NCAJ Hero Profile: Isaac Thorp
Isaac Thorp’s birthright is a passion for representing the underserved. But Thorp, who just completed a year as chair of NCAJ’s Auto Torts & Premises Liability Section, did not march directly from undergraduate studies to law school. He did some careful deliberation, which included some time as a deep-sea fisherman and a while immersed in New York City’s small-business scene, before earning his law degree from New York University School of Law.
Eventually, the inspiration of Bill Thorp, Isaac’s father and one of NCAJ’s founders, held sway.
Was there a someone in your life who inspired you to pursue a career in the law?
“Hey Isaac! I’ve got a great idea that can really help people!”
My father, Bill, was a lawyer who was always enthusiastic about something.
“This elderly lady came to see me. She made 22 of her 24 installment payments for a washing machine. She missed a payment, and the store took her washing machine away.”
I was 14 years old, and seeing the world in simple terms, I felt surely that couldn’t be right. “They can’t do that!”
“They can if she doesn’t have a lawyer! So, I’m going to figure out how to create a statewide legal services program for low-income people so they can’t do that.”
I didn’t know yet whether I wanted to be a lawyer. But I felt it: Committed lawyers can help people who will otherwise be shamelessly mistreated.
Three generations of Thorp lawyers preceded me. My foremothers and fathers tended to be fiercely independent, and stubbornly so. I wasn’t going to become an attorney because it was a family tradition or because my relatives thought it was a good idea. I would choose that path if it felt right.
Was there a moment when you realized that you wanted to pursue this path?
Two events crystallized my decision. In 1977, I and several hundred people were in the Nashua New Hampshire National Guard Armory — day 6 — after being arrested in a nonviolent civil disobedience protest at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. A long-haired lawyer among us got an update from his legal sources outside the facility. As we anxiously gathered around him to find out what lay ahead, it hit me: Committed lawyers can help social activists make our country a better place. Hmmm … maybe I do want to be a lawyer ….
A few years later, I was an assistant manager at a retail shop in New York City. I wasn’t very good at sales, because I didn’t care whether customers bought sheets that were 300- or 600-thread count and could not for the life of me figure out why some people thought pillow shams were useful.
But I loved gathering, analyzing and documenting information about how some of our suppliers were not doing what they agreed to do. Although we were losing money as a result, what bothered me most was they were bamboozling my boss with misinformation.
One day, between customers, I immersed myself in a pile of sales documents. I analyzed them and labored over a detailed memo for my boss. As I was finishing, I had one of those moments where you can float above and see yourself from a distance. I heard myself whisper loudly, “I love this stuff! I do want to be a lawyer!”
Startled customers looked up and wondered who I was talking to.
What career accomplishments are you most proud of?
Starting Thorp Law was my greatest leap of faith. I knew a whole lot more about trying cases than I did about running a business. Making payroll, developing new client referral sources and being responsible for the whole enterprise gave me some silver hair pretty quickly. But there’s nothing like going all in.
Almost 10 years later, I find myself enthusiastically wrestling with the thorny issues we plaintiffs’ lawyers contend with as we labor to help our clients. It’s an enthusiasm that reminds me of my father, 50 years ago, when he told his son about a “great idea that can really help people!”
How does your membership in NCAJ make you a better lawyer or support your practice of the law?
What makes the difference between a good plaintiffs’ attorney and a great one?
Relentless preparation. Brainstorming with other attorneys. Focus groups.
Describe the perfect day off.
My wife and I are sitting on the front porch of an old-style cottage at Nags Head. I am in my favorite recliner listening to the ocean, feeling that gentle breeze, contemplating whether I should go for a swim or fry up some fresh shrimp for lunch.