I wish I had a more romantic answer, but the reason I became a lawyer is that I like to think and write. Over my career, I’ve focused on appellate and consumer-protection law because they let me do both, in a context where I can help people.
“HE WHO KNOWS ONLY HIS SIDE OF THE CASE KNOWS LITTLE OF THAT.”
JOHN STUART MILL
FINDING A CERTAIN KIND OF LAW, WELL, APPEALING
Appeals work a little differently. Trial work—the stuff you see on TV–is fact-driven. Much of it boils down to proving who did what to whom and when. Appeals aren’t like that. They focus on the law. By the time you get to the appeal, the facts are pretty much set. They’re laid out in the trial transcript and exhibits, and that’s that. Appellate courts don’t particularly care what the facts are;they’re interested in what those facts mean. They correct errors in the trial judge’s application of the law and explain the law for future cases. If trial litigation is storytelling, appellate litigation is like competitive philosophy.
Consumer-protection law resonates with me in a different way. I live in the real world. I see people—sophisticated people—being taken advantage. I see them getting ripped off by banks and credit-card companies. I see them surprised by inflated hospital bills, and bilked by shady contractors. I want my clients to avoid those surprises and to be treated fairly. And since consumer-protection laws often have fee-shifting provisions–meaning the other guy pays—they let you do sophisticated legal at a rate normal people can afford.
That fee thing is a big deal. I have all the respect in the world for elite law firms. I was lucky enough to start my career at one. They do great legal work. But the simple fact is that well over 99% of the population cannot afford their services. That’s a huge problem. If you don’t have a lawyer or a law degree, then you probably don’t know your rights—your rights under a contract, your rights if someone causes you a personal injury, or your rights vis-à-vis the government If you don’t know your rights, then you can’t fully and effectively exercise them. If you can’t fully exercise your rights, then you are not operating as a full citizen. Worse, you are operating at a disadvantage relative to any business that does know, and can exercise, its rights.
When we started JRO, one of our goals was to take the quality of elite law firms and make it available to everyone, to even out this gap.
I have briefed or argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court of Virginia, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and the Court of Appeals of Virginia. I publish an appellate blog, De Novo, that is available at www.virginiaappellatelaw.com. I also post some short articles about consumer law and appeals on this site.
- Jay O’Keeffe, You Could Have Told Me That in the First Place: Five Tips that Might Have Saved a Young Lawyer a Lot of Trouble, 52 U. Rich. L. Rev. Online 53 (2017).
- Jay O’Keeffe, Seven Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Brief, 26 J. Va. Trial Law. Ass’n 17 (2017)
- Lewis v. City of Alexandria, 756 S.E.2d 465 (Va. 2014)
- Hill v. Crum, 727 F.3d 312 (4th Cir. 2013)
- S.L.M. v Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc., 514 Fed. Appx. (4th Cir. 2013)
- Van Buren v. Grubb, 733 S.E.2d 919 (Va. 2012)
- Jarmak v. Ramos, 497 Fed. Appx. 289 (4th Cir. 2012)
- Van Buren v. Grubb, 471 Fed. Appx. 228 (4th Cir. 2012)
- Bonham v. Weinruab, 413 Fed. Appx. 615 (4th Cir. 2011)
- Rascher v. Friend, 689 S.E.2d 661 (Va. 2010)
- Dunn Construction Co., Inc. v. Cloney, 682 S.E.2d 943 (Va. 2009)
- Kennedy v. Joy Technologies, Inc., 269 Fed. Appx. 302 (4th Cir. 2008)
- Evans v. NACCO Materials Handling Group, Inc., 810 S.E.2d 462 (Va. 2018)
- Sky Cable LLC v. Coley, 886 F.3d 373 (4th Cir. 2018)
- Martindale AV Rated
- Avvo 10/10 rating
- Virginia Legal Elite 2016 – 2019
- Virginia Super Lawyers 2016 – 2019
- Virginia Super Lawyers Rising Stars 2008 – 2015
- Benchmark Appellate Local Litigation Star 2013
- Adjunct Professor, University of Virginia School of Law
- Virginia Bar Association, member of the Boyd-Graves Conference and the Appellate Practice Section
- Virginia Trial Lawyers Association
- National Association of Consumer Advocates
- Roanoke Bar Association
- Board Member, Saint Francis Service Dogs Association
- Downshift Men’s Cycling Team