In 2016, Jesse Kirchner recovered more than $58 million for homeowners and property owners’ associations that had experienced construction defects. No small feat. But helping his clients is just one of Kirchner’s passions. Before practicing law at Thurmond Kirchner & Timbes law firm, Kirchner was a globe-trotter, traveling to places most only dream about.
We caught up with Kirchner recently and asked him about those early days.
Tell me where you traveled before you chose a career in law.
During my summers in college, I lived on my father’s boat in Hilton Head and worked for a friend who owned a charter fishing boat. I loved sea life and since we’d already piloted the boat to the Bahamas a few times, I was able to get an OUPV “six pack” (six-passenger) license. I earned my 100-ton Master license from the Coast Guard by the time I was 21. After graduation and before law school, I set off to backpack around Europe. My plan was to start traveling in March and enter law school in the fall. But, it didn’t work out that way once I began to explore.
What did you discover during your travels?
I learned the best way to travel is with a backpack, a Eurail pass and a travel guide. I had no plans or itinerary, so I extended my adventure for a year and a half. I often took the night train, sleeping on the train to stretch my budget. While in Europe, I traveled through France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, England and Ireland. Nothing was planned. At one point, I left my next destination to complete chance, flipping a coin in the train station in Copenhagen to decide where I’d end up. I saw the Shroud of Turin, spent time in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, watched the USA play Yugoslavia during the World Cup in Nantes, France, and shacked up in a tiny fishing village in the Lofoten Islands off the coast of Norway above the Arctic Circle.
I wanted to be a lawyer, I just wasn’t ready to commit—fully.
Before leaving for Europe, I’d been accepted at USC Law for the fall and luckily, after a few international email exchanges with the dean of admissions, whom I still keep in touch with today, I was granted a deferral. I made plans to travel to Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, chasing the summer around the globe.
Do you have a favorite memory?
A month in Fiji. I explored the Yasawa Island chain, about 75 miles off the coast of the main island, Viti Levu, and stayed in a traditional Fijian bure. The chief of the village and tribe, who were cannibals until WWII, held a special kava ceremony for me after learning I was the captain of a fishing boat. After Fiji, I spent two months in New Zealand skydiving, hiking a glacier, white-water rafting and working on a sheep and cattle farm. Afterward, it was to Australia for three months and finally home where I was ready for law school in 1999. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to see the world and return to my home in South Carolina. Today, I work in a career I love and share amazing adventures with a fabulous wife and two kids—without a backpack and with far more planning.
KIRCHNER’S TIPS FOR HOMEBUILDERS
• Hire a construction lawyer before construction begins to review your contractor’s insurance policy and draft/negotiate the contract for you.
• Hire an architect and/or design professional to oversee a custom build— no one knows the plans and details better.
• Vet your contractor and subcontractors thoroughly, get certificates of insurance and follow up with their references.
• Ask your contractor questions and make sure he or she listens and provides transparent answers. From fit and finishes to completion—being on the same page is crucial.
Brigitte Surette is a full-time freelance writer living near Charleston. Find out more at brigittesurette.com.