Due to the availability of air travel, getting to different courthouses around Texas is relatively easy. As a result, lawyers from the Piney Woods or the Valley often get to work with their colleagues from the Hill Country or North Texas. You might think that mixing and mingling would break down regional prejudices. Marshall McLuhan, a writer on media and its effect on society, believed that easy accessibility would have that result (at least that’s what I think he meant, though the whole “global village” thing doesn’t sound very Texas).
However, it’s not unusual to hear outsider lawyers referred to none too kindly. A few years ago, I had a series of cases in another large Texas city where the judge referred to one of my motions as coming from “that ’214′ lawyer.”
I was so focused the first time I heard it I had to ask the lawyer next to me what the judge meant, and he flatly told me, “Dallas area code.” My response at that time is not germane to this article, but I did quietly express my belief that it was an unfair characterization.
Look, I’m sure some attorneys have their issues with me, but I always assumed that resulted from the heat of battle, differences in style, etc. Do we Dallas lawyers have unique characteristics? Are we set apart, as a group, by our impatience, fast talking or sartorial flair?
After being tarred with the “214 lawyer” brush by that particular court, I figured turnabout was fair play. I started to make it a point to refer to the other lawyers by their area codes. “The motion brought by this 512 lawyer is not grounded in law or fact,” or “That 713 lawyer failed to disclose relevant documents.” For the record, the judge in this case treated me fairly at all times, so he may have been pulling my chain with the “214″ comment.
However, the idea stuck with me. It was kind of a relief to appear in a South Texas court and hear a judge ask me if I was one of those “713″ lawyers. I replied “No — 214,” though I wasn’t sure if that was any better. However, at least there was another area code in disrepute to take the pressure off of me.
Is there really such a difference in the way we practice law in different cities in this state? I understand in some smaller communities the bar may be more tightly knit and have a more relaxed way of practicing. Even courthouse staff can vary. In one small town, security personnel not only gave me a heads-up about a schedule change when I arrived for my client’s case, they told me about a great place to find breakfast tacos while I was waiting.
But is practicing law in Houston really that different from practicing in Dallas, Austin or San Antonio? There are lots of firms that have offices in different cities. That alone should level the playing field somewhat and iron out what could be regional quirks. Also, many attorneys started practicing in one city but have moved. I’m a Vermonter by birth, but since moving to Texas I have learned, among other things, to appreciate fine barbeque and properly pronounce Palestine, Texas (“Palesteen”).
If I moved to Austin, would I become a nicer attorney, or would people just perceive me as a nicer attorney? Will I even be allowed to move to Austin and practice, or will they run me out for being too “Dallas”? I have brought this up with a number of lawyers, and some just laugh it off. However, others try to explain why lawyers from certain cities have certain characteristics. Of course, lawyers who believe in the distinction always argue it is some other city which has the troublesome lawyers. Nobody thinks their city deserves a bad reputation.
Considering the grief lawyers take from people outside the profession, we probably should give each other a break. I for one am considering getting a phone with the newer, unblemished “469″ area code.