Who were mentors to you in the practice of law and what did you learn from these people?
Dallas, TX trial attorney Warren Burns talks about two very important people to him and how they have influenced the way he practices law.
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None of us got here by ourself. I think that we’ve all benefited over the course of our lives and our career from people who have shepherded us along the way. And that’s certainly true in my case. You know, I’ll tell you, I came out of law school probably like most young, hotshot lawyers. I thought I knew everything in the world and knew everything I needed to be a trial lawyer.
That just wasn’t the case. What you quickly learn if you’ve got anything to you is that you don’t know much when you come out of law school. You don’t know much when you come out of clerkship. And that being a successful lawyer and being able to represent your clients means that you’ve got to put the hard work in and you’ve got to learn from others.
I was incredibly fortunate in my career before founding this firm with my other partners to have worked very closely with two real legends in the trial bar. Gentleman that I respect practically more than anyone else I can think of. That’s Steve Susman and Lee Godfrey. Both at Susman Godfrey, the first firm I joined after a clerkship. They were both unique in their own ways and very much – very different in many ways.
Steve is this filter-less dynamo who is an incredible lawyer and has had incredible success over the years. But what I learned from Steve is that as a trial lawyer, this is very personal to you. What you’ve done in the last 20 years doesn’t really matter to the jury that’s hearing you for the first time as you’re picking them or during opening arguments or during opening statements.
So, what Steve taught me is that, look, you can’t rest on your laurels. You’ve got to prepare for every case like it’s your first one. You’ve got to put that work in. because if you put that work in, then you’re going to be able to succeed. You’re going to be able to tell your client’s story effectively. And hopefully, you’re going to pull out that win for them.
Lee Godfrey was probably just one of the greatest gentlemen, in every sense of that word, that I’ve ever known. He was quintessential trial lawyer. Very smooth, very elegant, and an incredible man to be around. But, what Lee taught me, I think, more than anything is, look, you have to treat everyone with respect. And that’s not only your client. That’s not only the juries you’re trying to convince. But, it’s your opposing counsel on the other side.
Because I tell you what, this business is hard enough when you get along with your opposing counsel. It’s even worse when you’re at loggerheads constantly over stuff that just doesn’t matter. Lee was just probably the best I’ve ever seen at getting people to focus collegially in a way that advanced everyone’s interests and allowed you or him to get his client’s case to trial as quickly and efficiently and as best position as he could.