Magna One On One with Larry DeRespino

General Counsel, U-Haul

Larry DeRespino is an attorney adept at using U-Haul trucks and trailers as well as U-Box containers. It’s a fit for the Brooklyn native who is general counsel of the well-known moving and storage company. Out of college he pursued a career in professional baseball (he played first base) but eventually found he could translate his skills on the baseball field into courtroom acumen. He likens his job as general counsel to managing a diverse law firm. And those people on the side of U-Haul trucks and vans? Some of them are actually DeRespino’s co-workers.

Magna: I figure Brooklyn has changed a lot since you grew up there.
DeRespino: Significantly. It’s more gentrified and expensive to live. When I go back there, I think about the places I wouldn’t venture when I was growing up. Now I couldn’t afford to live there.

As the adage goes, do you ever think you should have bought real estate back then?
I have thought about what could have been.

You went to Amherst College.
I was a good student and had Ivy League opportunities. But Amherst had an impressive baseball program in addition to top academics.

And you pursued a baseball career after college.
It was fun and entertaining but hard work. It’s not as glamorous as people imagine. I realized I was better suited for intellectual endeavors.

Why the law?
My mom was a paralegal who worked for attorneys and that caught my interest. I met a lot of attorneys, including Louis Nizer. (According to Nizer’s New York Times obituary, he was “a shrewd and voluble trial lawyer who made a long career of representing famous people in famous cases.”)

But you also make some interesting comparisons between playing ball and practicing the law.
In both professions, there’s winners and losers. There are “rules” of the game. You need a strategy. And both professions played to my competitive nature.

You were playing ball in Chattanooga, you liked Tennessee, and you were admitted into the well-respected Vanderbilt Law.
Nashville is another city that has changed since I lived there. It’s larger, more modern and more cosmopolitan. Even the focus has shifted from the country and western music it’s known for to showcasing other types of music. Basically, everywhere I leave changes for the better.

Let us know when you are leaving Phoenix. We will start buying real estate there. But how did you end up there?
It’s a part of the country I wanted to live in after law school and had done a summer clerkship for a major firm in the city with young, vibrant attorneys who were from somewhere else and were starting anew. They were talented, constructively aggressive and had a good trial group.

I got a job at the firm and it gave me a lot of opportunity to be on my feet: In the courtroom litigating cases. I mostly did defense work for businesses and corporations on issues ranging from employment to environmental to products liability. I did some plaintiff’s work for employers also – non-competes, trade secrets when someone left the job, general contractors seeking compensation from a subcontractor. One of my clients was U-Haul.

I guess that’s how you ended up at U-Haul.
There’s a lot of reasons. My firm ended up going through a merger and there was going to be shake-ups. U-Haul was a more stable job and it allowed me to focus on practicing the law – not having to worry about the business and financial aspects of running a law firm.

I was also drawn to U-Haul because it is a family business. You’re reminded of that every day, from the way the company supports families to how the current CEO is the son of the founders and his sons, in turn, are part of the company. The family history is the company history.

You don’t just spend your time driving around U-Haul Equipment?
There are 20 lawyers who work in-house for me. They in turn oversee lawyers in the United States and Canada. I work on projects for the CEO and board of directors. I am part of the business team and provide senior executives with legal counsel.

You use Magna. And you will continue to use Magna.
Magna did a mock trial for us in a case where we were the defendant. The case was valued at approximately $125 million. Magna was able to identify the issues that resonated negatively and positively for the jury, identify narrative themes, and pick the jury. Basically, helping us tell the best story and picking the people who would be most receptive to that story.

What was the result of the trial?
Defense verdict. We didn’t have to pay anything.

You also like the Magna CHOPPED seminar.
I recently attended my first one and was very impressed with Magna Executive Vice President Sales Pete Hecht, both his seriousness and his sense of humor.

What is your favorite U-Haul product?
U-Box Containers. You can load the oversized box yourself and then tow it yourself, or have the company freight it. I’ve used it several times.

One of the most identifiable aspects of U-Haul is probably the graphics on the side of the trailers with factoids and images from the different U.S. States and Canadian provinces. And in researching this article, I found that you can search for those images on your company website.
We take a lot of pride in those. We have a graphics department and the CEO gets involved in choosing them. We try to find something that’s quirky – we don’t use the Empire State Building to illustrate the state of New York.

What’s a quirky factoid about your quirky graphics?
We use our own people as models. One of my favorites is the truck with a stagecoach graphic depicting one of the Canadian provinces. The man on the stagecoach works for U-Haul who happens to be Canadian. So, every time I see that one, I see my co-worker.

It’s the same for the vans – U-Haul employees are used as models during photo shoots. Many of them end up on the side of U-Haul vans. One of those people is an Assistant General Counsel!!

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