Beth Buffington has been an associate at Evans Petree PC law firm for about four months.
Her goal in a legal career that begin in 2004 is to see and learn more about other practice areas while her focus on family law, civil and commercial litigation and railroad law continues.
“I really wanted to branch out and learn other things. I didn’t want to be stuck in just one area of law,” she said. “Rule No. 1 in this economy is that if that area of law goes away, so does my job. I wanted to go to a bigger firm. Here I’ve got the opportunity with so many practice groups.”
Buffington began her pursuit of the law with a goal of going to medical school.
She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Mississippi in 2001.
“It was basically just a biology degree with extra math and a few more sciences,” Buffington said. “You could get a B.A. in biology or a B.S. in biomedical engineering, which meant you had to take some extra physics courses and some extra math courses.”
But instead of graduate studies at medical school, which was the plan, Buffington went to the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
“After four years of dealing with formaldehyde in labs, I was just kind of sick of it. I was going through the interview process for medical school – took the MCAT and everything,” she said. “And then I just decided I don’t know that I want to spend the next 12 to 15 years of my life in school. So, I had always been interested in law and I just thought, ‘I’ll go to law school.’ Didn’t really know what I wanted to do in the legal field. I just kind of went.”
Buffington earned her law degree in 2004. She has been at Evans Petree since the end of May where a family law practice she has focused on for the last two years continues as one of several areas she practices in.
“It’s definitely gotten a lot more contentious,” she said of the family law cases. “Attorneys I think had more of a professional courtesy and were able to work together a little bit better than they are now, it seems like. I don’t really know the reason for that. But it seems to take a long time to get results.”
“I didn’t want to be stuck in just one area of law. Rule No. 1 in this economy is that if that area of law goes away, so does my job. I wanted to go to a bigger firm.”
She isn’t the only attorney in the Memphis legal community to make the observation. Continuing Legal Education events and some Memphis Bar Association initiatives in recent years have focused on increasing the level of civility as attorneys work as zealous advocates for their clients.
“It really just depends on who you are dealing with,” Buffington said. “There are some attorneys that you don’t ever have a cross word with. Everything is completely professional. You grant each other professional courtesies. And then there are others who I don’t know if it is in their nature or they get that emotionally tied up in their case that everything is a little hostile.”
Her civil casework has also involved lots of insurance defense, medical malpractice defense and some product liability defense.
The medical malpractice defense has called on some of her knowledge from Ole Miss.
“That’s really why I got into the medical defense in the first place was the medical aspect,” Buffington said. “Anytime you try a case you’ve got to know the medicine just like the doctors do.”
The defense work has also been changed in recent years by tort liability laws recently enacted in Tennessee that she said has led to some slowing in the filing of claims by plaintiffs.
And much of her work on railroad law has been in state court, although the law involved often crosses state lines and deals with a set of laws written expressly for the railroad industry.
“They have a whole set of law just for railroads,” Buffington said. “Usually we were in state court all the time instead of federal court, which kind of presented a burden because most of the judges didn’t really deal with that. They are learning. … We had them in both, but we’ve had more in state court than federal court.”