Firm founders Matthew Minner and Brian Vines
In every challenge, there’s an inflection point.
The now or never moment.
Brian Vines knows that moment. He’s a mountain climber, and, despite breaking his back in a fall that should have taken his life, he’s back on the rocks again – always choosing to keep climbing. Matt Minner knows that moment. An all-around competitor and athlete, he’s run the Boston Marathon and has pushed through to the finish line even when the mind thinks it’s impossible. That is his mindset for facing his next challenge, the 29,029-foot vertical ascent of climbing Mt. Everest.
Either of them could have stopped in any of those moments. They could have taken the easier path. But they choose to keep going.
It’s the same in the law.
For these plaintiffs’ attorneys, no challenge is too big – inside the courtroom or out. “If you live that way, you live that way,” Minner says. “We don't back down from hard things. You build character and find out the heights you can reach. That's true whether it's a difficult case or pushing beyond the point when your body tells you to stop. We’re not going to back down. We are going to climb higher, reach further, run faster and bring the challenge to our opponent.”
Resilience is required to make something out of those moments. “We’re all going to be presented with opportunities,” Minner continues. “A window is going to open. That window is going to close one day, too. Be ready.”
The partners applied those lessons of risk and resilience when deciding whether to start a new law firm. As in their sports, they saw that window of opportunity, and they took it: In January 2022, Minner Vines Injury Lawyers was born.
A 21ST CENTURY FIRM
While the Lexington, Ky.-based firm exploded out of the gate – with several multimillion-dollar results to their name in just the first year – the partners’ work together has been years in the making. The partners spent more than a decade as colleagues at Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, one of the oldest and most established plaintiffs’ firms in the country.
Minner and Vines first got a taste for working together while representing the State of Kentucky in litigation against pharmaceutical company Merck. The company’s drug, Vioxx, was a pain reliever known to alleviate suffering from osteoarthritis – but was withdrawn over safety concerns after it allegedly caused hundreds of heart attacks and multiple deaths. Minner was co-lead counsel in Kentucky’s case against the corporation, which resulted in a $25M settlement – at the time the largest consumer protection result in the state’s history. The work expanded from there, and the attorneys also took on cases representing other states including both Alaska and Montana.
They imagined a firm where modern systems could revolutionize the way cases were handled; a firm where every aspect of its attorneys’ talents was optimized to help as many people as possible.
Over the years, the partners have represented victims in a range of personal injury and wrongful death matters, with more than $1B obtained for their clients between their team members. In one memorable case for Minner, he represented the family of a young police officer who was killed on the job. The case yielded a $37.5M jury verdict.
The new firm arose out of a joint passion for finding new ways to help victims like those. Minner and Vines shared a vision for bringing their standard of excellence into the 21st century. They imagined a firm where modern systems could revolutionize the way cases were handled; a firm where every aspect of its attorneys’ talents was optimized to help as many people as possible.
They set out with a vision and a strategic plan that Vines describes as “scaling excellence.” The term calls for delivering high-level service to clients in a way that is systematic, repeatable and team-based – ensuring that attorneys collaborate for the best result possible. Minner, a graduate of Vanderbilt Law, and Vines, a graduate of Virginia Law, surrounded themselves with some of the best legal talent in the region and the results followed.
One of the firm’s younger lawyers, Jonathan Fannin, has witnessed the evolution of the firm’s collaborative technological systems. Since many of the attorneys’ cases are in similar areas, he remembers that some years ago they began by building a PDF that contained links for frequently used resources, letter templates, request forms and other often-used systems. Now, that PDF has evolved into a fully integrated setup and case management system.
Fannin adds that the firm’s staff is instrumental in keeping these systems afloat: “Your systems only work if you have the right people running them. I can’t say enough about our staff,” he says. “We have definitely created a winning environment here where they are invested in our clients and our cases.”
Updating the practice of law technologically and ideologically for the 21st century isn’t just effective in the courtroom – it’s also good business practice, Minner adds. “So many law firms just practice law and don’t handle the business in an entrepreneurial way,” says Minner. “Well, that’s what we do. Every case, to a certain extent, is an entrepreneurial endeavor. We track, measure and analyze everything.”
Before Vines was a lawyer, he was an engineer, and he applies that analytical mindset to running the new firm and optimizing growth. Vines relies on calculated risk in planning the firm’s strategy. He thinks of it like his passion for mountain-climbing, which he doesn’t consider a daredevil activity – just calculated risk. “It’s very systematic,” he says. Vines explains that the firm places an emphasis on varying the kinds of cases they take on – the size, the matter, the risk, the result at stake, using his engineering background to generate balance, efficiency and quality.
The business outlook is, vitally, in service of the clients’ interests. “Our business is successful when our clients are successful,” says Vines. “If I can build a successful business, by definition, we’re helping more people.”
Fannin agrees: “We do have a business, but we’re in the business of helping people,” he says.
“CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR BREAKFAST”
With a compact and skilled team, developing a sense of collaboration between the lawyers has been paramount for the firm. “I love the quote, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast,’” says Minner. He notes that they have been detailed about keeping the culture collegial from before the firm’s first day, down to the smallest details: When it came to picking the space, they chose a location that would give each attorney and team member a window office. “People work better in a great environment and our clients get better results from a great team of committed professionals,” he adds.
That level of respect for associates is not an empty gesture: Associates at Minner Vines do real work. In one pivotal case, Fannin remembers, he took all 20-plus depositions. “There aren’t a whole lot of folks at that age who get opportunities to work on that level of litigation,” he says. After a great result in a particular case, one client wrote, “Jon Fannin is a modern-day warrior!”
Like the senior partners, Fannin also couples his career with passion for a high-stakes sport: Jiu Jitsu. He likens the associate experience at Minner Vines to the challenges of the martial art: “Like in Jiu Jitsu, you have to get a little bit uncomfortable to grow,” he says. “These cases are high stakes. There are people depending on these settlements and verdicts for healthcare and accommodations they need. So, it should be uncomfortable. If it’s not, you’re not taking it seriously.”
That outlook is what Minner says the firm needs in its new talent – the ability to work hard and take a chance not just in the work, but on themselves. The courage to see that open window and take advantage of it. “The lawyers we hire here often come from defense firms where they could have a very secure practice. A lot of them could work just about anywhere they want. But they want to take a risk on themselves. I know they’re going to fit in if they’re hungry,” he says. “Because of that opportunity, because of our results, because of our culture, we have been able to bring in the best of best lawyers in our region.”
'It should be uncomfortable. If it’s not, you’re not taking it seriously.'
WHERE THEY ARE…
Two years into the firm’s life, the attorneys have already yielded results that not only deliver incredible compensation to their clients, but enact change. First, they achieved a substantial result of over $26M dollars in a product liability case against an exceptional defense team led by one of the biggest firms in New York. A $12M result in another product liability case followed. Then, in a hard-fought case, the firm received a multimillion-dollar verdict for a mother and her family – a rare case where the life of an unborn child was successfully advocated for in court. At time of publication, the firm had just finalized another $7M result for a deserving family and co-counseled in a more than $9M result in an environmental flooding case.
In another case, the firm achieved a more than $14M settlement on behalf of parents whose son, student-athlete Grant Brace, died from heatstroke during a wrestling practice at the University of the Cumberlands. In bringing the suit, the family hoped to secure not only compensation, but a promise that preventable heat-related illnesses like the one that took their son’s life wouldn’t take any others. The school implemented the B.R.A.C.E. protocol, which assists in training how to react when these illnesses strike to ensure they can be treated. Those are just a few of the million-dollar results this New Era firm has achieved in only its first two years.
Pharmaceutical litigation and alcohol and hazing-related deaths on college campuses are two hot-button issues for the firm. Minner has spent the last several years representing families of students at Kentucky universities who have lost their children to these deaths, including a 4-year-old boy who was killed at a football game by a fraternity pledge leaving a game day party driving under the influence. In another case involving the loss of a college freshman to alcohol-related hazing activities, in addition to litigating the case, Minner assisted the family in changing the law in Kentucky to making hazing a felony. Minner has appeared in several publications and on “Good Morning America” advocating for changes to prevent hazing-related deaths on college campuses.
… AND WHERE THEY’RE GOING
The attorneys’ focus now, even in the firm’s early stages, is longevity. In the next five or 10 years, Vines says what he wants “is for this firm to be helping even more people than it is today and that it doesn't need me. I'm not saying I don't want to be here, but I want to build an organization that has principles and systems, so when new people come on board, they're going to learn those values instead of being dependent on a personality.”
Fannin is astonished by the firm’s growth: “I thought it would take three or four years for us to get to where we are right now,” he says. “That is a testament to the hard work that everybody puts in and to the partners’ leadership for putting us in bright places for opportunities.”
To Vines, it’s not unlike his love for mountain climbing. Just one mountain is never enough. “Once you climb a mountain, there’s another one behind it,” he says. “There’s always another mountain.”
It’s just about having the courage to make the climb.