Partner Charles L. Stern, Jr. was recognized as an honoree for the New Orleans CityBusiness 2023 Leadership in Law class at a reception held at the New Orleans Museum of Art on Monday, October 9. Chuck was among the honorees who were inducted into the Leadership in Law Hall of Fame. The requirement is recognition in three LIL classes. Even though these honorees are no longer eligible to be selected, their contributions to the profession and place in the community persist.
As noted in a special Leadership in Law 2023 insert in CityBusiness, “Each year New Orleans CityBusiness honors leaders in law who have excelled in their careers and had a meaningful impact on our community. The following pages make it clear that that is particularly true of our 19th class of Leadership in Law.
For our 2023 honorees a commonality is the belief that being a great lawyer means knowing there is always more to learn. Whether they left law school a few years ago or a few decades ago, it is curiosity for many of our honorees that has led them to interesting and engaging careers. For some trying their hand at a new specialization has resulted in an unexpected path for their career. For others it’s what allowed them to grow or even start practices of their own.”
Leadership in Law identifies individuals in four categories: court-associated professionals, including judges, magistrates, clerks and support personnel; educators, both in the law school setting and professional realm; firm-associated, which includes attorneys, paralegals and other staff professionals; and in-house counsel, which include full-time representation of for-profit companies, nonprofits and governmental entities.
Chuck chatted with reporter Jaime Guillet about what propelled him to become a lawyer and one of the most important cases of his career. Following is his interview, which appears in the New Orleans CityBusiness Leadership in Law 2023 insert.
Charles L. Stern, Jr., Firm Associated
Charles L. Stern, Jr. commenced a stunning, lifelong legal career – which includes freeing a Death Row inmate and arguing in from of the supreme court – because of the Vietnam War and Watergate.
Everyone’s age factors in a certain amount of timing and contextual life choices. Stern, a Partner at Steeg Law, found himself amidst his college years contemplating his future. A practical man, he realized there was an advanced degree glut due to draft deferments. As he watched Watergate hearings, he realized the law allowed him the ability to do some good in the world.
“You take advantages of opportunities when they show up in life, and you learn ultimately that the career, in the end, involves people,” said Stern, who has enjoyed a more than 40-year career in commercial and business litigation. “My career has typically revolved around small companies and getting to know the people from those companies. That keeps it emotionally engaging. If all I was doing was arguing abstractions like law school, that would get old. I’m assisting in someone’s welfare and that’s meaningful to me.”
The death penalty case was one of those moments. In his early 30s, Stern appealed successfully on behalf of the defendant who had been incarcerated for many years. Stern was able to get the death sentence reversed for life in prison. Ultimately, the late and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco commuted the man’s sentence; he was released about 15 years ago, Stern said.
“Last I heard he was living in Hawaii. That was a big deal to me. It was pretty scary because instead of someone losing money, this person was sentenced to death and he could have lost his life if I didn’t succeed.”