Author: Scott D. Fitzgerald, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Lawyer
I have always wanted to be a trial attorney at the Allen Law Firm. When I was a child, the reason was simple: I wanted to be like my grandfather. Over the years, I have only found more reasons, and my desire to be a trial lawyer at the Allen firm has not wavered.
As the first of the fourth generation of Allen family members to join the firm, I am proud to carry on the traditions and legacy that my grandfather, his two brothers, and his father began years ago.
My great-grandfather, George E. Allen, founded the firm in 1910 in Lunenburg County, Virginia as a solo practitioner. George E. Allen had three sons and knew that they were likely to join the firm, and he also knew that Lunenburg County could not sustain a law firm of four attorneys. So, he moved the family from Lunenburg to Richmond in 1931 during the Great Depression.
The Allen & Allen focus on personal injury cases
It did not take long for George E. Allen to distinguish himself in Richmond. He successfully prosecuted the first products liability case against Ford Motor Company in the early 1950s. The plaintiff, Mrs. Mahone, was badly injured when a tire blew out on her new Ford automobile. She had owned the car less than 2 weeks and had driven it only a few hundred miles at the time of the blow-out. The automobile was preserved and closely examined by experts hired by George E. Allen, who determined that the turnbuckle on the tie rod had been left loose at the time the car was manufactured. The turnbuckle was intended to be held in place by two bolts and a self-locking nut. Neither of the bolts or the self-locking nut were tightened properly. The plaintiff’s expert determined that the turnbuckle was so loose that it had been held in place only by the paint applied after the turnbuckle was assembled. Once the automobile was driven on the highway, it was only a matter of time until the turnbuckle rattled loose and caused the blow-out that injured Mrs. Mahone. The trial judge initially dismissed the case, but my great-grandfather appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, who ruled that the matter should be tried to a jury. George E. Allen subsequently tried the case before a jury to a large verdict on behalf of Mrs. Mahone.
George E. Allen took on Ford Motor Company and won. I grew up hearing about that case, and it has inspired me in my own practice not to shy away from taking on Fortune 500 corporations and insurance companies on behalf of my clients. To this day, the firm’s culture is to embrace monumental challenges such as these.
My grandfather, Wilbur Allen
My grandfather, Wilbur Allen, also has been a tremendous source of inspiration for me. He served as a lieutenant in the Navy in the Pacific theatre of operations during World War II before returning home and attending law school at the University of Virginia. He graduated from law school in 1950 and immediately joined the firm, solidifying the name of the firm as Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen.
Seven years after joining the firm, he began a 33 year tenure as its president, from 1957 to 1990. Under his leadership, the firm thrived by focusing on helping injured Virginians.
In 1965, he took a case on behalf of a prisoner, William Howard, who had been placed in solitary confinement for a period of three years for attempting to practice his Islamic faith. My grandfather successfully argued that the Bill of Rights guaranteed Mr. Howard the right to the free exercise of his religion. He filed a motion to permit Mr. Howard to be returned to the general prison population, and fought the case all the way to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, who granted William Howard the relief he sought.
Throughout his career, Wilbur Allen proved that it was not only possible, but preferable, to zealously represent his clients while remaining professional and courteous to the opposing party at all times. In his role as chairman of the Virginia Bar Special Committee on Professionalism, he drafted a “Creed of Professionalism” for attorneys to inspire civility in the practice of law.
Above all, my grandfather loved his clients and valued his relationships with them. He taught me that everyone in this world knows something (and often many things) that you do not. When you meet someone, find out what that something is. He embodied that spirit, and cherished the time he spent with his clients, fighting to help them put their lives back together.
The Third Generation of the Allen Family
The legacy of George E. Allen, Sr. has been carried on by the third generation of Allens. My uncles, Coleman and Edward Allen, have been instrumental in successfully advocating for legislative and judicial changes in the law to ensure that injured Virginians have access to justice. My aunt, Courtney Allen Van Winkle, treats every client as if they are a close friend. Courtney has carried forward Wilbur Allen’s tradition of building relationships with clients. She keeps in remarkably close contact with clients she represented 10, 15, and 20 years ago. Clayton Allen has exhibited the tenacious attitude that is a hallmark of the Allen firm by taking several cases to the Virginia Supreme Court to ensure justice for his clients. Charles “Litt” Allen has demonstrated a commitment to outwork and outthink the insurance companies on behalf of each of his clients.
Each of these Allens who have come before me leave me with a tremendous sense of responsibility to carry forward the traditions and achievements of the Allen Law Firm. All of them inspire me to strive to be the best trial attorney I can be, to put the needs of my clients first, all while remaining professional and courteous. These are the values that have led the firm for more than 100 years, and will continue to guide us throughout the next century.