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What do lawyers and teachers have in common? Quite a bit, actually. We sat down with Ashley T. Davis, an attorney in the Richmond, Va. office of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen, to discuss recent changes she’s seen in the legal industry and the role of attorneys as educators in the courtroom. Our full exchange follows below.
I have been practicing law since 2004, so about 14 years. I went to William & Mary for undergraduate school, then began pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh, where I also taught anthropology and statistics to undergraduate students. I worked as an archeologist in Latin America and the Caribbean before going to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for law school. During my time as an archeologist, I worked on excavations and studied many interesting topics, including the colonization of the new world and the Mayan civilization.
Archeology is the study of people and how they behave, the study of civilization, and the study of society—all elements that are also useful in law. Much of what we lawyers do involves studying people, and my background in archeology has been great for learning how to effectively talk to people. Working in a university setting obviously involves a lot of teaching as well, which I think translates to law—we lawyers teach a lot more than we realize. For example, when we get in front of a jury, we teach jurors what we want them to know or understand. We also teach clients about the law, the rights they have and how to navigate legal nuances. Currently, I am teaching trial advocacy at The University of Richmond School of Law, as well as legal writing and research to paralegal studies students at Virginia Commonwealth University, so I am able to keep my teaching skills sharp.
Both the introduction of technology and the way technology is embraced have been dramatic changes. It has permeated every aspect of what we do. Technology allows us to be so much more efficient and effective with our time. Even in the way we draft a brief and communicate with judges—everything used to be very formal, rigid and long form. Today, our judges appreciate seeing pictures in briefs and the appropriate use of things like bullet points. Headings and topics are so much more important than they ever were.
Also, the way we were communicating with the courts and with litigants has been modernized. For example, companies like LexisNexis make so much information available, and allow firms to be so much more educated than they were 14 years ago. This, in turn, enables us to really educate the courts. There’s a new sophistication—but also approachability—to the way we are working now. The information is more accessible to everyone.
Circling back to the education piece—with more information comes more knowledge for everyone. For example, we get a lot of traffic to our blog, largely because of the education we provide there. We are constantly pushing out content on changes in the law, safety issues and product recalls, and people appreciate that.
The legal research tools that have become widely available to and affordable for smaller firms allow them to compete with the big firms. When I worked for a huge firm earlier in my career, we were often able to simply outspend the “little guy.” The resources available now have really leveled the playing field.
We have had public success with some of our products liability cases, and as a result have gotten quite a bit of business from that.
Most of my job involves researching, writing, legal strategy and analysis. Because I have a lot of defense experience, I also work with our attorneys to come up with legal strategies. My days vary—I do handle cases on my own, but I also conduct a lot of training for some of the younger lawyers. So, it just depends on the day. At night I teach. I also co-chair the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association Amicus Curiae Committee where I work on more state-wide issues,so that keeps me busy as well.
I am very active with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, and I also do a lot CLEs. If I’m not doing that, you can find me with my husband, 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. I do a lot of volunteer work at my children’s school and am a room parent for both of my kids, which I really enjoy.