When he was in the second grade, Matthew Kirby’s mother was told he needed to either be a lawyer or a preacher.
“I had a loud voice,” admits Kirby, a member with Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh PLLC.
He has managed to strike a balance between the two callings as an attorney for 12 years and a deacon with Germantown Baptist Church. Kirby grew up in Memphis and attended Briarcrest Christian School. As an undergraduate at Union University, he majored in history with a minor in English.
The legal field seemed to be predetermined, not only because of his emerging personality as a 7-year-old, but also because of family tradition. His father, James Kirby, is an attorney, also with Harris Shelton, and he has had family members practicing in Louisiana and in Jackson, Tenn., as well.
With such a legacy behind him, Kirby entered The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, graduating in 2001. While there, he clerked for Harris Shelton, and took the job with them following graduation.
His areas of practice changes with the economy, he said, yet Kirby focuses primarily on civil litigation.
“In 2008 or so, when the economy went down, workers’ compensation claims went through the roof, and that took a large percentage of my practice for a few years,” he said. “I have probably tried the last of the glut of those cases that were filed a little over a year ago.”
Prior to 2008, he worked primarily on medical malpractice defense and premises liability claims. He knew from the start he didn’t want to go into criminal law but wanted to be a litigator.
“The practice in workers’ compensation either sticks or it doesn’t.”
“As far as the specific areas of law, I can’t say that I had any that were picked out, but I knew that I wanted to work on, in particular, workers’ compensation defense,” he said. “As I have experienced with younger attorneys that have worked with me on matters, the practice in workers’ compensation either sticks or it doesn’t; it either clicks or it doesn’t for the younger attorney, and it clicked for me and I enjoy it.”
With workers’ compensation cases, there is a greater likelihood of going to court, an environment in which he thrives and that leaves him with “the satisfaction that comes after trying a case and you know that you have done everything that you can, and you have a client that is satisfied.”
New state legislation, however, is set to alter the way such cases are handled, moving them largely from the courts to a more administrative process. Kirby called it a “complete overhaul” that is sure to keep him and other workers’ compensation attorneys on their toes as it moves forward.
Another growing area keeping him busy is in defending doctors against Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) violations.
“A physician, particularly the small practitioner, can find himself with a pretty high hurdle in complying with the HIPAA regulations,” Kirby said. “It is an enormous piece of legislation.”
HIPAA, in part, mandates industry-wide standards for health care information on electronic billing and other processes, and requires the protection and confidential handling of that protected information.
“In trying to make health care better and more efficient … the federal government mandates that things be stored and dealt with electronically, and once it is in that electronic form then there is always a threat of a breach of confidential information,” he said.
As the means of communicating information from doctor to doctor, or doctor to patient, becomes increasingly digital, the same flaws and weaknesses found in the security of banking, personal data storage or social media become an issue.
“Along with that comes all the safeguards that have to be in place,” Kirby said. “The only way I know to describe it is: It is a beast.”
Kirby and his wife, Shannon, have two children – Abigail, 8, and Henry, 6. When not working, he spends time with his family in the outdoors of Benton County, Ark., where he also enjoys deer hunting by means of archery.
Born and raised in Memphis, Kirby said community is important to him and he works closely with the Ronald McDonald House, Life Choices and Youth Leadership Memphis. As a deacon, he teaches a kindergarten class in Germantown Baptist’s Elevate Program.
“That’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I love hearing what those kindergartners come up with. They’re so creative. You never know what they’re going to say, and they make me laugh just about every week.”