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Press Releases


October 2014

Thomas M. Hendell Joins the Firm as Associate

January 2014

Miller Named Foundation Fellow
Story by Jonathan Shacat as reported in the Daily News Record

February 17, 2012

Firm Chosen To Be Town’s Legal Counsel
Story by Sally Voth as published in

July 2011

VSB President Shanks Urges Experienced Lawyers to Guide Those Who Follow
Story by Dawn Chase as published in Virginia Lawyer , Volume 60, Number 1

July 27, 2010

George Warren Shanks is the Virginia State Bar’s new president-elect

Miller, Earle & Shanks announce that Thomas M. Hendell has joined the Firm

Date: October 2014

HARRISONBURG — Nathan H. Miller, J. Burns Earle, III, George W. Shanks and Michael W. Helm are pleased to announce that Thomas M. Hendell has joined the Harrisonburg office of Miller, Earle & Shanks, PLLC, as an Associate.

Mr. Hendell is a graduate of University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary School of Law. His areas of practice are Domestic Relations and Family Law, Criminal Defense, Construction Litigation and Business Litigation.

Miller Named Foundation Fellow

Date: January 2014

Story by Jonathon Shacat as reported in the Daily News Record

HARRISONBURG — Nathan H. Miller, managing partner at the law firm of Miller, Earle & Shanks, was recently named a Fellow of the Virginia Law Foundation.

The Fellows program recognizes excellence in the practice of law and public service. Selection is limited to 1 percent of the active and associate membership of the Virginia State Bar.

Miller graduated from Bridgewater College and the University of Richmond T.C. Williams School of Law. His areas of practice are business law, municipal law, estate planning and real estate.

He is a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate. Miller is chairman of the board of trustees of Bridgewater College and serves as a member of the Rockingham Historical Society board.

Firm Chosen To Be Town’s Legal Counsel

Date: February 17, 2012

Story by Sally Voth as published in

STRASBURG — Six months after its last attorney asked to not be reappointed, the town has legal counsel again.

The Town Council unanimously agreed on Tuesday to appoint the Harrisonburg firm Miller, Earle & Shanks, PLLC, Mayor Tim Taylor said.

Former Town Attorney Jay Neal stepped down at the end of June and asked not to be reappointed, citing too many conflicts of interest. In his private practice he focuses on real estate, zoning and land use.

“It’s a constant concern,” Neal said last summer. “It’s not fair for my other clients and it’s not fair to the town. It just got to be that it was a recurring problem.”

He had been the town attorney since 2006, taking over from longtime counsel Doug Arthur.

Taylor said George Shanks will be the town’s main contact, but Nathan Miller and Burns Earle would also represent Strasburg.

“We consider their entire firm as our designated town attorney now,” Taylor said. “These people have a lot of experience when it comes down to municipal government. … They have a lot of good expertise in a lot of different areas that the town could be involved with.”

The mayor said no local attorneys applied for the position.

Since Neal’s departure, the town has gotten legal advice from the Virginia Municipal League and through outsourcing with other lawyers, he said.

Taylor said the firm would begin working for the town “pronto.”

“They’re with us right now,” he said.

Miller, Earle & Shanks‘ contract runs until June 30, 2013, Taylor said.

The attorneys will guide the Town Council and provide legal services when it comes to civil matters involving Strasburg, Town Manager Judson Rex said.

He said they will be paid $250 an hour.

“We’re excited to have them on board,” Rex said. “They’re very experienced in representing local governments in Virginia, so we’re happy to be able to have that guidance on board with us now.”

VSB President Shanks Urges Experienced Lawyers to Guide Those Who Follow

Date: July 2011

by Dawn Chase as published in Virginia Lawyer, Volume 60, Number 1

“The frontier” is what George Shanks calls Luray and Page County, where he has practiced law for thirty-five years.

The county, which rolls along the Blue Ridge Mountains, isn’t that roughhewn. The magnificent Luray Caverns draw tourists from around the world, and a gracious southern hotel, circa 1930, houses them. There’s a Walmart in Luray, and several fast-food establishments.

But Shanks has had a frontier experience in Page County. He knows the lay of the land as if he cleared it himself. He knows the downed trees, renovated bridges, and flood plains; the problems traveling east-west where the major thoroughfare goes north-south; the fits and starts of three decades of local development efforts; and the hard-knock lessons, such as, “It’s easy to buy Main Street property in any small town. It’s extremely hard to sell it.” Also, “Every lawyer in a small town ought to have a back door.”

For more of Shanks’s wry observations, see ” Practice on the Frontier: Vignettes of Small-Town Life,” an essay he wrote for the VSB’s Virginia Is for Good Lawyers collection.

This year, as the president of the Virginia State Bar for 2011-12, Shanks is taking that wisdom on the road. He wants seasoned members of the bar to provide more systematic mentoring to help new attorneys find their way through their individual practice frontiers.

George Warren Shanks, sixty-six, was reared in Wilmington, Delaware, and Buffalo, New York. “I had an idyllic childhood,” he said. His father was an organic chemist for DuPont. The senior Shanks couldn’t understand his son’s lack of adeptness with molecular compounds. Shanks’s mother was interested in art and religion. Dinner-table “interrogations”- Shanks’s word-focused on “what you were up to, what you were about, and what you believed,” he said.

“My personality lends itself to the law. I’m a My Cousin Vinny kind of guy.”

After graduating from Indiana University and law school at Temple University, Shanks came to Virginia and practiced for three years in Winchester.

In 1972, he took a job as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr., a Virginia Democrat-turned- Independent. Shanks commuted from Reston to the District of Columbia. He cut his teeth on big issues of the time- the creation of the Trans-Alaska PipelineSystem, which made it through the Senate only because Vice President Spiro T. Agnew broke a tie; the resignation of Agnew after his conviction on tax-evasion charges; and, above all, the Senate Watergate hearings and impeachment proceedings that led to the resignation in 1974 of President Richard M. Nixon.

“I got to have a front-row seat for all of those things,” Shanks said.

For Watergate, “the senator knew that he was going to sit on the jury,” Shanks said. “He took it very seriously.” To prepare, Byrd tasked two staff members to prepare a prosecution and defense of Nixon. Shanks got the defense-a job that grew increasingly difficult as the proceedings went on.

To stay informed, Shanks followed the all-news radio station WTOP and newsprint editions of the Washington Post, Washington Star, Richmond Times- Dispatch, and Congressional Record. There was no Internet then. With no search engines at his fingertips, he relied on scuttlebutt and a network of well informed contacts for background.

“It was incredible stuff,” Shanks said. The United States had come through a decade of assassinations and rioting, was bailing out of a long and unpopular war, and endured a period of shocking corruption at the highest levels, and yet “the republic survived. It was a good time to be a lawyer.”

Framed mementos of the time hang in his conference room. A signed photo of Byrd and a lanky and boyish Shanks, with Byrd’s inscription thanking him for his work, and a vertical map of the Shenandoah Wilderness Area, which Shanks helped the senator get designated. Shanks jokes that he may have the map put in his coffin with him-it’s about the right size.

After seeing Byrd through his 1976 reelection, Shanks left Washington, at age thirty-two. His children had been growing up without him, and he wanted more for his life.

“One of the things I wanted to do is get out of the office, experience the cases that came to me. If a client had a boundary line dispute, I wanted to get out and walk the boundary line,” he said. He wanted to smell the honeysuckle and hear the children playing in the yard while he was working. He didn’t mind that there would be “a lot more Plymouths in your life than Porsches.”

He returned to private practice-this time in Page County, where the family had a vacation cabin. Thirteen lawyers practiced in the area then; now there are fourteen, who serve Page County’s 10,200 households.

Shanks began his frontier experience, in more ways than one.

On the legal front, he learned how to work with other lawyers, judges, and the courthouse staff, and how to attract clients, protect the privacy of their visits to his office, and meet their legal needs. He has a general practice with some exceptions-he doesn’t do bankruptcies or tax work, and he gave up contested domestic cases in 1988, when a divorcing couple depleted their few resources in an equitable distribution battle over a Shop-Vac.

On the community front, he learned the pace of local tradesmen and contractors, the patterns of daily life, the ins and outs of the school system.

At home, he was engaged in another pioneering experience. To his family of two biological children he added four adopted children with special needs. The children had serious medical problems, sometimes life-threatening.

The Page County school system had not previously educated students with the physical and learning challenges faced by Shanks’s children. He had to wage regular battle to get them the services they needed. Because of his advocacy, Luray High School built the school system’s first elevator, known as “Shanks’s Shaft.” As he learned, he shared: he never turned away pro bono assistance to other parents of children in special education.

From the outside, Shanks’s commitment seems breathtaking. But he describes the challenges as gradual. “Those children were adopted one at a time.” The challenges increased incrementally, and the family adjusted. That’s the way big families work, “whether they have developmental disabilities or not.” All six children are grown and out of the home.

Looking back on it, ‘There was once a time, when I was young and dumb, I thought I could do anything,” he said.

Shanks is the first small-town bar president since Robert B. Altizer of Tazewell in 1996-97.

Shanks said that managing his practice from the road will be easier than it was for Altizer, because Shanks has access to email, a laptop, and a smartphone with a statewide network. Like Altizer, Shanks said, “I’m very fortunate that my partners have been fully supportive of this effort.”

He will be accompanied on his travels by wife Janice Butler Shanks, a former restaurateur and now a court reporter with Commonwealth Court Reporting LLC in Front Royal. “She’s excited about traveling and about meeting people,” he said. The two have between them nine children and eleven grandchildren.

Shanks now practices with Nathan H. Miller, who served in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate, and J. Burns Earle III, in the firm Miller, Earle & Shanks PLLC.

He found mentors and role models throughout his career-starting with Senator Byrd. While serving on a VSB panel on mentoring in the 1980s, Shanks sat next to civil rights advocate Oliver W. Hill. Shanks thought, “This man is a giant of the law. What am I doing here?”

In Shanks’s first days, a member of the bar would introduce him whenever he appeared before a judge for the first time.

He had other lawyers he could vent to, and ask questions.

“I learned that if I was going to dictate a harsh letter, to let it sit around for awhile, then read it again and decide whether it should be sent,” he said.

Lawyers can turn to mentors to be reassured about a judge or opposing counsel-“She treats everybody that way.” They can get ethical advice to questions such as, “I’m expecting a settlement. Can I go ahead and pay myself?” Mentors can coach a young lawyer on the economics of law-“how to make ends meet without going bankrupt.”

“I was the recipient of that kind of courtesy when I started practicing law,” Shanks said.

New lawyers have an advantage their predecessors didn’t have: affordable communication and research tools that level the playing field. When Shanks started, he had to invest in a library. For more extensive research, he drove to the University of Virginia’s law library.

But new lawyers are practicing in an environment that has deteriorated considerably, in Shanks’s opinion.

“We’ve lost civility and we’ve lost collegiality, and we’ve got to get those back.” Shanks offered some reasons. “Our whole society has developed a lack of tolerance. We have a sharp edge,” he said.

The anonymity in cities shields lawyers from what he calls the “collegial opprobrium” that small-town lawyers experience immediately when they misbehave. Partially because of impressions left by lawyer advertising and television shows, “You have clients who don’t want you to be a good advocate. They want you to be a gladiator.”

And with many more lawyers competing for clients with fewer resources in a bad economy, a lawyer can be tempted to bend the rules.

“Every young lawyer needs a mentor,” he said. Attorneys graduate with a good education, but they need help developing their counseling skills- “the art of the possible-not just what can happen, but what is likely to happen”- and their practice management- finishing each month with money for the staff, the light bulbs, and toilet paper.

Shanks is very familiar with the white-knuckle stresses of practice management. Except for the rare silver-spoon law school graduate, “We do all start out poor,” he said. He paraphrased Wilkins Micawber, a character in Dickens’s David Copperfield: “One penny in the black and life is good. One penny in the red and life is misery.”

“I really hope I can go around and meet with the bar associations, to endorse and support current mentoring projects and initiate it where it doesn’t exist.”

He plans to promote the Virginia Bar Association’s Principles of Professionalism, as a guide for appropriate behavior.

At his stage in life, Shanks has a good client base, many strong relationships in the legal community, and wisdom from coming through tough years and the desire to share it.

In his essay, he wrote, “My young associate constantly remarks that I seem to know ‘everything.’ I have to smile benignly, recalling that when I was his age, I too knew very little and understood almost everything. I find now that the more I learn, the less I understand.”

George Warren Shanks is the Virginia State Bar’s new president-elect

Date: July 27, 2010

George Warren Shanks is the Virginia State Bar’s new president-elect. Shanks took the office June 18 during the VBS annual meeting in Virginia Beach. He will serve a year, then succeed Irving M. Blank of Richmond for the 2011-12 term as president.

Shanks begin a practice in Luray thirty-three years ago after working for U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. Shanks is a native of Wilmington, Delaware, and earned an undergraduate degree from Indiana University and a law degree from Temple University. He began his legal career at a firm in Winchester before joining Byrd’s staff as a Special Assistant in 1972. Five years later, he moved to Luray, where he is now a partner in the firm of Miller, Earle & Shanks, PLLC.

Shanks served in the Virginia Army National Guard from 1969 until 1974, and in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1974 to 1975.

He was named a Local Bar Leader of the Year by VBS in 1990, and he has been an active volunteer at the agency for many years. His service has included professional discipline, substantive law, member support services, and administration of the agency.

He sat on the District Committee that hears lawyers disciplinary cases in his region; he is on the Board of Lawyers Helping Lawyers, a program that assists lawyers impaired by substance abuse and mental illness; he served on the Board of Governors of the General Practice Section that educates members on substantive law; he was Chair of the Conference of Local Bar Associations, which provides support to practitioners throughout Virginia, and of the Senior Lawyers Conference, which gives voice to Lawyers aged 55 and older; he is a member of the Bar’s governing Council and Executive Committee.

Shanks is the County Attorney and Commissioner of Accounts for Page County, and he is a Commissioner in Chancery in the Twenty-Sixth Judicial Circuit.

In 1986, he created the award winning Law-Related Education Project of the Page County Bar Association. Through the program, which continues today, attorneys visit classrooms and talk to public school students about the law, and students are taken on a field trip to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He is also on the Board of Directors of Blue Ridge Legal Services.

Shanks and his wife, Janice D. Butler, have between them nine children and 11 grandchildren. They reside in Warren County.