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Forget Ed, the bowling alley lawyer who’s the title character of the NBC television series. Dallas has someone better — David Musslewhite, the coffee shop attorney who serves up a cup of joe as well as legal advice at his cozy establishment, Legal Grounds. Since April 1997, Musslewhite has run his own general law practice from an office at the back of the coffee shop in Lakewood Shopping Center in East Dallas. He dispenses legal advice and services; his wife, Leslie Murphy, and her daughter, Cory, dispense food and drinks. “It’s not a retirement thing,” Musslewhite, 63, says of Legal Grounds. “A lot of people assumed I gave free advice, but this is a thriving little firm.” The coffee shop and its name were Leslie Murphy’s ideas. She and her daughter run the shop with help from Musslewhite, who works a shift or two a week behind the counter and handles the financial end of the endeavor. There’s no mistaking the theme of the shop. Law books line shelves in the caf�, and signs on the walls bear legal jokes: “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury” — George Burns. “A jury trial — your fate is in the hands of 12 people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty” — Norm Crosby. Another says, “Now we do what most lawyers do best. Lunch.” A chalkboard on one side of the shop lists the prices of Musslewhite’s legal services, which include uncontested divorces, wills, probate matters, adoptions, document reviews, consultations and accident/injury cases. He refers out contested divorces and criminal cases. Chalkboards on the opposite side show the prices of food and drinks. Coffees and teas are listed under “Barrister’s Fresh-Roasted Whole Bean Coffees, Loose Leaf Legalities and Fine Estate Legalities.” Cold drinks are under “Courtroom Chillers & Thrillers.” Muffins and rolls are “Criminal Delights,” and the “Daily Lunch Docket” includes “Supreme Court Salads” and “Side Bar Sandwiches.” A customer also can order “His Honor’s Hot Chocolate.” Legal Grounds opened as a coffee shop and evolved into a caf�. Musslewhite and Murphy began serving lunch; when that turned out to be a big hit, they added breakfast. The shop opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. seven days a week. NICHE PRACTICE The coffee shop has garnered local and national attention. The Dallas Observer named it Best Concept Coffee Shop in 1997 and Best Stand Against Corporate Coffee in 1998. People magazine and Fast Company magazine have featured articles about it. There was even talk about using the concept of a coffee shop-law office for a TV show, but that never came to pass. Most of Musslewhite’s business comes from referrals or word-of-mouth, but a few clients sought his services after visiting Legal Grounds for the first time and seeing that there was a lawyer on the premises. At times, students will drop by to use his law books as a starting point for research. For more updated materials — the law books are about five years old and expensive to replace — the students and Musslewhite go to the county law library. Musslewhite, who grew up in East Texas, has a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from Southern Methodist University and a master’s from the University of Oxford. In 1992, he left Dallas’ Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, where he was a commercial litigator, to become a solo. He says there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of practice. “At a large firm, you can work on larger, more complicated matters,” he says. “You have a lot of help, and you can specialize more.” In addition, Musslewhite says, the administrative part of a law practice is handled by someone else at a big firm and the income flow is steadier. A small practice sometimes can get pressurized, he says. People will wander back to his office and want to chat, sometimes when he’s on a deadline. But, he says, he enjoys the more personal touch a small practice offers. In his years at large and small firms, Musslewhite has seen big changes in the legal system. The biggest change for lawyers is the advent of copy machines and computers, which has multiplied the paperwork involved in cases, he says. “There was a lot less paperwork before,” he says. “You used to carry a small file with you to court. Today you need a mover to move boxes and boxes of documents to court.” The second big impact has been in numbers — the number of courts, lawyers and suits, he says. The system has gone from a personal one where the lawyers and judges all knew one another to an impersonal one. “Today, it’s just a nasty business laden with paperwork,” Musslewhite says. “Those changes have completely priced the average person out of the market. An ordinary citizen cannot afford to stand up for their rights.” Musslewhite feels he’s found his niche with his practice and concentrates on clients who otherwise might be unable to afford a lawyer. He tries to keep his prices low, often charging a flat fee, and handles several cases a year pro bono. “I’ve never had the tremendous sense of service at a large firm that I’ve had here,” he says. “It’s a good feeling to help people and solve their problems.”

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