AWBPC Practice Summary

Law and politics are the art of the possible, but often depend on the personal. Ethical lawyers do not make up facts (or allow their clients to do so). Lawyers also do not make up the applicable laws, or control their interpretation.

What lawyers actually do is apply their education, experience and creativity to determine options and maximize possible outcomes. Winning, whether it is a simple contract negotiation or full blown litigation, is generally about marshaling and organizing facts, law and theories to move the resolution from one end of the range of possibility/probability to the other.

While some clients, either from the nature of their business or their temperament, may be frequent fliers, the vast majority of clients are first time or infrequent fliers, and few are actually looking forward to the trip.

I am an Attorney and Counselor at Law. Counselling is an important aspect of the job, particularly with regard to litigation which will affect the individual his or her family, business and other relationships beyond the direct participants. Knowing it, and being prepared to meet the challenges, is essential to managing the impact of any litigation.

The most important thing an attorney can do at the outset is to summarize the general principles of law involved, assist the client in distinguishing grain from chaff, while putting together the initial narrative that will guide future efforts. The purpose is not merely triage, it is also to give the client the peace of mind that comes from knowing "what can be done, will be done."

Generally, I personally prefer litigation with an unbalanced field, novel issue or a reasonable degree of legal or factual complexity. One simply does not earn a seat in Valhalla doing only "right angle" accident cases. There is something in my Scots/Irish Viking heritage that still loves a battle with difficult odds.

I am not, however, a hired gun and the triage process is designed to ensure I am a good fit for the prospective client, and the client and the cause are a good fit for me.

All I really require is that the mutually agreed goals for the representation be something I can accept as honorable. I do not judge; but I have a non-delegable duty to be a reasonable steward of the gifts I was given and have developed. Part of that stewardship obligation is performed in the screening of cases and clients.

Even as to those clients I decline to represent, I can generally send in a productive direction. There is a correct tool for every job, and if I am not the correct tool for a particular job and I can think of others who might be, I will refer the prospective client to them. A jack of all trades, can master none; that is particularly true in the practice of law.

In recent years, I have begun to accept some less complicated work closer to home, partly to facilitate training of my now quite competent Senior Associate Ryan Webber, and partly because I have reached a point in my career where an occasional less complicated matter closer to home can seem an altogether pleasant break from the grind of circuit riding litigation.

There was a time when I said, "no Criminal, no Divorce, no Bankruptcy; no exceptions." God laughed, and peculiar circumstances drew me into litigation in family law, estates and bankruptcy matters; though not the day to day practice of any of those areas.

It is likely the trend will continue, if only because the cases are more interesting than I had expected, and there is often a call for mediation skills to reach creative resolutions in order to avoid litigation which will only serve to dissipate already too scarce assets.

For 30 years, I have followed a strict no advertising policy (excluding myself from the yellow page lawyer listings, and leaving off profession or phone number from sponsor ads in school publications). I find most legal ads distasteful at best, and have no desire to kiss all the frogs advertising would attract in search of the occasional prince or princess who may chance to contact me in that way. But I recognize that I have no right to impose such restrictions on my associate Ryan as he builds his own practice. Our new firm policy is targeted and tasteful.

About 90% of my work comes from colleagues, former adversaries and recommendations by prior clients; there is a good deal of Karma /serendipity involved in our 'normal" process of new case acquisition.

General practice attorneys in solo or small to mid-sized firms can get bogged down in time consuming litigation which can hinder and jeopardize relations in their regular non-litigation practice. If the client is sent out to a larger firm with a dedicated litigation group, there is always a risk the client will not return.

When I am called in for litigation assistance, local counsel remains as active as local counsel and the client desire; and local counsel may rest assured that I have neither intention nor interest in stealing the client. Local small firm attorneys offer a real value to local businesses, particularly by knowing their communities and being able to guide their clients away from conflicts and serving as an honest broker in conflicts between well known local personalities. Litigation often requires other skills altogether, though the desire to seek a path of reasonable resolution should never be lost even in the most acrimonious cases.

I am also called in periodically when the town equivalent of "Mr. Potter" from "It's A Wonderful Life" is spinning webs of injustice, and a local attorney who has no desire for direct involvement, will call and refer a case to me, secure in the knowledge that their name will never be associated with the matter. Those have been some of my favorite matters. Jimmy Stewart remains my favorite actor.

Practice Focuses: While I might accept any matter if it were sufficiently interesting and I felt sufficiently qualified; my practice is concentrated on matters related to: Employment law; Defamation claims; Construction litigation; Contract Disputes; Business Torts; Franchisee representation, Business Ownership "divorces;" Non-Compete Disputes, Non-Profit representation; Civil Appeals; and Ethics and Licensing Board matters. A slowly growing portion of my practice includes complex family law and estate litigation matters regionally.

Dispute Resolution. While I enjoy litigation, it is the responsibility of every honorable litigator to seek peace on reasonable and acceptable terms. Where both counsel are reasonable and competent, the risk of not settling should eventually exceed the probable benefit of not settling; and at that point, the appropriate settlement ranges will overlap and both parties interests would then be served by settlement. There are exceptions; but most cases can and should settle, once material facts are known and options can be reasonably assessed. It is unwise to settle too early, it is fool-hearty to settle too late. The last nickel always costs too much.

Mediation Works. I helped create Bar Association sponsored Alternative Dispute Resolution programs in Montgomery, Dauphin and Cumberland (Member) counties; I teach ADR CLE courses and serve as Mediator/Arbitrator in paid and volunteer settings. I also regularly participate in mediation as an advocate. Even when a case does not settle, mediation can expedite information exchange of information, target discovery and narrow issues in ways which materially reduced litigation expense. It may not be right for all cases; but it is useful in many, if not most.

Community Activities. To whom much is given, much may be expected. At AWBPC, public service is considered a privilege, as well as an obligation. The firm page link and the links for the CV's of Andrew W. Barbin and Ryan A. Webber, summarize not only our legal credentials, but also our community associations and involvements. We ask ourselves, "What Kind of World Do We Want", and then we challenge ourselves to "Be the Change We Seek." Our clients are encouraged to do likewise. My clients, particularly the employment clients, often find that participation in Community Activities provides an innoculation against the stress of litigation and a counterbalance to the other demands of life. It is a cheap form of mental health insurance.

Staff of AWBPC:  Maxine E. Goodman;  Andrew W. Barbin and Ryan A. Webber

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A few pictures of the Road to Here including my first weigh in.

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