2015.70: Okay, Stan. Okay.

(Go to the bottom of the post and click play.)

When I first read this, I have to admit, I had an ego reaction. Hey, I’m in my 40s!:


(That’s an interview of Stan Schneider by Brandon Ball in the Summer 2015 HCCLA Defender.)

It’s not the “you’re not like Dick and Dan” that bothered me — I bring different skills to a practice of law that is different than it was when Dick DeGuerin or Dan Cogdell were my age.

It’s the “leaders” comment that poked my ego.

Maybe Stan is being uncharacteristically inaccurate in his words — maybe by “leaders” he simply means “great lawyers.” Dick DeGuerin, Dan Cogdell, Kent and Randy Schaffer, Jack Zimmermann, Jim Lavine, Mike Ramsey: all (and more of that generation whom Stan hasn’t named — Tyrone Moncriffe, Katherine Scardino, Candy Elizondo, Lonnie Knowles, as well as these guys) are great lawyers who have gotten great results for their clients.

If by “leaders” Stan means “great lawyers,” then I would argue that Stan needs to look around to see that this generation has its great lawyers. Not like Dan and Dick — not white dudes, for one thing, and products of a different time — but great lawyers nonetheless, who have quietly racked up victories that compare to anything Dan and Dick accomplished at that age.

Except for Jim Lavine (who was mentored by Jack Zimmermann), the lawyers Stan named all were mentored by Percy Foreman or Racehorse Haynes. If each of them had paid it forward, there would be a cloud of great lawyers making their own names at the criminal courthouse.

Mentoring makes the next generation great. If there is indeed a deficit of “amazing” lawyers in their 40s, the blame is squarely on Stan and those he names. Can you name one lawyer in her 40s mentored by each of the lawyers that Stan lists? I doubt it; I know that I can’t. If I have my memealogy right, Percy mentored Racehorse, and Racehorse mentored Dick and Dan and Jack and Mike. Dick mentored Neal Davis; Dan mentored Rob Swofford (who’s out of the game); Jack mentored his daughter Terri; Mike mentored Chip Lewis. I’m sure Kent and Randy have mentored associates as well.

I don’t think “leaders” means “great lawyers.” Being a great lawyer — or even an amazing lawyer — is not the same as being a leader. A lawyer can rack up an impressive record of wins without inspiring the next generation of lawyers to greatness.

The 20th Century raised a few stars in the Houston criminal-defense firmament. Those stars have for the most part failed (as evidenced by Stan’s concern) to elevate the next generation. The media, also, do not make stars of criminal-defense lawyers as once they did. But I would argue that while it has fewer stars, my generation of Houston criminal-defense lawyers has at least as many leaders as the generations that came before us.

I have not seen the stars that Stan listed seek out opportunities to mentor young lawyers. They sometimes hire associates, and train them up, but I don’t believe they look for opportunities to mentor protégés if their mentorship will not directly benefit them. That is, they’ll mentor their associates, but not outsiders. Mentoring makes the staff better, so being mentored is a benefit of being hired.

For the leaders of my generation, by contrast, mentoring is a raison d’être. They mentor young solos not because there is anything in it for them, but because they want the whole criminal-defense bar to be a little better.

I see two contrasting (but not mutually exclusive) memetic strategies: the old strategy of mentoring one or two associates at a time; and the new strategy of mentoring as many people as you can.

My own criminal-defense mentor, Jim Skelton, subscribed to the new strategy. He was always available to answer questions, and he had young lawyers over to his house on Wednesday afternoons for brainstorming sessions. I learned from watching him, and I’ve tried to pay it forward to as many young lawyers — in Houston and anywhere else — as will listen.

The old-school strategy produced a short list of stars; the new strategy will produce an army of instigators.

14 responses to “2015.70: Okay, Stan. Okay.”

  1. Mark- The Harris County defense bar has plenty of great lawyers in their 30s and 40s. Moreover, In the last 10 years the defense bar has seen tremendous leaders step forward. Danny Easterling, Cindy Henley, Troy McKinney, Pat McCann, Mark Bennett,Joanne Musick, Nicole DeBorde, and Earl Musick ( to name a few), have all stepped forward to lead the defense bar. With others they have helped turn the defense bar into an activist Association.

    Members like Sarah Wood have institutionalized mentoring. You don’t have to be one of the lucky few to get a good mentor now. Thanks to Sarah and others mentoring is available to the many.

    Houston has produced many fine defense lawyers. We continue to produce great defense lawyers. We are also stronger than ever as a defense bar. One person’s inability to see the obvious doesnt mean a thing. As far as I am concerned the good old days are in front of us.

    Robb Fickman

  2. Mark makes a valid point. My “generation” (Jesus, I AM getting old), usually focused on primarily mentoring only our associates. That’s really the case even today. While I speak relatively frequently at CLE’s, I spend very little time with younger lawyers who do not work for me. Honestly, some of that boils down to economics. Having a staff as well as two full time associates, Offices, etc., etc. is (as any criminal lawyer knows) extremely expensive. There is simply little to no time to spend with lawyers otherwise. Sad but true. Last but not least, whenever I see my name mentioned in the same sentence as Racehorse, Ramsey, Dick, etc., it’s truly humbling. I became a lawyer because of those guys. They inspired me long before I ever had the chance to work with them (or for them, for that matter).

  3. well he isn’t seeing old white guys who charge a buttload and use the court for their own stage in the world of bread and circuses so that may confuse his synapses a bit and can someone clue him in to that pesky truth tht being: women freaking practice criminal defense and can tear it up with the rest of y’all. Please…

  4. Mark, I have “mentored” a series of outstanding lawyers who have worked for me, Chris Flood, Charles Flood, John Parras, Neal Davis, Matt Hennessy, and Todd Ward, just to name a few. For the last 20 years I have taught law students at the University of Texas, many of whom have become prosecutors or defense lawyers. I have donated my salary to the Law School to fund scholarships. I’m proud of my students’ and my associates’ achievements. I will continue to “mentor” these fine young lawyers as long as I’m able, and as long as I’m asked to. It doesn’t necessarily “benefit me” but it gives me great satisfaction. So when you say you haven’t seen the “stars” do it, look a little closer.

  5. I’ve worked with most of the attorneys mentioned in Stan’s quote (I’d also give a shoutout to Lewis Dickson, who’s buried in the Chronicle article and still practices in very limited situations, as well as Brian Wice), and it’s simply untrue that there are not great criminal lawyers in their 30’s and 40’s. The guy who writes this blog is one of them. There are lots of non-whites and females, too, from Eric Davis to Casie Gotro, in addition to all the lawyers Mark has mentioned. Really, there are too many to list, which is a testament to how strong our defense bar is AND has historically been. For many decades, Houston has been ground-zero for having among the best criminal (not to mention civil) attorneys in the country.

    Like Mark, I’ll therefore assume Stan meant what he said—that there isn’t a “next generation” of leaders. If leadership means mentoring, or helping lawyers become better, then mentoring can be done in different ways. It doesn’t have to be done at a set time at the CJC, or at a brainstorming session, with young lawyers. I think that’s a narrow view of mentoring. Different trial tactics can be equally effective in a given situation, and the same could be said about mentoring.

    I personally have seen Stan Schneider and Dick DeGuerin in a mentoring role, so I can talk about them.

    Dick has already posted about his mentoring. I’d add that I was a student in his class, which singlehandedly led to me becoming a defense attorney. When I watched him in federal trial one summer as a law student, and asked him why he did certain things, he’d explain them to me. By my conservative count, he has taught 20 years, with an average of 30 law students or so, which means he has taught 600 law students. Speakers for his classes ranged from Lewis Dickson to Judge Onion and others. When I worked with Dick for over a decade, he spoke at seminars when his schedule allowed for it (like Dan) and he would meet with any attorney who wanted advice or input on a case.

    Stan, for his part, has been instrumental in bringing the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College seminars to Texas, under the TCDLA banner, and making it much more affordable to attend than if a lawyer went to a TLC event. He has actively recruited lawyers to attend the TLC seminars, and teaches there (I assume for little or no money). If there were still a local coffee bar open, like Starbucks or Macondo, you’d see Stan there almost every morning and could have coffee and talk about your cases with him. I’ve considered Stan a mentor, and told him as much, so he certainly meets my definition. If I called Stan or Dick right now and said “I need to see you and get your advice on a situation,” they’d say when and where. I’m sure Dan would do the same, and I know Brian Wice would.

    Like Dan, my mentoring has been focused on associates. I know I can do more, and will do so. I love the idea of an army of instigators. The stronger the defense bar, the healthier our democracy and criminal justice system.

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