Pace-setter. . .


UDM Law grad finds niche in legal field

By Paul Janczewski
Legal News

Focusing a story on attorney Lawrence Day is a difficult task.

Should it highlight his athlete-first, student-second attitude when he was earning swimming honors in high school and college? Or his educational awakening when Day decided to take his studies to a new level and concentrated on the law?

Maybe it could focus on his successes as a plaintiff's attorney in personal injury cases. Or his gradual movement toward arbitration and mediation.

Then again, his story could shift back to swimming, when Day set world records for his age group after suffering a heart attack. And don't forget to mention his invention, an underwater pace clock, which not only was used to regulate his efforts in the pool to prevent over-exertion and further heart damage, but also had practical applications for all swimmers.

In truth, all those story lines are relevant, and intertwined, into what makes Larry Day who he is, how he got there, and why.

Day, 63, was born near Saginaw. His grandfather manufactured bricks, and the company dug out huge clay pits, which filled with water over the years and became ponds, where Day and his brothers would swim.

"So growing up there was like a Norman Rockwell experience, where you're swinging off ropes off huge oak trees, and flying into this pond," he said. "We learned to swim there."

Day was the youngest of four brothers, who were all good swimmers, and he learned to swim when he was about 2 years old.

When he was 8, the family moved to Saginaw Township, but Day continued swimming in local YMCA programs and at Douglas MacArthur High School. Before graduating in 1969, Day was named co-captain of the swimming team, was named to two All-American high school swimming teams, was the Class A state champion in the 100-yard butterfly, and was a member of the golf team that placed second in the Class A state tournament.

"I was sort of a one-trick pony (in sports)," Day said. "I wasn't good at much else, except maybe golf."

But he found that the training and competition was good for him. It was relaxing, and kept him out of trouble. Swimming "was easy on the knees and joints, and it was something you can do for a whole lifetime," he said. "I think it's the closest thing to the fountain of youth when it comes to exercise."

After graduation, Day received a swimming scholarship to the University of Michigan.

"I knew I wanted to swim, and I wanted to be the best swimmer that I could possibly be," he said. "I was a jock, first and foremost."

He was recruited to U-M by its swim coach, Gus Stager, one of the top coaches in the nation at the time. The two still remain friends.

His father was an engineer, so he entered the school of engineering at U-M, but did not enjoy it, eventually majoring in education with a focus on economics.

Day was captain of the U-M swim team in 1973, and a member of the water polo club, and in 1971 was selected to the All-America team in the 200-yard butterfly. He was driven to make the Olympics team, but by his junior year "it became apparent to me that I needed to settle down and get good grades to find a way to make a living someday."

Day focused on grades, improved his GPA, and decided to pursue law, having been influenced by an older brother, who was an attorney.

"I admired what he did, he was a role model for me, and law looked like a great stepping stone for doing a lot of things," Day said.

He enrolled at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where he earned his juris doctor in 1976. He was hired by a firm specializing in civil negligence defense work. The firm had offices in Bay City, Saginaw and Flint, and he opted for the Flint office.

"There were more opportunities to try cases in Flint, it was a younger office and I had more of a shot there to really get involved and learn," Day said. "Plus, I was known in Saginaw as a swimmer and athlete, and I was ready to move away from that and do well as an attorney."

But he began to get more cases from the plaintiff's perspective, and after two years decided to open his own practice.

"But you just pray the telephone will ring," he said. "My focus was to be selective about what I'd take, do a good job, work the case carefully, keep my practice low volume."

But several waves of tort reform in the mid 1980s and early 1990s made it more difficult to achieve positive results for injured people, and Day saw a better way to help clients by specializing in arbitration and mediation through alternative dispute resolution. He received training at Harvard University, and several other sources to become a noted expert in those fields. Although many cases are confidential, Day has enjoyed more than his share of triumphs. He represented a U-M diver, and eventual silver medalist in 1984 Olympics, who was seriously injured in a crash involving a drunk driver. Day also assembled and arranged funding for a search team for a private plane that crashed into Lake Michigan, killing the pilot and a passenger, eventually securing a settlement for the pilot's widow.

Using his love of flying kites, Day also attached a camera to a kite and flew it over a golf course, taking photos that helped win a case where a golfer was injured by an errant drive off another tee. Day, using those aerial shots, was able to show the putting green was in the flight zone of drives off an adjacent tee, pointing out a course design flaw.

"It's so important to show pictures and exhibits to a jury," he said. "Juries are sick of listening to lawyers, so the less you can talk and the more you can show why your case is legitimate is important."

He's also been the swim coach for both Fenton and Grand Blanc high schools, and three times earned state High School Coach of the Year honors. In addition, Day has been inducted into the Saginaw Swimming Hall of Fame.

Day has stayed active in swimming, but his passion for the sport nearly came to an end when he had a heart attack in the late 2000s while in Utah. He was told he could continue swimming, but not too hard to push his heart rate into the danger zone. Day eventually hooked up with Dr. Kim Eagle, head of cardiology at U-M and Bo Schembechler's doctor who kept the legendary Wolverine football coach alive for years. That led Day to invent an underwater pace clock that allowed him to push his heart rate within the optimum aerobic range. Using the pace clock, Day was able to improve his performances without harming himself. Eventually, he was able to become competitive again, and broke two master world records for his age group in the 400 individual medley and 200 butterfly.

The pace clock had been in Day's view since he was at U-M, but only recently did it become a reality. Runners and bikers and other athletes use timers similar to watches, but that type of use is prohibited in competitive swimming. After considerable research, Day developed a design and specifications, and eventually came up with a waterproof clock for the bottom of a pool that is synchronized to the main wall clock timer.

The manufacturer, a company called Pace Pal, has not yet turned a profit, "but the tide is turning," Day said. "Sales are strong, and escalating." He has potential deals with swim retailers in the U.S. and Canada, and markets the clocks to swimmers, coaches, and those who use the motorized "endless pools." Applications for certain time study industries also are being explored for the $169 clock.

For Day, swimming now is more for relaxation, exercise, and entertainment, but he does not rule out competitive swimming in the years ahead.

"I probably want to know if I still have it," he said. "It's not so much winning against other people; it's showing myself that I'm still capable of doing these things at some level."

He encourages other attorneys to also find their passion outside of law to remain fresh and vibrant. Day said that not only prevent burnout, but could also enhance their legal career through people you meet.

Day, who is married to Jill Susan and has four adult children, works out of his home now. "I never want to retire," he said. "I really enjoy it."

So for Day, focusing all those life threads has been beneficial. "I have no doubt those are intertwined," he said. "The lessons you learn as an athlete, when you win and when you lose, and how you respond to losing and the way you make yourself better from that experience all translates to what you do in your profession."

Published: Mon, Sep 01, 2014