The Case of a Lifetime

THE PEER REVIEW PUBLICATION Best Lawyers has announced Gene Silva’s (Class of ’64) inclusion on its list for 2020, making it the 30th consecutive year he has received this recognition.
In a career highlighted with notable challenges and successes, among which was managing litigation for one of the most complex and costly admiralty cases in history, central to it all is Silva’s approach to work, which he first learned at MMA.

Upon graduation with a degree in nautical science, Silva shipped out as a mate and served in the U.S. Navy. After graduating from Notre Dame Law School, he worked for a California firm and then established an admiralty practice for another firm in Texas where he worked from 1977 to 2003.

“The biggest case I handled came in 1988 with the Piper Alpha (North Sea) oil platform catastrophe,” says Silva, “in which 167 people died, and losses exceeded $6 billion, a horrible matter and a defining chapter in my life.”

Collectively there were some 900 claimants represented by 80 lawyers. Silva represented the owners of the platform. The related legal work spanned courts in three countries and five years for Silva, as well as resulting in an argument before the United Kingdom’s House of Lords.

“I worked many 18-hour days, sometimes all night,” says Silva. “I had a great team backing me up, but it was enormously taxing and such a devastating loss of life and property.”

After Piper Alpha, Silva was involved in other high-profile legal cases, including preparing several briefs and appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, before retiring in 2003.

He says his experience at MMA helped him “develop a sense of personal responsibility and discipline, and a deep, stubborn, inherent desire to succeed and work hard.

“I remember advising my son, who went to law school and at one point was just up to his ears in studying:

“When faced with complex situations, try to narrow down the issues carefully and put out of your mind everything you feel is extraneous to the issue you’re working on right at the moment,” says Silva.

“For me, if I were to try to grasp everything that might flow from a decision I made at the moment, I would get nothing done.

“If you have 15 things you’re thinking about, concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of the other 14, get it done, put it aside, and then move on to the next. It might result in long days, but you will eventually succeed.”

This mindset has served Silva well and it underscores his continued professional recognition, volunteer work, and philanthropy.

Photo: Courtesy of Gene Silva

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