L-R: R. Shane Lazenby and Kyle M. Moore. (John Disney/Daily Report)
A renovated house near the shore of Lake Lanier in North Georgia serves as a base for three lawyers who fought real wars before moving on to courtroom battles.
R. Shane Lazenby, Kyle Moore and W. Newton Moore sat at a table in the Lazenby Law Group conference room in Gainesville sharing both kinds of war stories in an interview last week.
They talked about how their perspective as veterans shapes their advocacy for families who have suffered injury and death, and how they view plaintiffs work as another kind of service. They don’t mind war analogies in litigation as long as people understand it’s really not the same as the real kind with guns. And their current mission includes helping other veterans move forward, knowing that many have survived war only to fall victim to depression, substance abuse and suicide back home.
“One of the reasons we get along so well is the military is a different world,” said Lazenby. “It changes your life.” He added that it’s impossible for others to understand the shared language and activities of military life. “Nobody else gets it.”
Lazenby, 43, founder of the firm, is a former Army Ranger and paratrooper. After graduating from Mercer University law school, he returned to active duty, serving as a judge advocate and counsel to his commander in Afghanistan, helping gather intelligence. He earned a Bronze Star for his service during Operation Enduring Freedom. When he returned home to Georgia, he worked for defense firms, first in Atlanta and then in Gainesville, for a decade before switching to the plaintiffs’ side and starting Lazenby Law Group in 2013.
Kyle Moore, 32, is a former Marine who served in Iraq through two deployments. His honors include a Global War on Terrorism medal. He joined Lazenby Law Group in an of counsel capacity soon after the office opened. The date coincided with Moore’s admission to the State Bar of Georgia upon graduating from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.
Newton Moore—whom the other two call “the Newt Show” because of his effusive storytelling—is Kyle’s father and also a former Marine. The father, now 70, served in the Vietnam War. Afterward, he went to law school at Mercer University. He later became Mercer’s first general counsel, where he served for a decade before leaving to pursue plaintiffs work. He recalls the case that pulled him back to private practice—the death of a 6-year-old girl hit by a car when she stepped off her school bus. He said he took on the case for the girl’s family because the defense initially offered nothing to resolve the matter. After a lawsuit was filed, it settled during trial for $2.75 million in 1985, he said.
Here’s another Newt story. Moore represented a 6-foot-5-inch tall, 320-pound motorcycle rider who was hit by a tire that blew off an 18-wheeler in North Carolina, a state Moore calls bad for plaintiffs. The defense made no settlement offers in three years leading up to the trial, to which the client brought his motorcycle gang.
Moore, son of a Baptist minister, said he told them, “We’re not going to go in there and be Hell’s Angels.” He also told them, “I never go to court without praying. You don’t have to believe what I believe because I’m not praying to a denomination. I’m praying to my faith.” Eight days later, they won a $1.3 million verdict. “My 6-foot-5-inch client passed out,” Moore said. Now the client is a minister.
Newt Moore worked for more than 20 years in a law office on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. He figures he has tried more than 100 cases and collected more than $100 million in verdicts and settlements. But he’s moved out of the city to a home on Lake Lanier. And he’s handing cases off to his son, whom he calls “my 401K.” He added, “I can make rain and direct traffic.”
Newt’s rainmaking includes clients who know plaintiffs from other cases he handled decades ago and, in a roundabout way, Newt brought the other two lawyers together.
“I realized my dad had a great referral network. I didn’t really know what to do with it,” Kyle Moore said. “He’d trained me to settle cases that could be settled,” Kyle added, including analyzing facts, finding clear liability and writing demand packages. But it made sense to join forces with an experienced trial lawyer.
Though he was fresh out of law school, Kyle was already litigating a case against one of Lazenby’s former partners at Forrester & Brim, a defense firm in Gainesville. The partner suggested that Moore call Lazenby because of their shared military experiences.
As Lazenby remembers the story, his new plaintiffs’ office had been open for four days when Kyle Moore called. They arranged a breakfast meeting at a Gainesville restaurant. When Lazenby walked in, Kyle was already sitting there with his father and brother.
“Pretty soon the Newt show took over,” Lazenby recalled, with the elder Moore telling stories. He said he was slowing down and preparing to retire, that he’d been planning to send his cases to other lawyers. “Now that you and Kyle are going to be working together, I’m going to send them all to you,” Lazenby recalled Moore saying.
Lazenby admits to being reluctant at first, thinking, “Wait a minute. I just met you guys.”
That hesitation didn’t stop the Marines. “I just started hanging out here,” Kyle said. He began working at the conference table to see how well he and Lazenby got along. They continued working on their own cases. After a while, they started working on some cases together. They’ve settled some for policy limits already, and they’re preparing for trial in some that haven’t settled.
The elder Moore admits to doing reconnaissance work on the pairing. “This one right here,” he said, looking at Lazenby, “I checked him out. He is top drawer. His character and integrity are right what I’d cut out of the book to go with Kyle. Because Kyle is the same way.” He added, “We know how not to step on a mine or two.”
Both the younger lawyers are also fathers. Kyle and his wife, Danielle, have a 2-year-old and are expecting their second child. Lazenby and his wife, Jennifer, have four children.
Moore and Lazenby also share a desire to help other veterans. Kyle serves as a volunteer mentor for defendants in the Fulton County Veterans’ Court. He said he encourages the veterans to call on the same inner strength that helped them finish boot camp to complete the steps of the program and earn a clean record and a fresh start. Both have volunteered to help with a veterans’ court being organized for Hall County.
Kyle believes silence is an enemy, creating isolation. He’s on a mission to encourage veterans to talk about what’s on their minds. He helped plan a September hike for veterans in Atlanta that was part of a national movement to bring awareness to what Moore called a recent epidemic of suicides. Named the “silkies hike” for the shorts military men wear when they run, the event covered 22 kilometers to represent the 22 veteran suicides estimated to occur in the country each day. The cause was especially dear to Kyle, who lost his platoon leader to suicide this year.
The veterans walked through downtown Atlanta, stopping in at designated bars and restaurants on the route to drink toasts to fallen comrades and talking along the way. The idea, Kyle said, was to remind veterans that they are not alone, that their friendships continue and that if they have low points after leaving the high alert of war, that “doesn’t have to be the end of their story.”
Here he borrows an illustration from his dad, who he said always told him there is a reason the windshield is big and the rear-view mirror is small. Kyle said he wants to encourage veterans not to spend too much time looking back, but to focus on what’s ahead.
The younger Moore brings that same optimism to what’s ahead for Lazenby Law Group. “You could call it fighting a war with insurance companies, or helping people one client at a time to find some fairness, liberating them,” Moore said. “No mountain is insurmountable. Shane will just parachute over it. And I will blast right through it.”
Lazenby smiled in agreement. “We’re going to build something here,” he said. “Stick with us.”