Original article available online through Attorney at Law Magazine.
At first blush, Randy Singer’s roles as a distinguished civil litigator, teaching pastor at Trinity Church and prolific author may seem diametrically opposed. “I’ve been a storyteller from a young age. That is probably the common theme of my three chosen professions,” Singer said.
According to Singer, the professions of attorney and pastor have much in common. “In both professions, you are trying to persuade people of something. In one case it’s a jury and in another it’s a congregation. In both professions, there is a big premium on counseling, and you have to be a good listener to be a good counselor. In both, you are helping people at a great point of need. Both require rigorous analytical thinking.”
“Historically, a lot of pastors have had legal training,” Singer said. He cited the example of 19th century theological leader Charles Finney, who was a lawyer before he found his calling as the father of modern revivalism. Part of Finney’s persuasiveness as a Christian leader derived from the fact that “he talked to people like he was speaking to a jury,” Singer explained.
During his undergraduate studies as a pre-law major, Singer clerked for a New York lawyer. “The most important challenges that we face as a society are hashed out in a courtroom. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Singer was accepted at Cornell Law School, but he decided to postpone his law career to spend a few years teaching and coaching. He taught at an international boarding school that included students from all over the world. “It was a great multicultural experience. It also taught me to think on my feet and helped me become more disciplined.”
Singer graduated from the William and Mary Law School and began his legal career at the firm of Willcox & Savage in Norfolk, Va. “I was well-trained at Willcox and Savage. It is one of the most highly regarded firms in this area. I learned to do things with excellence there. I think those formative years are so important. I was blessed in two ways. First, I had really good mentors. Second, it happened at a time when there was a boom in commercial litigation. I got so much experience so early,” Singer said. Among Singer’s notable mentors, he named Palmer Rutherford and Conrad Shumadine. Rutherford was an insurance litigator.
“He got me into court and trained me in the basics. He was always there to lift me up when I was down and cut me down a few notches when I got too cocky. Conrad Shumadine is a nationally respected media lawyer. He is just a really strategic thinker.
I was fortunate to have this combination of mentors; one who emphasized courtroom tactics and another who was a strategic, big picture guy. They both trusted me with a lot of responsibility.”
Eventually, Singer decided to open his own civil litigation practice. “We like to say that we are a small firm with a big firm mentality,” Singer said. Singer describes his practice philosophy as characterized by three primary principles: first, “commitment to excellence. Most of our cases are on contingency. We have the freedom to put in as much time as it takes to get it right.”
For example, when the firm has a large case, they will typically engage in one or more mock trials before the case goes to trial. “The mock trials help us get a jump on the case and stay focused on what will matter at trial.”
“Second, we take a holistic approach to things. We are not just advocates, we are also counselors. I take that role seriously. Our clients become our friends. We develop life-long relationships with many of them.”
“A third thing is our ability to handle the most complex civil cases without being a big firm. To do that, we will sometimes partner with other firms,” Singer explained.
Singer represents that “the best advertising for an author is a word-of-mouth recommendation from an excited reader. The same is true in the law profession.” Singer’s “book” of business comes from other lawyers, former clients and friends and associates in the community at large. “It helps that I am very involved in the community and local law school. I meet a lot of people.”
Singer’s daughter, Rosalyn Singer, joined the firm last year. “It’s great to have her here. Her office is right across the hall from mine. It’s more rewarding to build a firm knowing that one of your kids will be a part of it long term. I’m discovering practice again through the eyes of a new attorney, and that keeps it fresh,” Singer said.
According to Singer, he has adapted his own early perceptions of the practice of law to accept that the law is also a business. “You can’t just be a good lawyer. You have to be a good business person, as well.” He has also seen a general trend away from courtroom litigation practice to one that resolves cases in a number of different ways.
Singer teaches a law school class called The Art of Advocacy. He opines that the principles of advocacy remain the same regardless of the forum. Most cases today are not resolved in a courtroom, but through some form of alternative dispute resolution. “I think that law schools are a little slow to respond to that new reality about how cases get resolved.”
Singer laments that “there is more vitriol than there should be in the practice of law. There is so much needless emotional energy burned bickering over extraneous matters. It doesn’t advance the ball. I want to win. I want my client to win. But I’m not going to take ethical shortcuts. That’s where my spiritual side comes in. I want to practice law in a way that God can honor.”
Among Singer’s notable cases, his firm represented the daughters of Hamilton Somerville in a wrongful death case against their stepmother aft er she had been acquitted of criminal charges in the death of their father. Singer was able to prove that Hamilton Somerville had been poisoned by his wife, leading to a recovery of a family estate worth millions by the daughters. The events that led to the case became a Lifetime movie called “Widow on the Hill.”
Singer also appeared as lead counsel in the case of Farley v. Guns Unlimited on behalf of the family of teacher Karen Farley. Farley was slain at Atlantic Shores Christian School by a 16-year-old student who had purchased a semi-automatic weapon through a straw buyer, his uncle. This was a landmark case in Virginia and the first in the state to receive gavel-to-gavel television coverage.
Singer has authored 13 novels and three works of non-fiction. His cases are sometimes the inspiration for the material he writes. His novel, “The Justice Game,” arose out of the Farley case. In his Author’s Note for the novel, Singer wrote, “Atlantic Shores was the school where my wife taught. The school my kids attended (though they were not there that day). When I learned that Elliot had purchased the gun illegally from a gun store in Isle of Wight County (through a transaction referred to as a “straw purchase transaction”), I ended up representing the family of Karen Farley in an unprecedented lawsuit against that gun store. The verdict shocked everyone.”
The Somerville case inspired his novel entitled “The Last Plea Bargain.” Singer did extensive research about drug testing for the case, which provided interesting material for his book.
The ABA Journal and the University of Alabama Law School recently joined to co-sponsor the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. The prize is awarded to authors of books written in the spirit of Atticus Finch, the lawyer-hero in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Singer was one of the finalists selected for the inaugural prize last year, an honor he shared with John Grisham and Michael Connelly. “I’m kind of a unique creature, wearing the hat of a pastor, an author and a lawyer, and I’ve known many lawyers who felt like they had to check their spirituality at the door. Our profession is not really set up to minister to clients holistically anymore….We almost feel like we have to confine ourselves to a narrow area of someone’s life, but when you go back to Atticus Finch, that wasn’t his mentality at all.”