April 4, 2019 - As part of the University of Houston Law Center's Inaugural Distinguished Lecturer Series, students in adjunct professor J. Michael Solar's course recently received advice and wisdom from some of the most recognized trial lawyers in the Houston area. Speakers have included Vivian King, Rusty Hardin, David Matthiesen, Ryan Patrick and John Eddie Williams.
Solar's colloquium style class, "The Modern Day Trial Lawyer: Redefining Trials & Trial Lawyers" analyzes if the characteristics of classical trial lawyers are relevant in a time where jury trials continue to diminish.
Patrick currently serves as the U.S. Attorney for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. He previously was a judge at the 177th state district court. He is the son of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
He said young attorneys who have been "bit by the trial bug" have a number of options they can pursue.
"If you want to be a lawyer and you want to be in front of a jury and be able to make arguments, criminal law is one of the areas where you can succeed," he said. "You can go be a defense attorney or go to the prosecutor's office and become a DA.
"If there's something about standing in front of a jury and the performance of it, you can do that in front of a judge or in the mediation room. But that is a major difference between being able to stand up in front of 12 strangers that have no idea where you're coming from. Getting them to agree with you and buy into your story can keep you coming back."
King is the Chief of Staff for Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. King did criminal defense at her private practice from 1995 to 2016. She previously worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Harris County from 1992-1995.
King told students that while jury trials are less common, there are still opportunities to get that experience.
"There's still a lot of trials to be had if you want to be a trial lawyer," she said. "If that's what your passion is, people will hire you when they don't want to plead guilty and have a trial."
Hardin of Rusty Hardin & Associates has been in private practice since 1996, where he has represented numerous professional athletes and other public figures. He previously served as an Assistant District Attorney for 15 years, where he never lost a jury trial, and tried 14 death penalty cases and 100 felony jury trials.
Hardin commended Texas' unique sentencing authority for giving the defense the choice between a bench trial and a jury trial.
"Texas is the best state in the country to be a defense attorney," Hardin said. "You have a backstop if you think you have an unfavorable judge - the backstop is 12 citizens."
Matthiesen is a mediator with more than 5,000 cases of experience. He has been a trial lawyer since 1979 and founded Matthiesen & Associates in 1990. He analyzed the differences between mediation and jury trials.
"When discussing the advantages and disadvantages of mediation vs. trial, really there are no disadvantages," he said. "It is a private, confidential and privileged matter. No one really leaves a mediation, even if it doesn't settle, worse off than they came.
"The downside is you're never going to get a home run. You're never going to settle a case for your best-case scenario like you can at the courthouse. At the courthouse you can get a home run."
Williams is the managing partner of Williams Kherkher. He is known for securing the largest settlement in U.S. history when he represented the State of Texas against the tobacco industry in 1995. He shared his preferences for jury trials instead arbitration, and trying cases outside of the state.
"There is an inherent bias in arbitration that's a problem," Williams said. "There is a tendency to try to not upset both sides. No arbitrator that I know of is going to do something to upset the large corporations of the world, because if they do they will never be selected again as an arbitrator for these wealthy corporations.
"Most of the time now, I'm trying cases outside of Texas. Our No. 1 rule at my firm is stay out of Texas if you can. I think the tort laws are very biased in Texas in favor of the wealthy, privileged insurance companies."
The class is limited to 12 third-year students, however the lectures will be made available to a larger audience online in the UHLC Distinguished Lecturer Digital Library Series at a later date.