New In Town: Deal Hangs His Shingle in Crozet

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1991
David Deal
David Deal

David Deal is in his second career now, law, and seems to have settled on a permanent place to live, too. A few months ago his family moved to Crozet and Deal found an office above The Mudhouse with a fantastic view of Bucks Elbow Mountain where he conducts his practice in criminal law, with an additional specialty in copyright law.

“We talked about moving to Crozet for years,” he said. “Finally one weekend we went driving around here. We pulled into Wickham Pond and that made the decision.”

The family had been living in Orange, which Deal had become acquainted with while interning in the county Commonwealth Attorney’s office during law school. Raised in Northern Virginia, Deal was an architecture major at U.Va. but after graduation found that the portfolio in photography he had developed as a sideline was more interesting to him than the one he had created of building designs. So his first career was as a freelance photographer. He started in the age of film, which placed a premium on knowing what you are doing, and saw it replaced by digital technology, in which the cost of discarding images is nil and images are as plentiful as raindrops. Expertise with light and being able to compose an image are still distinguishing talents, but they became less marketable.

“I did well,” said Deal. “But in one year the industry just evaporated. It coincided with the introduction of cell phone cameras. There was one month between the good times and the bad times. It was that short. I thought, ‘This is not good.’

“My dad and uncle are both attorneys. I had though about it before. I took a couple of classes.” Eventually he went to Villanova Law School, commuting back home to Orange after four weekdays in Pennsylvania.

“At law school I really learned how to read, how to be efficient and how to get the information. Law school is a lot about logic.

“What I like about my profession—this is my experience, the highest percentage of my cases are criminal cases—is not winning, but listening and understanding the client’s position. They want someone to advocate for them even if they lose. And most lose. Most of my clients are people who don’t get a lot of attention. They want to feel they got represented.”

He joined the bar in 2013 and started out in Orange, taking cases in several central Virginia counties.

Deal had encountered copyright issues as a photographer and often had his work infringed, but for the most part he did not fight in instances where his photos had been used without permission or compensation to him.

“I like both criminal and copyright. In a criminal case there has to be a trial,” said Deal. “But in copyright there is rarely a suit. For the most part the infringers will settle. Now, with digital, it’s so easy to infringe. Everybody’s doing it. The bad direction things are moving is that there’s no line about intellectual property.”

His copyright practice mainly represents photographers. He works with companies that can run online searches to find stolen images. “I used to see my stuff all over the place and I never did anything about it until I saw my photograph on a billboard. I thought, ‘That’s it! Number one, I want to go to law school.’

“The photographers love it [that I was a photographer, too]. I wish I had done more about it when I was a photographer. I didn’t have someone I could employ to help me.

“I’ve done very well with my jury trials. I’ve won 90 percent of my cases. It never gets old. Getting a deserved ‘not guilty’ back from a jury feels like winning the lottery. It’s the idea that you are solely responsible for someone’s fate and you won—it’s beyond just a good feeling. And it’s the opposite when you lose. That’s beyond miserable. I’ve never experienced anything similar and it’s wonderful. I prepare really well, and then performing well—it’s completely different from my former profession. I’m a solid introvert and it takes a lot to get over that, but it’s an empowering feeling.”

Deal is very careful about selecting clients. “There’s a lot of lying,” he said. “Once you have a client as a defense lawyer, you can’t walk away. You have to have the permission of the court. You become guarded, skeptical in a good way, in believing what people tell you.

“Even someone who is 100 percent guilty needs a good defense. Our system is a great system because even knowing that someone is 100 percent guilty, the state has the burden of proof. Everyone is entitled to be adequately represented or the system is not fair. We have so many safeguards for the benefit of the defendant. The system does not allow people to get railroaded. The grand jury system is a layer of protection that ensures that the state does not abuse its power.”

Some of his clients are court-appointed and some are what he calls retained work. “Around here you’re expected to do some court-appointed work. Virginia is number 50 for compensation for court-appointed lawyers. But you get lots of experience. This is the way Virginia is educating its attorneys. I like it, too. I like my court-apointed clients. They are more appreciative and realistic. A lot of clients just want to be heard and I don’t think a lot of them even believe what they are saying. I’ve never witnessed anybody being disrespectful of the courtroom.

“There’s growing appreciation for copyright, more than a few years ago. My sense is larger companies are more careful and we’re not seeing it so much. Copyright is a nice counter-balance to defense work. In copyright you’re most often in the right and you can get a fair solution.”

He’s taking on new clients, but his workload has grown so that after supper at home he comes back to office to work late. “I love my office,” he said. “It’s quiet and it has a great view.” He’s never had an assistant, but he’s thinking he might need one. “I need help to keep up,” he said.

“So far Crozet is the best of a lot of worlds,” said Deal, who is an inveterate distance runner in his free time and enjoys running the local back roads. “Crozet seems like it has a very good balance about how it develops and geographically we’re close to everything. It’s a great combination and a great mix of people.”

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