NATIONALLY, THE DECADES-LONG RUSH TO LAW SCHOOL seems to be slowing down-but don’t worry about finding a lawyer. The Texas Legal Directory lists 56,000 lawyers in the state, with 12,000 men and women practicing law in Dallas County.
Out of that vast herd, who are the best? To identify Dallas’ most effective legal advocates, we spoke with more than 100 lawyers, judges, civic activists, and business people. From this large sampling, a clear consensus emerged.
Those we profile here practice many legal specialties. (We excluded family law, the subject of our May 1995 cover story.) They work in large firms, small firms, or no firm at all. Some put people behind bars; others set them free. Some win millions of dollars for injured clients, while others defend large corporations. Many of the city s most outstanding legal talents never see a courtroom. They formulate public policy and enforce our laws. They work behind the scenes, both inside and outside of companies, counseling with rich and powerful people to create wealth and expand business holdings here at home and around the world.
As different as they are, these attorneys have made a lasting mark on the legal profession, on our system of laws, or on the community’ at large. According to a jury of their peers, these are the best.
Doug Mulder: The Man Who Helped Walker Walk
HOW MANY TIMES IN HIS CAREER HAS DOUG MULDER GOTTEN UP before a jury and asked, in essence, “are you going to believe me or your lyin’ eyes?”
Mulder admits that many of his victories are the product of “smoke and mirrors.” How else to explain the “not guilty” verdict Mulder landed for a McAllen man who confessed to gunning down his estranged wife and her boyfriend? Or the two-year probation he won for a Wisconsin man who ran over and killed a Nigerian student- and admitted it?
And the biggest question of all, to many: If Doug Mulder didn’t have an extraordinary bag of tricks, how did he secure a “not guilty” verdict in the 1993 trial of former Dallas pastor Walker Railey, accused of attacking his wife and leaving her in a vegetative state?
Whenever conventional wisdom has pointed to a guilty verdict of capital murder, Mulder’s jury usually has said something like manslaughter. And when Mulder can cause reasonable doubt to mount, his client usually walks.
In the criminal defense game, these are all wins. And it’s his job to win, says the 56-year-old former prosecutor-not to question the ethics of defending the accused, not to abandon a client he may suspect is guilty. “Under the system as it is, you need to be aggressive and competitive, but most of all you have to know how to win.” Mulder says.
In the McAllen killings, Mulder convinced the jury that the shooting was self-defense. In the Wisconsin death, witnesses reported seeing a different make and model of automobile near the crime scene. Armed with that shred of conflicting evidence, Mulder sold the theory that a second car just might have come along to run over and kill the student.
The Walker Railey trial, Mulder maintains, was another kind of case. “Throughout the trial, Walker continued to deny his guilt to me and everyone around us. ” He believes the Railey case could have gone either way-until the defendant took the stand. “You know, if someone pays me a fee of $150,000, it’s $50,000 to try die case and $ 100,000 to decide if my client will testify. It was important that Walker take the stand and explain his actions that night.”
Mulder learned all facets of criminal cases during the 16 years he spent as a Dallas County assistant district attorney. Mulder was as ferocious-and effective-at locking up the bad guys as he is in defending them now. In fact, he took some heat for his overzealous prosecution of Randall Dale Adams, who was immortalized in the documentary The Thin Blue Line and subsequently freed.
Many of Mulder’s cases spin off from actions in other venues. Family court cases, for instance, often bring allegations of child abuse, drug possession, or tax evasion. “There is not a guy with a better under-standing of what to expect from the prosecution,” says Ike Vanden Eykel, a Dallas family law attorney. “Criminal matters frighten most attorneys, but Doug walks into the courtroom and instandy intimidates the other side.”
It is a technique he hopes to pass down through the gene pool. Mulder’s daughter, Michelle, has joined his practice. And his son, Chris, is a budding young prosecutor in the district attorney’s office.
Jim Cowles: Guardian of the Insurance Industry
THUMBING THROUGH THE PLAINTIFF’S VOLUMINOUS PETITION, Tim Cowles calls it “fanciful,” “romantic,” and “an elaborate fiction.”
For the past eight years, Cowles has represented the welding industry in the largest toxic tort litigation in state history, the case against the Lone Star Steel plant in Daingerfield. It is a massive case involving 3,000 plaintiffs and 150 defendants. Already, the defendants have paid more than $67 million in settlements.
“It’s just a damn shame,” Cowles says.
During his 35 years of representing insurance companies, Cowles has seen plenty of “damn shames.” In fact, he’s rarely seen a plaintiffs case that he felt held water. And this one is no different. The way he interprets the plaintiffs petition, a mysterious toxic cloud has hung over the town of Daingerfield for years. No one has ever seen it. But this ominous cloud is responsible for all the ills that have befallen this East Texas community lor three decades-and his clients are to blame.
In Cowles’ view, society is deluged with such frivolous tort claims- the result, he believes, of our mania for blaming someone else instead of taking some responsibility for our own ills.
Hence bis appraisal of contingent fee litigation, which allows most plaintiffs in personal injury, malpractice, and toxic tort cases to sue without paying attorney’s fees up front: “Where else can you make an investment that requires none of your own money and little of your time?” he asks. “Where you are practically guaranteed a return, and the money you receive is tax-free?”
A plaintiffs attorney who has opposed Cowles is sardonic in his judgment of the feisty 61-year-old. “Jim is the most effective I’ve ever seen at denying widows and orphans restitution for their losses,” he says,
Since entering private practice in 1964, Cowles has defended an average of 14 cases a year, or almost 300 full-blown trials in his career. In 1993, he received the President’s Award from the Texas Association of Defense Counsel for his work on the Lone Star Steel case. In 1994, he defended the Dallas YMCA in the now-famous child abuse case. This case also involved multiple plaintiffs, most of whom settled out of court. In one suit that went to a jury, Cowles opposed plaintiff’s attorney Frank Branson. The jury held for the plaintiff, but they awarded only $250,000 instead of the multi-millions Branson was seeking. Both attorneys tout this as a win.
For years, Cowles fought alongside other members of the defense bar for legislation to restrict lawsuits he considers frivolous, He believes the tort reform measures passed by the Texas Legislature last year arc a good first step. He knows, though, that shrewd plaintiffs attorneys will find ways to win lawsuits, and he believes the real answer lies in changing the mind-set of the parties to these suits.
“Liberal thinking has created a lottery out of our court system,” Cowles says. “Here, frivolous claims and legitimate claims have the same merit. So who pays for all these ridiculous awards? You and I do, the taxpayers and consumers of the state.”
Among the 12 top attorneys profiled by D Magazine are the following:
7-SMU Law School graduates
2-University of Texas Law School graduates
3-out-of-state law school graduates
Jim Coleman: The Gentleman Lawyer
HOW DOES JIM COLEMAN DO IT? AFTER NEARLY 40 YEARS AS A CIVIL TRIAL attorney, no one calls him a scalawag or a liar. Instead, a local judge calls Coleman a “lawyer’s lawyer.” An attorney who has opposed him in court says it’s an honor to be beaten by the 72 year-old founder of Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal,
To clients and opposing counsel alike, Coleman is a gentleman when he wins-and on those rare occasions when he loses. More than anything else, Coleman has the reputation of being a principled courtroom practitioner, a genteel generalist working on whatever kind of litigation happens to be popular at the moment. Twenty years ago he defended the first Dallas County lawyer accused of malpractice. He won. Before malpractice, it was securities fraud and anti-trust.
“I only specialize in the type of case 1 am handed,” Coleman says. “Whatever is hot, that’s what I’m called on to fight.”
“Fight” may be too strong a word for what Coleman does in the courtroom. It’s more like reasonably disagreeing, in clear, strong tones. He strives for a sense of fairness, being only argumentative enough to make the judge and jury see the justice of his client’s case. The contentious and disrupting “Rambo” tactics of some attorneys have no place in the courtroom, Coleman says.
“Usually, the Rambos are young lawyers trying to be a horse’s neck,” he says. “A good judge won’t let them do it.”
Coleman knows that attorneys poison their own well when they do shoddy work or place too high a premium on fees. “If we’ve jumped the track as a profession, we jumped it when our underlying drive became money and hours–the commercial practice of law.”
It seems quaint that such a veteran would be surprised at the avarice of some attorneys. But Coleman is strictly old-school, stressing the lawyer’s duty to society.
“Like doctors and other professionals, we have every advantage, and in many cases we have power over life and death,” Coleman says.
For this reason, he works to improve the education of lawyers. Recently, Coleman was elected chairman of the Southwest Legal Foundation Board of Trustees. This organization, located at SMU, is a leader in continuing legal education for lawyers from this country and around the world. He’s also spent the past 20 years working with the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, teaching young lawyers good courtroom habits.
The courtroom is the primary setting of Jim Coleman’s life. He sees his days ending there-somewhere off in the distant future.
“Retirement has lolled many of my contemporaries,” he says. “I could see myself getting ready to go to the courthouse…and never, going anywhere again. That would be perfect.”
Frank Branson: High-Tech Hero of Plaintiffs Rights
CHARLEY PAINTER ENTERED A MCKINNEY HOSPITAL IN MAY 1992, requiring back surgery. During the procedure, hospital personnel injected him with the wrong medication, causing unusual pressure on the man’s brain.
Painter, a robust 70-year-old golfer and pilot, was thrown into a coma. Diminished capacity was a certainty. The physician and other hospital employees who attended the man were aghast. And then things really went bad.
Charley Painter’s family hired Frank Branson. What ensued was a struggle that illustrates the perennial tension between plaintiffs rights and the need to protect defendant corporations against gigantic damage awards.
On one side was Branson, a 50-year-old master litigator called the “Wizard of Show-and-Tell” by the National Law Journal and listed among Forbes magazine’s most successful trial lawyers. “Charley Painter was a self-made man who worked hard to achieve the American dream,” Branson says. “He and his wife were set to enjoy their autumn years, and that wasn’t going to happen because of multiple errors by a health-care provider.”
On the other side was the major health-care facility for McKinney and many surrounding communities. “Is there no such thing as an honest mistake?” asks Linda Sutton, former marketing director of the hospital and now a health-care consultant. “We never tried to stonewall the family. We came out and said what happened and how we planned to correct it,”
Accepting blame in this situation may have been the hospital’s second big mistake. Branson used the admissions of hospital personnel, along with expert testimony and computer-generated recreations, to prepare an hour-long settlement video. The purpose of this broadcast-quality movie, produced in Branson’s own high-tech studio here in Dallas, was to show the other side how well prepared he was to stuff the case down their throats at trial.
During negotiations, Channel 5 news aired a segment highlighting the Painter case and other problems within the company that owned the hospital at that time. Branson denies encouraging the TV exposure. He does say that “a lull public airing” of these cases often aids settlement.
“They [the plaintiff and his attorney] followed a scorched-earth policy,” says Sutton, “The effect of the TV piece was devastating.”
And here you have the crux of the plaintiff/defense debate. This exchange was reconstructed from separate interviews, but it shows the in-your-face heat of two sides who are passionate about their positions.
Sutton: “They (Branson and his client) never took into account that mistakes are made by every hospital and physicians’ practice. It is impossible to eliminate all mistakes there, as it is in every other field of work.”
Branson: “But unlike other professions, mistakes in hospitals cost lives.”
Sutton: “The hospital immediately made the changes necessary to save those lives.”
Branson: “Only after the threat of a lawsuit.”
Sutton: “So you scare people away from the hospital, threatening its viability, just to make you and your client a buck.”
Bninsotr:”e make the hospital a safer environment for prospective patients. Besides, the hospital was fully insured for the loss.”
Branson had the last word. The case was settled by the hospital for $4.5 million. This certainly was not the largest award Branson has won. But it sent a powerful message,
“And probably bought Frank Branson another Rolls Royce,” says Sutton.
Tom luce: The Counselor
IN MARIO PUZO’S THE GODFATHER, one of the most compelling characters is the consiglieri, the trusted lawyer who advises and protects the family in all matters.
In Dallas’ past, there were consiglieri to rich and powerful families. But that was back before children sued parents. In those days, families stayed together. Today, everyone in the family gets his own lawyer, and many need more than one: a tax lawyer, a family law specialist, a criminal attorney, and so on. The all-purpose consiglieri is rare today.
Dallas’ main counselor-to-the-mighty these days is Tom Luce. During his early years as a founder and managing partner of Hughes & Mill (now Hughes & Luce), he was joined at the hip to Ross Perot and his burgeoning company. Electronic Data Systems.
Luce and Perot conferred daily. When Luce offered advice on almost any subject, Perot was-as he likes to say-all ears. In 1979, Luce prosecuted an EDS claim that allowed the company to collect $16.5 million from Iran. He represented Perot in the 1984 merger with General Motors, a $2.5 billion transaction. He even helped the Dallas billionaire obtain one of the original copies of the Magna Carta.
In 1983, Luce followed Perot into government service as chief of stall of the committee that made sweeping changes in Texas education, including the “no pass, no play” restrictions. “Ross Perot gave me my start,” Luce says. “With Ross in front of you, a lot of doors opened.” And Luce was eager to walk right through them.
Stressing education, he ran, unsuccessfully, for the Republican nomination for governor in 1990. He taught public policy at Harvard and UT Austin. He served briefly as CEO of the investment banking firm, First Southwest Company. He wrote a book. Now or Never: How We Can Save Our Public Schools. His concern for those schools has led him to create Just For The Kids, an organization that promotes education reform statewide.
Luce says he will never again run for elective office. But he’s always ready to tackle problems as an appointee. Recently, he was named to head a task force on the selection of judges. But while spending time on these other things. Luce has remained Dallas’ premier superlawyer-an outstanding litigator, rainmaker, and frequent counselor to the Perots. He appeared in court last fall representing Ross Perot Jr. s Alliance Airport project. “Ross Senior is doing mostly politics now,” Luce says. “Ross Junior is much more involved in business, and so he asks for our help. “
Sometimes, with all die hats he wears, Luce wonders if people remember that he is a lawyer. They do.
“Oh, I remember,” says a local trial attorney. “I went up against him in court several years ago, and he steamrolled me.”
Luce has evolved, at 55 years of age and with a touch of gray, from con siglieri into a legal father figure. And that maybe the most apt definition of the counselor.
Anne McNamara: The Organization Woman
AS SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL COUNSEL FOR AMERICAN Airlines, Anne McNamara guides the most visible corporation in North Texas through a minefield of contract disputes, labor problems, and assorted litigation.
For many attorneys, an industry post is a stopover on the pathway to retirement after a distinguished career with a prestigious law firm.
Not so with McNamara, who started as a lawyer for American in 1976, before the airline moved from New York City to its headquarters near D/FW International Airport. Now head of a 30-lawyer department, she has risen to the top as in -house lawyers have become more important to businesses.
“Outside law firms are so inefficient and expensive,” McNamara says. “We’ve been forced because of cost pressures to bring more of the legal work inside. As we do that, we find that we get better quality legal work in-house.”
Moving from New York City, the mecca for corporate law, gave her good insight into the quality of legal work in this area. In New York, she says, a few gray heads oversee a lot of kids; by contrast, the young lawyers who do most of American’s work are rewarded with partnerships and the authority to make decisions.
Outside attorneys who work for American say McNamara’s effect on the airline’s legal fortunes has been considerable. They say she has lofty expectations of attorneys both inside and outside and runs a tight, efficient ship. She has structured her department into sub-groups that specialize in such areas as contracts, bond issues, and labor. In the case of air disaster litigation, such as that fallowing the American Airlines jet crash near Cali, Colombia, in December, McNamara and her attorneys coordinate the activities of litigators hired in multiple locations where suits are filed. Only in rare cases does an in-house lawyer handle any litigation work.
McNamara says the differences between a corporate practice and a law firm are subtle but important. The corporate attorney is as much a member of his corporation’s culture as he is a lawyer. And, at least in McNamara’s case, the lawyer does not exercise her ego by bragging about cases won for the client, For proprietary or legal reasons, the less die outside world knows about American’s business the better.
She does say the most disturbing legal trend for large corporations is the proliferation of class action lawsuits. In recent years, her department has fought class actions dealing with changes in American’s frequent flier program and alleged irregularities in their reservations system. In 1990,41 class action lawsuits were filed against American and other major airlines the week after a Wall Street Journal article speculated on the possibility of price fixing among those airlines. These suits were settled for S400 million in vouchers for travel on the major carriers, including American, and $50 million in attorney’s fees.
“These suits are a blight on the public welfare,” McNamara says. “The person on the other side is a lawyer who goes out and advertises for people who may have a problem they did not know was a lawsuit until the lawyer recruited them. We know that we’re a target for suits like this. The trick is to protect ourselves without appearing too heavy-handed.”
McNamara really walks on eggshells when she talks about labor disagreements. Her department was intensely involved in the protracted negotiations with flight attendants settled last year in binding arbitration. The outcome is generally considered a slam dunk win for the employees. Her corporate hat firmly in place, McNamara will only say that the situation was painful and she’s glad to have it behind her.
An outside firm handled the arbitration. Could her lawyers have done any better? “I think we could have handled it,” she says. But a battle between American’s lawyers and American’s employees would not have been in the best interest of her client.
Shuttered, Split & Finished, P.C.
THE FRENETIC BUSINESS ATMOSPHERE OF THE 1980s took its toll on Dallas law firms. Since 1990, the following 16 firms have shut down.
Alpert Sharp & Boyd
Bracken & Hummert
Chantilis & Brousseau
Francis & Howell
Geary, Glast & Mrddleton
Gibson 4 Cockrell
Harlan, Selander, Vernon & Quilling
Hutchison, Boyle, Brooks & Fisher
Johnson & Steinberg
Johnson & Wortley
Shank, Irwin, Conant, Lipshy & Casteriine
Sifford, Edson, Meyer & Jones
Stubblefield, de la Garza & Marek
Toblowsky, Prager & Schlinger
Waggoner & Cracken
Weinstein, Sommerman, Bagelman, Link & Moore
But don’t despair over finding an attorney. Most of the hundreds of lawyers displaced in this trend simply joined other firms or put out their own shingles.
SOURCE: TEXAS LAWYER
Ron Kirk: The Lobbyist
There’s no doubt that Ron Kirk belongs to a select group. Not only is he the first African-American to serve as Dallas mayor, he’s one of the few attorneys ever to hold the post. Kirk and fellow attorneys Domingo Garcia and Darrell Jordan were the top three finishers in the 1995 race.
“I don’t believe it means that Dallas is less businesslike than it used to be,” Kirk says. “I just think it shows that the legal community in this city is a lot more in the public eye.”
Kirk entered politics as a legislative assistant to then-U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen in 1981. He served the city of Dallas as an assistant city attorney and chief lobbyist for six years, following a path no other Dallas mayor has walked.
“The rime I spent in the city attorney’s office showed me how the city actually works,” Kirk says. “I saw it from the legal and administrative side before I ever got involved in the politics of it. “
Kirk is the classic lawyer/lobbyist, a legal specialty that combines public relations expertise with knowledge of the law. Politicians often criticize the proliferation of lobbyists, with their Armani suits and alligator briefcases. But no large industry, governmental entity, or other special interest group can do without them. Former City Attorney Analeslie Muncy hired Kirk because, she says, “He was the perfect person to lobby for the city. Each year we set a legislative agenda for the city and Ron was skilled at getting people behind it.”
One of the most important of those people was state Sen. John Leedom, chairman of die Texas Senate’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee. Leedom, one of the legislature’s most conservative Republicans, says he and Kirk were often “philosophically on different pages.” But Leedom concedes that Kirk was effective as a lobbyist because he took the leadership role in shepherding legislation past his committee.
“Ron made a terrific witness before the committee,” Leedom says. “Before he testified, he’d already done his work with the members. He knew where they stood and what they wan ted to hear. ” The veteran lawmaker, who is retiring from the Senate in May, says the qualities Kirk displayed as a lobbyist-leadership on issues, building consensus, being fully prepared-also benefit him as mayor.
State Rep. Steve Wolens of Dallas, a Democrat who sponsors bills for the city in each legislative session, believes that Mayor Kirk’s effortless “lobbying” style benefits Dallas because he seems to be just having fun and not putting the squeeze on anyone. A lawyer himself, Wolens says, “Ron’s ability to influence people through the power of words is a perfect fit with the lawyer mentality.”
When Kirk left the city attorney’s office to enter private practice in 1989-specializing In legislative and regulatory affairs-he represented quasi-governmental entities such as Dallas Area Rapid Transit and local corporations such as Southwest Airlines. “The popular misconception is that large companies have armies of lawyers out trying to arrange sweetheart deals with government,” Kirk says. “In truth, most of them just want to get the government to leave them alone.”
Kirk became Texas Secretary of State in 1994. He returned to Dallas as a partner at Gardere & Wynne just in time to run for mayor-a post that severely limits his legal work. “I have a handful of clients I serve,” says Kirk, who spends about a day and a half each week on firm business. “But almost everything is a conflict.” He’ll keep his persuasive powers sharp by “lobbying7’ an often contentious city council.
Harriet Miers: Complexities Made Simple
Harriet Miers has a reputation as a tenacious litigator of complex commercial disputes at Locke Purnell Rain Harrell. She is also an avid consensus builder who used those talents as president of the State Bar of Texas and as one of the last at-large members of the Dallas City Council,
If litigation is the result of the commercial system breaking down, Miers is the fixer. She is in the courtroom constantly, litigating contract disputes between business owners. Ask Miers to name a resounding success in the courtroom and she will cite an obscure but important case that determined who would receive the interest on mortgage escrow accounts. Lawsuits involving McDonald’s hot coffee or GM pick-up truck gas tanks have a lot more sex appeal. But the sheer volume of business-to-business lawsuits is the main reason for jammed civil court dockets here and all across the country.
Greg Huffman, a partner at Thompson & Knight who specializes in anti-trust litigation, has opposed Miers on one of these cases. He considers her one of Dallas’ best at simplifying complex issues in the courtroom. “She’s calm and shows good judgment,” Huffman says, “and that’s important when you are presenting these issues to a judge or jury.”
Miers’ ability to communicate in a straightforward manner has been especially helpful in her political career, Her tenure on the Dallas City Council ( 1989-1991 ) came during that tumultuous period when the city was struggling to expand the council and, ultimately, increase representation by minorities.
“I was elected at large,” she says, “but I could see this wasn’t the way of the future. People got upset with me because I saw things from a legal perspective, not in a political way. I spent most of my time on the council working to put myself out of a job,”
The enlarged 14-1 council, with only the mayor elected at-large, was adopted in 1991 and Miers, unwilling to confine herself to a council district, turned to Bar Association activities for a political outlet. She had been president of the Dallas Bar Association in 1985, but the state presidency was a higher hurdle. Since its inception, the State Bar has been an old-boy’s club, mostly controlled by Houston-area attorneys.
“Believe it or not,” Miers says, “with all the attorneys we have in Dallas, they have more. And they usually vote for their own.”
But Miers had put in a decade of work on bar committees, doing the kind of grass-roots politicking necessary to overcome regional chauvinism. That record, plus her visibility on die city council and her experience with campaigns, helped Miers become the first female State Bar president in 1992.
During her year as president, Miers followed no special agenda favored by female lawyers. To her, the point was to tackle the problems of the day, regardless of your gender-and one of those problems was the conduct of attorneys themselves; among other outrages, some had posed as hospital employees to solicit accident victims. Miers helped to pass the barratry law, making such ambulance-chasing tactics illegal, and set into motion regulations later passed by the bar to restrict attorney advertising. And she stressed the need for Texas’ most successful attorneys to give back to society by providing free legal help for those who cannot afford it. As Texas Lawyer put it, “Miers set a fine example by doing actual, legitimate pro bono work, one of the few bar leaders to live up to the agency’s pro bono goals.”
Paul Coggins: The Government Man
PAUL COGGINS HAS THE KIND OF ACADEMIC CREDENTIALS THAT SEND large law firms scurrying his way with high-dollar offers: summa cum lattde from Yale, Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard Law School, Rhodes scholar. But the lure of a lucrative private practice has never blunted Coggins’ taste for public service. As U.S. Attorney in Dallas, he supervises 85 attorneys who prosecute both civil and criminal violations of federal law in the 100-county Northern District of Texas, overseeing offices in Fort Worth, Lubbock, and Amarillo, as well as Dallas.
“It’s like being the managing partner of four separate law firms.” he says. “We are all litigators, so this must be the largest litigation shop in the state.”
Coggins became known for his litigation talent by defending major figures in the savings and loan scandals, including former Garland Mayor Jim Toler and Edwin McBirney, former chairman of Sunbelt Savings. He left a thriving white collar criminal defense practice to take the U.S. Attorney’s post when his friend and mentor Bill Clinton was elected president in ] 992. Coggins was North Texas co-chairman of the Clinton-Gore campaign. Over the years, he has raised money and held campaign posts for statewide Democratic candidates such as Dan Morales and Bob Kreuger.
Government work pays Coggins $ 110,000 a year, an amount he says represents about a 50 percent pay cut from his salary in the private sector. He jokes that while he’d probably do the job for no pay, he doesn’t want to give Congressional budget-cutters any ideas.
Of course, a U.S. Attorney serves at the pleasure of the president, and if Clinton is not re-elected this November, Coggins is out of a job. So he works to make the most of his tenure, forging alliances between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
He knows that some consider any cooperation between agencies part of an ominous “New World Order” in which all levels of government are allied against the citizenry, In speeches, op-ed pieces, and on his weekly radio program, “Legal Eagles,” Coggins works to convince “the reasonable people” that government is on their side-not perfect, but still their servant.
“Some agencies have been guilty of arrogance,” he says. “The only way to change people’s minds is to run an efficient shop.”
Friends note with some envy the charmed life this amiable 44-year-old New Mexico native has led: scholar; lawyer; novelist; husband to Regina Montoya, a successful attorney and media celebrity; friend of powerful and interesting people.
Where it all leads next, Coggins can only speculate. “I’m intrigued by the criminal justice system. I’ve studied prisons all over the world, and I’d like to help them work better.”
Lawyers Are Everywhere
These prominent Dallantes hold law degrees, hut don’t practice.
KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
Chairman and CEO, Southwest Airlines
Chairman and CEO, Club Corporation of America
Executive Director, Dallas Housing Authority
Former Channel 5 reporter, now president of his own public relations firm specializing in attorneys
President, Texas Commerce Bank
President, Texas Utilities
President, Bon Terre, Ltd.
SMU instructor and columnist for The Dallas Morning News
Chairman, TrammellCrow Companies
Windle Turley: The Crusader
WINDLE TURLEY HAD ONE FINE VICTORY PARTY LAST FALL. It was not because he’d just pocketed a handsome jury verdict. He knew he’d never go to the bank for this one. Even a resounding win would not recoup the $150,000 he invested in the case.
But the 56-year-old personal injury attorney was certain he had done the right thing, representing Dr. Norman Tompkins in his suit against Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion organizations that had aggressively protested against the doctor and his wife for years.
Tu “ley doesn’t believe he or his client will ever see a dime of the $8.6-million verdict returned against Operation Rescue, but still he smiles. Justice is sweet, he says, and the money he has made during 22 years in private practice helps him to achieve a little of it.
“This was the right thing to do,” Turley says about the Tompkins case. “My firm has done well, and I can afford to take on cases that few other attorneys will take.”
Dallas attorney Bruce Budner says he and other trial lawyers have a special place in their hearts for Turley, “Frankly, a lot of plaintiffs attorneys are pretty self-serving,” Budner says. “They just rake in the money and never give anything back. But not Windle. He’s a principled guy and he backs up his convictions with his own money. “
Turley says that somebody has to commit resources so that plaintiffs can match what the big corporations spend. In a case against a major aviation manufacturer, for instance, Turley must be willing to invest-and possibly lose-$500,000.
Turley and his law firm practically invented aviation-related personal injury litigation in the mid-1970s. In his last four trials, he and his firm recovered an average of $15 million per case on an auto crash in a construction zone, two air crashes, and the Tompkins case.
The go-for-broke attitude of plaintiffs’ attorneys has profoundly improved safety, Turley says: “Some corporations balance the cost of human lives against the cost of fixing their messes. Without somebody suing for lots of money, our world would undoubtedly be a lot scarier.”
A lot of that scariness, Turley believes, comes from the easy availability of guns. To address the issue, he and his staff created the Tort Remedies for Handgun Violence Project in 1985. Over the next year or so, they stimulated the filing of dozens of damage suits against gun manufacturers. The project generated media attention, but it didn’t result in high jury awards. And it wound up costing him a lot of money. Perhaps, Turley figures, he was just ahead of his time. Whatever the problem, defeat was hard to take.
“If you have a client confined to a wheelchair and you have to tell him you weren’t successful, you never get over it.” Turley believes that the timing of the new concealed-handgun law in Texas, along with the rush to cap jury awards and restrict the ability to sue, will prove an unreasonable burden on the public. In his view, Americans are giving up more freedom than they think. “The only lawsuit that makes sense to anyone is your own,” he says. “But the freedom to recover damages is like free speech. You have to guarantee it to others in order to have it for yourself.”
George Bramblett: The Ideal Law Partner
LIKE ROCK BANDS, LAW FIRMS FREQUENTLY SPLIT UP AFter years of success. Egos expand with bank accounts. Creative differences appear, and the members decide to go their separate ways. In Dallas, that usually happens once a firm grows to about 50 lawyers-especially if it lacks the sure and steady hand of a law partner like George Bramblett.
The 55-year-old Bramblett could be a superstar in his own right. He is, in fact, one of the city’s top trial lawyers. His name would be formidable at the head of his own law firm. But Bramblett is a born ensemble player, and he’sessentialasapartneratthe247-lau7erfirmofHaynes and Boone. Dallas Business journal recently listed Haynes and Boone as the third largest firm in Dallas, up from its fifth-place ranking last year.
“George is our people person,” says Don Templin, who has been a partner alongside Bramblett for more than 20 years. “He is a leader of the trend toward more effective partnerships, which has allowed firms in this city to add a couple hundred lawyers without coming apart.”
His associates say he has everything you expect in a good law partner: the willingness to share his time with others in the firm (which counts D Magazine among its many clients), the ability to handle administrative duties (such as recruiting), and the resolve not to fight over money or decision-making power. And he may be the best recruiter in the business. It was Bramblett’s idea in the late 1980s to pursue David Keltner, former appeals court judge, to head a new appellate section for the firm. “I recognized that having a really strong appellate section was a good idea,” Bramblett says. “I convinced David to come with us, and I can say that his is one of our strongest practice areas.”
That’s about the only time Bramblett uses the “I” word during a lengthy interview. Ask him about himself, and he talks about his partners or his firm. Bramblett’s reticence at self-promotion may not fit the hired-gun image of attorneys, but it makes him an outstanding partner.
“George is a guy you could trust with your life,” says an attorney at another firm. “You can always bank on what he says, even if he is opposing you,”
The same attorney notes that in the area that really matters in a law firm- the ability to attract business- Bramblett is one of the city’s most consistent rainmakers because “he can walk into almost any venue and be welcome. ” He has long been active in Democratic Party politics, but he also serves on the board of directors of the Republican-leaning Dallas Citizens Council. Since the judiciary in Dallas is almost completely Republican, he supports many of these candidates. ” Being a Democrat doesn’t hurt me in court,” Bramblett says, “If it makes any difference at all, the Republican judges bend over backwards to be fair with me so that no one accuses them of being biased.”
Over the years, Bramblett has formed a close bond with name partner Mike Boone, beginning as friends at the SMU Law School. (Boone and Dick Haynes started the firm in 1970 and Bramblett joined them three years later.) Boone, president of the Highland Park School District, is closely associated with Gov. George W. Bush and other top Republicans. Just as Bramblett is the “people person,” Boone is the fiscal wizard. “We’ve been successful because of Mike Boone’s financial leadership,” says Bramblett, again dishing out credit. “We weren’t out to be the biggest, baddest guys in town. Our vision is limited by the need to have sustained growth. Uncontrolled growth is not sustainable, and in the long run it doesn’t benefit clients,”
Larry Stuart: The Dealmaker
Armed with a large enough bank account, surely you can buy anything your heart desires. Not so, says Larry Stuart. Companies whose earnings potential make them attractive takeover targets have many potential buyers.
As outside counsel for the investment firm of Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, Inc., Stuart was the city’s supreme deal-maker over the past decade, arranging between $7 billion and $8 billion in acquisitions along with countless public and junk bond offerings. Last October, he left his job as managing partner of the Dallas office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges to join Hicks, Muse as a partner.
His first act after the move was to negotiate Tom Hicks’ purchase of the Dallas Stars. The $84-million deal was consummated after only three meetings in a week-long period. It was an atypical transaction for Stuart, since buying a sports franchise has less to do with bottom-line numbers than with civic pride and the fun of sports. Still, Stuart says, emotion cannot rule, Purchase price and the terms of the deal are important.
Stuart’s brand of lawyering has little to do with the contentious atmosphere of the courtroom. As a “transaction lawyer,” his job is to bring people together into agreement. Being able to consummate a deal takes a certain “sense of smell” to know what kind or inducement will cause a seller to accept your offer over another.BR>Under Stuart’s steady supervision, the successes have been legendary. They include the acquisitions of Dallas-based Dr Pepper (a $1.2-billion purchase) in 1989, a division of Occidental Petroleum ($780 million) in 1991, Berg Electronics ($370 million) in 1993, and G. Heileman Brewing Company ($400 million) in 1994.
11 Dr Pepper was the best,” Stuart says.
“There was so much sophisticated financing involved in that transaction, and it was done from start to finish in 10 days.”
Sixty to 120 days is normal for most complex purchases, and some don’t happen at all. Topping the list of the ones that got away was the billion-dollar offer for Dallas-based Home Interiors & Gifts. Stuart and his negotiating team took the deal to the brink before owner Donald Carter decided not to sell.
“I hate to see a deal not make,” Stuart says. “It frustrates me.” Not that you could ever tell it. Friends describe the balding, 51-year-old Stuart as the most laid-back lawyer you could ever imagine.
“He is an understated advocate,” says a fellow attorney. “He rarely pays too much for anything, And if he does, he’ll never let you know it.”
The Hot Zones
Who says the law is dull? Specialists like these are solving problems that weren’t even problems a few years ago.
ON THE LONG LINE FROM GENOA, ITALY, Joe W. (Chip) Pills III says that the globalization of business is increasing whether we like it or not; his job is to help integrate the trade of his clients with those of foreign interests. A partner in the international section of Baker & McKenzie, which has more than 1,7 00 attorneys in 55 cities worldwide, Pitts is like a legal Baedeker to the business practices of foreign lands.
In addition to representing local interests around the world, he is the firm’s expert on NAFTA, GATT, and the World Trade Organization. To Pius, discussions about whether this country should participate in such treaties are meaningless. “To keep our position in the world economy, we will be there,” he says. “It’s my job to make sure the problems people like Ross Perot warned about work out the best for my clients.”
What was once patent and trademark law has become, in the age of high-tech, intellectual property. “This area of law involves the misuse of thoughts, concepts, and ideas, assets you can’t put your finger on,” says Jerry Mills, considered the area’s master trial attorney specializing in intellectual property.
Head of a 55-lawyer section at Baker & Botts-the area’s largest LP. practice -Mills participated in landmark copyright infringement cases against Japanese companies, bringing billions of dollars in royalties to Texas Instruments, DSC Communications, and Electronic Data Systems, among others.
“We used to be just a bunch of electrical engineers who talked funny because we also had law degrees,” Mills says. “Now our work contributes major revenue numbers to the nation’s largest corporations.”
When most companies sever relationships with each other, several hundred years of contract law and legal precedent guide the terms of their dissolution.
When a computer service company like Electronic Data Systems loses a contract, there really are few rules to handle the questions thai arise. Who owns the computet software used to do the job. and what about ownership of the actual work product?
As the computer gum at Gardere & Wynne, Peter Vogel is involved in creating new law every day. Originally trained as a computer programmer, he helps clients walk the fine line between disclosing enough about a computer application to interest potential buyers and simply giving the software away.
“I’ve been doing this kind of law since 1978,” Vogel says. “In the last year, the tremendous explosion of the Internet has made the idea of protecting trade secrets very difficult. You can pirate almost anything from the ’Net.”
Vogel teaches computer law at the SMU Law School, serves as a special court master in computer technology, and consults with the Texas secretary of state on computerized election systems. Working through various bar organizations, his mission is to teach other lawyers not to underestimate the power of computers.
Marcos Ronquillo BEGAN HIS IMMIGRATION WORK HELP-ing political refugees from Central America on a pro bono basis. Today, he is just as likely to help ARCO get a green card for an electrical engineer from the Middle East.
“Our practice follows the headlines,” Ronquillo says. “It’s Hong Kong entrepreneurs wanting to get their money out before the Communists take over. Or it’s big companies needing to import high-tech workers because they can’t hire enough of] them in this country,”
Ronquillo learned the wide ramifications of his specialty as chairman of the State Bar of Texas Committee on Immigration and Nationality Law. He won the Bar President’s Special Citation Award for his work in this field.
Lena Levario, criminal defense attorney and a former district judge, says Ronquillo’s civic good works and power as an attorney benefit Dallasites of all nationalities.
Ronquillo is past president of the Dallas Mexican American Bar Association and past chairman of the Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He now serves on the board of Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
YOU COULD CALL, Susan Mead THE MOTHER OF CITY-place and the Stale-Thomas area, where she worked on rezoning, taxation, and historic preservation issues.
But as head of the Land Use and Zoning Section of Fulbright & Jaworski. Mead is more like ;i band leader.
She coaxes outstanding performances out of developers, property owners, surrounding homeowners, and municipalities, convincing them to act in concert. What results is, to her, art, in the form of cities that are both livable and vibrant with commerce.
Mead and the lawyers in her section recently aided the redevelopment of downtown areas in Fort Worth and Austin. This is law done not in courtrooms but before city councils, planning commissions, urban renewal boards, and landmark committees.
“I’m in a rare area of the law where you can drive around the city and point to an impact you made,” Mead says. “This is one of the few jobs in life that begins with an idea and has an actual product at the end.”
IF YOUR BROKERAGE ACCOUNT IS GOING SOUTH WHILE the stock market reaches new highs. Mike O’Neill can tell you whether to blame your own bad timing-or the illegal actions of an outlaw with a trading license.
O’Neill represents individuals against slock brokers accused of “churning” the account (excessive trading) or making outrageously reckless trades when the customer has asked for a conservative approach.
“Most of the victims are elderly people with a new sum of money and little experience in finances,” he says, “who unfortunately meet a broker who is focused on commissions.”
The number of these suits increases each year, says O’Neill, due to the increasing number of people entering the stock market. To avoid these losses, he suggests you spread your assets between more than one broker and insist on monthly account statements you can understand.
“I’d also stay with the big brokerage houses,” he says. “You could prove terrible conduct against some of these boiler-room phone operations, but you’d never collect any money from them.”
NAME A LARGE BANKRUPTCY ANYWHERE IN Texas and chances are that Dan Stewart and his team from Winstead Securest & Minick represent either the busted party or the creditors.
Currently, Stewart is handling the largest cases pending in Dallas (Southwestern Life Corporation), Austin (El Paso Electric Company ), and San Antonio ( Intelogic Trace, Inc. ).
“Whether we represent the debtor or the creditor, our first responsibility is to see if a financial restructuring is possible,” Stewart says. “That’s always the preferred option for everyone, if there’s enough money on the horizon to satisfy the debts.”
In the 1980s, he represented a Chicago bank accused by Nelson and Bunker Hunt of maliciously lending them too much money to repay. More recently, Stewart helped Dallas-based Chief Auto Parts obtain new financing to help the company grow. Last year, he represented a major lender in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Trammell Crow International Partners in Louisville, Ky. Stewart’s reorganization plan calls for full repayment of $100 million in debt.
NOTHING BOTHERS Randy Johnston more than an incompetent attorney. “There are some bad apples out there, and my job is to weed them out,” says the flamboyant trial attorney, who admits he wades through some petty client griping before taking a legitimate case of legal malpractice.
“Everyone hates his lawyer when he loses,” Johnston says, “but not every losing lawyer is guilty of malpractice. I’m like a traffic cop pulling over the worst offenders.”
Bristling at the suggestion that he is anti-attorney, Johnston says he really specializes in the law of being a lawyer. In addition to malpractice, he handles the dissolution of partnerships and disputes when attorneys break contracts. He also teaches continuing legal education courses on how to avoid malpractice and the other pitfalls of being a lawyer.
NATIONALLY, THE DECADES-LONG RUSH TO LAW SCHOOL seems to be slowing down-but don’t worry about finding a lawyer. The Texas Legal Directory lists 56,000 lawyers in the state, with 12,000 men and women practicing law in Dallas County.