When you Choose a Lawyer, Choose Well.
When you choose a lawyer to help you resolve a serious injury claim, a painful family crisis, or a contentious “civil dispute”, of course, you must choose well. And you hope to find the kind of person who does right “even when no one’s watching.”
This sounds like a “no-brainer”, and most potential clients will settle for reading the Google Reviews. This is a deeper dive into a man’s career, values, and character. Sorry for the length, but it has been a long career.
Your lawyer needs to be bright, competent, and assertive, but even better is if he or she is also compassionate, sharing, and committed to serving his clients.
I was asked for this bio, on my mentoring of colleagues and clients and my service to my profession and my community several months ago. I share it now for your information. So here is my story over 50 years.
Burton Hunter III, professional bio:
(Mentoring and Contributing)
March 22, 2022.
Burton Hunter has been a lawyer for 50 years as of May 2022. He is a 1964 high school graduate of Linsly Military Institute in his hometown of Wheeling, a 1968 graduate of WV Wesleyan College in Buckhanon, and a 1972 graduate of the WVU College of Law.
Thereafter, Hunter served four years as a Captain in the US Air Force and Assistant Judge Advocate (J.A.G.) at Griffiss A.F.B. in Rome New York and was awarded the USAF Commendation Award.
RETURN TO CIVILIAN LIFE – SMALL TOWN TRIAL PRACTICE
He and his wife, Nancy Lynne (Goodfellow) Hunter, returned to Buckhannon, where they had met at their “Freshman Mixer”, to raise their family and practice law.
Nancy has served as Burt’s office manager for over 40 years.
WV STATE BAR
Recently, at the request of WV State Bar Executive Director, Anita Casey, Hunter authored an article published in The WV Lawyer magazine on Upshur County and his 40+ years of practice as a small firm lawyer and another on law office management and the transition to a “paperless office.” Such things are a routine contribution that Hunter makes to his profession.
Hunter is a 25-year Board Member of the WV Trial Lawyers Association, now WV Association of Justice (WVTLA/WVAJ,) and a 40+ year member of “The Trial Lawyers”.
Hunter recently concluded a 3-year term on the WV State Bar Board of Governors where he served as chair of the “Future of the Law Committee” and “The Middle School and High School Video Competition Committee”; subject, “Magna Carta”.
That year, applicants for the video competition increased from seven the previous year to thirty-three, with twenty-eight completed video presentations. He solicited “judges” from many fields, academic, legal, and professional writers.
Hunter has been mentoring others his entire career. As a young “JAG,” (USAF Lawyer) among many other duties, he was named the “Preventive Law officer.” That experience trained him in educating military member non-attorneys about the law and their legal rights and responsibilities and set the tone of his entire career.
He was assigned as mentor to a new JAG, H. Ray Starling, now Maj. Gen. Ray Starling USAFR, Ret. for whom he found off-base housing and training. That “mentorship” led to a lifetime friendship of the Hunters and Ray and his wife Pam.
The Cold War was still a “fact of life” in the 1970’s, and the newsreels showed USSR Parades on May 1 (Mayday) with thousands of troops in Moscow strutting and hundreds of nuclear weapons and their mobile carriers.
So, America produced “Law Day,” and Hunter was assigned each year for four years to arrange the airbase Law Day celebration, of educating and commemorating our system of law and Justice.
So, it was natural that when Hunter became a civilian, in 1976, he would speak in local public-school classes, guide students in tours of the Upshur County Circuit Court courtroom, and even mentor students in “The Trial of Goldilocks” who, alas, was convicted each time.
He also served as President of the Upshur County Bar Association. He and his former law partner, Robert (Bob) Morris, Lewis County Bar President, would organize joint bar dinners to celebrate the careers of retiring lawyers and involve the younger lawyers in camaraderie with members of their profession. They even brought in speakers like U.S. Dist. Court Judge Robert E. Maxwell, and hosted professional continuing education seminars and introduced online legal research to the Upshur County Law Library.
CHARACTER AND MENTORING YOUNGER LAWYERS
Burton Hunter respectfully suggests that your lawyer’s character matters! What your lawyer does “when no one is watching” is what he or she will do for (or to) you. Hire a “cheater” at your own peril.
When a new lawyer arrives in Buckhannon, the first time Burton meets her or him, he welcomes that person, offers to share all his law library, forms, checklists, and written office policies, and encourages that lawyer to call him with any questions and challenges.
Some do, some do not, but he is always ready to help. Usually, he gives the lawyer his book, “Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer”, available on Amazon.
BICYCLE SAFETY ‘RODEO’
When Norma Egnor, Executive Director of the WV Trial Lawyers Association, asked, Hunter, always with the dedicated help of his wife Nancy and loyal staff, organized a “Bicycle Safety ‘Road-eo’ “ and handed out free helmets.
With the help of local law enforcement and the town bicycle shop, he provided safety instruction on a marked course in the parking lot of his church.
PEOPLES’ LAW SCHOOL
A major event in the Hunters’ lives occurred with another call from his friend Norma Egnor, Executive Director of the WVTLA.
Norma asked if she could send him a packet of information sent to her by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) describing something called “Peoples’ Law Schools.”
This was during a time that powerful interest groups were demonizing trial lawyers. (They still are, worse than ever.)
Peoples’ Law Schools were created, of course, to improve the image of lawyers, but also to educate the public on our system of laws, especially “civil justice.” It seems that knowledge of our system of laws and our responsibility as citizens is waining, but I digress.
Hunter agreed to organize, publicize, and host a “People’s Law School” in Upshur County, but, as always, “with his own twist.”
There were eight to ten weekly classes of 2-4 hours, each on a different subject.
Hunter recruited members of the local bar to teach each module. The first year, the “school” had as many as 185 attendees and averaged 155. Burt and Nancy wrestled podiums into their van, created posters and signs, and begged, borrowed, but never stole, local venues for the schools.
The schools continued for five years, never averaging fewer than eighty-five students, including WVWC retired history professor, Robert Hunt, who had taught Burt in four history classes. Burt and Nancy’s efforts earned Hunter the WVTLA “President’s Award.”
Then Norma asked Hunter to organize a “mock trial” Peoples’ Law School.
It was a “dram shop” case in which a drunken bar customer killed an innocent pedestrian with his car.
The judges of the “mock trial” were sitting WV Circuit Court Judges. Thomas Keadle and Booker Stevens.
The cases were well-tried, over two evenings, in under 4 hours, and the “jury” deliberated before a closed-circuit camera for the audience to view.
Hunter, again with tremendous support by his wife, invested hundreds of hours in these endeavors and was “rewarded” by being appointed Chair of the WVTLA State “Peoples’ Law School Committee.” and receiving the WVTLA “President’s Award”.
He oversaw, at its peak, over twenty schools each year throughout the State, but none had the attendance figures of Upshur County.
He was then awarded WVTLA’s “Member of the Year Award.”
PRESENTING CONTINUING LEGAL EDUCATION
Hunter has, over the last 20 years, presented more than a dozen times on personal injury, litigation, family law, law office management, and law office technology to the WVTLA/WVAJ, the WVU College of Law CLE Series, and the Lewis/Upshur and Kanawha County Bar Associations.
West Virginia Wesleyan College had an ambitious program to encourage and give credit to high school and WVWC students for “internships,” and for a time BUHS sought “real job” training opportunities, so, over a period of years, Hunter mentored and allowed students to “work” at his office, attend hearings, and be part of his “team,” usually 2-3 staff persons, in his general trial practice.
As he approaches the end of a long career, he is still asked regularly to accept interns. If he cannot, he still offers to take the student to lunch, make referrals to other lawyers, and even gives them a signed copy of his book.
The material for his book comes from a project that Hunter began at the peak of the great financial crisis, a dozen or so years ago. During that grim and bleak time, Hunter, who was then in his sixty’s, decided to “reboot” and commit himself to educate the public and change his profession, which he perceives as being too “hidebound,” or resistant to change.
His writing in his blog also titled “Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer”, www.hunterlawfirm.net/blog, addresses subjects like insurance coverages, fundamentals of personal injury claims and litigation, a “legal checkup”, all aspects of family law, mediation, and a large component written for fellow, usually younger, lawyers on law office management and law office-related technology.
The blog is “fully searchable” by key word, and the content is “green” as they say on Google.
At last count, Hunter’s production is 488 articles and 1772 pages. He freely shares his articles and ideas with other lawyers, especially those new to the practice of law, with a hope to help them avoid mistakes he has made, which are many.
LAW OFFICE TECHNOLOGY
A “tech geek,” Hunter got his first Apple II personal computer and “NEC Spinwriter” impact printer in 1981 or two for $7000! ($20,000 today.)
Having got to know the owner of the Morgantown computer store, Hunter organized and hosted several “computer fairs” in Upshur County so that local people and children could experience the myriad things computers were capable of. Each “student” was provided his/her an Apple II to practice with.
During his last such “fair,” Hunter was called away by his wife who had just gone into labor, and their fourth child and only daughter, Laura, was born a short while later.
Laura’s Mother can confirm that her Dad, who dragged that 35 lb. computer case home every night, “mentored” all their children in the use of computers, sometimes of course with early computer games like “Oregon Trial”, Donkey Kong, and “Super Mario.
Finally, Burton Hunter has fortunate to have wonderful employees (most of the time).
On three occasions, he hired bright teenagers, just out of high school or attendees at two-year associate programs.
One he hired straight from high school and trained her, over twenty years, to become one of the finest paralegals in the State. When she left on short notice for perceived “greener pastures,” Burton regrouped and moved forward with Jamie and Letetia, neither of whom were yet twenty-one. It was a trial by fire, but they all survived.
20 years later, Letetia now exceeds what her predecessor had in skill and certainly in “people skills”.
If it is not apparent from this summary, Hunter admits to being a driven, or “Type A,” personality, but he also lays claim to having a good heart, passion, and his best trait, endless curiosity.
A strong advocate of the book “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atule Gawande, also the author of “Being Mortal and What Matters at the End,” Hunter is obsessed to “get it right.”
He has adapted a well-known case organizing tool to what he calls his “digging down system.”
Letetia’s children are “hired” to put together “digging down kits,” of forms and instructional materials in an accordion folder. Hunter gives a “digging down kit” to each client in contested cases, along with all appropriate forms and affidavits.
EDUCATING OUR CLIENTS AND MAKING THEM EFFECTIVE LITIGANTS
The metaphor for the ‘digging down system” is a “three-legged stool” Hunter and his staff train clients to collect “puzzle pieces” (people, events, documents, photos, and the rest) that make up their case and then to make “lists” of questions, tasks, memory ticklers, and goals. Finally, the puzzle is completed with a detailed chronology or timeline.
LAW OFFICE TECHNOLOGY
The “document assembly” application, “Pathagoras,” authored and owned by Va. Lawyer, Roy Lazris, is used by Hunter and his staff for all pleadings and standardized documents, and a Dell and Microsoft Windows network is at the core of Hunter’s office operations, with Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners at every workstation, and a Toshiba Studio photocopier/scanner/fax as the office document center.
Whenever he encounters a young lawyer with potential, Hunter gives the lawyer a copy of his book and sends him or her an e-mail with links to his “best” ten to twenty blog articles and seeks feedback in the form of questions and criticism.
CIVIL AND FAMILY MEDIATION IN WV
A primary focus of Hunter’s practice is “alternate dispute resolution,” usually mediation but occasionally arbitration. Perceiving a need, Hunter approached Deb Scudiere, Chair of the WV State Bar” Alternate Dispute Resolution Committee,” who met with her committee and formed a subcommittee, “The Family Law Alternate Dispute Resolution Subcommittee.”
Alas, Hunter’s goal to revise and make uniform the mediation process in family courts across the state has yet to be achieved, but he is still trying. He has written extensively on the subject.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
As a “futurist,” Hunter is acutely aware, “Change has never been as fast as it is now, and it will never be this slow again.” (Author unknown).
He knows that no one who is entering the practice of law now will be able to spend 40 years with one tool such as the personal computer. He began with the I.B.M. Selectric Typewriter and the monster IBM Mag Card Word Processor, and he has had PCs for 40 years.
Young people now in school or just entering the job market, to be successful, will have to be fully educated, with a broad range of adaptable skills, as jobs will be changing by the year and even by the month. As a father of four wonderful adult children and six grandchildren, Hunter has the perspective that those who follow him need every bit of wisdom and help they can get. And that is what he tries to provide. He’s had his chance. The future is theirs.
This post was written by Burton Hunter