September 2020 - WPDN

It started in ninth grade. Kristi Fields, a paralegal for Williams, Porter, Day, and Neville, fell in love with the law in ninth grade and she hasn’t looked back since. Growing up, Fields was like most other kids when it came to future careers. She wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. It was a pipe dream, born out of childhood naivety and the desire to appease parents with high expectations. But when Kristi Fields was 15 years old, something funny happened and it shaped her future without her even realizing it. 

 

“I was in ninth grade Social Studies, in Mr. Zaharas’ class,” Fields remembered. “During the semester, we learned about World War II, and the atomic bomb and Iwo Jima and things like that. We learned all about that and then we were assigned a project which required us to basically create a trial over the charges against the United States. The U.S. would be the defendant against the Axis.” 

 

Though history was on her side, it was still an intriguing, exciting challenge for her to defend America and its decisions. 

 

“I was tasked with being the defense attorney for the United States,” she continued. “And at the time, I was like ‘gosh, how do you defend America dropping an atomic bomb?’ I was challenged with that and had to come up with a good strategy to defend it. And though the jury was tainted by, you know, history, it was really fun to try and defend the U.S. It was interesting for me to look at different facts and how they could be perceived by a jury of 12.”

 

It was a fun assignment; one that almost all of us have probably had to do some variation in high school. But for Fields, it was more than just an assignment or a way out of reading a textbook. For her, it was the beginning of the rest of her life. 

 

Following high school, Fields attended Casper College and was a pre-law business major, but she was torn between wanting to be an attorney and wanting to start a family. 

 

Right around the time she was discovering her love for the world of law, she was also discovering a different kind of love. 

 

“I was working at the old Safeway on CY, and I met the man who would be my husband there,” she stated. “We were both working as courtesy clerks at the time and we started talking and found out that we both went to NC [Natrona County High School]. So we had that in common and everything else just kind of came from that.”

 

It’s a classic tale – high school sweethearts meeting at the local grocery store. You can’t write love stories like that, so it makes sense that Fields wouldn’t want to put her relationship on hold to embark on the sometimes-18-hour-days that most attorneys end up working for a period of time. 

 

“I was kind of stuck between starting a family and having a profession, so becoming a paralegal was sort of a happy medium,” she said. “I was taking a paralegal studies course as an elective. It was in family law and that’s where I met Mary Kubichek.” 

 

Kubichek is a professor of law at Casper College and many current attorneys are quick to credit her as a big reason why they are practicing law. She not only taught the basics (and not-so-basics) of law; she instilled a love of law into many of her students. Fields was one of them.

 

“I took one of Mary’s courses and just kind of fell in love with the way she did things,” Fields stated. “I started working as a runner at a collections law firm and worked my way up. Then, Mary told me about an open position at a law firm called Murane & Bostwick, LLC and I was hired there in 2008. I started as a secretary and less than a month later I became a paralegal for Roger Shumate.”

 

Fields became a pre-certified paralegal for Murane & Bostwick and worked primarily in personal injury, car accidents, insurance cases, and more. While working there, she got certified as a paralegal and received advanced certifications in personal injury-automobile accidents and discovery. Typically she would work on the defense side of things, which was great preparation for her next big step- working for WPDN.

Fields started at Williams, Porter, Day, and Neville in 2018 and, in that time, she has worked on a variety of cases, for multiple attorneys. 

 

“Coming to WPDN, I’ve been able to expand my horizons, so to speak,” she said. “WPDN is one of the largest firms in Wyoming and we’re very diversified in what we do and in what we take on. When I started with WPDN, I was working with Jason Neville. He actually left the firm shortly after I started, about 4 months later and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’ But when he left, he took his full-time paralegal with him, which opened up a full-time position here which, fortunately, I got. And now I work with multiple attorneys, like Stuart Day, Ryan Schwartz, Amy Iberlin, Keith Dodson, and more.”

 

The paralegals at WPDN all work with, and for, all of the attorneys. They work hand-in-hand as a team, which is one of the reasons WPDN has become one of the most well-respected law firms in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. 

 

“WPDN is a proud Wyoming firm. We are Wyoming’s firm. I take that to heart, and I try to represent WPDN, and Wyoming, as best I can. Every case is different. Every client is different and all of the challenges that come with a case are different. Some cases are headaches, some aren’t but we’re still learning something. And I think that’s actually really cool. I was telling my children that the other day- we’re all learning, and you don’t have to go to school to learn something.” 

 

You may not need to go to school to learn, but Fields is quick to say that without school or, more specifically, without the teachers she had, she may not have ended up in the field that she is in. The impact teachers have on students at any age cannot be overstated and Fields, herself, is proof of that. 

 

“Good teachers are paramount, to be honest with you,” Fields stated. “These people affect our lives so much by even the littlest things. I can still remember writing notes to my first-grade teacher and there was a bond I shared with my fifth and sixth-grade teacher. Having teachers invest in me shaped me in so many different ways; not only in education but in my social life as well.” 

 

Two teachers, in particular, shaped more than just Kristi Fields’ education and social life; they shaped her entire future. And that’s the point of teachers, isn’t it? To help young people discover their skills and start them on the path that leads to the rest of their lives. That’s what happened with Kristi Fields and WPDN is lucky that one day, all those years ago, a teacher gave her an assignment that would change her life. 

“Count on me.”

       – Lou Holtz, University of Notre Dame Head Coach

“Do great work at a fair price.”

        – Houston Williams, Founding Partner of WPDN

 

The law firm that would one day be known as Williams, Porter, Day and Neville started out as Wehrli  & Associates, a firm started by its namesake, Bill Wehrli, in 1936. Wehrli, a  Casper native, was an excellent trial lawyer, specializing in business law and insurance law. Wehrli & Associates operated under that name from 1936 until 1955. At that time Houston Williams became a partner and from 1955 to 1979 the firm was known as Wehrli and Williams. During that time, George Porter, Dick Day, and Frank Neville joined the firm and this became the foundation upon which WPDN was ultimately built. Part of that foundation, according to Houston

Williams was becoming a firm that delivered excellent legal work, at a fair price.” That was one of the very first mission statements of what would ultimately become WPDN, and it is a mantra that still holds true to this day.

When Bill Wehrli passed away in November of 1979, after a long and successful career, Houston Williams and his fellow partners decided to change the name of the firm to reflect the current leadership, while maintaining the integrity, professionalism, and work ethic that Werhli so firmly established in Casper. Four men, Houston Williams, George Porter, Dick Day, and Frank Neville became partners and WPDN was born.

The roots of WPDN were established more than 70 years ago, but it was in the winter of 1979 that WPDN really began to build its reputation as one of the most respected and admired law firms in Wyoming and beyond. Shortly after WPDN opened (or reopened) its doors, Patrick Murphy joined the firm as an associate and, in the 40 years he has been there, he has become as much of an institution as any of the name partners. The team that was first created back in ’79- Houston Williams, George Porter, Dick Day, Frank Neville, and Pat Murphy- set the precedent for what the firm would look like in the years to come.

WPDN is a full-service law firm, with various areas of expertise. WPDN specializes in oil & gas law, commercial law, construction law & design, employment & labor law, healthcare law, energy/environmental law, insurance & risk management, transportation & logistics, family law, estate planning, wealth security & elder law, and more. Throughout their 70 years of experience, the attorneys at WPDN have been a part of many landmark cases and decisions, including over 200 Wyoming  Supreme Court decisions and numerous 10th Circuit Court decisions. WPDN lawyers have practiced in every courthouse in the state of Wyoming and they have indelibly left their mark in every courtroom as well. Because of their unparalleled expertise and the reputation, they have built one of Wyomings top clientcentered law firms, WPDN has been honored by its inclusion in numerous prestigious organizations, such as the American College of Trial Lawyers, and USLAW.

Frank Neville and Scott Ortiz are the attorneys who represent WPDN in the American College of Trial Lawyers. This is a distinction given only to the very best-of-the-best attorneys; those who have tried and won numerous cases and shown exemplary professionalism in every aspect of being a trial lawyer. Likewise, USLAW is an invite-only networking provider. USLAW appoints one firm from every state to represent their state in this nation-wide network. Members of USLAW interact with each other, consult each other on cases, attend various conferences and symposiums, and network with each other as much as possible. Per their website, “USLAW is comprised of highlyrated law firms that are part of the NETWORK by invitation only. Member firms undergo a rigorous review process to ensure outstanding quality of lawyers throughout the USLAW NETWORK. USLAW firms are experienced in commercial and business law, employment and labor law, litigation, and other business-related areas of law. All firms have substantial trial experience. USLAW member firms provide legal representation to major corporations, insurance companies, and large and small businesses alike.”

WPDN’s inclusion in these organizations and many others are indicative of a commitment to excellence and dedication to their wide array of clients. When Scott Ortiz began working with WPDN in 1991, he brought with him a passion to serve the community both inside and outside of the courtroom. That passion is shared by all who work at WPDN, which has led to its inclusion in a variety of local and national organizations, such as the American Bar Association, the Wyoming State Bar, the International Association of Defense Counsel, the USTA Constitution & Rules Committee, and the Defense Research Institute. The staff of WPDN also gives their time and money to a variety of charitable organizations, including CASA of Natrona County, the Casper Rotary Club, Casper American Legion Baseball, the Mercer House Family Resource Center, and many more. Every associate and paralegal who joins WPDN does so with the passion and desire to better their community both in the jobs they perform and the examples they set.

Though the support staff, WPDN has grown from two to four to seven to, now, more than twentyfive people, it still remains a family type of environment. The staff of WPDN takes care of each other, whether its a paralegal working for multiple attorneys or the attorneys themselves taking on work for their peers. WPDN associates are more than just colleagues, and the people for whom they work are more than just clients. WPDN is a family, and thats exactly what Bill Wehrli envisioned when he started his firm 70 years ago.

“My favorite coach of all time is Coach Lou Holtz from the University of Notre Dame,” said Patrick Murphy, who has been with WPDN since 1979. “He would always tell his teammates to ‘Count on me. Count on me to do the right thing. Count on me to help you. Count on me to do the very best that I can.’ Our entire firm is summed up with that- count on me. I can go to anyone of my partners and I can tell them to count on me’ and they will count on me and they can come to me, even silently, and say, ‘Pat, count on me.’ Thats what we are to one another. And thats what we try to be to our clients. Count on me to do a good job, to be honest, to guide you, and treat you fairly.”

“In short, count on us to do excellent legal work at a fair price.”

For the past 70 years, that is exactly what WPDN has done.

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Recently, WPDN Attorneys Zara S. Mason and Alia T. Scott drafted two new compendiums of law for the state of Wyoming, in light of COVID-19. These two compendiums provide updates on workers’ compensation and force majeure in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, and they were submitted to the USLAW Network, of which WPDN is a member. 

 

Both compendiums provide insight into questions and concerns regarding the effects COVID-19 has had on the workforce. The compendium focusing on Workers’ Compensation includes general provisions, as well as information regarding compensability, benefits, and a list of resources designed to help navigate all of the newest rules and regulations in this tumultuous time. 

 

Likewise, the compendium on Force Majeure also includes information on the requirements to obtain relief, the scope of relief, and other considerations as well. For those unaware, per the compendium, “Force Majeure is a term, common in commercial contracts, which means a “superior force” and speaks to an unexpected event that prevents a Party to the contract from doing or completing something that Party has agreed or planned to do. In a commercial and business context, a force majeure clause generally provides that: in the event a certain named event occurs, which is outside of the Party’s control, that Party’s performance of its obligations under the contract may be suspended, delayed, or terminated, and the Party will not be liable for costs or damages due to the lack of performance of its obligations caused by the events.”

 

While Wyoming does not have a specific statute defining “force majeure,” there is case law, which holds that, in Wyoming, force majeure events (such as the coronavirus pandemic) must be both unforeseeable and beyond the control of the invoking party. 

 

These compendiums provide a litany of information on who qualifies for relief, how to obtain relief, and more. They were composed for Wyoming by Zara S. Mason and Alia T. Scott of Williams, Porter, Day, and Neville. Both Mason and Scott have worked for WPDN as Associate Attorneys since 2018. Mason earned her JD with honors in 2019 from the University of Wyoming College of Law. She also holds a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, as well as a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish from the University of Michigan. Scott earned her Juris Doctorate in 2016 from the University of Wyoming College of Law. She also has a Masters Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, both of which she received from the University of Wyoming. Both Mason and Scott have been tremendous additions to WPDN, and their work on the two compendiums are proof of this. It is their work, and the work of their peers, that have made them an integral component of the USLAW Network, Inc. 

 

“USLAW is an international organization composed of more than 60 independent, full practice firms with roots in civil litigation, including more than 6,000 attorneys across the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and Asia, and with affiliations with TELFA in Europe. USLAW is comprised of highly-rated law firms that are part of the NETWORK by invitation only. Member firms undergo a rigorous review process to insure outstanding quality of lawyers throughout the USLAW NETWORK. USLAW firms are experienced in commercial and business law, employment and labor law, litigation, and other business-related areas of law. All firms have substantial trial experience. USLAW member firms provide legal representation to major corporations, insurance companies, and large and small businesses alike.”

 

Click here to read the full compendiums for Wyoming

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

-Shannon L. Alder

 

At this point in his career, it would be easy for Scott Ortiz to just coast for the next few years. His career speaks for itself and it would be easy to just switch to autopilot, shake the right hands, say the right things, and leave the “real” work to his associates and paralegals.

 

But that’s not his style.

 

When 18-year-old Ortiz found himself in a bit of hot water, he hired Frank Neville to serve as his attorney. It would not be the first, nor last, time a future associate called upon the services of Neville and his law firm. Neville tends to make a strong impression on people, especially on young men with the passion, drive, and intensity needed to become a lawyer. Neville made an impression on Ortiz, which is why, years later, he was the first person Scott called when he moved back to Casper.

 

But before that happened, Ortiz first had to graduate high school, which he did. He then went on to earn his B.A. from the University of Wyoming in 1985, before earning his J.D., with honors, from the University of Wyoming School of Law in 1988. As Ortiz remembers it, however, that almost didn’t happen.

 

“I screwed around a lot during my undergrad and almost didn’t even get into law school,” Ortiz laughed. “I did nothing but tend bar and goof off. Thank God I had a really good LSAT score.”

 

Still, for a time, Ortiz was just like the rest of us- a sharp young man who just needed a little bit of guidance. He needed a mentor, and that’s exactly what he got when he began working at WPDN.

 

After spending just under 3 years working at a law firm in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, Ortiz returned to his hometown of Casper in 1991 and immediately called his old friend, Frank Neville. There was a place at the table for him and Ortiz has been a part of WPDN ever since.

 

For the past 29 years, Scott Ortiz has been an integral part of Williams, Porter, Day, and Neville. He has tried in excess of sixty jury trials and more than one hundred and fifty arbitrations and contested case hearings. Ortiz has a trial practice specializing in professional liability claims, defense of transportation carriers, oil and gas-related litigation, and labor and employment law with large energy-related employers. In short, Ortiz stays busy and he loves, loves, going to trial. In fact, Ortiz said, part of his job is to help maintain and preserve case trials that require a jury system.

 

“I’m on the American Board of Trial Advocates in Wyoming and a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers,” Ortiz beamed. “Both of these organizations stand for the concept that we need to preserve jury trials in civil cases- cases where you’re fighting about money, personal injury, breaches of contracts, and more; just something other than a criminal charge. Jury trials are slowly but surely going away because of mediation and the idea of alternative dispute resolution. Things have gotten so expensive that you have fewer and fewer civil jury trials. Tragically, there’s a whole generation of attorneys coming in behind me that have had very little civil trial experience.”

 

For Ortiz, that’s unacceptable. His favorite aspect of being an attorney is going to trial and he wants to pass on what he has learned to the next generation- which is hard to do when fewer and fewer cases are actually going to trial.

 

“One of the most important things I see myself doing before I retire is trying to get as many of my young partners and associates experience in a courtroom because I tried ten or eleven jury trials in my first two-and-a-half years as an attorney. And only two of those were criminal trials. With the current system, if you file a lawsuit, it might be 18 months or two years later that you get a trial date, and less than 1% of those cases actually go to trial. And that’s a tragedy.”

 

In many cases, it’s easier…and cheaper…to settle. Settling becomes less a matter of fault or responsibility, and more a matter of cost/benefit.

 

“It’s easier,” Ortiz said of settling a case before it goes to trial. “You can cap your risk and the costs. The costs of a two-or-three-week jury trial with experts these days have made it so much easier for clients to say, ‘I’d rather settle.’ The experts we hire charge so much more money than what the actual lawyers charge. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that- that’s just the reality of the world.”

 

More often than not, if a company can spend less money on a settlement than if they were to go to trial, they’ll choose to settle. But, if Ortiz had his way, there would be more trial cases.

 

“I’d like to focus my practice on getting more cases to trial; big, hard-fought cases where you’re trying against good lawyers. It’s scary and it’s risky, but it’s a lot of fun.”

 

Ortiz likes the competition between the attorneys. He also likes the camaraderie. His competitiveness should not be confused with a lack of respect, though, because Scott Ortiz has an enormous amount of respect for his colleagues; especially ones he finds himself up against in a trial.

 

“There are so many people at various other firms, that I truly consider friends,” he said. “Yet we’ll still slug it out against each other in a trial. There are great camaraderie and great respect among Wyoming’s attorneys. Wyoming has great trial lawyers, especially compared to other states.”

 

If it sounds like Ortiz is waxing poetic about the relationships between trial lawyers, it’s because he is. Despite what John Grisham or Dick Wolf present in regard to the external affect of attorneys, most of them get along or, at least, are civil towards each other. Ortiz is a big proponent of civility amongst his colleagues and that is one of the biggest things he hopes to pass on to the next generation of attorneys.

 

“I’m a strong advocate that we need to be more civil to each other,” Ortiz pontificated. “Both of the organizations that I am a part of, as well as some others, preach civility. You can be hard-nosed, you can be a hard competitor, but we need to be honest with our opponents. We need to treat them with civility, as we do the court. If an opposing lawyer calls and they’re jammed up and they need an extension of time, there has to be a really good reason for me not to just immediately agree to that. What you see in public politics right now is not the way most lawyers are talking to each other. That’s not the way they out to be trying cases. Unfortunately, I think a lot of young lawyers coming up think that they need to be fire-breathing dragons, or that they need to be sarcastic or condescending.”

 

“You can be smart and clever and quick-witted and be a great counter-puncher and still never, ever be uncivil to your opponent,” he added. “That is a big thing for me and I’m proud that the other lawyers at WPDN share that philosophy.”

 

That shared philosophy is one of the many reasons why WPDN is such a respected law firm in Wyoming and beyond. Over the last 70 years, WPDN has earned its reputation as one of the most preeminent, client-focused law firms in Wyoming and beyond. Ortiz said, however, that the perception of WPDN could change on a dime if each employee is not committed to growing and getting better, together.

 

“[The reputation we have] is a reputation that you can lose easily,” Ortiz remarked. “We’re all capable, myself included, of losing our temper and saying stupid things. And it’s important to know when it’s time to apologize and when it’s time to say ‘Hey, those comments were out of line and I’m sorry. Let’s find a new path.’”

 

The path that Scott Ortiz has taken hasn’t always been an easy one. Like those who have come before him, Ortiz has had to make mistakes and learn from them in order to grow. These days, he wants to help teach the newer generations that are coming up how to be the best attorneys and the best human beings, that they can be.

 

“I have a super-strong sense of loyalty to WPDN,” Ortiz stated. “Every good lawyer in my firm has gotten offers to leave WPDN and go to another firm for more money. We all got offers. But when I moved back to Casper, Dick Day, Frank Neville, and Barry Williams basically gave me my dream job. WPDN gave me such a great opportunity as a lawyer, so I kind of consider it my mission to do everything I can to give every young lawyer the same opportunity that I was given.”

 

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