It’s one thing to say you like a challenge, and then there is Seth Jewell. The managing director of risk management and litigation at FedEx Express has situated his career at the intersection of a rock and a hard place, by choice.
For a transportation company that drives about a billion miles every year (not to mention the initial flights that get packages, mail, and other immediately needed commodities to their relative geographic locations), accidents are an inevitable part of the job. Jewell, a former private practice attorney who gained immersive litigation experience at esteemed Little Rock, Arkansas-firm Wright, Lindsey & Jennings prior to going in-house, says one of the main reasons he came to FedEx Express was watching the plaintiff bar focus switch over the last half decade.
“If you drive down any interstate in America right now, you’ll see billboard after billboard for plaintiff firms seeking large paydays against large transportation companies,” he says. “The red car/blue car insurance litigation of the past is not where plaintiff lawyers are focused anymore. Companies like FedEx Express have become big targets because of how many miles they cover.”
Additionally, Jewell says the mindset of jurors has also shifted over time, and plaintiffs are much more likely to secure judgments that far exceed the expected outcomes of the past. It’s a phenomenon known as social inflation, a general anticorporate sentiment that dates back to the financial crisis of 2008 and has seen plaintiffs racking up higher judgments.
While litigation experts seeking to go in-house would likely want to steer clear of this phenomenon, it’s what lured Jewell to FedEx Express.
“We have some of the best safety departments in all of transportation,” he explains. “I’m most excited about getting to tackle this challenge as we see our claim volume increase. There are always going to be accidents, but how do we get ahead of the current climate where we can curb trends on the frequency and severity of accidents? That’s the kind of challenge I’m here for.”
Jewell is eager to step outside of his comfort zone to lend a hand. When FedEx Express unionized pilots began contract renegotiations, Jewell looked for a way to get involved. “It’s happened a few times here over the years,” the managing director says. “I would just talk to a person responsible for hiring for a position about what their biggest challenge areas were. I’m just always interested to see where I can bring the most value. I want to be part of that solution.”
That’s how Jewell wound up in labor relations, which was undoubtedly made more difficult with the pandemic. When asked if he’d regretted seeking the move, the lawyer doesn’t drop a beat. “This was the biggest challenge this team had faced,” Jewell says. “Of course, I wanted to be there.”
In a legal environment where more lawyers are being encouraged to specialize early in their careers, Jewell offers an alternative to those lawyers who don’t feel that urge. “I think there are a lot of people like me who didn’t even know they wanted to go to law school, but they did,” he reflects. “They didn’t necessarily know where they belonged after that. I would encourage those people to learn to be adaptable, be nimble, and be willing to pivot.”
By purposefully seeking a more generalized experience, Jewell became a lawyer who thrives in almost every heavy situation and will find a way to drive results. Of course, not every attorney may be as excited to challenge themselves at the level that makes Jewell thrive, but that shouldn’t undercut the value of allowing yourself to experience some of the variety that a life in legal can offer.
Not every career needs to find its footing as quickly as an overnight package.