Chilton Varner: Legal trailblazer and women’s rights activist

Posted on 08-26-2015 by
Tags: #WomensEqualityDay , Tell us your story , woman lawyers , Be Unprecedented , LIT , rainmakers , Latest Headlines & Stories , WomensEqualityDay

 Chilton Varner has been a trailblazer throughout her career as a litigator. Still, Chilton certainly couldn’t have imagined the storied 30-year career she has had as one of the nation’s top product liability litigators when she started her legal career assisting her husband as he launched a law practice.

During that time she developed a passion for the law which drove her to Emory Law School and then later to King & Spalding where she has achieved a number of firsts. Chilton became the firm’s first female litigator and later became the first female partner within the litigation group; and eventually, she became the first female elected to the firm’s management committee. Along the way, Chilton has embraced the challenges associated with breaking new ground as a female litigator and those that have come with litigating complex product liability cases.

During one of the most memorable moments in her legal career, Chilton was defending a major auto manufacturer in an automotive product liability case with an extremely difficult fact pattern involving the death of the mother of a six-year-old son.

“The lesson I learned from that case was that even hard cases can be won, if you prepare intensely, you master the subject matter, and teach simply. And, of course, the jury must believe you are being straight with them. Those lessons have stayed with me ever since. I have never outgrown them.”

Throughout her career, Chilton has had the opportunity to continually re-invent herself. Her advice to other professionals who are starting their careers is to “enjoy their jobs and become deeply engaged in them – the two go together.”

“I have been lucky to have worked in trial law, which is essentially a continuation of a liberal arts education:  each lawsuit is different and allows you to learn a lot about a topic, an industry, or a science you would never have encountered otherwise. That is great fun, and you get paid to do it, to boot! If you don’t enjoy your work, you should be doing something else.”

Chilton is married to K. Morgan Varner, an attorney, and has one daughter, Ashley, who is an oncology social worker at Anne Arundel Medical Center, Annapolis, Maryland.

In addition to her work as a partner at King & Spalding, Chilton speaks regularly on women’s issues, and was one of the panelists who introduced a program in New York City sponsored by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the ABA Section of Product Liability, entitled “Women in Product Liability.” Chilton is also a member of the editorial board for the publication Moore's Federal Practice available at the LexisNexis® Store.  

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