“Can They Really Do That?”
Why I Fight For the Underdog
Looking back, I guess it makes sense I became a lawyer. But when I was a kid, there was never any grand plan for me to get there. I always loved school and enjoyed speaking and reading. I also could not tolerate things that I thought were unfair. But I was not the type of kid who stayed up until the wee hours of the morning watching Law & Order reruns. After college, I decided to go to grad school because it was a way to continue my education, which I wasn’t in a hurry to end. I considered medicine — you have to when your dad and brother are both doctors. However, I was drawn to issues of right and wrong and how to help people in trouble, not just how to fix broken bodies, so law seemed like a better fit. I had a vague idea that I might enjoy becoming an attorney, so I gave law school a shot.
It didn’t take me long to realize it was a perfect fit. Like any budding trial lawyer, I admit I occasionally dreamed of myself in the role of Atticus Finch. I’ve rooted for underdogs my entire life. When I watch a sporting event and have no vested interest in either team, you can bet I’m rooting for the underdog. Maybe that’s the result of being the youngest of four children. With two older brothers and an older sister, you quickly learn how to stand up for yourself (or get run over). When we played games, I was often the scrawny David on the field against a bunch of Goliaths.
Drawn to helping the underdog, I knew I would never become a corporate lawyer working for a megafirm. I think many of my teachers, from kindergarten through law school, might say I’m a bit too independent-minded for that. Instead, I wanted to represent regular folks in the face of institutions. The first way I did this was through criminal defense. (Atticus Finch strikes again!) I enjoyed going up against government prosecutors to help folks in criminal trouble. I also enjoyed civil trial work, and I eventually transitioned into personal injury and family law cases.
Years ago, I was thrust into another practice area that allows me to fight for the little guy. My parents owned a small ranch in north Texas, and one day they got a letter saying that a giant company planned to run 80-foot tall electric power line towers across their property, ruining the beauty of the ranch. They were angry, afraid, and didn’t know what to do. How could a company just come and take their land? Can they really do that?
As the only lawyer in the family, I got the call for help. The result was a crash course in how to fight for landowners when the government (or a company) wants to take their land for a public project using the power of “eminent domain.”
While we were not able to stop the power lines completely, I was able to get them much more compensation than the company initially offered. I was also able to protect their rights by insisting on the best possible terms for the easement.
After helping my folks fight this project, I added eminent domain to my practice as another way to fight for real people against the anonymous powers that be. It is, I think, a very Texan approach to the law.
I guess I would’ve figured out a way to fight for the underdog no matter what I ended up doing — I’m just glad I found this particular way to do it.
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