Greg Munro remembers the time when Billings attorney A. Clifford Edwards was fresh out of law school and took a seemingly small case.
An insurance company had fingered the wrong person in a lawsuit and was suing the man for $767, not a huge sum, but plenty.
The man insisted he was not the man the insurance company wanted, and it had a case of mistaken identity.
Nonetheless, the insurance company pursued the man for the money. The exasperated man finally found Edwards, who took his case. From there, the tables turned and Edwards convinced a jury that the company's case of mistaken identity which led to perpetual harassment was worthy of compensation for the trouble. He suggest the jury award $1,000 for every $1 the insurance company tried to extract from the wrong man.
The jury understood what had happened and agreed.
Edwards won a $767,000 judgment.
Munro had witnessed the first of what would be a string of legal victories for a friend and fellow attorney. Munro, a retired University of Montana law professor and business partner, said Edwards' election as president of the International Association of Trial Lawyers is an unheard-of honor that Edwards deserves.
The group, an invitation-only collection of top trial attorneys from all over the world, represents some of the most skilled lawyers in the world, Munro explained. And Edwards, the Billings-based attorney, has a distinguished career.
"That's a big deal," Munro said. "He's from Denton, Montana and that means he's salt of the earth. He's smarter than hell and he doesn't want anyone to know about it."
Munro went to law school with Edwards and later was a business partner before heading to Missoula to teach. When they started their careers in the 1970s, Munro characterized the Billings legal community as "a bunch of courtroom lawyers" — usually wonderful orators even if not skilled legal theorists.
"They were colorful and we all lamented that our generation would never produce those kind of characters," Munro said. "But Clifford is the exception."
Edwards was elected as president of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers in London in the Spring. He has been a member of the organization since 1996. The term is for one year, and he's previously served as the organization's secretary-treasurer, vice president and dean.
Edwards is a fixture in the Montana legal community, taking on and winning high-profile cases against railroads, multinational corporations and insurance companies acting in bad faith.
He attended Carroll College and the University of Montana law school. He established his practice, The Edwards Law Firm, in 1974 and practices with his sons, Chris and John who focus on civil litigation including insurance, bad faith claims, defective products, environmental remediation, workplace and oilfield deaths and general negligence claims.
"His ability to connect with people and tell their stories and tell them accurately is part of what makes him special," Munro said. "He is moved by his clients' stories and he simply tells the facts and doesn't embellish it."
But, Munro said that behind the great courtroom presence, Edwards has a sharp legal mind that frames his cases.
For his part, Edwards said he's invigorated by his work with the international association.
"This high honor is the crowing point of my 45-year career," Edwards said.
The academy is comprised of just 500 U.S. lawyers and 150 fellows from more than 40 countries. The organization represents just one-tenth of one percent of all practicing attorneys.
It is the first time a lawyer from Montana — or the surrounding area — has been elected a president of the global organization which was founded in 1954.