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John and Susan Albach receive a bit of razzing from their friends about working for “the man.” After all, the Albachs met at a Hubert Humphrey/Edmund Muskie presidential campaign rally in Boston in 1968. They regularly attended Watergate-themed parties while in law school. They set their sights on working in legal services, not being part of a corporate culture. But for two years, the socially conscious Albachs have worked as in-house counsel for one of the nation’s largest new and used bookstore companies — Dallas-based Half Price Books, Records, Magazines Inc. “I wouldn’t say that we’ve exactly stepped over in to the ‘dark side,’ ” John Albach says, pointing out that Half Price Books is a company that stresses some of the same social programs the couple embraces, such as literacy and preserving the environment. “ But some of our friends like to laugh at the irony of us working for a corporation.” Half Price Books had been a client of John Albach’s since 1978 when he was a Dallas solo practitioner. (He and his family were friends of its co-founder, Ken Gjemre.) Over time, as the book chain grew, it began to take up more and more of Albach’s practice. It only made sense to become a full-time employee of the company. “I have been their only legal representative,” John Albach says. In the beginning, he mostly dealt with leasing contracts for new stores. Today, he represents Half Price Books in an ongoing suit with one of the nation’s leading book retailers and works to ensure Half Price Books is an employee-friendly corporation. But when faced with joining Half Price Books on a full-time basis, John Albach wouldn’t go without Susan. “We’re joined at the hip,” he says of the woman he coaxed into leaving the Northeast for Texas in 1971. “I told them it was both of us or nothing.” Their offices are next to each other, separated only by a shared restroom. The Albachs are the law department. Kathy Doyle Thompson, vice president of marketing and development for Half Price Books, says hiring John and Susan Albach has been invaluable for the business. “We really didn’t realize how much we needed two full-time counsels,” she says. “It’s been great having them here.” John Albach has the title of general counsel and chief legal officer. Susan Albach’s official title is assistant counsel, although in the employee phone directory she’s referred to as “co-counsel.” “I think that has a lot to do with the fact that this company is mostly run by women,” Susan Albach says with a laugh, referring to the notion that the title of co-counsel implies she’s more of a partner than an assistant counsel. Attorneys who have worked with the Albachs say they have a unique partnership founded on love and respect for one another. “You rarely see one without the other,” says Roger Albright, a Dallas solo who used to share office space with the Albachs in a Deep Ellum building; Albright owned the space and leased an office to Albach. “They’re one of those classic couples who finish each other’s sentences.” But getting to the position they are at today wasn’t exactly easy, says John Albach. When he first met Susan Albaugh — her maiden name is only two letters different than her married name — he was immediately drawn to her, but he had to fight for her attention. “She ignored me,” John Albach says while Susan Albach tries to hush him and tell him his recollection is incorrect. “I had to call and pursue her for a long time,” John Albach insists, despite his wife’s objections. A MATTER OF TRUST No matter how they came together, the fact is they were drawn to one another for numerous reasons, but none quite as pressing as their feelings about issues facing the country at the time. The Vietnam War was reaching its height, and it was a war neither of them could support. Both were undergraduates attending Tufts University in Boston at the time; the region was a hotbed of anti-war activism and the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. Susan Albach originally had planned to pursue a Ph.D. in anthropology, but John Albach convinced her to attend law school instead. “It was 1971, a time of a lot of activism and idealism,” Susan Albach says. “I finally decided that law school seemed like a better way to incorporate that in your life than anthropology.” The couple headed south in 1971 to Texas, shortly after they were married and where they enrolled at the University of Texas School of Law. Texas is John Albach’s home state, but they both were drawn to Austin because tuition was less expensive than law schools up north. Their goal was to work for legal services, but there were no vacancies in the state capital when they arrived. “Legal services was a dynamo social change at the time,” John Albach says. “It allowed people to pursue changes in society, to make things fair for all people. But we were about three years too late, and there were no jobs available.” As with many Americans, the Albachs were captivated by the Watergate hearings taking place at the time. “Everyone in law school spent a lot of time watching the hearings,” Susan Albach says. “It was a very important part of our lives.” While not monitoring the televised hearings, Susan Albach worked for the Texas Comptroller’s Office under then-comptroller Bob Bullock. In the meantime, John Albach was on a team that studied the Texas prison system from 1973 until 1974. John Albach joined a team, including many law students, to investigate the state of the prison system and create a report for members of the Texas Legislature. His experience led to an appointment to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. From 1975 until 1978, John Albach and other council members assisted cities and states in revamping their criminal-justice system. He lived in Austin but traveled across the country to do the work. The council was responsible for doing surveys on jails, prison systems and juvenile systems across the country. In 1978, John Albach’s father became ill, so John and Susan Albach moved to Dallas to be near him, and John Albach set up his own practice. While the couple had not completed law school by then, they had earned enough hours to take the Texas bar exam, which they passed in 1978. They did not earn their JDs until 1983. “At that time law students were able to take the bar if they were shy a credit,” John Albach says. “I think they changed that rule because of us,” he jokes. John Albach set up a general practice in Dallas while his wife worked as an attorney for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Social Security department. “I enjoyed the work, but mostly we needed a paycheck at the time since John was starting his practice,” Susan Albach says. But after spending six months in London in 1980 with her sister, Susan Albach decided to give up practicing law full time and help John in his practice — for example, by doing discovery. John Albach’s solo practice was varied. He says he tried to stay away from family law, but one 1984 divorce case he handled, Jensen v. Jensen, eventually found its way to the Texas Supreme Court and changed the way courts look at community property. “The law has been changed even since then, but at the time, the idea was that each member of a community partnership has a duty to devote their efforts to enhancing community property,” John Albach says. Since Jensen, “If one focuses only on enhancing separate property during the marriage, then the court can look at that when dividing assets.” Cases that involved issues that hit home with their political beliefs brought about an extra sense of pride, says Roger Albright, who met John and Susan Albach through American Civil Liberties Union functions. John Albach and Albright worked on an ACLU referral case, Ann Kilpatrick v. City of Rowlett. It was filed because a new ordinance made it nearly impossible for people to put any kind of political campaign signs in their own yards. “We had to explain that the First Amendment does not dictate content,” Albright says. The city changed its sign ordinance. In 1984, John Albach represented a group of people who wanted to protest at the Republican National Convention in Dallas that year. City of Dallas officials wanted the protesters to stay nearly 2 miles away from the Dallas Convention Center, but by filing Dallas March and Rally Committee v. City of Dallas in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, John Albach and Albright were able to get the protesters closer so they could be heard. “He’s a very meticulous lawyer,” Albright says. “He has the details down and leaves no stones unturned.” So Albright was taken aback when he learned that John Albach was going to close his solo shop and make the move to Half Price Books. “I was definitely surprised at first,” Albright says, “but it’s the perfect fit. If it would have been a company like [General Motors] or Dow Chemical, then I would have been concerned.” The first thing John and Susan Albach did as in-house counsel was help create a sexual harassment prevention training program and policy for Half Price Books. The company already had a policy in place that ensured it did not permit that kind of behavior, but the Albachs saw a need to strengthen the company’s stance. “We wanted to make sure employees knew what was acceptable and what wasn’t,” John Albach says. “We wanted to make it clear that we would investigate any and all claims. We wanted to ensure to every employee that we take that issue seriously.” In addition to training employees on what constitutes sexual harassment, the program trained workers how to investigate claims. John Albach also set up a sexual harassment hotline and has a confidential e-mail address that employees can use to contact him. Much of John Albach’s work is similar to what he did when he was a solo representing Half Price Books. But in November 2002, the company decided to take on one of the monsters within the book retail world — Barnes & Noble. The mega-retailer used the words “half price books” on its Web site in a way that caused Half Price Books executives to think it resembled their company too closely. Half Price Books filed Half Price Books, Records and Magazines Inc. v. Barnesandnoble.com LLC to stop the practice. Barnes & Noble officials have since taken the half price books moniker down, replacing the link with “used & out-of-print” books. John Albach has enlisted the assistance of John Cone, a partner in Dallas’ Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld who works on trademark and copyright matters. Cone says the two parties are still trying to reach a settlement to officially end the suit. “We believe there is a difference in saying they sell half price books and having a big logo that says half price books,” Cone says. Cone characterizes John Albach as a big-picture attorney. “He doesn’t micro-manage. He’s more concerned with the overall strategy, and his tone is represented in every way,” Cone says. And though Cone mostly works with John Albach, he says that John and Susan Albach are a good team. Cone and his wife socialize with the Albachs on occasion, going to dinner and concerts together. “They’re both very representative of Half Price Books,” Cone says. “Half Price Books prides itself as being a socially conscious company, and John and Susan are certainly a great fit.” The biggest drawback to working in a corporate culture, John Albach says, is that his door is open to employees at any time. “I work for free now,” he says jokingly. “In the past, they would have to think about picking up the phone to call and ask me a legal question and now they feel free to come in with whatever is on their mind.” It’s a practice that doesn’t bother John Albach too much. In fact, he created a personal phone line, fax line and e-mail address that employees may use at any time for legal questions they have concerning business or personal affairs. He notes, “It’s important that we create an environment where everyone feels like they can trust us.”

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