There are a multitude of reasons to become a lawyer: prestige, family expectations, peer pressure, financial compensation. Larry Price ’62 picked the best one.
“I really wanted to help people and thought that would be one way I could make a difference in people’s lives,” he says.
Over a 45-year career, he did just that. As a personal-injury attorney, Price took on cases involving slips on shop floors, back injuries caused by heavy lifting at work, medical malpractice, and lots and lots of car wrecks. Around Charlotte, Price’s law firm became known as one that always had its clients’ best interests at heart, working to make sure that people were compensated fairly when accidents occurred. And word got out even though the firm never mailed solicitations to accident victims.
For 38 years, Price’s firm (now called Price, Petho and Associates) did such good work that he never felt the need to solicit business, especially in a way that might be considered unbecoming. You’d never see his face on a billboard or hear him touting his business on TV.
“My clients would refer clients to me,” says Price, who retired from full-time practice in 2017. “I didn’t think it was very professional to advertise. If I did a good job for my clients, they would tell other people, and that’s how they would come in to see me.”
Price fought for his clients – hard. Doug Petho, who now runs the firm Price founded, worked with Price for over 25 years and said he was the hardest-working lawyer in town, always pushing insurance companies for the best settlement and never taking shortcuts.
“Larry had a big bark when it came to negotiating claims,” Petho says. “He never backed down. We used to sue – it sounds like a lie, but since I’ve been here we’ve had at least 200 jury trials, because everything he couldn’t get settled went over to litigation. He would always fight. Even if we came to him and said, ‘Larry, we’re never going to win this case,’ he’d say, ‘I’d rather lose and have the insurance company take me seriously when I tell them I’m going to sue them.’”
Part of Price’s doggedness on behalf of his clients, many of whom had little means, comes from his modest background. Price grew up in small-town Rockingham, N.C., the son of a Howard Johnson’s manager and a textile worker. Although Price says he had a good childhood, he always knew he wanted to find his fortune elsewhere someday.
He chose Wingate Junior College because it wasn’t too far from home, a good landing spot from where he could ease into adulthood. At Wingate he studied business, and a fresh-out-of-law-school Donald Haskins was his favorite professor.
Price remembers it as a time of discovery, when he “learned to be independent and do things on my own.”
It was also during his Wingate days that he met his wife, Lynda Anderson, then a senior at East Mecklenburg High in Charlotte. “My suitemate set us up on a blind date,” Price says. “It worked.” Eventually, Lynda and Larry would work together at the law firm for a quarter century, eating lunch together every day.
Changing lives for the better
Price became interested in law while working as a claims adjuster after he got his bachelor’s degree from St. Andrews College. He often worked with lawyers while settling claims on behalf of the companies he worked for, and he quickly decided he’d rather be fighting on behalf of the damaged party. He had an inkling he could succeed as a lawyer.
“I just felt that I was organized and could keep up with things going on there,” he says. “I enjoy dealing with people. The attorneys that I dealt with before going to law school, some of them were really sharp, and some of them were … well, I thought, If this guy can do it, I can too.”
In 1969, Price enrolled in Wake Forest Law School. He enjoyed studying law, but the work was taxing, and the end-of-course exams were pressure-packed. “A lot of reading, a lot of case study,” he says. “You had no tests there, except a final exam. That was the only grade you had in any course.”
Price survived, and after graduation he joined one of the Charlotte law firms that had promised him a job once he passed the bar. He spent seven years there before deciding to strike out on his own, at a time when few firms were handling personal-injury cases. His firm grew quickly: At one point Price employed a team of seven lawyers, “but that was a little too many personalities to deal with, so I dropped back to five,” he says.
Price proved adept at personal-injury law, which requires not only knowledge of the law but a knack for organization and an ability to juggle several cases at once.
“I guess the most difficult thing is keeping your clients informed, and deadlines,” he says. “You always had deadlines when you had a litigation practice. You had to take depositions, and you had discovery. You had a time period you had to get all of that done in, and when you’ve got a large practice with a lot of cases going on, you’ve got to be organized.”
And did he ever have a huge caseload. Price’s firm would routinely have 2,500 cases on the books at one time. Price’s desk was littered with pink sticky notes and neat stacks of paper so he could keep track of everything. He would routinely return phone calls after office hours, making sure his clients were taken care of.
“He knew that the No. 1 complaint about lawyers was that you can’t get the guy on the phone,” Petho says.
It was just another way Price kept his clients’ interests front and center.
“Larry got a lot of joy out of his clients,” Petho says. “Many of the clients he represented were people of not a lot of means. His clients loved him for turning a really bad situation into something that provided them with some economic gain.
“And while Larry would fight hard for his clients, he never talked down to them. He never made it seem like, ‘Well, I’m the boss and you have to listen to what I’m saying.’ He always let them know that he was working for them.”
That sense of compassion stayed with Price his entire career.
“I wanted to help people, and some of the insurance companies are not as ethical as maybe they should be,” Price says. “It was my goal to see that the people received what they were entitled to. Quite often it would change their lives. And that was a good feeling for me.”