Service is the Best Way of Life
Wayne O’Bryan grew up in an average home, but being ambitious, he worked his way through college and law school as a waiter. He was the first in his family to become a lawyer and only the second to get a college education. His father was a foreman in a tobacco factory and his mother was a housewife.
Wayne attended law school at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where he was president of the student body. He went on to be president of the law alumni where he pioneered its first fundraising program (which has since mushroomed to a million dollar a year operation).
After graduating, Wayne practiced law for three years with a firm representing insurance companies. After learning their tricks and seeing precisely their attitudes, he decided he didn’t like the way they operated.
Therefore, he decided to go into general practice on his own where he began representing individuals in DUI and other kinds of cases.
The Path to Service
In 1977, Wayne was elected to the House of Delegates where he served four years on the Courts of Justice committee. He saw firsthand how our legislative system works and, more importantly, how it does not. He was able to see the influence of big insurance companies and that the rights of the average person were not being protected.
In 1981, Wayne formed a partnership which handled only personal injury cases. This establishment evolved into the largest personal injury firm in Virginia.
In 2000, Wayne retired from the firm, but quickly discovered that he did not like being retired. He then decided to return to a solo practice to help individuals. He disliked being in a big outfit and now enjoys being away from the hassle of running a large law firm. Wayne is fulfilled in his endeavors by working with individuals and their families.
A hallmark of Wayne’s career has always been client service. He has published an article in a national publication, “Trial”, about keeping clients informed regarding their case. Many lawyers don’t understand the importance of this. Wayne does and he emphasizes it. “After all, it’s the client’s case,” states Wayne.
When Wayne is asked what is the one theme in his life and career, he answers, “It is service. I served and gave of myself and my time — as president of the law school student body, my law alumni group, the legislature and as a lawyer to my clients.”
Wayne knows firsthand how difficult it is to deal with large impersonal bureaucracies. More importantly, he knows how they treat and mistreat people, and how they take advantage of them and their ignorance of the process. When he can step in and help someone stand up to this abuse, it makes him feel good. He declares, “I feel that what I do for clients makes a difference in people’s lives and I like that.”
Fighting For Justice
Wayne has championed the rights of individuals. He triumphs on behalf of victims and their families. “Only by assigning liability where it belongs,” he says, “can we create the level of accountability a thinking society demands.”
Now, Wayne is very satisfied with the way he practices because it allows him to interact with clients more frequently. He will return all phone calls promptly, usually within several hours.
In his work, Wayne’s main concern is for the individual, but he is also working for the good of society as a whole. Most meaningful to Wayne is that he makes a difference – to his client and to society.
Wayne is married to his wife Margaret and they have one son and two grandchildren (to whom they are partial).
“I wanted to help people and I felt like this was probably the best area of the law where I can best help people, because of the way that the legal system is set up. They have to deal with not only their injury, but with adjusters and repairing vehicles, all the types of the things that go on when you’re involved in an accident. I thought this was a good way to help people.
I was raised in Richmond. I moved here when I was ten years old and went to high school here. I was uncertain as to what I wanted to do with my future. I didn’t feel like I wanted to do a lot of the types of jobs that my classmates were getting, I started searching around for something that would fit my personality more and I finally decided to go to law school. It was a good decision for me. I went to VCU and William and Mary. I got there and enjoyed the challenges, made a lot of friends there and became president of the student body when I was a third year student. That was good for me.
I’ve always loved Richmond. I’ve actually practiced law in different areas of the state. I prefer Richmond of all of them. It’s home and I’m glad to be here. I was a member of the General Assembly in Virginia for four years. I was elected in a multi-member district, including the counties all the way from just outside Washington D.C. all the way down towards Williamsburg. It was a huge district. It was about a hundred miles from one end to the other. We had two members from that district and I was elected as one of the members and became a member and represented the area for four years. It was a good experience. I really enjoyed the campaigning as much as anything else, getting out and meeting people. I met thousands and thousands of people during that campaign and it was really … taught me a lot about human nature, about people and their needs.
Then, of course, once I got into the assembly, I was on the Courts of Justice committee, which was an important committee as far as the laws of the state involving automobiles, crime and all the other things that people think of when they think of the law. I’ve served on that committee for four years and learned how laws are made and learned that it’s not always a pretty process and learned really what’s possible and what’s not possible when it comes to legislating.
I think it gives me a perspective on the law that not every lawyer has, because most lawyers have never been a member of a legislative body. They know what the law is, but they don’t necessarily know how the law is made and how laws are the result of a great deal of give and take, what’s possible and what’s not possible legislatively.
We started a personal injury law firm in 1982. It’s called Chandler, Franklin and O’Bryan. We had offices in Charlottesville, Richmond, Hampton and Norfolk. It was a large law firm, had a lot of lawyers, lot of employees. We were probably the largest personal injury law firm in Virginia at that time, from the standpoint of number of offices, number of lawyers.
I retired in the year 2000. I was retired for about four or five months and decided pretty quickly that I really wasn’t suited for retirement, which is really a good thing to realize. I mean, if you can learn that whether or not you’re amenable to retirement or not, it’s an important thing to know.
I decided that what I’m going to, what I intend to do; you never know what’s going to happen, but we used to have an old lawyer down in Hampton who lived to be 103 years old and he died at his desk. I said, “I want to be like that guy,” to practice as long as I’m healthy and able to practice, because I enjoy the practice of law, enjoy working with people, helping people.”
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