April Fools’ Day. We all know what that is about. However, for me it is also the anniversary of when I started the practice of law. I acknowledge there are those who would say that date is an appropriate one for me. On April 1, 1984, I started work as a lawyer at a firm in Southwest Virginia, then called Penn, Stuart, Eskridge & Jones. The firm was an old one and they were excellent lawyers. To this day I am awed when I recall their work ethic. There was little, if any, tolerance of mediocrity. For two and a half years, I defended car crash cases, slip and falls and other cases of this sort throughout Southwest Virginia – coal country. I got experience that few lawyers are lucky enough to get, broad experience handing my own cases. I probably did close to 20 jury trials and a huge number of depositions, hearings and other matters. The cases weren’t big ones, but they were mine. Law is a business where you learn by doing – and at Penn Stuart I was given the opportunity to do a lot. I will be forever grateful for the good training I got there.
I moved from the country to a large firm in Richmond in 1986 and in 1988 started to focus my practice on medical malpractice. For over 25 years I defended doctors and other healthcare providers throughout Virginia. I tried lots of cases, probably over 100 jury trials – and in this business that is a big number. I did not win them all. There were losses and some of those losses were big ones. But, any lawyer who says he or she has never lost a case is either a liar or has not tried many cases. The funny thing is that it is often the bad outcomes that teach you the most and make you a better lawyer.
Medical malpractice cases are what I love to do and, not to be too immodest, I am good at handling them. In 1999, our firm starting taking Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) cases on behalf of veterans and military families. I have been involved in the practice all along, but in the last few years I have shifted my personal practice from being mostly defense to almost all FTCA. Having so much experience as a defense lawyer is a significant advantage in representing patients. I understand very well how a case might be defended, what works and what doesn’t work.
Representing veterans and military families is both a challenge and a privilege. What we do matters to the people we represent. We can help them and often in a big way. Now, with 33 years as a lawyer I am glad that I can use my extensive experience to help those who have served our country. It is truly the peak of my career as a lawyer – and, even on April Fools’ Day, that is no joke at all.