CHARLESTON – Teresa Toriseva is out to prove something.
She wants state residents to see that her group, the West Virginia Association for Justice, is just like them.
"It's my goal for the public to see that we are an organization made up of men and women, young and old … all kinds of different people," said Toriseva, who recently became the group's president. "To me, that's important. The public needs to know that. We're representative of them.
"It's not an image of what people think of when they think of trial lawyers."
Toriseva, 37, said she has other goals for her term leading the WVAJ, formerly the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.
"Of course, we have continuing goals -- protection of consumers, representation of individuals in the justice system," she said. "We're here to make sure everyone has an even and level playing field.
"Also, we will continue to educate the public about the work trial lawyers do. There's a lot of misinformation that occurs based on sensational cases. And really, what we're doing from day to day is the important work of helping people and helping businesses and solving problems."
Toriseva, a partner in the Wheeling firm of Wexler Toriseva Wallace, is the second woman to be elected president of the WVAJ. Laura Rose held the position about a decade ago.
"I had mostly men encouraging me and pushing me forward in the ranks," Toriseva said. "It's never been a struggle to get there."
Toriseva has been on the WVAJ executive board for six or seven years.
"I'm very proud of the work that we do as a group," she said. "I'm very proud of being a lawyer. I believe in the importance of helping people in the legal system and giving everyone a voice."
Toriseva became a partner in her firm last year. She heads the firm's mass tort, drug and product liability and personal injury practice. She has been rated AV by Martindale-Hubbell's peer review rating system, the highest rating that can be achieved.
Toriseva also said she is ready to handle critics of her group.
"There are some valid criticisms of our profession and what we do," she said. "Every group always will have problems and have members who are not representative of the entire group. We stand up to those giants on behalf of Jane Doe and John Smith. These critics attack us and try to limit people in terms of access to the court system."
"But these critics create facts, they distort things to promote their agenda. We are the people who stand up for individuals against the membership of the National Chamber of Commerce – the drug companies, tobacco, the manufacturers association."
The West Virginia Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Toriseva said the critics' goal is to limit access to courts.
"Payroll, health care, rent, insurance costs … what we need is insurance reform, not reform of the civil justice system," she said. "If you can attack the trial lawyers, then you can help limit that relationship between the individual and the trial lawyers."
Toriseva said critics often portray trial lawyers as anti-business. She said that isn't true.
"I don't want businesses to suffer," she said. "I want them to thrive. But when there is a problem, someone has to be accountable."
Toriseva grew up in Cameron in Marshall County. She has two children – Adam, 9, and four-year-old Sydney. She received an undergraduate degree in biology from Wheeling Jesuit University and her law degree in 1995 from West Virginia University.
She practiced law in Charleston for about eight years before returning to the Northern Panhandle about five years ago.