Family

I often describe the Harris County courthouse like a high school. I don’t know how big yours was, but my graduating class was around 400. At any given time there were something like 2,000 students enrolled. And, as a student, you saw the same teachers, students, and staff every day, day-in and day-out, for years.

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September 9, 2016

The courthouse is similar.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office currently employs around 300 prosecutors. About half of those can be found daily in the 38 district and county courts. Others, assigned to specialty divisions or in supervisory and administrative roles, ride the elevators every day to their offices on the 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th floors—mostly out of sight.

Similarly, the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association (HCCLA)—Houston’s criminal defense bar organization (and the largest local defense bar in the nation)—boasts over 700 members. Some of the lawyers who specialize in criminal defense in Harris County are not members (though not many). And others are members—frequently ballyhooed as interlopers—who dabble in criminal law but are primarily practicing in family law, estate planning, or some other unrelated field. But by and large, the whole of HCCLA’s membership represents the lawyers who show up every day to 1201 Franklin and ride the elevators up to the various courts in defense of the rights of their clients.

So, you have about 1,000 lawyers, plus clerks, bailiff’s and other court staff walking through the same doors and riding the same elevators to the same courtrooms 52 weeks a year. Just like high school, there are rumors, and plenty of gossip, if you choose to partake.

Recently, I heard someone describe the courthouse differently: not like a high school, but rather like a dysfunctional family. The “dysfunctional” part grated on me as pejorative. But the “family” part rang true. Sure, there are disagreements (some heated) and gossip. But there’s also tremendous support and encouragement.

For example, a couple of months ago I needed help. I was in day two of a trial in Harris County, but on the same morning I was expected to be in court in Fort Bend County to help two clients there. I sent a quick message over HCCLA’s email listserv and within minutes a colleague had volunteered to help. He showed up in my place and reset my cases—freeing me up to be fully present in trial.

And it’s like that all the time. Three years ago, when I flew out to California to be with my father in his final days, a colleague, in one motion, referred a client to me, interviewed him on my behalf, helped the client sign a contract with me, and attended his court setting—ensuring that my practice didn’t wither while I attended to my family.

Ask almost anyone in the courthouse. Cancer. Divorce. Death of a loved one. Where a member of the family has been courageous enough to share a need, I can almost guarantee that there’s a corresponding story about the way the bar responded by stepping in to meet that need with kindness and generosity.

We’re not a perfect bunch. We all have our own individual flaws. Certainly egos abound. And we don’t always get along. But where the rubber meets the road, we step up and we help each other. Because that’s what family is about.

And I’m darn proud to be a member of this family.