A Colorful Phenomenon
Buddy Allen tells us where we are
Published in 2010 Virginia Super Lawyers magazine
on June 17, 2010
Updated on November 22, 2011
When Everette G. “Buddy” Allen Jr. of LeClairRyan preps a case for trial, he likes to move away from his aircraft-carrier-sized desk in his 16th-floor office in the Federal Reserve Building to a small marble table stationed by his corner window. From this vantage point, looking over downtown Richmond, he can also plot the course of his life.
To the north, blocked by several skyscrapers, are the dirt playing fields of his youth, a tough place, he says, “Where men were men and girls were, too.” Across the James River lie several properties he’s bought and sold over the years that made him a wealthy man. And just across the street stand high-rise office buildings emblematic of the type of case he’s handled as a litigator over the past 45 years. “That’s the Medical Data Building,” he says. “I represented a group of guys who built that building.” Then he points to the Crowne Plaza and adds with a chuckle that he represented a group of guys who didn’t build that one.
“[My clients] owned the piece of property where the Crowne Plaza is now,” Allen explains. “They were going to develop a Hilton Hotel on it. Back in the ’80s, the city of Richmond was promoting an urban project called Project One, and they torpedoed that hotel and wouldn’t let them build it. So we sued the city. … When we finally settled that case, it was the most remarkable settlement I’ve ever put together.”
The city, in addition to purchasing the land, gave Allen’s clients a multimillion-dollar loan at a low rate, then sold them a piece of property at 9th and Marshall for only $5,000, with the agreement that they would design an office building there and lease it back to the city. The case saw many ups and downs before both parties agreed to terms, and Allen called his clients often, starting each conversation with, “Let me tell you where we are.” Remembering that settlement, Allen removes from his shelf a plaque his clients gave him three decades ago. It reads: The first, and hopefully last, Let Me Tell You Where We Are Award.
“I’m not bashful to go to trial,” Allen says. “People know that and that always helps. Trying a case is fun. It’s exhilarating. But I love to settle a case. However, if you can’t settle it on reasonable terms, then screw you. We’ll try it!”
With his gray hair, gray beard, and ever-present smile, Allen projects the image of a doting grandfather, which he is. Smiling family photos fill his shelves. His speaking style is a mixture of humor and Southern charm, his drawl pure Virginia. And he loves to talk, energetically and with such enthusiasm that it’s impossible to maintain a foul mood in his presence. Even when you disagree with him.
As a kid, Allen had heated debates with friends in which he invariably held the minority viewpoint. He was a solitary Baptist bobbing in a sea of Catholics, a Yankees fan surrounded by Yankees-haters. He was one of the few who thought integration a good thing. He maintained that position amid massive resistance and school closures in Virginia; then in the late 1960s he represented his neighborhood in a desegregation case.
He bristles at youngsters’ short attention spans and abbreviated lingo (OMG!), and tries to instill a love for conversation in his children and grandchildren. Once, in the middle of a conversation with his grandson in the front seat of his SUV, the young boy started playing a hand-held video game. Big mistake.
“I grabbed it and just threw the damn thing up against the inside of the Bronco,” Allen says. “Probably broke it. I guess it wasn’t expensive, because he didn’t bitch too much. And I said, ‘Danny, don’t do that! Let’s talk.’”
And did Danny get the message? “Oh yeah,” Allen says, laughing. “He got it!”
Allen’s courtroom theatrics may be more subdued but he argues with the same passion. “Being a trial lawyer is really nothing more than being able to communicate,” he says. “If it’s with a jury, you better be on the same frequency. You can’t be too glib and you can’t be too fancy. You just have to be on the same page. … The key is to put together testimony so that a jury gets what you’re saying and understands the case and rules for you. Now there are some cases where you have the short end of it. So what are you going to do then? Well, it has to be a different strategy because you don’t want it to be so clear. If it’s clear it might look bad for your client. So then you really want it to seem complex and confusing in the hope that a jury will come back and say, ‘I don’t really understand this and I’m not going to rule for the plaintiff under the circumstances.’”
He injects humor into most discussions—even when the discussions are serious. During a discrimination case in federal court, Allen’s client was feeling jittery. “He passed me a note that said, ‘Do you think I have anything to worry about?’ And I answered it, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘What?’ And I wrote back, ‘My bill.’” The jury ruled in Allen’s favor and his client still keeps that note in his office.
“Buddy is a colorful phenomenon, with equal emphasis on colorful and phenomenon,” says Rocky Mountain Bank’s CEO Coleman Andrews, who has used Allen to represent him in four cases over the past 20 years. “I haven’t had an experience with him that wasn’t marked by high amusement at various points along the way. That’s just his nature, his personality.
“I was in one settlement negotiation with him where the opposing side had made an outrageous demand,” Andrews recalls. “Buddy drew a huge zero around their case on the whiteboard to start them off on the understanding that they had no case, then he just systematically dismantled their demand. He built a case for why, in fact, they were going to have to pay us a very substantial amount of money, which they ultimately did. The discussion got a little heated, and when he was walking back to his chair he turned and went back to the whiteboard. Then he took the big zero and drew a little smiley face in the middle of it, told them to ‘Have a nice day,’ and went and sat down. Twenty minutes later, they came back to us and offered their full terms of surrender.”
Allen’s skill as a litigator is so recognized that he is the man Richmond City Council calls on when it needs a lawyer. Several years ago, Mayor Doug Wilder flexed his legislative muscle by firing two staffs that worked for and reported to the council. “So we sued him and stopped that,” Allen says. “Then he tried to evict the school board from their offices here in Richmond and move them out to the West End. We stopped that, too.”
“The outcomes have been at or above my expectations in every case Buddy handled,” Andrews says, “which is an extraordinary statement to be able to say. … I cannot imagine having done four cases of the complexity and the scope and the circumstances that these represented, and having such an effusively positive experience and commentary about the attorney I was working with. He’s really extraordinary.”
Allen grew up in Richmond’s Highland Park and lived a kind of Huck Finn existence. Whenever he and his friends went to watch one of the local sports teams play, they would hop fences, sneak through windows and watch from a nearby rooftop. “There was a quarry nearby,” Allen recalls. “A gravel pit company would always dig these big holes in the ground that would fill up with water. So we always had a swimming hole to go to.”
Allen’s father had a third-grade education but rose through the ranks at Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO) to earn a management position. “He was a great man,” Allen says. “When he retired, he was a top-level manager of what was at the time VEPCO’s largest fossil fuel plant. Those are the jobs that only go to Ph.D.-types today.”
His father’s Depression-era work ethic rubbed off on Allen, who delivered newspapers from ages 12 to 18. An honors student at John Marshall High, he earned a scholarship to his dream school, Dartmouth, which offered to pay for all but $500 of annual expenses; Allen’s parents couldn’t come up with the shortfall. Then Randolph-Macon College offered him a full scholarship so he went there instead. Though his scholarship was for academics, he played basketball, football and baseball so well he was later inducted into Randolph-Macon’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Majoring in philosophy, Allen planned to go to med school—until his wife, Ann, whom he married his junior year, asked him how many years of school it would require. He calculated the time for medical school, internship and residency. Then she asked about the time for law school. Three years, he answered. He adds: “And that night I started thinking seriously about law school.”
After graduating from UVA Law School in 1965, he received a good offer from a Wall Street firm and briefly flirted with the idea of relocating. But the pull of River City was too much. “New York is an exciting place,” Allen says, “but it wasn’t like Richmond. Richmond is really home. I can’t think of a better place to live.”
Instead he accepted a position at McGuireWoods; then, after three years, and wanting to be more than a trial lawyer, Allen moved on to Hirschler Fleischer. He remained there for 33 years, eventually becoming chairman of the firm. “At Hirschler Fleischer I developed the litigation section,” he says, “which grew to be the largest section in the firm, 25-plus lawyers. But at the same time, I had opportunities to work on business problems, to set up corporations, to set up
partnerships, to do wills and trusts, to manage some estates.”
He parlayed his growing business acumen into personal investments in real estate, buying, selling and developing properties throughout the city. Almost all of them earned substantial dividends. Sometimes the payoffs took decades. One property, bought in 1973, is just now being developed by Allen and his partner as a retail center, anchored by Costco, which will include an apartment complex. “What I have looked for is strategically located property anticipating that I might own for a long time,” Allen says. “But eventually, you will cash out and do fine.”
At the same time Allen remembers how $500 kept him from attending his dream school and did something about it. Nine years ago, he spoke to the board of the Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers about their annual $1,000 award to Richmond’s top high school athletes. “I looked at [Executive Director] Jon Lugbill,” Allen says, “and I said, ‘Jon, that’s just so cheap. … Ann and I will give you $15,000 a year and the two top awards can be $7,500. But what you have to do is give the runners-up $5,000 each and you have to give all the others $1,500 each. How you raise that money, Jon, I don’t give a shit. But I think you can raise it.’”
“He kind of woke everybody up on the board to put some more effort into it,” says Lugbill. “Buddy’s no nonsense. Whatever he’s thinking, he’ll tell you.”
And he was right: An additional $42,000 in scholarship money is now given out annually on top of Allen’s generous gift.
Allen’s shotgun-blast delivery not only takes aim at opponents and charitable boards but clients. “Oftentimes you have to battle your client,” he says. “Many times your client won’t tell you the bad stuff and you have to draw that out of him. [I’ll tell him], ‘Now wait a minute; what you’re saying doesn’t make any goddamn sense. And if it doesn’t make any sense to me, I can tell you it’s not going to make any sense to a judge and jury.’”
Allen is named for his father, whom everybody called Everette. “I’ve been called Buddy maybe not since the day I was born, but within days,” Allen explains. “If I get a call and somebody says, ‘Everette?’ I know it’s a cold call.”
Allen’s firstborn son is also named Everette G. Allen (III), though he goes by E.G., and he, too, became a lawyer with Hirschler Fleischer. After years of father and son working together, they decided to go out and form a three-man law firm with Robert L. Harris Jr. “So we formed a firm with the imaginative name of Allen & Allen, and we practiced for five years,” Allen says. “Those five years I just remember as being pure fun, full of belly laughs. We constantly made fun of each other. … The way we’d check for conflicts with a case was I’d yell down the hall and say, ‘E.G., Bobby, have we ever represented so-and-so? No? Okay, we’ve done the conflict check.’”
When business became overwhelming they shopped around for a large firm to partner with, and, in 2005, merged with LeClairRyan. Though father and son are still with the same company, E.G. is in the firm’s corporate office on Riverfront Plaza while Allen is in the Fed Building. The centerpiece on the conference table in Allen’s office is a gift from his son: a carved wooden statuette of a father teaching his son how to swing a bat. “We talk nearly every day,” he says, “but it’s not the same. I miss him.”
But the wistful moment passes and a smile quickly returns. “I’ve enjoyed the past two years, five years, 10 years,” he says. “And if you’ve really enjoyed it, why would you want it to change?”