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Common ground

The VADA’s John Owen and the VTLA’s Tom Curcio

The VADA’s John Owen and the VTLA’s Tom Curcio

John Owen, president of the Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys, and Tom Curcio, president of Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, share an idea that some attorneys may find surprising: Plaintiffs’ lawyers and defense lawyers can get along and very likely will enjoy each others’ company, given the opportunity.

They have embarked on an interesting joint enterprise for their respective presidencies: to bring their two groups together for conversation, for socializing, for shared experience. They are convinced that the lawyers, the practice of law and the justice system all will be better off for it.

The two associations held a joint seminar on civility last month and this week they are holding a golf tournament in Richmond. Additional seminars and meetings are on tap for Northern Virginia and the Roanoke area, they said.

It’s an admirable thought, and it will be a notable legacy for each man’s presidency as they pull it off. Note I didn’t say “if” – from every indication, the groups are indeed coming together and forging a new respect for each other, even if they will be on opposite sides of cases down the road.

Owen, who practices in Glen Allen, and Curcio, of Alexandria, had never had a case against each other when they got together earlier this year. As they talked, they found common ground in their approaches to law practice.

Owen said when he started practice 18 years ago, that Frank Cowan and John OBrien mentored him with the thought that “there’s a right way to do things” in dealing with the other side.

You should set the tone for how to deal with opposing counsel, he said. Owen’s efforts are that approach writ large.

Curcio, in practice for 30 years, said that once the groups got together they recognized that the lawyers on the other side were just “trying to do a good job for their clients.”

Both men said that lawyers in a case working hard to serve their clients is the best way to achieve justice. “It doesn’t have to be a war,” Owen said.

If good lawyers give their clients quality representation, then a good result can be achieved. Owen noted that 90-some percent of all cases end up with a resolution short of the courthouse.

If a case needs to be tried, or agreement can’t be reached, that’s fine, too, he noted. “The system works.”

Both Curcio and Owen acknowledged that there are “outliers” in their respective camps – hardcore litigators who seek to intimidate opposing counsel.

Indeed, Curcio observed that at the Richmond seminar, there were many younger lawyers in attendance who reporting being “bullied” by some more established lawyers.

Maybe that experience has given them the wrong idea. Owen said that many young lawyers beginning their careers believe “there has to be a fight.”

Not so, he said. “That’s not how you have success” as an attorney, no matter which side you represent.

That’s a powerful message, one worth watching as this joint effort unfolds and moves ahead.

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