Houston.
Boyd’s daughter-in-law, Tammie Boyd, who is executive vice president for human resources, says Pipitone represents the business so well because he’s thorough, straightforward and believes in the dredging company.
“He’s part of the family,” she says.
Pipitone says he and Tammie “kind of grew up there together”; he looks up to Waymon Boyd, who started work at the company in 1956 as a welder; and King Fisher, who died in 2005, was a father figure.
Pipitone says his advice for nurturing a solid lawyer-client relationship is to figure out the business goals of the client by getting to know the client. “Time really does bond you together.”
It’s also essential to respect the client, never interfere with the client’s business and keep the client informed, he says. That’s why he copies or blind copies clients, such as company executives, on all communications with the other side in litigation, so they know what’s going on and can make strategic suggestions.
Pipitone graduated from the Dickinson School of Law of Pennsylvania State University in Carlisle in 1979. After completing a three-year federal judicial clerkship in Philadelphia in 1982, he and his wife, also a lawyer, wanted to move to the Gulf Coast, and they liked Corpus Christi.
Pipitone spent 10 years at the Kleberg Law Firm, then he and two other partners left to form Pipitone, Schauer & Simank in Corpus Christi. After 12 years, he moved to Houston in 2004 to join Chamberlain Hrdlicka because many of his clients were in Houston.
Pipitone says chance linked him to King Fisher Marine. He says for his first three months in Texas — while he waited for his Texas law license under a reciprocity agreement with Pennsylvania — he was assigned to Kleberg’s maritime section.
“In 1982, King Fisher had used several different firms in Corpus Christi, and so the firm [Kleberg] got one of the cases. I don’t know how King Fisher decided, whether it was on a roulette wheel or what, and they sent that case in, and it was assigned to me at the firm,” Pipitone recalls. Apparently King Fisher Marine folks liked how he handled the suit because the company hired him for many more after that, he adds.
Pipitone says he doesn’t recall the facts of that initial 1982 Jones Act suit, but he does recall that, with King Fisher’s blessing, he spent three days working 12-hour shifts on a dredge to learn the business. Dredges scrape the bottom of waterways to clear them to make it easier for boats and ships to pass through.
“That was the only way I could learn things. I learned the language, the way the equipment worked. . . . On the dredge, I worked as a deckhand,” he says, noting that his duties included chipping off paint and re-painting.
Pipitone says his stint on the dredge wasn’t too bad, in comparison to three days he served on a shrimp boat to learn a different client’s business, which he describes as the “longest three days of my life.”
Tammie Boyd says Pipitone’s knowledge of the dredging business helps him set up and understand re-enactments of accidents in connection with Jones Act suits. It also is useful that Pipitone understands the dredging industry and the culture at the company, which has a lot of second- and third-generation employees, she says. For many years, she has worked closely with Pipitone because she often serves as the company’s representative in the courtroom when litigation goes to trial.
The trusting and familial relationship she and others have built with Pipitone over the years makes them feel comfortable taking his advice. “Because of the relationship we’ve formed, we are able to say, ‘What would you really do?’ ” Tammie Boyd says.
Pipitone says that, in 30 years, he can recall only one instance when he had any “pushback” from company executives about how to handle a suit, and in that case they took his advice to do more investigation before settling with the family of a worker killed in a dredge accident. Tammie Boyd says the company took Pipitone’s advice.
Waymon Boyd says Pipitone does about 70 percent to 80 percent of the company’s Jones Act litigation.
After handling his first suit for the company in 1982, Pipitone says King Fisher Marine continued to send suits to him, and by the time he had been at Kleberg Law Firm for two years, he had built his own client base.
While the majority of the work Pipitone does for what is now Orion Marine Construction is Jones Act work, he says he also provides general counseling and human resources advice to the company and helps it develop safety and training policies. He says he charges an hourly rate for all of his work with Orion Marine.
In 1998, King Fisher sold the company he founded in 1940 to Orion Marine Group. The company continued to be known as King Fisher Marine until Jan. 1, when it became Orion Marine Construction.
Pipitone says that King Fisher’s decision, for estate planning reasons, to sell his company to Orion Marine didn’t affect Pipitone’s relationship with the company or his caseload. In fact, Pipitone says, since then he has done some litigation work for other Orion Marine operations.
In 2006, Pipitone helped Waymon Boyd organize a lobbying group, Maritime Jobs for Texas, to promote legislation to limit venue options in Jones Act litigation in Texas. In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed H.B. 1602, and Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law. The law calls for most Jones Act suits to be filed in the county where the plaintiff was injured, in the home county of the defendant or where the incident occurred.
The goal, Waymon Boyd says, was to reduce the number of Jones Act suits filed in The Valley, which has a reputation for being plaintiff-friendly.
While it’s a 250-mile round trip from Houston to Port Lavaca, Pipitone says he makes the drive about once a month, and he visits dredges more frequently than that while working on litigation.
Notes Pipitone, “It’s easy to go to battle with these folks.”
Dan Pipitone’s Client RelationTips
• Learn the business and the client’s business goals.
• Get to know the client.
• Never interfere with the client’s business.
• Keep the client informed.
• Respect the client.