Humble Beginnings of Gary Massey

Posted On: February 7, 2014 under

Growing up in the small middle Tennessee town of Fayetteville, Gary Massey dreamed of but could scarcely imagine being able to go to a university, let alone receive a full scholarship to the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, rank in the Top 3% of his class and become a member of their Law Review.

Neither of his parents had gone to college and there were no great expectations from anyone in his family—except Massey himself, who began receiving good grades at Freed Hardeman University, a private Christian school, and visualized himself someday arguing cases before a jury.

Several years out of law school, in December 2000, he fulfilled one of his lifelong goals, joining forces with Bill Speek and launching Massey & Speek, PC, a Chattanooga based law firm that focuses its practice on helping the disadvantaged enforce their rights against those who mistreat them.

Priding themselves on helping ordinary people with legal problems, the firm’s attorneys are experts in a number of areas, many of them connected to personal injury: auto accidents, workers’ compensation, nursing home abuse, wrongful death, premises liability, Social Security Disability and bankruptcy cases, and cases related to Asbestos and Mesothelioma.

A few years after Speek’s departure, which prompted the firm’s name change to Massey & Associates, Massey added another lawyer and recently added several more to his staff. Among them is one who specializes in nursing homes and medical malpractice; a former police officer and prosecutor who has rich trial and courtroom experience; and another who is well versed in slip and fall type cases.

Some of these lawyers work outside the main office in an independent contractor situation. Massey and Associates also handles class action and multi-district litigation for such cases as defective medical devices and recalls of items like implants or prosthetics.

“Many personal injury firms think slip and fall cases are too small to worry about,” Massey says. “But I believe the reason more grocery stores have mats and wet floor signs alerting customers to potential dangers is that enough of us have brought lawsuits to the court that highlight these dangerous conditions. A prominent lawsuit and jury verdict can bring things to light and effect positive changes that benefit everyone.”

Because his advertising reaches into Northern Georgia, Massey recently opened a satellite office in Dalton (between Chattanooga and Atlanta), with lawyers who are licensed to practice in that state and add their expertise to Massey’s multitude of cases.

“There have certainly been a handful of missteps along the way as I have built the practice,” says Massey, “but by and large it’s been a very rewarding experience. I am proud that I have been able to put my own stamp on the business and that we are renowned for being here to help people, no matter the size of their case. My philosophy is, ‘if justice is on their side, I want to be on their side too’.”

Because Massey is also minister at a small church in Chattanooga and often sees his work as a calling to help the disadvantaged, it’s appropriate to tell the whole story of his switch to helping the underdog in a spiritual framework that involves giving into, then overcoming, temptation and ultimately choosing good over evil.

While attending law school, he worked for three firms that specialized in insurance defense and large corporate matters. After graduating, Massey’s competitive juices started flowing and he realized that the available jobs paying the most money were at these kinds of firms. He launched his legal career doing personal injury defense, working for the insurance companies as they battled the claims of plaintiffs. His caseload ranged from typical car accidents and workers’ comp to mass litigation (including huge pharmaceutical defense cases) and, as he says, “everything in between, almost all of them defending cases brought by people who had been harmed in some way.”

Massey liked the fact that right out of the gate, he had an opportunity to try cases, learn the ropes and practice law in the trenches. But slowly, the reality dawned on him that he was somehow on the wrong side. He would be cross-examining an injured person in a deposition and feel like he was the bad guy trying to keep money away from those who had legitimate claims.

“One case, in particular, comes to mind,” he says. “It was an essentially small workers’ comp case, where the injured person simply had the misfortune of having an incompetent lawyer.

My firm took advantage of these deficiencies and settled the case for 25 percent of what we would have been willing to pay on it. At that point, I didn’t just see myself doing my job but taking advantage of another human being who had already suffered physical injuries.

“The final straw,” he adds, “came when our firm hosted a party for a bunch of insurance adjuster clients. I was part of one group conversation where the adjusters were laughing about different people they had taken advantages of by settling cases for low amounts. I truly felt I was working for the wrong side, and I made up my mind to get out. Bill Speek and I both worked for that firm and took a leap of faith in starting our own practice. My goal was to do personal injury cases and his was criminal defense.

“We survived on referrals and later began to advertise, but it was definitely a struggle. My wife’s job was supporting us because everything I made was used to pay things like rent and the light bill! It was humbling, for sure, but I knew it was the right decision. My thought was, if we help people who need help and who deserve it, the business would take care of itself. Our success and reputation comes from enacting this philosophy and doing the hard work it takes to get fair shakes for our clients.”

Many of Massey’s early clients came from referrals—people who work in the courthouse, doctors, fellow lawyers, those who work in the press. He views the idea of having a practice in a smaller city like Chattanooga as a double edged sword: “In a larger city, it’s more competitive, but in a smaller city, things are more colloquial. Usually people will only seek out a lawyer who they know personally or someone they know knows personally. Trust is harder to come by. So the challenge has always been to overcome their initial skepticism and build that trust. And to do that, you must be trustworthy.”

Drawing on Scriptural concepts like “defend the orphan and plead the case of the widow” from Isaiah 1, Massey finds it very rewarding to represent the underprivileged. Many of his regionally based clients are on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale and couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer if he did not accept their cases on a contingency basis. He has made them the foundation of his practice because “those are the people who do most of the working and serving in this area, and are thus susceptible to auto or work related injuries. They are also the most likely to be using a poorly manufactured product in the home. Those are the people most likely to suffer the kind of hardship cases we specialize in.”

On the personal side, Massey is happily married and his office has many photographs of his wife and three children, as well as his niece and nephews. His love of family extends to returning every so often to his parents’ farm, and he enjoys hunting and other outdoor sports. The foundation of everything is his faith, which also drives his second vocation; when he’s not working on his cases, he’s working on his latest sermon that he delivers each Sunday to his congregation of 180 at the Mountain Creek Church of Christ. His official title is “pulpit minister.” He says his faith defines who he is better than anything else.

“My ministry in the church ties in perfectly with the work I do as the head partner of Massey & Associates,” he says. “I love helping people and it’s a satisfying feeling when I receive cards and letters thanking me or my associates for making a difference in their lives. I think the most important thing is that we treat every client as a real person and not just a number on a balance sheet. Taking the time to get to know people on a personal level is the only way to make a mark in this business.”