Will Ferguson ('74) was just trying to avoid Vietnam when he started at the UNM School of Law in 1971, but it wasn't long before he embraced a different kind of battle: helping people through tough situations as a plaintiff's lawyer.
"I never really wanted to do anything else," he says. "To make a difference for good in someone else's life. I can't imagine anybody not aspiring to do that."
After a tour in the military and a few years practicing entertainment law with Leonard Levy ('59) and now-City Attorney Bob White, in 1983 he opened a plaintiff's practice with Duane Lind ('81), and Ferguson & Lind became one of the first New Mexico firms to advertise their services, following authorization by the state Supreme Court.
Their caseload was as varied as their clients' problems and the advertising campaign so successful that the firm became overwhelmed with calls and stopped the ads in 1999, gradually specializing the practice. These days, Ferguson says that if there is a case on the evening news, it is probably one being handled by his firm, which now goes by Will Ferguson & Associates. Lind left the firm to set up his own practice in 1991.
As Ferguson was building his firm, now with seven lawyers — “all old guys.” — he discovered a talent for building small businesses, preferably those that mirrored his interests. He established several bars in Albuquerque, including Chez What in the Nob Hill Shopping Center and Slick Willie's on N. Fourth Street. In 1993, he and a group of partners bought Club West in Santa Fe and expanded its live music offerings.
He developed West Mesa Aviation at Double Eagle Airport and in 1998, after a frustrating incident with a local bank and certain he could do better, he helped open Bank 1st in Albuquerque. In 2007, he bought Taos Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, as a way to pursue a longtime passion for cars.
Ferguson also was an investor in the start-up of Sandia Motorsports Park, where he raced alongside colleagues in souped-up vintage cars, known as Legends. In 2002, he received the award for “Best Crash” from the New Mexico Legends Racing Association, and although he can appreciate the humor in that, he hasn't raced since, now preferring the sidelines. Instead, in 2007, he opened up Motiva Performance Engineering, which specializes in tuning enhancements for cars.
In 2004, he semi-retired from his law practice for three months — "It was the toughest three months of my life; I was busy 24/7 and just stressed out doing supposedly nothing." — then returned to the firm as managing partner. But these days, Ferguson finds the gusto of his daily existence in the business world.
"It's always changing and interesting," he says. "There is something biological about it: nurturing a business, helping it to grow, the feedback loops, identity and consciousness; it's the joy of my life."
Ferguson has several business interests in Mexico. His latest venture is Nacho Mama, a bar in the works in Puerto Vallarta, with partner, Joe King Carrasco, a Tex-Mex musician Ferguson has known since the Chez What days.
Ferguson is married to Sarah Davies, who he met when he owned West Mesa Aviation. A graduate of Yale Law School (’93), Davies changed careers and was working the front desk at the flight school to help pay for flying lessons. Now a commercial pilot, she flies him around in their Piper Matrix, along with their three young children.
Q: What was your favorite class in law school?
A: Clinical practice. They let us loose on real people.
Q: What was your least favorite class?
A: There were so many….
Q: Who was your favorite professor?
A: Joe Goldberg. I used to call him Rube.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It's like eating rich food; you eat to enjoy the taste of it, not to get to the end.
Q: If you weren't a lawyer, what would be your dream job?
A: A charter boat captain someplace difficult to get to and harder to pronounce.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being a plaintiff's lawyer?
A: Never having to send a bill. Plus, every now and then you get to help somebody who really needs it.
Q: What's the strangest thing that has happened in your law practice?
A: I had a case in the 1980s in which my client, a one-legged lady evangelist, was leaving an Albuquerque grocery store in her wheelchair, carrying a half gallon of wine, using her good leg to scoot herself along. Her traveling foot got caught in an uneven spot in the pavement, breaking her only leg. During my closing argument, a ruckus erupted behind me. She and her husband had become so into it that he leapt up and they both started shouting in tongues. In the end, the jury awarded her $125,000.