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CLASS OF 1978 (cont'd)
Talk about portfolios. In 1991, James E. Nevels launched an investment advisory business with limited start-up funds and an office on the third floor of his home.
Today, as chair and CEO of that business, The Swarthmore Group, based in West Chester, Pa., Nevels manages more than $1.3 billion in equity and fixed income assets for more than 100 national clients. The Swarthmore Group, a premier asset management firm, is one of the largest minority-owned businesses in the country. Its investments have grown consistently, even in a weak U.S. economy and a sluggish bear market.
“There are two things I believe in life are nearest and dearest to individuals: their families and making provisions for retirement,” says Nevels. “When people ask: ‘How will I provide the security for my family, for perpetuating the largesse that I may give to an institution or an endowment?’ The Swarthmore Group gets entrusted with all that.”
Nevels sharpened his skills at some of the most respected legal and financial institutions in the country: Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP, where he specialized in government and tax-exempt financing; Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc.; Smith Barney; and Harris Upham & Co., Inc.
He is also widely known for his commitment to education, making a highly personal effort to improve the quality of Philadelphia’s public schools. Since 2001, he has served as chair of the School Reform Commission of Philadelphia, charged by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with turning around the city’s troubled public school system. He also served as interim CEO of the Philadelphia School District from December 2001 to July 2002.
Nevels credits the “community of learning” at Penn Law with giving him the resolve and skills to ensure success in every facet of his career. “It did, in fact, shape my entire outlook and point of view in terms of confronting problems [and] problem-solving,”he says, adding that “the rigor and relative small size” of Penn Law allowed him to learn “good, serious critical thinking” and offered him “the opportunity to pursue a highly individualized regimen of training.” He says the deductive and inductive reasoning of his legal training has allowed him to “take an integrated approach (to decision-making), and that has stood me in very good stead.”
As a student at Penn Law in the 1970s, Alfred W. Putnam Jr. thought he knew what he wanted to do after graduation. As a self-described “academic” in law school, he pictured himself practicing almost exclusively in the appellate courts. He enjoyed writing briefs, studying cases, and clerking for U.S. Court of Appeals judge Arlin M. Adams of the Third Circuit. He even enjoyed the Socratic method. “I liked the academic life of Penn Law,” he says. “I liked the give-and-take of the classroom. I actually thought it was an improvement over the lecture world of college.”
But trial work also proved to be Putnam’s calling. “If you had told me in law school that I’d be trying cases in front of juries, I’d have said, ‘It isn’t going to happen.’ Then I discovered that I could really try a case, and it’s been a great part of my career ever since.” Putnam is a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and was elected a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1997.
A second-generation alumnus of Penn Law (his father was Class of ‘47), Putnam maintains strong ties to the school. He taught a course in appellate advocacy for several years, and in 2002 he was elected president of the University of Pennsylvania Law School American Inns of Court, which he helped co-found.
“I like to stay in touch with the law school,” Putnam says. “The younger lawyers really are talking about things that are active and new.” And Putnam would like to see more of them stay to practice in Philadelphia.
“Practicing law in the same firm in the same city for your entire career is not something that I think a lot of people do anymore,” he says. “My father did it, and I managed to do it. That’s been a pleasure for me. But I don’t know how easy it is for someone coming out of law school now . . . I wish more of our graduates could do it and would do it.”