To Glen Wilkerson, itâ€™s all about the people.
Whether itâ€™s a client, a fellow lawyer, or a judge, the long-time Austin attorney has perfected the art of fully engaging with whoever he is sitting across from.
So itâ€™s no surprise that Wilkerson, who joined the law firm of Howry, Breen & Herman LLP over the summer, identified one of the biggest challenges for the profession as making the cost of litigation more reasonable. â€œMost folks as individuals cannot afford to litigate even what may appear to be the simplest of disputes,â€ he said. That bothers Wilkerson. And that fact makes him a good candidate for our Wednesday interview.
1. Describe your legal practice?
GW: Howry, Breen & Herman LLP is primarily a civil litigation trial firm. These cases can be in state court, federal court, or, as is becoming more common, arbitration. The types of cases range from Plaintiffâ€™s personal injury, commercial and construction to commercial, real estate, construction and professional negligence defense which is an accurate description of my practice over the last 8 to 10 years. Our clients vary from individuals, small businesses, to large corporate and/or institutional entities. Our client objective is to zealously but ethically advocate our clientâ€™s causes with the goal of reaching an acceptable outcome, hopefully on some economic basis that makes sense in the context of what and how much is in dispute.
2. What are the biggest challenges of those you interact with on the legal front, and what is the key to helping them resolve those challenges.
GW: The biggest challenge is the cost of litigation. It is too expensive. Most folks as individuals cannot afford to litigate even what appear to be the simplest of disputes. The result of this reality is that the court house â€“ – and access to public justice â€“ – is off limits to all but a select few who are either very poor or those who are more wealthy. The paramount key to keeping the cost of litigation more within limits is teamwork between lawyers and our judges. Judges must be involved with limiting cost, and certainly the exploding cost of â€œelectronic discoveryâ€ (i.e. emails etc.). If they are not involved, then the lawyer who hopes to control costs has no hope of avoiding an aggressive opposing advocate who has no practical limit on what his or her client will spend. Some judges are very willing to get involved in this process. Others are not. Our legal rules for resolving disputes are sound and make good sense. But they cannot be enforced to perfection in most cases in that the costs will be great for the amount in controversy. If this issue is not resolved, soon a high proportion of citizens will attempt to represent themselves. Legal Zoom is not just a product. It is a harbinger of the future for the masses if judges, lawyers and the legislature do not get their act together and make the system work for all citizens with less transaction costs.
3. What are the advantages to practicing law in Austin?
GW: The lawyers in Austin are of the highest quality and comparable to any city or location in the country. Our Judges on every level â€“ – city, state, federal â€“ – are impartial, well respected and interested in reaching a fair and common sense result with the bounds of the law. We are blessed to be able to state to our clients that they can almost always get a fair trial in our area.
4. How would you improve the legal profession if you could?
GW: I would dramatically increase the interaction of the lawyers and the judges. When I started my practice, you could have personal access to a district judge. You could get something done at a fraction of the cost of what the time and effort is today. You knew with a phone call what could be done and what should be done. This gave you the ability to reduce the costs to the client to achieve a reasonable result. If the lawyers are left to themselves, there is too much of a driving incentive to keep the file open so that there is no control over costs. The judge can do so much to move the process along â€“ – fairly and with due regard for all parties. Whether this will ever happen again is an open question. I am not holding my breath
5. What or who was your biggest influence in becoming a lawyer and why?
GW: Fear. My wife. I got married. Two months later I started law school. I had no job prospects if I failed. My wife was smart, capable, a hard worker, and had a wonderful job. I was under the gun. I had met one lawyer for about 10 minutes before I went to law school. I was blessed to go to the University of Texas Law School. At the time I was in law school, Texas was, I believe, in the top five law schools in the country. Dean Page Keeton was a legend. If you applied yourself, one had all the opportunity and the world at your doorstep.