Edwards Kirby: The Evolution of Science Will Change This Practice

By Bob Friedman

“The evolution of science will change this practice,” said David Kirby, co-founder of the Raleigh-based seven-lawyer personal injury firm Edwards Kirby. 

“Technology has fundamentally changed the way law is practiced and how people get in touch with and find lawyers,” said Kirby’s son, Winston Kirby, an associate at the firm.

John Edwards, David Kirby, and long-time partner Bill Bystrynski, in their mid-to-late 60s and early 70s, don’t use the “R’ word, but it’s in the rearview and getting closer. As the firm celebrates its 30th anniversary, it has tapped its next generation with 30 and 40-something attorneys Andrew Avram, Winston Kirby, Mary Katherine Kurth and Michael Sindoni.

Winston Kirby
Winston Kirby

The Ringtone Generation

“We’re the ringtone generation,” said Winston Kirby. “We’re just old enough to remember when you had to pay $0.99 for a ringtone on your Razer phone. Now, with technology, you can work anywhere in the world; you can do anything you need to do on a case either from home or at the office.

“I would say technology within the past 15 years has fundamentally changed the way you have access to every case at your fingertips,” Winston Kirby continued. “The clients have access to your email and contact you anytime, so you need to be there and responsive. You need to be responsible when you balance your work life and your home life to make sure that you’re keeping everyone updated using all the repositories of information that you have access to for your clients.”

“I think the millennials make us better lawyers,” said David Kirby. “They are much more technologically sophisticated than us older dinosaur baby boomers. They have a keen sense of how to bring technology into the courtroom, into depositions and into discovery.”

Information in 20 Minutes

The firm’s ability to review medical records has been bolstered by technology with access to copious amounts of data generated in hospitals and medical facilities. The firm’s most recent hire is Michael Sindoni, a board-certified anesthesiologist who left his private practice to become a lawyer after discovering an affinity for expert witness work on med mal cases.

“We may get thousands of pages of medical records, of which maybe 100 or 200 are really relevant to what you need,” said Sindoni. “I’ll look at a record and on one tab have the record, on another tab have research relevant to that medical condition, and then on the third tab be looking up additional information about the background on that case. If I had gone to the library, it would have taken me weeks to get all that information that I can now get in 20 minutes.”

Michael Sindoni
Michael Sindoni

Champions for Regular People

David Kirby and John Edwards
David Kirby and John Edwards

John Edwards was raised in Robbins, NC, the son of a textile worker and a letter carrier. Growing up, “it seemed to me that people with money, power, and status were treated differently than those who worked hard just to put food on the table. I felt like lawyers could be champions for regular people.”

Edwards used these themes in his successful 1998 campaign for NC senator and campaigns as the running mate for presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 and his own run for the White House in 2008.

David Kirby’s father was a World War II veteran injured at Iwo Jima. His father returned home to practice law committed to the greater good as payback for his fellow soldiers who died in combat. “That was the way I was raised. When I went into the practice of law, the idea of making money never entered my mind. I had this Pollyanna version that I’m going to go out and save the world, one case at a time.”

Edwards and Kirby were law school classmates at UNC School of Law, where they were moot court partners. They became besties, stayed in touch as each clerked, and practiced law. They launched their firm in 1993 to represent clients in catastrophic injury or wrongful death cases.

“We are looking for intellectually challenging cases with deserving clients,” said David Kirby. “We are hoping through our representation we can accomplish two goals. One is to change the law and the landscape so that this type of tragedy never happens again and two, do everything in our power to try to secure that family’s financial future.”

A case that fits that description perfectly was a 1996 product liability lawsuit against Sta-Rite, the manufacturer of a defective pool drain cover. The case involved Valerie Lakey, a 5-year-old who was disemboweled by the suction power of the pool drain pump. In 1997, a jury awarded Lakey $25 million. The case forced swimming pool builders to change their designs.

Bill Bystrynski joined the firm as a law student and worked on the Lakey case. “That case made sure this injury will not happen again. It was eye-opening for me to see the changes that were possible through one case,” said Bystrynski. He has been with the firm ever since.

Damn the Torpedoes

Edwards, Kirby and Bystrynski are baby boomers, a generation of lawyers with a “damn the torpedoes, 24/7 work ethic.”

The mantra of the millennials is work/life balance. Never was that better exemplified than during the pandemic when Kurth and Avram had to work from home to be with their children because schools and daycare centers were closed. 

“There is more of an understanding of how hard it can be to try to balance that,” said Kurth. “I’m enjoying being back in the office with people, but I still do enjoy the flexibility to work remotely.”

“No one’s working from 7:00 am till midnight every day,” said Avram. “But I think that the same amount of work can be done and with flexible scheduling using technology and working remotely. I don’t think we’re producing any less work. I think it’s just being done differently; I won’t say more efficiently, just differently.”

“I actually think the millennials have the right approach to the practice of law,” said David Kirby. “If you live a very balanced life between your practice, your family, and your community, you’re going to be a better lawyer. You’re going to understand what motivates people outside of work. When you walk into the courtroom for a jury trial, you’ll understand that person sitting in the box and what motivates them.” 

If you live a very balanced life between your practice, your family, and your community, you’re going to be a better lawyer.

Mary Katherine Kurth
Mary Katherine Kurth
Andrew Avram
Andrew Avram

Stick to Your Guns

When John Edwards or David Kirby enters a conference room or a courtroom, you can feel a change in the barometric pressure. They both have big personalities and very distinct styles.

“They can say things in a courtroom to judges that we as young lawyers can’t,” said Kurth. “John and David encouraged us to be ourselves and call on our strengths in developing our own litigation style. We’ve learned we have to have our own styles. We’re all different people from John and David. We’re taking their advice and learning from them.”

“What I’ve learned from David and John is their ability to stick to their guns when it comes to their cases,” said Avram. “Defense counsel is going to try to poke holes in your case. I think being able to watch how confident they remain throughout the case and how they don’t get rattled when bad facts come out. They remain firm with opposing counsel without being adversarial. I think that’s very important and something that I’ve tried to incorporate in handling my own cases.”

David Kirby
David Kirby

“We have years of experience, and experience is the best teacher,” said David Kirby. “Our younger lawyers benefit from our years of experience and practice, but creativity is key to persuasion, and we encourage our attorneys to constantly think outside the box. We offer advice and strategies that make their advance in the practice of law go more rapidly, but we look to them to forge new paths.”

The collaboration starts with the all-important first question of whether to take a case. “I think experience is important to that at the front end,” Edwards said. “Is this a case one that allows us to help these people? Is it a case that should be brought? Is it a case that is meritorious? And do we believe there is actual liability and responsibility that should be litigated?”

The partnership then continues with every aspect of a case, including splitting the presentation of the closing arguments. “It’s really important for the clients. It’s important for those lawyers to get the experience, and it’s important for the jurors to hear the perspective that is not just mine,” said Edwards.

We have years of experience, and experience is the best teacher. ... We offer advice and strategies that make [our younger lawyers'] advance in the practice of law go more rapidly, but we look to them to forge new paths.”

Inspiring New Heights

“The population of personal injury cases will dwindle in the future,” said David Kirby. “AI, robotics, and advances in safety features will reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents (MVAs), fires and construction accidents.”

Human factors are the cause of 80% of MVAs, followed by weather, road conditions, or mechanical factors. “Ten years from now, mechanical failure will be the main factor of accidents, with hardware and software problems causing wrecks,” said David Kirby. “The personal injury lawyer of the future may need to have a degree in mechanical or computer engineering.” 

“Every juror knows how to drive a car, so it’s easy to explain what happened,” David Kirby continued. “But not every juror knows how to program a chip. Cases become product liability cases with engineering and computer programming concepts instead of testimony about human errors of inattention or misjudgment.”

John Edwards
John Edwards

“We started off in 1993 trying to create a boutique law firm with a small number of lawyers that handle big, complex cases, and we have sort of carried on that practice model for 30 years,” Edwards said. “I hope 10 years from now that practice model is continuing.

“When we hire people to join this law firm, we look for those who come to us with fire in their belly and a commitment to their fellow human beings,” David Kirby said. “Hopefully, they take something already there and, with a little luck and role modeling, enhance and inspire them to greater heights.”

“We are doing things we want to do with people we want to do it with. That’s where we want to be,” said Edwards. “The world changes. COVID happened. The world will continue to change, and that evolution has to be incorporated into our vision as a law firm.”

Edwards Kirby, LLP

3201 Glenwood Ave. Suite 100
Raleigh, NC 27612
919-780-5400
EdwardsKirby.com

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John R. Edwards

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