September 01, 2018 Opening Statement

Where the Litigators Are

The vast majority of U.S. litigation is handled by solo and small-firm practitioners, many of them located in smaller markets.

Palmer Gene Vance II

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For many years, this journal published its “Statement of Editorial Policy” on the back cover of each issue. The statement began with these words: “Litigation is a journal for lawyers who try cases and judges who decide them. Whatever their fields . . . and whatever the forum, trial lawyers have common problems and interests.” These words not only sum up the purpose of the periodical you are now reading but also crystallize the purpose of the Section of Litigation.

The Section of Litigation is the one national organization of trial lawyers that brings together the entirety of the trial bar. We are composed of plaintiffs’ and defense lawyers, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, judges, family law litigators, arbitrators and specialists in arbitration, experienced litigators and young lawyers new to the profession, litigators in AmLaw 100 firms, as well as solo and small-firm lawyers. Our members practice on the coasts and in the cities and in the smaller towns throughout the country. In no other organization can you find this breadth of the litigation practice.

None of my 45 predecessors as chair of the Section of Litigation maintained a practice in a place as small as Lexington, Kentucky. At 315,000 people, Lexington is not an especially small place; but it qualifies in relation to the other cities on the list. I am keenly aware that this distinction provides an opportunity for the Section to reach out to our members in smaller cities and towns, as well as to solo and small-firm litigators. This will be a priority in 2018–2019.

This is not to say that we will diminish our service to litigators in larger firms and locations. Rather, we will continue that mission while also emphasizing how we can assist litigators in other settings.

Gifted Litigators in Smaller Places

The vast majority of litigation in the United States is handled by solo and small firm litigators. There are outstanding litigators in places like Tulsa, Oklahoma; Athens, Ohio; and Pikeville, Kentucky. We want to highlight these skilled trial lawyers and use their abilities as examples for others. These are lawyers who try cases regularly and successfully for their clients. These are lawyers like my good friend Marcia Milby Ridings, a trial lawyer practicing in my home state of Kentucky.

Marcia graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1976. Following a clerkship with a U.S. district court judge, she began her practice with her father in the small Kentucky town of London—population 4,500. In her more than 40-year career, Marcia has tried well over 250 jury trials and otherwise handled thousands of cases. In her early years of practice, she routinely tried 10 or more cases per year and once tried two cases in the same week in the same county (one a wrongful death case). Of course, her active practice did not prevent her from serving her community and the bar in a large variety of roles, including as the first woman president of the Kentucky Bar Association.

Another example of a gifted litigator in an out-of-the-way place is Bob Carlson, the current president of the American Bar Association. Bob has practiced in a small firm in his hometown of Butte, Montana, for nearly 40 years. With a reputation as a top trial lawyer throughout Montana, Bob has tried many cases to verdict in his career, including one of the longest jury trials in Montana history. Like Marcia, he served as president of his state bar, and his long career in the ABA has culminated with his service as president this year.

Marcia and Bob are emblematic of litigators throughout the country who are important members of the trial bar. These are lawyers who not only serve their clients but also help to mentor and train younger lawyers engaged in litigation. Our Solo and Small Firm Litigator Initiative will focus on programming and resources specifically for these lawyers in the coming year.

When you joined the Section of Litigation, you became part of the largest community of litigators in the United States. Our commitment to you is to continue the best traditions of the Section in the coming year and to provide you with the programs, materials, and benefits you deserve. This is indeed “Where the Litigators Are,” and we are glad to have you with us.  

Palmer Gene Vance II

The author is chair of the Section of Litigation and a member of Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky.