Lisa Arrowood has litigated cases in nine different states. She was inducted into fellowship in both the American College of Trial Lawyers and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. She founded two law firms. She has been described in Chambers USA, America's Leading Lawyers for Business as "a force of nature" with "tremendous talent" in cross-examination. And on September 1, 2015 she became President of the 12,000-member Boston Bar Association.

Knowing and working with her, one might think that Arrowood has been preparing for the law since childhood, but the way she tells it, her teachers knew she would become a lawyer long before she did.

“When I was in high school, my teachers and fellow students said I should be a lawyer, but I didn’t want to be one,” she said. “I went to Brown with the aim of becoming a philosophy professor. I applied to graduate school, and I got into a PhD. program at Princeton in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy. One of my professors predicted to me, ‘You’re not going to like graduate school; it’s not going to be for you. You should think of a backup.’ And I remember thinking ‘Well, if I hate it, then I’ll go to law school, but that’s not going to happen.’ Well, I was wrong and he was right.”

Acting on this realization, Arrowood said farewell to her philosophy studies and went to work as a paralegal at a large firm in New York. Working in a law firm prior to attending law school paid off in more ways than she realized at the time. By getting a taste of real-life lawyering beforehand, she entered Harvard Law School with solid ideas about what she wanted to do. 

“I already knew when I got to law school that I wanted to be trial lawyer, so I made a lot of choices after my first year to try to take courses that would really help me as a trial lawyer. I took a fabulous course there called the trial advocacy workshop, but the most important thing I did in law school was join the Harvard Defenders, which is a still-existing program that represents indigent defendants in criminal cases in district court. I spent my third year of law school just doing Harvard Defenders cases, and I had the opportunity to try three trials that year.”

“I already knew when I got to law school that I wanted to be trial lawyer...”

After law school, Arrowood joined Hale and Dorr (now Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr), where she had served as a summer associate along with attorney Chris Weld. She immediately made an impression on Weld as a “bright and creative problem solver.”

“She has this incredible ability to look at a problem from different points of view,” said Weld. “By doing that, she seems to always find an effective solution that others don’t see.”

Over the next ten years at Hale and Dorr, Arrowood would rise from associate to partner, and build a name as an attorney with an unparalleled skill to try to a jury, judge or arbitrator.

Arrowood’s courtroom successes and her knack for building long-term professional and personal friendships earned her a reputation at Hale and Dorr that continued even after she made the decision in 1992 to found her own firm, according to WilmerHale attorney Mary Strother.

“She has this incredible ability to look at a problem from different points of view,” said Weld. “By doing that, she seems to always find an effective solution that others don’t see.”

“Lisa had left to start Todd & Weld by the time I joined Hale and Dorr, but she really made a powerful impression on the people here, both as a lawyer and as a person,” said Strother. “When I had the chance to work with Lisa during a term with the Board of Bar Overseers I thought, ‘Great! I can finally work with this Lisa Arrowood that I’ve heard so many great things about.’”

Arrowood’s decision to found Todd & Weld with Chris Weld, Owen Todd and other colleagues in many ways mirrors her course selection in law school; it stemmed from a clear vision of what she wanted to do as a lawyer.

“I loved Hale and Dorr – I met my husband at Hale and Dorr and still have great friends there. When I joined Hale and Dorr it was still a trial firm, but it began to change. The way the firm was changing, there wouldn’t be that many trials going forward, and they were getting out of the contingent fee litigation business, which has always been a big part of my practice. Founding Todd & Weld was a great new chapter, and for the next 20 years I was to go on and do a lot of the kind of work that I wanted to do.”

Arrowood’s tenure at Todd & Weld was a remarkable one. In 1998, she and partner Kevin Peters won the third-largest jury verdict in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a family in a medical malpractice case involving a neurological injury – known as kernicterus – to a newborn. In 2009, along with Jed DeWick, she obtained a multimillion dollar judgment against an obstetrician in a case involving the death of a pregnant mother from cardiomyopathy of pregnancy.

“She is a talented and devoted trial lawyer; her reputation is simply unequaled because of all she has accomplished in the courtroom,” said DeWick. “She has intense intelligence and presence, and – when it comes to preparing for trial – is extremely good at knowing what’s important and what’s not. Her talent and capacity to manage – be it her time, cases, or life in general – I’ve never seen anything like it.”

DeWick joined Arrowood (along with Kevin Peters and Raymond Ausrotas) in the decision to move on from the growing firm of Todd & Weld and found Arrowood Peters, a boutique firm in Post Office Square.

“The hard part is that success causes you to grow – and it’s very, very hard to say no to good cases...”

“The hard part is that success causes you to grow – and it’s very, very hard to say no to good cases – but when you have good cases and bigger cases you have to hire more people,” said Arrowood. “When we started Todd & Weld everyone knew what cases everyone else had; even if you weren’t working on them you were still interested in them. With Arrowood Peters we wanted to get that back. I would like to think that we’re going to try to stay small, because it gives a different kind of camaraderie and culture.”

It was in part her interest in discussing law in a collegial setting that brought Arrowood deeper into the BBA. She had been attending the Adams Benefit for years, but it was the education programs that caught her attention.

“I had done CLEs and some of the national seminars, but when I found out about the brown bag lunches, I went to a few of them,” she said. “It just knocked my socks off that I could go there at lunch and in 90 minutes get these incredible pearls of wisdom for free. That was just amazing to me.”

Later, as Co-chair of the BBA’s Tort Litigation Committee, Arrowood attended a meeting in which then-Superior Court Judge Ralph Gants came to talk to the BBA about changes to court rules and hear the Association’s comments on it.

“I thought that it was an amazing opportunity to actually be able to talk to a judge and get involved in shaping the rules that dominate our lives, and that the BBA is an incredible organization to be able to do that. I also had the viewpoint that when you have an opportunity to make a difference in your profession in a way that affects you every day – and affects your clients every day – you have to take it. That drew me more and more deeply into the BBA. And the more I got involved, the more I learned about all the things the BBA does that make an impact. And I learned that the BBA’s voice is listened to and respected at the courts, in the legislature and in the Governor’s office. It’s nice to be a part of that, and it’s nice to be with a group of people who are all trying to better things for everyone.”

Bettering things for everyone is what Arrowood has in mind for her term as BBA President. Keenly aware of the issues facing both new lawyers and overcrowded courts, Arrowood is crafting a plan to help.

“I have always had a great deal of sympathy for people who put themselves through the three years of rigorous study that law school requires – not to mention the money – who then get out and don’t get jobs.  It breaks my heart,” she said. “A big part of what I’m focusing on this year is trying to help them build practical skills so they can represent clients, the people who aren’t eligible for legal aid, but who can’t afford most lawyers out there.”

What Arrowood and the BBA are planning is an innovative program to train new lawyers in routine practical skills that would enable them to represent “regular people who have regular legal needs.” Starting in January 2016, all BBA sections will offer “Fundamentals” – education programs for new lawyers.  Fundamentals will teach basic practical skills, such as how to handle real estate closings, divorces, and will contests.

“The BBA is incredibly well-suited to give new lawyers the tools to help those people. Because when you look at our Sections, we cover every single area of the law. I don’t think there’s anything a lawyer could want to do in Massachusetts that there isn’t a section that teaches something about it.”

If the BBA is “incredibly well-suited” for this challenge, then – according to her colleagues – Arrowood is uniquely qualified to lead it. She is widely known and regarded as a skilled mentor.

“She gives newer lawyers the benefit of her successes, and this started immediately as we brought new, young lawyers into Todd & Weld,” said Chris Weld. “Large firms can be very hierarchical; in those structures, the ‘bad’ work often gets pushed down to the new lawyers while the more interesting work is kept by the more seasoned attorneys. That can make it harder for the new attorneys to learn and grow. But Lisa treats her new lawyers as peers. She’ll give, say, a deposition to a newer attorney and tell the clients ‘my associate is taking your deposition; I have full confidence in him/her.’ And because she has full confidence in the associate, the client does, too. And of course, it’s a confidence boost for the new lawyers. It’s a much richer and more satisfying experience for them.”

“I don’t know where I’d be today without Lisa. She has been a mentor of mine since my third year of practice. She truly believes in mentoring and helping people understand how to be a better lawyer...”

Jed DeWick agrees, and says he is a direct beneficiary of this practice. “I don’t know where I’d be today without Lisa. She has been a mentor of mine since my third year of practice. She truly believes in mentoring and helping people understand how to be a better lawyer. It’s tough love sometimes, but that’s good because it’s a tough business. Lisa truly believes it is incumbent upon lawyers to develop those coming up behind them.”

At the Board of Bar Overseers, Mary Strother says she benefited from serving with Arrowood. “Lisa helped me develop a leadership style, which was especially helpful when I became the BBO Chair,” she said. “She has a natural ability to mentor, and is always generous with offering advice and guidance.”

It is this natural ability, coupled with her belief in acting on the chance to make things better for the legal community, that has Chris Weld convinced that it will be great year for both Arrowood and the BBA.

“She understands that there is more to practicing law than making money; it is also about doing the right thing and helping people,” he said. “She truly values service and pro bono work, and she is great at bringing people along with her. That will be a tremendous asset as BBA President.”