Gordon McKernan Takes a Christian-Based Approach in His Practice and Fighting for Every Client

By Jonathan Widran When Baton Rouge personal injury attorney Gordon McKernan uses the term “trial by fire,” he’s not just working a metaphor. Years before he earned his law degree from Loyola University in New Orleans in 1992, he found himself in the courtroom, personally defending a client he knew quite well-himself! Groomed for a legal career from an early age by his father Jerry McKernan–a veteran personal injury attorney and onetime president of the Louisiana Association for Justice–Gordon was working for Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys during his high school years when he got a ticket for a hit and run incident involving a fire hydrant. The elder McKernan instructed Gordon to represent himself, which seemed like a scary proposition at first. But the high school senior did his research, examined witnesses with skill and benefited from the Assistant DA thinking it would be a cakewalk to win a case argued by a teenager. “He took it for granted that I would just be a nervous kid up there,” Gordon says. “My mom wasn’t sure it would be worth the risk, but my dad had total confidence. I got that from him as well as the belief that it was important to help people. He was big into the civil rights movement as well. That’s what he’s done his whole life and that’s what I have continued to do as I have taken over and built the law firm into what it is today.” Sure enough, Gordon won his first case. When Gordon was in law school, his dad told him that if he became an injury attorney, he would always be challenged by the competition of going head to head with other attorneys in a variety of cases, from car accidents to plane crashes to toxic tort exposure cases. Gordon has always been very competitive and active in sports and personal injury law seemed to be the perfect complement to that sense of competitiveness. From the day he joined the family firm in 1992 after graduating from LSU and Loyola Law School, Gordon hit the ground running with a large caseload. Despite working long hours for his clients, Gordon also established himself as a volunteer Assistant D.A. to hone his trial skills. In this capacity, he tried traffic, DWI, drug and other criminal court cases. Since that time, he has expanded the firm-which has been around in one form or another for 50 years-representing cases ranging from motor vehicle accidents, to offshore/maritime accidents, product recalls, serious injuries, asbestos/mesothelioma, social security disability, truck accidents and wrongful death. The firm’s website’s headline reads “Get Gordon! Get It Done!”-and he and his staff of 14 attorneys (up from seven when he took over the firm a couple of years ago) have done just that. The firm has recovered over $1 billion for their clients over the years, with over 70 verdicts and/or settlements in excess of $1 million dollars. McKernan estimates that the firm does 5-10% mass tort cases, which over the years have included such renowned cases as the In Re EDC Litigation, Phen Fen and the Louisiana Tobacco litigation. Most of the firm’s cases are what he calls “typical, everyday personal injury accidents, where it’s someone else’s fault” – car, truck and 18 wheeler crashes, slip and fall, maritime, railroad and products liabilities. The firm is also representing Louisianans whose livelihoods are being affected by the fallout from last year’s devastating BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including the family of one of the workers killed in the April 2010 explosion of the Deep Water Horizon oil rig. “Our goal is to recover the maximum compensation that the law allows for our clients,” Gordon says. “We work our cases down to the last detail, because we want to make it uncomfortable for the insurance companies to go to trial. They don’t like the exposure a trial brings, but if they’ve done their homework well, there are certain tactics they can use that will entice people not to file suit and to take a smaller settlement. It’s not always just the David vs. Goliath thing we’re dealing with. A lot of what we personal injury attorneys fight against is the way these huge insurance companies have used their money and power to shape public opinion against the legal system over the last 20-30 years, via an onslaught of long term media campaigns – including TV commercials and written editorials. “When we go to trial, the jury at first looks at us suspiciously,” Gordon adds. “They’re asked ‘How many of you believe this is a frivolous lawsuit? Even though they haven’t heard the facts of the case yet, at least 20-30 percent raise their hands because they have been told that all cases like these are frivolous! Our job is to give them the facts and overcome that skepticism. I believe people, in their hearts and souls will do the right thing, and truth will win out if we present a compelling case and have a client who deserves to be compensated. It’s a tough perception to overcome, but it’s still our task to get the folks on the jury to understand that they can put aside their bias and follow the law in reaching a fair verdict.” Gordon feels that one of the greatest parts of being a personal injury attorney is the ability to make a significant difference in the lives of his clients. Though he and the firm have handled thousands of cases successfully, there is a special feeling every time he finishes a case and the client tells him how much it means. Also very rewarding for the veteran attorney is the fact that he has not only followed in his father’s footsteps, but he has also greatly expanded the firm. Due to health issues, his dad is no longer able to actively practice, but remains of counsel with the firm. “He gave me opportunities and blessed me in so many ways, that I wanted to build a firm that he would be proud of,” says Gordon. “The practice of law has changed so much that we could no longer be the firm we were 5 years ago. Between the tort reform laws enacted in Louisiana and the larger numbers of attorneys vying for the smaller number of cases that exist, our model of practicing would not work anymore. Our business has greatly increased since we started television advertising four years ago. We began doing this in Baton Rouge and have expanded to other markets like Lafayette, Lafayette, Monroe and Alexandria. The need to shift gears motivated and excited me – but the core philosophy about caring for our clients while at the same time securing as much money as I can for the clients remains.” A devoted family man to his wife (and high school sweetheart) Shannon and their four children (Riley, Meredith, Charlotte and John Gordon), Gordon likes to think of the law firm and the clients they represent as something of an extended family. He and the firm hope to be their “attorneys for life.” Besides being a devoted family man, Gordon is a devout Christian. This includes sharing his faith with clients and even giving them a Bible in addition to their check when their cases are settled. Just as Gordon and the firm is their clients’ advocate in the legal system, Gordon’s desire is to point these clients to Jesus Christ as mankind’s ultimate advocate, who pleads humanity’s case before God. The law firm website includes a large “Beliefs” section that expounds on their personal convictions and how they relate to The Legal System, Societal, Charitable & Civic Responsibility and their religious beliefs. The following is taken from the website and connects the firm’s work in personal injury law with a larger responsibility to do the right thing in a sometimes relativistic society: “The American legal system, like all legal systems, is based on morality and a sense of right and wrong. From biblical times, the law has been used to right wrongs and see that justice is served. The American legal system is separated into two main branches, criminal and civil and is based on the ideas of equality, trial by jury and the rule of law. With respect to both the criminal and civil sides of the law, one of the most obvious correlations between our modern criminal and civil laws can be found in the “Law of Moses” (including the 10 commandments). The Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys feels that God has bestowed many financial and material blessings on the McKernan Law and its employees through the years. Due to these blessings, Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys has felt both the desire and responsibility to help the less fortunate of society (Matt. 25:35). This is why we have always been engaged in supporting and participating in numerous charitable, educational and civic projects. Gordon McKernan and the staff of Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys all believe that it is important to give back to others. This giving back takes many forms – educational, religious, medical, arts and culture, legal, sports and others. As a result, the partners and the entire law firm support and participate in many community related projects. Over the years, the Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys has contributed, participated or raised money for numerous charitable, educational, societal and/or civic groups.” “Our goal when we serve each client is to have this Christ-centered passion flow out of me as well as all of our employees,” says Gordon. “I have no problem proclaiming that Christian beliefs and values guide me in running our law firm and proclaiming that gives us a unique ability and responsibility to handle things in a way that is consistent with the way we believe God wants us to treat people. Skeptics might think that the idea of a ‘Christian attorney’ is unusual, but we are here to serve and this has been a great thing for the law firm. We really care for every client we work with and want them to see that we are genuine in the way we apply our beliefs to their individual cases.”