Ask seasoned attorneys around the state who they've heard about in Columbus and they'll likely mention two names: C. Neal Pope and James Butler Jr.
They're both plaintiffs' lawyers with a long list of multimillion-dollar verdicts to their credit. They're both among the most successful lawyersnot only in Columbus, but also in Atlanta, where they both have offices. They've both won major cases all over the country.
Pope's firm is Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood. Butler's is Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer. They've never tried a case together and seem to have no interest in doing so. Pope is charming with a disarming wit. Butler is combative. They don't go to lunch together and exchange views. They probably won't even like being mentioned in this article together.
"Tell him I called him Avis," Pope says mischievously to a reporter who is about to leave the riverfront offices of Pope, McGlamry to head a few blocks north to see Butler. Pope is referring to the television commercials for the rental car company that took pride in being smaller than its main competitor, Hertz: "We're No. 2. We try harder."
Pope's firm is bigger, with 15 lawyers compared with Butler's 13. And Pope has practiced longer. Pope graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1966; Butler graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1977.
Truth be told, it would be wrong to call Butler second to anyone, as his website, www.butlerwooten.com, explains. The long list of verdicts and settlements includes: $454 million in Six Flags Over Georgia v. Time Warner Entertainment Co., in favor of the original investors in the amusement park for a scheme by Time Warner to deliberately suppress the property's value; $161.7 million in cash settlements in U.S.A. v. J.P.Morgan Chase, in which six banks have settled qui tam cases; $153 million in McBride v. Life Insurance Co. of Virginia, a class action settlement over universal life insurance policies; $150 million in Hardy v. General Motors Corp., a product defect case that included $10 million in punitive damages against GM for failing to fix a known fatal hazard in axles and door latches; $105 million in Flax v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., for the family of a baby killed when the front passenger seat in a Dodge Caravan failed and fell backward; $105 million in Mosley v. GM, for the family of a teenager burned alive because of a defective fuel system in a GM pickup truck; plus a long list of others.
Here's what Butler's own biography says about him: "Jim's accomplishments include setting the record for the largest verdict in Georgia history on four separate occasionsin four completely different kinds of civil cases (medical malpractice, trucking, auto products liability, and business torts/breach of fiduciary duty). No other lawyer has done that more than once. Cases in which Jim served as lead counsel have also set verdict records and settlement records in a number of other states. Jim was lead counsel in the Six Flags vs. Time Warner case, which is believed to be the largest collected judgment in American history. Jim has tried over 170 civil cases to verdict, and has won four verdicts over $100 million, plus another ten verdicts over $10 million, plus another 10 verdicts over $1 million, plus innumerable verdicts over $100,000."
Butler is a former newspaper reporter who graduated from the University of Georgia journalism school before he went to law school, and he says he casts a critical eye on everything written for the website.
To Pope's disappointment, this reporter lacked the nerve to deliver the Avis line upon arrival at Butler's office, late because of a long talk with Pope, but instead offered this compliment, also true: "Neal Pope said you're an excellent lawyer."