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The New-School Citizen-Lawyer

Richard Ottinger is a star litigator who shines outside the courtroom        

Published in 2008 Virginia Super Lawyers magazine

With his piercing blue eyes, square jaw and easy manner, 38-year-old Richard Ottinger has made a name for himself as a star litigator, winning the admiration and respect of his peers and colleagues, as well as the Virginia State Bar’s Young Lawyer of the Year Award in 2003. Working mostly in products liability defense, he’s risen up the ranks at Vandeventer Black in Norfolk and is now co-chairman of the company’s government relations committee—a role that capitalizes on what managing partner Bill Franczek calls Ottinger’s “relaxed confidence.”

But Ottinger has made a name for himself out of court as well.

“In addition to his legal skills, he does more pro bono than most,” says John Lynch, an attorney at Troutman Sanders in Virginia Beach. “He’s one of the most well-rounded people I’ve ever met.”

“The difference with Richard is he’s not just an expert in his field,” says Anita Poston, a senior partner at Vandeventer Black. “He has a breadth of experience within the community, the kind of characteristics we used to see in what you might call the old-school citizen-lawyer.”

Shortly after he graduated from the College of William & Mary School of Law in 1995, Ottinger started teaching the rudiments of the legal system to middle-schoolers. He met students during weekly sessions at the local high school and worked through moot court proceedings. One of his favorite exercises involved prosecuting Goldilocks for breaking and entering and for stealing porridge. “The kids ran through examining and putting on the stand Goldilocks and the three bears, and then we would have a jury and the jury would vote.” He adds, “There was always vigorous debate, but they almost always found Goldilocks guilty.”

The children also worked more realistic cases and occasionally got to represent one side of an argument in a mock trial. They would travel to the law school courtroom at William & Mary and argue against another middle school before an actual judge. “Everyone in the program played a role,” Ottinger states. “Whether it was a witness, a lawyer, or a jury member, everyone got involved.”

After working with the students for five years, Ottinger joined the Disaster Legal Assistance Relief Committee. As co-chair, he helped Hampton Roads residents after Hurricanes Dennis, Fran and Isabel. He would work a table in the disaster relief center and field any legal questions the victims might have, such as what to do if your apartment is uninhabitable and your landlord demands the rent still be paid. Most frequently, though, the questions dealt with insurance.

“We field these calls typically within days of a disaster,” he says, “so oftentimes insurance companies are still hedging their bets and being difficult and being noncommittal about resolving and paying claims.” He recalls helping victims sort through the red tape typical in dealing with large insurance companies and getting their claims resolved. And as he recounts the stories, a smile creeps into his voice.

“It’s awfully easy in a busy practice, a workaday world, to get wrapped up in what’s immediately in front of you,” says Ottinger. “All of the pro bono work I’ve done keeps me grounded in what really is important as a lawyer. It’s about finding justice, but it’s also about helping people.”

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