The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 16, 2014

Legally speaking … Friends ‘firm-up’ for family law

By Lisa Shrewsberry
Lifestyles Editor

— No one is as surprised as Raleigh County native Todd Kirby to find himself in a firm practicing family law with his former law professor and a fellow Liberty University graduate from Wyoming County. After beginning a practice on his own a year and a half ago, Kirby recognized his focus was in high demand — families needed trustworthy guidance through legal matters. Requests quickly exceeded his ability to fulfill them on his own. He then reconnected with law professor David Gilbert, who was looking to relocate to his wife’s hometown of Summers County, and Lindsey Ashley, a lawyer as comfortable in a tree stand with a bow in hand as she is in the courtroom.

The mix is eclectic enough to work, says Kirby, emphasizing, “My weaknesses are another partner’s strengths.”

“We turn to one another and have mutual respect and appreciation for one another, in terms of valuing advice and judgment,” echoes Gilbert, once a Wall Street attorney and who now has the most variety to his practice — including civil litigation, wills and powers of attorney and real estate law. He finds working with Kirby and Ashley, both his former students, “…fascinating. I’ve gone from being their professor to being a student and learning from them.”

“Todd was my advisee. We’d talk about West Virginia politics, so I found him to be more interesting and a good student,” continues the Columbia Law School graduate. Gilbert left private practice in upstate New York to teach at Liberty University for six years before joining Kirby and Ashley in the new Beckley firm. When Gilbert’s wife, Heather, and he discussed relocating, the opportunity to move back home and closer to her parents was the one that appealed most to them.

The three attorneys have officially practiced law together since October at their 207 S. Heber St. location.

Ashley emphasizes communication as key to their clients’ positive experiences so far; comments she’s received have been gracious, and especially appreciated coming from people facing the most difficult times in their lives. “I’ve had a lot of clients say ‘Thank you for keeping us up to date on what’s going on.’ We communicate with clients throughout their case.” One chief complaint about lawyers is, says Ashley: “They don’t return phone calls.”

If Kirby had to choose, he’d say lacking not a competitive but an off-putting “edge” is to their advantage. “We’re approachable —  most believe attorneys are not.” Not to disparage those with decades of experience, Kirby believes attitude and enthusiasm go a long way in successfully representing clients. “I still love my job,” he says.

Accessibility is another important factor the new firm seeks to emphasize — opening weekends and late evenings to accommodate clients’ varying work schedules.

Gilbert, speaking as former faculty from Kirby and Ashley’s alma mater, says standards there are exceptionally high, proving “new” does not necessarily mean novice.

“Liberty University is very much about teaching lawyering skills. When I graduated (from Columbia), I had one oral argument in a simulated appellate court. (Ashley and Kirby) had trial experience — they were taught how to manage every aspect of litigation.”

Kirby, Gilbert and Ashley are sensitive to the human conditions compelling people to seek their help, and they try to keep the deeply personal situations in perspective.

“It’s easy for (attorneys) to forget that this case means the world to this person. To me, this may be a client, but to a child whose custody is in limbo, this is a parent or grandparent we’re representing. People are waiting for these matters to be wrapped up so they can move on with their lives,” Kirby comments.

— E-mail

Legal pitfalls:

Five surefire ways to lose

1. Panic: “If you get your summons by e-mail, it’s probably spam,” says Gilbert, noting that you know you’re

being sued when you receive a

summons in the mail.

2. Procrastinate: Not documenting your case particulars in detail and waiting until the last minute to contact an

attorney will quickly cause cases to crumble.

3. Fly solo: The only thing to love about representing yourself in a legal matter, especially a family law matter, is if you’re the opposing attorney.

Self-surgery is not a good idea —

neither is self-representation.

4. Rant on social media: “I’ve won

cases based solely on social media … and I’ve lost cases based on the same,” Kirby admits. Settling scores on Facebook may feel good for a fleeting second, but it may well shut you out of winning a case.

5. Wear attention-getting attire: First impressions are lasting impressions, and ripped jeans translate differently in a court setting than they do at the mall. “The more respect and reverence you can show a judge, the better your case will go,” suggests Gilbert.

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