Ashley Keller, ’07, thinks that the first class he ever took with Professor Douglas G. Baird was Corporations, although he also had him for Bankruptcy, Advanced Bankruptcy, and Secure Transactions—“whatever I could get my hands on that he was teaching,” Keller said.
Baird, he said, was one of the great intellectual inspirations of his Law School career.
“He’s brilliant, and he knows the subject matter cold, as you would expect from a Chicago professor,” Keller said of Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law. “But he is great at teasing out the difficult issues through the Socratic method and not giving you the answer—making you struggle to find it but eventually leading you to the correct answer or at least the correct mode of thinking to decide what the correct answer is.”
Keller, a former partner at Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott, co-founded the litigation finance firm Gerchen Keller Capital, which was acquired late last year by Burford Capital, where Keller is now managing director. Baird’s classes have had a direct application on Keller’s work—but his influence has gone far beyond that.
“I’ve used (what I learned) in Douglas’s class directly—a lot of what I do involves filing (Uniform Commercial Code statements) and ensuring that my investors have a first priority security interest in the assets that we’re taking as our collateral,” Keller said. “But as anyone will tell you, the purpose of law school is to teach you to think. The critical way to approach problem-solving in the legal arena is something that I gleaned from (Baird’s) classes and all of the classes here. It’s a different mode of thinking, and … I’ve basically used that every day that I’ve been in the private sector.”
After Keller graduated, he continued to talk to Baird and to seek his advice, and the friendship grew. “He’s a super generous person, he’s great with kids, and he’s warm and friendly,” Keller said. “I call on him for advice all the time, whether its bankruptcy or something else.”
Eventually, Keller asked Baird to become his middle daughter’s Godfather.
“We really have something special,” Keller said. “I’m thrilled that I was educated through the crucible of the Douglas Baird class.”
My Chicago Law Moment is a series highlighting the Law School ideas, experiences, and approaches that have impacted our students and alumni. Video produced by Will Anderson.