History. It’s been said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Sometimes, however, repeating history can be a good thing. Recipes being passed down from generation to generation, a pocket watch given to a son by the father of a father of a father, tales of family hardships being told around dinner tables- these are examples of history being beautiful. For Steve Emery, an attorney with Williams, Porter, Day, and Neville, history occupies as much of his life as the law does. Maybe even more so. That’s because Emery’s own history is inextricably linked to that of the law firm in which he works. His family’s blood, sweat, and tears have quite literally paved the way of his own career path and, Emery said, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My father’s father moved to Casper in 1920,” Emery reminisced. “He was an executive with the Ohio Oil Company, and they built this building [that WPDN now occupies]. There is a picture of my grandfather in the basement of this building. My mother’s mother and stepdad built a house on 13th Street, between Center and Wolcott and, while it was being built, they pitched a tent where Casper College is now and spent the summer there. So, my family has been here over a hundred years.”
History is not only seeped into the ground upon which he walks- it’s a part of his very livelihood as well.
Emery’s father was a lawyer, himself, and there were many nights that young Steve would watch his dad work around the clock, trying to save the world or, at least, his little part of it. Not only was Steve’s father a lawyer; he was actually the city attorney for Casper throughout the ‘60s. When Steve was just 13 years old, his father passed away, leaving a huge dent in Wyoming law.
In the movies, 13-year-old Steve would immediately trade in his T-shirt and shorts for a tie and jacket and get to work studying law books that were taller than he was. But that’s not quite how this story goes.
“Becoming a lawyer was Plan B,” laughed Emery. “Plan A was to be a pilot. I got selected to go to Pensacola, FL to attend the Aviation Officer Candidate School right after I graduated from college. I wasn’t selected to be a pilot; I was to be a Naval Flight Officer; that’s the backseat guy, like Goose from Top Gun. I wanted to be Goose. I went down to Pensacola in March of 1982 and completed three days of physical fitness exams and came to find out that I couldn’t correct to 20/20 [eye exam]. So, they gave me a medical discharge and I came back to Wyoming and thought to myself, ‘What am I going to do now?’”
It didn’t take long before Emery decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, after all. In terms of Plan B’s, this seemed like a very good one. But Emery didn’t want to just go to law school, pass the bar and settle in as a lawyer. He wanted to see the world, and that’s exactly what he did. After receiving his law degree from the University of Wyoming in 1985, he took the bar exam, passed, and then returned to his Navy roots, this time with a legal twist.
“While I was in law school, I joined the Navy to become a JAG officer. During the summer after my second year, I spent half of it at the Newport Rhode Island officer candidate school. When I graduated, I went back to Newport and went to Naval Justice School.”
After graduating from the Naval Justice School, Emery was shipped off to San Francisco, where he spent a little over two years. After that, he was sent to an air force base in the Azores, Portugal to work as an international law attorney. After two years of working at international law, Emery moved to Washington DC and worked for former Wyoming Senator Malcolm Wallop. He spent a year working with Wallop and then realized that he was ready to come back to his hometown to work for a thriving law firm called WPDN. Emery said that even though WPDN was an excellent firm with excellent attorneys, that was not the biggest reason he joined the firm. The biggest reason was because his best friend from childhood was also working there as an attorney, and he thought it would be fun to work with him.
They had history.
“My best friend was a lawyer here at WPDN,” Emery said with a smirk. “I grew up with Stuart Day; we’ve known each other since eighth grade. I’ve known Pat Murphy [another WPDN attorney] since sixth grade. And, Houston Williams was a contemporary of my father’s, so I knew him since I was a kid as well. That’s what drew me to WPDN. Plus, it’s the best law firm in Wyoming. But that was secondary. The family aspect was the primary draw.”
Emery has gone on to try many cases with his friends and, in the meantime, has grown his own reputation as one of Wyoming’s top lawyers. He and fellow attorney Kyle Ridgeway even won a case for a client that centered on only a handshake agreement. He’s good at what he does, which is important because he’s been doing it for more than 30 years.
“Being an attorney definitely has tangible rewards,” Emery said. “I enjoy helping folks with their legal problems. It’s an intellectual undertaking, which lets me use my brain to help others. And, it’s something new every day. I got sworn into the bar in September of 1985 and ever since then, no day has been the same. The rules are the same; the rules of civil procedure and the rules of evidence stay the same. But the people change. The circumstances change. And technology changes.”
Emery remembered a story in which his father took him to his office late one night to show him a piece of technology that would forever change the business of law- a copy machine.
“I remember we went down into the basement and my dad turned it on and it glowed like Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz. It shook and it smelled and, about five minutes later, out came this wet, black piece of paper and it was the first xerox machine. My father was so proud of that.”
Technology may have changed. iPads may have replaced copy machines and law books, but the business of law is still the same, and Emery’s desire to help people will never change. Nor will his pride and appreciation of WPDN.
“Why have I been here for the last 30 years?” he asked. “It’s because of the people. Obviously, the job is rewarding, and the offices are nice, and the technology is great, but the folks that work here are the greatest attraction. They’re family. Most law firms, even in Wyoming, seem to break up after a while. But for whatever reason, WPDN has stayed together. And that’s because, like Dick Day used to say, ‘we’re family.’”
That family extends past the walls of the WPDN offices as well. All of the attorneys at WPDN are, for the most part, homegrown. And they all contribute and give back to the community in a variety of ways. Emery, himself, is the Treasurer of the Casper/Natrona County International Airport Board of Directors (because his love of flying has never truly gone away, as evidenced by the various medals, models, and awards that adorn his office). He is also a member of the USTA Constitution and Rules Committee, as well as the President of the Wyoming Tennis Association. Emery and his fellow attorneys are prominent members of the community, and that is something that’s important to them. After 100 years, Emery appreciates how ingrained his family has been in Casper and it’s something he hopes to honor for as long as he is able.
“We are Wyoming lawyers,” Emery stated matter-of-factly. “Almost every attorney in this office is from Casper. Most of us went to NC [Natrona County High School] and all of us went to Laramie for law school. We’re very homegrown. We’re your friends and your neighbors, and your attorneys.”
The attorneys at WPDN want to make their community better. They want to give a voice to their clients, and they want to make decisions to make lives better for the people of Wyoming and beyond. In fact, one might say, they want to make history.