To W&L students local lawyer a ‘dealmaker’

Lawyer Attracts Attention

 

By Killeen King

With his short grey hair and glasses, small-town lawyer David Natkin should blend in when he walks down the streets of Lexington, but he attracts attention.

“Being a lawyer here, you are something of a local celebrity. You can’t go to Wal-Mart, go in, buy your stuff and walk out. Everyone wants to talk to you,” he said. “If you are sitting down at the bar on Friday afternoon, people are counting how many drinks you’ve had.”

The 54-year-old lawyer, known among Washington and Lee University students as a dealmaker, sits in a plush armchair behind his chaotic desk with his shirtsleeves rolled up, glasses perched on the end of his nose, and a slight smile across his face as he talks about the reputation he’s developed in nearly 30 years of practicing law in west-central Virginia.

“I am very fortunate that I have a nice steady stream of clients,” he said.

Attorney David Natkin (Photo by Killeen King)

In the back corner a coat stand holds six jackets, most of them blue blazers, the key component of the “southern lawyer dress code,” as he calls it.

“The joke is that you will see in any southern courtroom, if there are five lawyers, four of them will be wearing khakis, white shirt, blue blazer and a red tie,” he said, as he took off his glasses and cleaned them on his khaki pants.

Born and raised in Lexington, Natkin said he spent his childhood watching his father, a lawyer, in the courtroom.

“My father, Bernard Natkin, had been practicing law in Lexington since 1950. So I just grew up in this and always assumed that was what I was going to be,” said Natkin. “It seemed a natural fit.”

Natkin left Lexington for four years to study at the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville. He graduated in 1979 with a major in government and foreign affairs and a minor in history.

He returned to Lexington to attend his father’s alma mater, the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

“Professor Joe Ulrich used to say that lawyers’ kids learn this stuff over the kitchen table,” Natkin said. “I did fairly well there.”

Natkin met his wife, Mary, while both were in law school. She is now an assistant dean at W&L’s law school.

“We had back-to-back carrels at W&L Law. She was a first-year when I was a third-year,” he said.

After he graduated in 1983, Natkin said, he started working for his father’s firm in Lexington. During his time there, the business expanded to include 11 lawyers in three offices, with about seven lawyers in Lexington.

After about 10 years, Natkin left and started his own firm.

As a general practice lawyer, Natkin said his cases range from criminal and traffic violations to personal injury and domestic relations matters.

Natkin said his favorite part about his job is that every day is different. He said he thinks small custody cases can be exciting.

“Just the trial work does get your blood flowing,” he said.

Natkin spends a significant portion of his time meeting with clients, many of whom are W&L students, who have been cited by police for Underage Possession of alcohol or charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Most Underage Possession citations occur when a student possesses an alcoholic beverage in public.

Some students “come to Lexington on vacation and leave on probation,” he said.

Mary Natkin played down her husband’s reputation for negotiating favorable resolutions for his clients, saying, “most lawyers are dealmakers. What lawyers do is problem solve.”

Natkin said he spends a lot of time talking to and comforting the parents, more than the students, who are involved in alcohol-related offenses.

“There is a certain amount of what some lawyers unfortunately call hand-holding,” he said.

When Natkin is not working, he enjoys reading about or watching the Washington Nationals play baseball. On his walls hang old war posters, a map of Rockbridge County and a poster of Walt Whitman. A slightly worn, rich-colored oriental rug lies on the floor under his desk.

He also loves books. His office shelves are filled with books about the law and history. He also has several books by William Manchester, the author of “A World Lit Only By Fire.”

“His book collection at home has taken over every room in the house,” said Mary Natkin.

The Natkins also enjoy working in their yard. “He has a garden he likes to putter around in,” his wife said.

The couple travels to Washington to visit their daughter Claire, 25, and son Ben, 24. They also travel to Roanoke, where they have an apartment, to take a break from Lexington.

Natkin’s job is not 9-to-5 and takes a toll, but he says he wants to keep working as long as he can.I hope that in 10 years or so I am not hustling as hard as I am now,” he said.

“Trial lawyers never seem to give it up. We are all action junkies and want to have something to do.”