December 30, 2021

A Securities Lawyer’s “Life Well-Lived”

Most of us can name a few folks whose influence, early in our career, affected the direction of our path. For me, one of those people was Bert Ranum. Bert was (and is) a wise counselor with a strong sense of business & interpersonal practicalities and a thorough knowledge of securities law. Bert’s clients – which included many smaller public companies in the life science space – were often dealing with unique legal issues, raising capital for R&D efforts, and doing whatever they could to get products to market and keep their business going. That was a whole lot more interesting to me than the churn of private equity acquisitions that many of my peers had been sucked into – although I know many people find those deals exciting for their own reasons.

In 2010, after nearly 30 years practicing in Minnesota, Bert picked up his practice and moved to Gainesville, Florida so that his wife – a scientist – could accept a long-awaited career opportunity with the university there. Bert stayed with our firm and wanted to start a Florida office to serve the local biotech community, as well as maintain his existing clients by traveling back to the Midwest on a monthly basis. It was just a few years later, when we weren’t seeing Bert as regularly, that my colleagues & I started to notice changes in his speech. In 2016, he was diagnosed with ALS.

Bert recently published a book called “Clinical Trial: An ALS Memoir of Science, Hope and Love” – which is an account of reestablishing his career in Florida in support of his wife, Laura, as well as his journey with ALS. By a miraculous coincidence, Laura is not just any scientist: she is one of the top in her field, worldwide, for studying neurological conditions – including, specifically, the genetic mutation that causes Bert’s ALS. Here’s Bert’s summary about that aspect of his book, from the Hennepin County Bar Association:

I may be the luckiest ALS patient alive, if you can call someone lucky with a disease that generally causes death three to five years after diagnosis. I’m lucky because my wife, Laura, is an internationally respected scientist who knows more about my particular disease than almost anyone in the world. Her connections resulted in my participation in a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins for a new drug targeting the specific genetic mutation that I have. That may be why I am doing well over five years from diagnosis, still walking, swimming, playing guitar badly, talking slowly and generally enjoying life. Or it may be the paleo diet that we started years ago, or the metformin that I’m taking based on Laura’s research, or the regular exercise we’re getting or the no stress lifestyle that I’ve adopted. I write about all this in the Memoir.

What also may be of interest to this crowd is that Bert’s book details:

– What it was like to take the Florida Bar Exam at age 51

– Overcoming the fear of “starting over”

– Putting your career goals second to support your spouse’s opportunity

– Negotiating a “package deal” with a spouse’s employer that includes introductions to the business community

– How to handle your ego when things don’t go as planned

Here’s one of the concluding passages from the book, and something I’m keeping in mind as we head into a new year:

When we first moved to Florida, I worked hard to be a successful lawyer and spent a fair amount of time worrying about billable hours, client relationships, and income. A significant part of my ego was based upon being a good and successful lawyer. ALS forced me to reevaluate that, and it crumbled quickly under examination.

As you often hear from people reflecting on a life well-lived, Bert notes that it’s the relationships – with his family most of all, but also with colleagues and friends – that have delivered a meaningful life.

That brings me back to the direction that my own path has taken so far. After a pretty enjoyable stint in private practice, I thought that what I’d enjoy most about joining would be sharing analysis of interesting securities & corporate governance issues (and I do enjoy that, because I’m a nerd). But I’ve learned over the past 5 years that it’s the ability to connect with all of the smart, funny and helpful people in our securities & corporate governance community that really make this gig enjoyable. It’s an honor to work with our fantastic CCRcorp team, and to gain insights from everyone who emails with comments, suggestions and – my favorite – personal anecdotes. Thank you to everyone who contributes to our sites and events, and thanks to Bert for alerting me to his book, the proceeds of which go to ALS research.

Liz Dunshee

Programming note: This blog will be off tomorrow, returning in 2022. Happy New Year!