Ashwell & Ashwell Comes to Town — And the Town Knows the Ashwells Well
Photos by Luke Christopher
The law is all about winning cases, right?
People sometimes ask Warrenton lawyer Will Ashwell, “What’s your win percentage in court?” His response? “That’s not really how I think about success. I attack a problem and figure out what the client’s looking for and I do the absolute best job I can. I think looking back when I really felt like I’ve done that, that’s probably the best part for me. That said, clients choose Ashwell & Ashwell because of our track record — from traffic cases and juvenile court to complex real estate issues and capital murder. By focusing 100% of our expertise on clients we can deliver better outcomes … and a better experience”
Will Ashwell is one of those people who knows everyone in town, and everyone knows him. And if they don’t know him, they know or have heard of his dad, Judge J. Gregory Ashwell, who served as a prosecutor and on the bench in Fauquier County for 14 years.
Ashwell is a native of Warrenton, and a graduate of Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg. He attended Hampden-Sydney College and then spent a year coaching lacrosse in Manchester, England. About a year in, he realized that although coaching lacrosse was a blast, it wasn’t a solid career choice. “Being a lawyer was always something I batted around in my mind,” he said. “Obviously, I was around the legal profession my whole life with my dad as a lawyer and judge. I took the LSAT while I was in England, and decided to go to law school.”
Ashwell graduated from the University of Dayton School of Law in two and a half years instead of the usual three, where he followed the traditional litigation curriculum.
Many lawyers major in history or political science in college, but Ashwell found his undergraduate degree in English a huge boost to his legal career. “I found it helped me a tremendous amount in legal writing in law school because I was ahead of the curve big time. I knew how to write get-to-the-point sentences rather than long fluffy ones. That helps me in litigation as well,” he says.
After law school, Ashwell returned to Fauquier County. He says, “I had always maintained close contacts here, and worked for local lawyers during law school. And my family was here. When my wife Lucy and I decided to get married, it seemed like a natural place to settle and raise a family. It was a no-brainer.”
He continues, “My wife is kind of a city girl, but Warrenton provides this nice small town feel but we’re on the cusp of so much. It was an easy sell to her. We pop into DC sometimes, no big deal, and Richmond is about an hour away. Warrenton is kind of like this nice little epicenter but at the same time, you walk down the street and see people you know, which you don’t get in a lot of towns.”
Ashwell and Lucy maximize the benefits of living in Fauquier County. They live close to Old Town with their three daughters, Betsy, 6, Langley, 4, and Marlowe, 8 months. Betsy and Langley attend St. James School, just a few doors away from their dad’s and grandfather’s office on Culpeper Street.
Lucy is a marketing professional who works full time remotely while juggling their youngest at the same time. Ashwell admits, “I think the best thing I can say is that I married probably the closest thing to a saint. She balances corporate clients and taking care of Marlowe all the time, and that gives me the freedom to do what I’m doing with the law firm.”
After working with Warrenton lawyers Robin Gulick and Mark B. Williams, Ashwell decided to go out on his own two years ago. He and his father opened Ashwell & Ashwell in December 2020. Ashwell sat down with Warrenton Lifestyle and talked to us about the venture.
Tell me about the decision to open your own law office.
It was one of those things which was a natural evolution. It wasn’t anything that dad and I ever specifically talked about but I think once it became clear that his time as a judge was over, we started thinking, ‘This would be neat.’ I was thinking of going out on my own anyway, so we decided to do it together. It worked out really naturally. I don’t think my dad will ever retire, he’ll always have one foot under the desk. I’ll probably be the same way.
How is the business going?
We are growing at an exceptional rate. We are continuing to grow the staff, and we are also looking to hire another lawyer. We pride ourselves on having a great positive environment and I think we really want to protect that as much as we can. We’re doing smart growth. We’ve had an exceptional first year with a tremendous amount of community support and we want to keep that positive momentum.
What’s it like working with your dad?
It’s fun. I don’t think he or I had any expectations going into it, and I think that the way we interact and practice together is a lot like our relationship was before. We’re friends first and father and son second. It’s been pretty seamless and I think we’re both happy with the services we’ve been able to provide and the growth that’s on the horizon. I think we were really pleasantly surprised at how things really took off from the start.
What’s it like practicing in a small town?
I think it’s neat because I know most of the other lawyers. In some cases it can really help streamline things as far as getting resolutions or identifying problems more quickly which I think is beneficial to the client. I’ve got a nice working relationship with attorneys I deal with all the time. The Fauquier Bar Association has always been a very close, tight-knit group, which is good.
What’s the most difficult part of the job?
Communication is huge, and I think sometimes that gets lost in this profession. At the beginning of a case, I identify the likely problems and outcomes and I make sure I communicate this to my client. A lot of times, I may be working with a client who has never been involved in the legal system, and I always explain how it works and what to expect. Some clients are a little more savvy, so it’s a different approach, but the principle is the same: to understand and manage the client’s expectations. That’s the biggest thing I try to do, and we pride ourselves on that.
Tell me about a case that had an impact on you professionally.
I had an appeal once that was in the federal court of appeals for our jurisdiction. It was argued before a three judge panel, and in the end, when they wrote out their opinions, it was over a hundred pages, which is pretty exceptional for an appeal of this nature. The three judges had such different opinions — it really tuned me in to how much judges can differ. It kind of gave me some perspective, that some things can seem straightforward on paper but even the most top-notch judges will see different outcomes. It changed the way I look at cases, and how I approach them.
On your website, you have a very long list of the types of cases you take, from criminal law to land use to family law to traffic court and more. You do regular court and appeals too. Isn’t that kind of a large scope?
Sure it is. I’ve never been one to want to be pigeon-holed, or specialize in any one. Probably by volume we do mostly criminal and civil litigation, land use, and domestic relations. But our skills apply to all kinds of law. We are able to do an exceptional job in multiple courts and a multitude of practice areas.
No plans to specialize?
I am definitely averse to becoming a sort of conveyor belt practice meaning all DUIs or traffic tickets. I think it sounds incredibly dull. I enjoy taking those cases but I also enjoy many others. Nor do I think that really serves clients very well. If you do all one type of case, I think your mind gets stale and you use the same arguments, and you lose the creativity to think outside the box which can create many opportunities for your clients.
That being said, is there anything on this list you particularly enjoy?
I love a good criminal jury trial. I love advocating for the client and talking to a jury. In the last month I’ve done a two-day bench trial and a jury trial. It just kind of gets the blood flowing. I think it really kind of forces you to think on your feet. I enjoy that a lot. But I also enjoy drafting briefs for court. It goes back to my legal writing days and my English. I enjoy trying to win that intellectual chess match on paper.