Interview with Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery
Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster, the newest member of the Delaware Court of Chancery, is the first member of the Court to be interviewed for this blog.
The Honorable J. Travis Laster was sworn in at an investiture ceremony at the Court today, October 9, 2009. His Honor took a few minutes to talk with Kevin F. Brady and Francis G.X. Pileggi to answer a few questions.
Blog: Why did you want to make the change from private practice to a member of the judiciary?
VCL: The call to public service is very important to me. My parents were models in this regard. They are both teachers. I always knew that I wanted to do some type of public service, and being on the Court of Chancery was my “dream job". It includes of course, a public service component.
Blog: Is there any "formal judicial training" scheduled after your investiture before you start hearing cases?
VCL: Although there is no formal training for new members of the Court of Chancery, my extensive experience in practicing before the Court is certainly a form of training. Also, I plan to attend a mediation course to help me serve as a mediator, although I certainly participated in mediations during my 13 years of practice before the Court.
Blog: Will you take over all the cases that had been assigned to former Vice Chancellor Lamb at the time his term ended?
VCL: The 88 cases that Vice Chancellor Lamb had on his docket when his term expired will be “inherited” by me. In addition, recently filed new cases have also been assigned to me. I jokingly wondered if I got the nod because the initials VCL will be used after the case number for cases assigned to me and those are the same letters used for former Vice Chancellor Lamb’s cases.
Blog: What will you look for when you consider candidates for being your law clerk?
VCL: The most important qualifications will be “mental horsepower” and an interest in the topics within the jurisdiction of the Court, as well as the capacity to address complex issues quickly. I am currently using two clerks who were hired for me by Vice Chancellors Parsons and Strine before I was sworn in. They are Matt Levy from Duke and Mike Sirkin from Temple.
Blog: Do you have a "judicial philosophy" in terms of how you plan to deal with your docket of cases?
VCL: The word “balanced” is the best way to describe my approach to cases. As a product of the Delaware Bar, my experience representing both shareholders as well as management over the years allows me to understand the issues from both of those perspectives. It is important to make clear to litigants that they will receive, and they deserve, a fair and respectful hearing, and thoughtful consideration regardless of whether they are a large company or an individual of modest means.
Blog: What are you looking forward to the most in your new job and what do you think will be the most challenging part?
VCL: One of the things that I am looking forward to the most is not needing to fill out time sheets. The most challenging part of my position will be to fill the shoes of my predecessor and live up to the high expectations of the Court. I am following Steve Lamb who was a tremendous judge and known and respected all across the country and that’s a tough act to follow. I am coming onto a court that has been praised as one of the nation’s best and whose colleagues are known for their opinions, insights and scholarship. This Court has a docket where you are deciding very big questions and opinions that get read by corporate practitioners and corporate scholars all across the country. So, it’s an exciting challenge but I am very mindful of those responsibilities and it’s a little bit humbling, but that I think is the most challenging thing for me.
Blog: What do you think you will miss about private practice?
VCL: One thing that I may miss about private practice is the flexibility of having my own firm to decide what resources I will have available as opposed to the more limited resources of the state.
Blog: What changes, positive or otherwise, have you seen in the practice of law in the past ten years?
VCL: The positive changes that I have seen include the greater sophistication of the lawyers and the law. I also view as a positive development the greater democratization of the Delaware bar which now has a more diverse array of lawyers who are respected participants in the corporate litigation area. A negative development is some of the harsher, more aggressive litigation tactics that we have not seen in Delaware. I think it is really important to maintain the traditional professionalism, civility and collegiality that Delaware has traditionally fostered.
Blog: Given the nature of the business disputes that come before the Court of Chancery, what changes do you see in the next five or ten years?
VCL: Without expecting any drastic changes in the future, depending on what the federal arena brings, one likely trend is the increase in “alternative entity cases” that we are already seeing more of. As for potential federal changes, there has always been a symbiotic relationship between federal and Delaware jurisdiction, and that give and take will likely continue.
Blog: Finally, what would you like people to know about you that you don’t think they already know?
VCL: I want to be known as being “open to feedback.” My grandfather used to say that one should get all of the advice that one can, because some day one might be able to use some of it.
Blog: Thank you very much Your Honor for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us. We wish you the best of luck for a long and healthy tenure on the Court of Chancery.
VCL: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.