Former star athlete finds niche

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 By Paul Janczewski
Legal News
     

Focusing a story on Grand Blanc attorney Lawrence Day is a difficult task.

Should it highlight his athlete-first, student-second attitude when he was earning swimming honors in high school and college? Or his educational awakening when he decided to take his studies to a new level and concentrate on the law?
Maybe it could focus on Day’s successes as a plaintiff’s attorney in personal injury cases. Or his gradual movement toward arbitration and mediation.

Then again, his story could shift back to swimming, when Day set world records for his age group – after suffering a heart attack. And there is also his invention, an underwater pace clock, which not only was used to regulate his efforts in the pool, preventing over-exertion and further heart damage, but also had practical applications for all swimmers.

In truth, all those story lines are relevant, and intertwined, into what makes Larry Day who he is.

Day, 63, was born near Saginaw. His grandfather manufactured bricks, and Day and his brothers would swim in the company’s huge dug-out clay pits, which filled with water. “So growing up there was like a Norman Rockwell experience... swinging off ropes off huge oak trees, and flying into this pond,” he said. “We learned to swim there.”

Day was the youngest of four brothers, all good swimmers, and he learned to swim at about two.

When he was eight, the family moved to Saginaw Township, but Day continued swimming in local YMCA programs and in high school. Day was co-captain of the swimming team, was named to two All-American high school swimming teams, and took the Class A state champion in the 100-yard butterfly. “I was sort of a one-trick pony (in sports),” Day said. “I wasn’t good at much else, except maybe golf.”

But he found the training and competition was good for him. It was relaxing, and kept him out of trouble. Swimming “was easy on the knees and joints, and it was something you can do for a whole lifetime,” he said. “I think it’s the closest thing to the fountain of youth when it comes to exercise.”

After graduation, Day received a swimming scholarship to the University of Michigan. 

“I knew I wanted to swim, and I wanted to be the best swimmer that I could possibly be,” he said. “I was a jock, first and foremost.”

He was recruited to U-M by its swim coach, Gus Stager, one of the top coaches in the nation at the time. The two still remain friends.

Day’s father was an engineer, so he entered the school of engineering at U-M, but did not enjoy it, eventually majoring in education with a focus on economics.

He was captain of the U-M swim team in 1973, and a member of the water polo club, and in 1971 was selected to the All-America team in the 200-yard butterfly. He was driven to make the Olympics team, but by his junior year “it became apparent to me that I needed to settle down and... find a way to make a living someday.” 

Day improved his GPA, and decided to pursue law, having been influenced by an older brother who was an attorney. 

“I admired what he did, he was a role model for me. Law looked like a great stepping stone for doing a lot of things,” Day said.

He enrolled at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where he earned his J.D. He was hired by a firm specializing in civil negligence defense work. The firm had offices in Bay City, Saginaw and Flint, and he opted for the Flint office. 

“There were more opportunities to try cases in Flint, it was a younger office and I had more of a shot there to really get involved and learn,” Day said. “Plus, I was known in Saginaw as a swimmer and athlete, and I was ready to move away from that.”

But he began to get more cases from the plaintiff’s perspective, and after two years decided to open his own practice. 

“But you just pray the telephone will ring,” he said. “My focus was to be selective about what I’d take, do a good job, work the case carefully, keep my practice low volume.”

Several waves of tort reform in the mid 1980s-1990s made it harder to achieve positive results for injured people, and Day saw a better way: specializing in arbitration and mediation through ADR. He received training at Harvard University and elsewhere, and became a noted expert.

Day has enjoyed more than his share of triumphs. He represented a U-M diver, and eventual silver medalist in 1984 Olympics, who was seriously injured in a crash involving a drunk driver. Day also assembled and arranged funding for a search team for a private plane that crashed into Lake Michigan, killing the pilot and a passenger, eventually securing a settlement for the pilot’s widow.

Day also once attached a camera to a kite and flew it over a golf course, taking photos that helped win the case of a golfer injured by an errant drive off another tee. Day’s aerial shots showed the putting green was in the flight zone of drives off an adjacent tee, pointing out a course design flaw.

“It’s so important to show pictures and exhibits to a jury,” he said. “Juries are sick of listening to lawyers, so the less you can talk and the more you can show why your case is legitimate.”

He’s also been the swim coach for both Fenton and Grand Blanc high schools, and three times earned state High School Coach of the Year. In addition, Day has been inducted into the Saginaw Swimming Hall of Fame.

Day stayed active in swimming, but his passion for the sport nearly came to an end when he had a heart attack in the late 2000s. He was told he could continue to swim but not too hard to push his heart rate into the danger zone. 

Day eventually hooked up with Dr. Kim Eagle, head of cardiology at University of Michigan. That led Day to invent an underwater pace clock that allows him to push his heart rate within optimum aerobic ranges. Eventually, Day became competitive again, and broke two world records for his age group in the 400 individual medley and 200 butterfly.

The pace clock had been in Day’s view since he was at U-M, but only recently became a reality. Runners and other athletes use timers similar to watches, but that is prohibited in swimming. After research, Day developed a bottom-of-the-pool waterproof clock synchronized to the main timer.

Manufacturer Pace Pal has not turned a profit, but, Day said, “Sales are strong, and escalating.”

He encourages other attorneys to find their passion outside of law to remain fresh and vibrant — preventing burnout, as well as enhancing networking.

Day works out of his home now.   “I never want to retire,” he said. “I really enjoy it.”