This article appears exclusively in the 11/04/2022 edition of Texas Lawyer Magazine Lawyer Liner Notes
By Greg Cox
I have a hard time being motivated in my daily work by the idea of “pursuing justice.” Even in law school, this concept never really resonated with me.
For one, I’m a civil litigator, so my Perry Mason moments are rare. And two, the idea of justice can be too abstract and open to interpretation. Not to mention my personal notions of justice may be different than the client’s.
Instead, I really resonate with the idea that an attorney is one who brings order to chaos.
– The business you founded is trying to kick you out;
– A supplier breached your most valuable contract and your bottom line is threatened;
– Your organization needs to better understand accusations of internal misconduct;
– Your company is facing pressure from outside regulations and forces you cannot control.
Situations such as these are chaotic and unsteady. True justice may be yet unclear … or years away … or not even in the cards.
What’s an attorney’s job then? To enter the chaos and bring order— a form of justice, no less.
In defense of lobbyists
What is “Public Law?”
It’s often an attorney’s way of saying they’re a lobbyist. Or, they lawyer outside the courts before regulatory or legislative bodies.
A public law attorney addresses issues between a government and a person/business.
Many attorneys are shy about this part of their practice because of the negative connotations with lobbying.
The public at large views lobbying negatively, to say the least. Back room deals and ethical clouds? Money for favors?
But a lot of lobbying is just lawyering done outside the courts. Procedure. Research. Rule and analysis. Drafting. Persuasion and argument.
The truth is lobbyists can do a ton of good. Government and politics affect us all, and they can be hard to navigate.
Lobbyists know the current law, understand the public policy implications of changing that law, and have the ability and contacts necessary to navigate the process.
And sometimes, it’s cheaper, quicker, and more certain to try and change the law than it is to litigate it.
Trouble with over-confidence
As a new lawyer reviewing a demand letter—and overly confident in my shiny new law license—I told the Partner, “I don’t think this lawyer knows what he’s doing.”
Ooof. Big mistake.
Fortunately, she did not eviscerate my ego. “We never assume a licensed attorney doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
The litigators I admire never underestimate the other side. They never rest their clients’ interests at the foot of opposing counsel’s weaknesses.
Sometimes, you get a filing or a letter and it’s just sloppy. The law is blatantly wrong, the position is unclear, and the grammar is so bad you struggle to read it.
The temptation is to let your guard down.
You may even adopt this attitude when speaking with the client.
But that attitude can lead to real trouble.
Instead, be even more vigilant. Double check. Re-read. Construe everything liberally.
And maybe most importantly, speak highly of opposing counsel’s abilities to the other attorneys on the file and to the client.
During my early days of Practice Court at Baylor University School of Law, Professor Jim Wren spent a solid amount of time on Tex. R. Civ. P. 4 — Computation of Time.
I remember being really annoyed at spending quality class time on counting. Counting! “This is not what I signed up for,” I thought.
But Professor Wren told us how, at the beginning of every season, Hall of Fame UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden had his players sit down in the locker room and remove their shoelaces. Then, Coach Wooden taught them a basic lesson — how to tie their shoes.
Even the senior players had to review this lesson each year.
“So we’re going to learn to count,” Professor Wren said.
The point was that understanding and executing the fundamentals comes first.
I think about this almost every day, and it applies to so much more than practicing law.