After 45 years practicing law in Kingsport, Wayne Culbertson says he’s fortunate to be part of such a great community.
“Kingsport’s been good to me,” he said. “It’s a good town to practice law in.”
A 1960 Dobyns-Bennett High School graduate and the son of an Eastman electrician, Culbertson graduated from East Tennessee State University in 1964 and from law school at the University of Tennessee in 1967.
“I started out here, right down the street, [practicing] with an older lawyer,” said Culbertson, who also served in the National Guard during his first several years of practice. He went on to the Sullivan County District Attorney’s office, where he spent two years as a prosecutor before he decided that he didn’t like being responsible for putting people behind bars.
“It’s hard to prosecute people and put them in jail,” he said. “I’d rather get them out than get them in.”
Since then he’s worked in private practice, handling civil litigation, criminal defense and some divorce cases – which have always been the hardest because they’re so emotionally wrenching.
“I represent people,” he said. “I represent people, and that’s what I’ve always done. Everybody needs help at times, and I enjoy helping people.”
Culbertson said his 45 years of successful law practice has been all about working hard and doing a good job for his clients. He routinely arrives in the office at 6:30 a.m. and works until 6 p.m., he said – a hobby as well as a vocation that’s been tolerated well by his wife of 43 years, Carolyne.
“It’s a lot of hard work. You’ve got to be here every day and do what you say you’re going to do, return your phone calls, be courteous and nice to people, and try to do a good job,” he said. “If you do that, you don’t have to worry about [advertising to attract] clients. And you don’t have to worry about the money; it’ll be there if you do that.”
Over the decades, he’s seen a lot of changes; he said the biggest has been the proliferation of the Internet and the added responsibility that comes with instantaneous communication, for everything from e-mail to e-filed court documents. He remembers the days when documents were prepared with a typewriter and carbon paper – and the primary tool on his desk was a telephone.
“I’ve got more pressure,” he said. “You can talk to somebody out of town, and you could get an e-mail confirming it right back as soon as you hang the phone up. It used to be that couldn’t happen; it would at least have to come by mail.”
At the same time, he said, cultural changes have affected the criminal cases he handles.
“It used to be your crimes were alcohol-related, most of them, back years ago,” he said. “Now, 99 percent of them are drug-related. It’s unbelievable; marijuana came on the scene, and then you had cocaine and other drugs, and now it’s prescription drugs that are being abused.”
He says he’s never gotten tired of helping people – the reason he chose the law profession all those years ago.
“I’m still at it,” he said. “I’m still practicing, trying to learn how.”
With an office across the street from Sullivan County General Sessions, Circuit and Chancery courts, he has no plans to retire.
With many of the changes in society, he said, both a legal and cultural change has allowed billboard and other advertising for professionals – a trend that offends the old-school sensibilities of a man who values quality over quantity when it comes to legal work.