James Crawford Orr ’64 – A Leading Trial Attorney who ‘Bleeds Pirate Blue’
When James Crawford Orr ’64, the 2013 Distinguished Graduate honored at the Seton Hall Law Alumni Dinner Dance, remarked that he “bleeds Pirate blue,” he was speaking of a vibrant 55-year connection to Seton Hall University that endures for Jim and his family, including two sons currently attending SHU. (Pictured, from left: Kevin C. Orr '90, Jim's son; Jim Orr; and Dean Hobbs.)
Jim looks back with appreciation on the rich and rewarding professional life that his original University scholarship helped him achieve, and which led to his attending Seton Hall Law School. What followed is a distinguished legal career. Jim opened the New Jersey office of Wilson Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP and served as managing partner for 29 years, and is a member of the firm’s Senior Trial Group. His unsurpassed skills as a litigator have earned him the Trial Attorney of the Year Award from the Trial Attorneys of New Jersey and have placed him on the annual list of “Super Lawyers,” as well as among the highest-rated attorneys in the Martindale-Hubbell rankings.
Jim came to SHU with a lifelong ambition to become a lawyer. Inspired by the venerable fictional lawyer, Perry Mason, and encouraged by one of his teachers at St. Justin High School in Pittsburgh, he and his partner led the school’s debate team to become the Pennsylvania state champions for four consecutive years in both the Catholic and Public mixed league. His team competed in the national tournament each year, and Seton Hall University was among the colleges offering full scholarships to the top-placed teams. Thanks to Jim’s qualifying for the national semi-finals, he received the inaugural Brownson Scholarship, named for the influential Catholic activist and writer, Orestes Brownson.
A momentous encounter with then-President of SHU, Reverend John McNulty, forged Jim’s bond to the University. The scholarship did not include a subsidy for housing, and Jim’s family did not have the funds to pay for it. He said, “I arrived on campus from the South Orange train station, lugging my steamer trunk and, when I was told about the problem, I immediately asked to see the President. Monsignor McNulty agreed to see me, and I explained my situation to him. He picked up a phone and within a few moments assured my place at the University. He said to me, ‘We’ll find a way to make sure you can afford to stay.’ I was a kid from nowhere and nothing was ever handed to me, and Monsignor McNulty gave me a chance.”
While Jim attended SHU, he had various jobs: he ran the after-school program at Seton Hall Prep and later, served as a resident assistant on the Divinity floor of Boland Hall. He worked his way into the union while working the 4-to-midnight shift at the Tastee Bread Company in Newark where, he says, “I was the youngest guy in the factory but I did every job you have to do to bake bread, wrap it, and load it on the delivery trucks. My union card gave me the ability to work a second full summer, earning enough to pay the school the past bill for room and board.”
He attended Seton Hall Law as a natural progression from the University, knowing he would remain and practice law in the area. A conversation with Jim touches on key law school milestones and turning points in our nation’s culture and history. He studied with the Law School’s founding leaders including Dean Miriam Rooney, Professor Robert Diab and Professor Francis McQuade. He remembers discussing potential evacuation plans with classmates during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he joined a crowd of students in search of a television the moment they learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated. In a more recent law school milestone, Jim has been a member of the Seton Hall Law Board of Visitors since its founding in 2004, offering valuable strategic oversight and support.
Jim speaks of the level of professionalism and civility that has always embodied the legal profession and how he aspires to sustain that tradition. He referred to a serious injury case he fought in court, after which the judge complimented Jim and the three other opposing counsel on the cordial conversations and respect shown by the lawyers toward each other - despite advocating tenacious client positions. When the case was settled, the judge, an adjunct professor at a neighboring law school, invited Jim and his colleagues to speak in his classroom about the need for civility in the practice of law. As Jim says, “This isn’t a blood game. This is about representing clients and taking legal positions. That’s what this profession is and should continue to be.”
Kevin C. Orr ’90 presented the Distinguished Graduate Award to his father at the Alumni Dinner Dance. He quoted Albert Einstein, who said, ‘Try not to become a man of success. Rather, become a man of value.’ Kevin cited his father’s numerous professional accomplishments as well as his public service, including his role on the Council in the City of Verona and Chair of the Committee of Managers for the Llewellyn Park Historic Community. Jim was past president of the Essex County Bar and still serves on the Board of Trustees of the Essex County Bar Foundation. He is Secretary of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties, which provides for youth evidence in the inter-cities. Kevin concluded, “Jim is, in short, an inspirational example of the impact that one can have on their alma mater, their profession, and their community.”
His law school education remains a source of pride. Jim recalls,"Seton Hall Law offered an education for many children of blue-collar families, most of whom didn't have a lawyer in the family, let alone a college grad. And SHU and the law school turn out great graduates." The Orr family is a fixture at Pirates basketball games each season, and they have traveled to tournaments as far as Hawaii and Alaska and Puerto Rico. (The Orr family, pictured from left: Conor, SHU '15; Sharon, Jim and Liam, SHU '14.)
Jim’s own experience inspires him to continue to support the students of SHU and the Law School. In 2008, he and his wife Sharon endowed The James and Sharon Orr Endowed Law Scholarship, presented each year to an accomplished student with financial need. He explains, “I worked hard through college and law school, and it paid off. With this scholarship, Sharon and I want to make it easier for another student who shows promise.”
Jim summarizes his own success and his dedication to Seton Hall very simply: “I’ve been fortunate, and Seton Hall means a great deal to me.” With the presentation of the Distinguished Graduate Award to Jim Orr, the Seton Hall Law community conveys that the feeling is mutual.