Matthew Minner on Creating a "Best of the Best" Firm

If you attended a midday screening of “Top Gun: Maverick” in a downtown Lexington movie theater last year, through the thick aroma of popcorn and throngs of action fans, you may have noticed an odd sight: an entire law firm seated together, eager to watch Tom Cruise’s next mission.

That firm is Minner Vines Injury Lawyers, a plaintiffs’ personal injury firm that exploded onto the scene in January 2022. Helmed by celebrated attorneys Matthew Minner and Brian Vines, the firm’s attorneys have won substantial victories in areas including complex products liability, tragic hazing-related deaths, car and truck accidents, nursing home abuse and more. Recently, on the heels of the firm achieving a multimillion-dollar verdict on behalf of a client whose unborn child was killed in a car crash, the firm received a $7M settlement in a separate complex and difficult single vehicle collision case.   

Minner was the instigator of the “Top Gun” viewing. In a meeting analyzing how winning teams interact, he read a quote from the original “Top Gun” movie. In an initial gathering of the Top Gun candidates, the question is raised: “Who’s going to be the best of the best?”

“I genuinely believe our team is the best of the best,” says Minner. “So, we ended that meeting, put down our laptops and I took the entire office down the road to see ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ in the middle of the day.” 

That emphasis on team bonding and culture was at the forefront of Minner’s vision for a new firm. Prior to 2022, he spent 22 years with historic Kentucky firm Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton. Over the years, he has taken on opponents including Big Pharma, with significant results including a $25M settlement in a national case regarding pharmaceutical company Merck’s marketing of its drug Vioxx. His opposition over the years reads like a who’s who of national defendants, including battles against the likes of Ford, Penske, Firestone, Cooper Tire, CBS, Microsoft, John Deere, Teledyne, Volkswagen, 3M and Merck. In a recent matter, Minner appeared on “Good Morning America” to discuss his work representing victims of alcohol and hazing-related deaths on college campuses.

At this point in his career, Minner’s work extends well beyond victories in the courtroom. After resolving that hazing case, he assisted his clients in having the law in Kentucky changed to making hazing a felony. “Our work is intended to produce lasting and meaningful results,” Minner says.

As managing partner of the firm, Minner also spearheads Minner Vines’ charitable endeavors. He and his wife co-founded CureKYKids, a non-profit organization devoted to fundraising for research on childhood cancer and support systems for child patients.

Lawdragon: What inspired you in this new phase of your career – starting your own firm?

Matthew Minner: This is something we've been working on for a while, and it was time. We had a vision of what the future of a law practice would look like. We wanted to head in a different direction, and it's been a blessing. The practice of law has changed in so many ways, and what people expect is different than it once was.

Having said that, my previous firm had partners who were dynamic and successful and that will always be a huge part of who I am as a lawyer. Iron sharpens iron. Everybody there made each other better and it was a wonderful place for me for 20-plus years.

LD: What did you consider in building this firm that’s different from how things would have been in the past?

Matt Minner with Gov. Beshear as he signs Lofton's Law, which made hazing a felony in Kentucky.
Photo by Tracey Hazelwood.

MM: I love the quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is huge for us here. That's one of the cornerstones of what I've tried to develop: a winning culture, an uplifting culture – a culture that's all for one and one for all. That's from the senior partners down to our law clerks, and we are very detailed about that. That kind of culture is something you have to work hard to create and keep, and we've been able to do so.

When I say I'm detailed about it, if you walk through our office, every single person has a window office. It makes for a happier, healthier work environment for everybody. It's those kinds of details that are important to me. I want people to be happy in serving the clients that we're privileged to be able to serve.

We had this unique opportunity to create a new firm person by person, lawyer by lawyer and paralegal by paralegal. The high level of practice combined with our culture has allowed us to bring on some of the best team members and lawyers in our area. Top lawyers that have been very successful at other firms have joined us and I expect that to continue. Of course, our clients are the real beneficiary. One of the things we preach in our mission is getting the top results for our clients. Every person on our teams is committed to doing that.

Recently, one of our younger lawyers led a case that I was involved in, and they got a fantastic result for a seriously injured gentleman who had fallen into an open elevator shaft. The client and his wife came in and put on a luncheon party for the entire office to show their appreciation for the work that was done. How special is that? We all loaded into the conference room and broke bread together. We shared stories and they got to tell everyone what their plans were now and how this result has changed their lives. And it’s because everybody is involved and we interact with our clients, from top to bottom. They become family. Everybody is a part of the success that we are fortunate enough to have here, and I want everybody to feel that because they really are. We are truly blessed to have what we have created here.  

The high level of practice combined with our culture has allowed us to bring on some of the best team members and lawyers in our area.

LD: Tell me a bit about working with Brian Vines.

MM: Well, I've got to brag on him a bit.

Brian Vines is very bright. He’s an engineer by background, and he worked at Chevron for several years before coming to the practice of law. He adds great systems and perspective in our complex cases. He has a great legal mind in our single-event cases. Years ago the Federal Appeals Court judge that Brian used to clerk for told me that Brian was the type of lawyer that could be considered for a United States Supreme Court clerkship. That’s the high-performance type of person and lawyer he is.   

The combination of skills created in our partnership has been really good. Every one of us, although we have different backgrounds, have this in common: We attack hard things.

I've done the Boston Marathon and numerous other athletic competitions. I’m currently training to ascend 29,029 feet in an “Eversting” (aka Mt. Everest) challenge next summer. Brian Vines is an avid rock climber. He fell years ago, maybe a hundred feet, snapped his spine and broke his back. That fall would have stopped most climbers; not Brian. He went through a lot of recovery, bounced back and he’s training right now to climb the Teton mountains. Another partner is mastering the martial art of jiu-jitsu.    

But that's what I mean that no challenge is too big. Challenges are what bring us together, in the courtroom or outside of it. We live that way, and we work the way we live. Hard things make you get better. You build character. You find out how far you can go and the heights you can reach. That is the cornerstone of our firm.

LD: So, you all had similar personalities and recognized a similar approach to life and practice in each other.

MM: Yes. I knew that they would dive headfirst into the culture that I was talking about earlier, and that was really important to me because if you don't have a great team – and we do, top to bottom – the practice is a lot harder. It's not nearly as much fun and you can't have nearly as much success.

LD: How did you come to the decision to start your own firm?

MM: It was never my vision as a young lawyer to start my own firm. Some people may set out with that as their goal. I just enjoyed the practice. I enjoy helping my clients and the timing was right. There are some star law firms around for sure, and I probably could have had a lot of fun practicing there, but being able to cast my own vision and create a future for those that are at the firm with me was too much to pass up.

LD: And now you are the guy in the chair, managing everything from payroll to trials, which is an overwhelming amount of responsibility. But for the goal of creating a type of law practice that you and your partners believe in it must be worth it.

MM: Absolutely it's worth it. The business of law has changed dramatically in that so many law firms just practice law and maybe don't handle the business in an entrepreneurial way. Well, that's what we do. Every case, to a certain extent, is an entrepreneurial endeavor. You need to make wise business decisions. We track every data point and analyze everything within our firm to be sure that everyone is operating at the highest and most efficient level for our clients. We have integral team members in multiple parts of the country and work with top-notch consultants in multiple areas. We operate like a high-powered machine.      

I have wonderful help with all the things we have discussed, and without that we wouldn't be able to achieve what we've been able to achieve, but we've had tremendous success. In less than two years since our launch, the firm has had significant eight-figure results of $26M, $14M and $12M, over 10 settlements in excess of a million dollars and a record verdict exceeding $3M.  

We are involved both locally and on the national scene. We have the ability and the experience and the expertise to handle both types of cases. Our local cases help our young lawyers really hone their skills; the supervision of really seasoned and experienced older warriors working there with them in the national cases is what really drives me today.

We operate like a high-powered machine.

LD: Are there any types of cases you’re seeing most frequently now?

MM: I've taken a particular interest over the years in the cases that can make the most significant impact on the largest number of people. You can trace that back to my products liability days when I was handling tread separation cases, when tire treads were separating and many people were dying across the country as a result. I spent a decade handling those cases nationally in the early 2000s.

We've done a lot of consumer protection and pharmaceutical litigation, usually on behalf of states, and those cases impact the largest number of people. I've also taken a real interest in fraternity and college campus alcohol and hazing-related death cases. Those can really impact a large number of people at college campuses. It’s a dangerous and interesting age as young men and women leave their homes at 18. There are a lot of good influences, but also some bad ones, and there are tragedies happening all over our country right now.

LD: And they're completely preventable, right?

MM: Yes. They should absolutely be prevented. We know so much more than we once did and we can do so much more to prevent these tragedies, and that's something that we're working hard on right now.

We are also currently involved in a national litigation that happens to be centered in Eastern Kentucky, where we're representing hundreds of coal miners regarding defective products that have led to devastating lung injuries.

So, we'll see what's next. We have our eye on a few other things in the next chapter, but those are the types of matters that are impacting a lot of people now.

LD: Tell me a bit more about that pharmaceutical work. Having that background and connections you have is huge in creating the amazing success you've had right out of the gate with this firm.

MM: We've been working on that for some time. It's like how around here, you can look at a country music artist and say, “Man, they came on the scene really fast,” and you don't realize they've actually been playing little honky-tonks for the last 12 years, trying to get anybody to listen to them that would. There's no such thing as an overnight success. It's been a lot of hard work and it's certainly been a team effort. The success that we see today is the result of work that started decades ago. We just feel blessed to have the team we have and the ability to help so many people. We have created a great platform for our young lawyers, and I can’t wait to see the fruits of what the next generation in our firm does. 

LD: Absolutely. And what an opportunity to start your own practice with that vision.

MM: I've always believed that we're going to be presented with opportunities. When the opportunity is there, go for it. Do hard things. The greatest rewards come from doing hard things and taking those chances.

You have to have confidence in yourself. You have to be willing to take that risk on yourself. A lot of the lawyers we hire here oftentimes come from defense firms where they would have had a very secure practice. A lot of them could work just about anywhere they want. They are bright. They have a great pedigree. But they want to take a risk on themselves. They're willing to do that. I know they're going to fit in if they're hungry and if they have that genuine desire and ability to take a risk.