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Remembering Carin Burford: A template for a life well lived

By and |  February 15, 2022
Photo: Carin Burford

Burford

Our law firm lost a colleague this month who was in the prime of her life.

Carin Burford, a shareholder in the Birmingham office of Ogletree Deakins, was a lawyer’s lawyer. She could do it all. A fabulous litigator and negotiator, she was always impeccably prepared, fearless and ready to fight the good fight.

At age 48, Carin died while kayaking with friends on the West Fork of the Little River in Alabama. She was no novice. Like everything in her life, there were no half measures. She was a certified level three instructor who had kayaked treacherous whitewater around the world. Broken bones and bruises never deterred her. She loved the sport. Through a lot of hard work, she had become very good at it.

Those of us who knew her will miss her ready smile, tenacity, sense of humor and selfless support. She was always there for you. Not surprisingly, these attributes were not just hallmarks of her legal career, they were the way she lived her life. Her funeral was a celebration of that life – a life spent making things better for others. The stories were endless.

Her hometown pastor challenged her family and friends to take lessons from her life and apply them to our own lives. That challenge got us to think about what made Carin so special and what we could learn from her. It was not hard to come up with a list. Here are several highlights.

Empathy

Among several areas of expertise, Carin was an occupational safety and health lawyer. She handled a myriad of OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) and MSHA (Mine Safety & Health Administration) litigation and investigations and was a constant resource on compliance issues. She excelled in witness preparation and investigation. People who had never met her before trusted her because she listened and understood their fears and concerns. She didn’t just follow a playbook, she understood that at the heart of these cases are people. Those people always had a fierce ally.

Preparation

Carin’s capacity for preparation was legendary. Some people might try to call it over-preparation, but the proof was evident. Carin was never surprised by a fact or element of law. Her study and hard work enabled her to anticipate the bumps that inevitably arise in a case or investigation, and she was fully prepared to respond.

Community

Carin did not live a 9-to-5 life. She was in perpetual motion, and most of that motion was in service to others. She was an adjunct law professor at the University of Alabama; she wrote articles and was a regular speaker on legal topics; she was a hearing officer for the personnel board of Jefferson County, Alabama; she taught Sunday school; and she was a kayak instructor. Her patience and compassion held her in good stead with everyone she came in contact with. No one could ask for a more dedicated mentor.

Wit and humor

A sense of humor is not just the ability to tell a good joke, although Carin could definitely do that. More importantly, it is the ability to recognize the humor in a situation and lighten everyone’s load. It’s a gift that allows you not to take yourself or your position so seriously that you cannot react to the information and emotions around you. It’s a well-timed comment or self-deprecating remark that can turn a negotiation impasse into a successful resolution. Carin definitely had and applied this talent.

Everyone certainly has to walk their own path in life and apply the lessons that experience provides. With that said, there is no question in our minds that Carin Burford provided all of us with a template for our own lives.

Listen to those around you so you can better understand and relate to their concerns. Do the hard work to prepare for the challenges that confront you. Mentor and help people in your community to expand the opportunities for others. And smile a lot and recognize the humor in life.

When you look at it like that, Carin gave us a pretty great gift.


Bill Doran and Margo Lopez are with the national labor, employment and safety law firm Ogletree Deakins.


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