Lessons and impressions from 50 years of practicing law

By James Boanerges

When I was attending Lamar High School in Houston, a lawyer and an accountant came to campus one day to address the student body. The first speaker, famous criminal defense attorney Percy Foreman, made a huge impression with his booming voice and engaging smile. The accountant, a mild-mannered, nondescript fellow, simply could not compete. Several years later, working as an attorney, I was taking a tour of students around the courthouse. While we were waiting for the elevators in the basement of the criminal courts building, Foreman walked up. I proudly introduced him to the group, and he graciously beamed out to the kids as he had to me. One of those students may have written his or her account of becoming a lawyer as a result of that experience.

In the summer of 1962, I had three years of college, no LSAT, no degree. Only the idea of becoming a lawyer. My new bride and I visited law schools in Texas, all of which turned me down and told me to come back with a degree—except for Baylor. I found out that the process of making lawyers was similar to selecting a jury; only about a third stick around. This truth was built into the design of the classrooms, with each year’s class size getting progressively smaller as more students gave up or were not allowed to return. Because I had no undergraduate degree and had a wife and child, I had no alternative but to study and pass. I was licensed in 1964 at age 22.

I got a job with a personal injury defense firm, and my mentor was Henry Giessel. Hank, as he likes to be called, is the most intelligent, eloquent, and charming man I have ever met. I slipped out of the office at every opportunity to watch him in court. Once, at the conclusion of his argument, the courtroom was so spellbound that total silence persisted for several minutes before the judge asked Hank’s opponent, “Counsel, do you wish to respond?” The poor fellow cleared his throat and asked, “Judge, can I get a drink of water?” I was as hooked as when I heard Foreman speak back in high school.

Fifty years has flown by. Jesus was right—each day has had problems of its own. There isn’t room for error. There is always another lawyer looking over your shoulder and a judge to grade your papers. Ultimately, the jury gets to decide.

My lesson has been that the best form of government ever devised is the jury system. I have seen our society improve because of lawyers and jury verdicts—cars are safer, government officials are more honest, businesses are more law-abiding. As long as we have juries, we will be safe. And as long as we have juries, we will need good lawyers.

Houston firm sponsors scholarship to encourage text-free driving among teens

The Houston law firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend is bringing attention to Distracted Driving Awareness Month by sponsoring its second annual Text Free Texas Scholarship Contest. The team of personal injury attorneys has noted their firsthand experience of how devastating one text can be.

Sophomore, junior, and senior students at El Campo High School, Lee High School, Waltrip High School, or Eastwood Academy in the Houston area are eligible to enter the contest by submitting a 150-word (or less) pledge to not text while behind the wheel. Pledges can be submitted by posting them on the law firm’s Facebook or Google+ pages. In May, Abraham Watkins will select the four top entries (one from each school), and the winners will each receive $250.

For more information, go to abrahamwatkins.com.

Personal injury award of $281 million for South Texas family of man killed by tractor-trailer driveshaft

In May of 2012, a driveshaft fell off a tractor-trailer traveling down FM 133 in Dimmit County, flew through the windshield of an oncoming vehicle, and struck the passenger of that vehicle—Carlos Aguilar—in the face. Aguilar died at the hospital the same day. The tractor-trailer was owned by Heckmann Water Resources, which transports wastewater from Eagle Ford Shale operations.  

On Dec. 7, 2013, a jury found that Heckmann was negligent in Aguilar’s wrongful death. The jury awarded Aguilar’s surviving wife, five children, and parents $281 million. One hundred million dollars of this was for punitive damages. “The verdict is the largest ever to my knowledge in auto accidents with oil trucks in the Eagle Ford Shale area,” said the family’s counsel, Ronald Rodriguez, of the Law Office of Ronald Rodriguez in Laredo.

Commercial interest in the Eagle Ford Shale site—which produces a great deal of natural gas and oil—has benefited the South Texas economy; but as the number of semitrailers on the road has increased, so too has the number of traffic-related deaths.

Heckmann’s parent company, Nuverra Environmental Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz., has indicated that it will appeal the decision.