Some Texas law firms have run away from insurance defense because of the economic constraints involved with that work. But Dallas' Walters Balido & Crain did the opposite — it ran to such work and has done so well that it became a statewide practice for the firm.
Walters Balido & Crain opened its doors in 2006 in downtown Dallas with eight partners who had 100 years of combined civil litigation experience. Since then, the firm has grown to 42 attorneys and has opened branch offices in Decatur, Austin and Houston.
Greg Ave, managing partner of Walters Balido & Crain, understands why some law firms view insurance defense work as difficult. Insurance company clients are known for applying cost controls on lawyers that limit their flexibility in litigation. Plus economic pressure comes from so-called "captive firms" — lawyers who are insurance company employees who also represent the insurer's policyholders.
Ave says his firm simply gives its policyholder clients good representation while meeting all of the constraints demanded by insurers.
"We are able to master our [insurer] clients' reporting requirements as well as develop a quality product for our [insured] clients and the insurance carriers and that's why they keep coming back," says Ave, whose firm counts AAA and USAA among its clients.
It's easy to see why insurance carriers keep coming back. Walters Balido & Crain had a string of defense wins in 2012, most of them involving plaintiffs' serious injuries or deaths allegedly caused in accidents. They include:
• In Greg F. Jones v. Kars Tamminga, a wrongful-death case, an Ellis County jury on May 8 found the alleged tortfeasor was not an employee of the defendant company.
• In Juan Carlos Flores v. Opus West Construction, a gross negligence case, the plaintiff alleged he sustained serious injuries. On Dec. 12, a Dallas County trial court granted the defendant's summary judgment motion on the issue of legal duty.
• And in John Geddie v. Dave Hockmayr,an unusual tort case tried under Mexican law, the plaintiff claimed he almost severed his hand at the defendant condominium in Mexico. A federal jury in Galveston rendered a defense verdict on May 29.
Such suits demand that a lawyer be sensitive to the seriousness of the allegations yet humanize the defendant client, Ave says.
"We all have made mistakes or have been accused of making mistakes. And I think everyone shares the common desire to be treated fairly in that situation," Ave says. "And another thing that keeps us being effective is not to overplay your hand. A little bit of humility goes a long way."
Don White, claims manager of AAA Texas, says his company keeps using Walters Balido & Crain for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its willingness to take on complicated matters with little notice.
"They're very responsive and they're very timely to calls and e-mail. And I appreciate their willingness to jump in on something on short notice. They'll put in extra time and energy to meet a deadline," White says. "And the quality of their lawyers in regard to their knowledge of the work is exceptional."
Carlos Balido, a founding member of the firm, says Walters Balido & Crain prides itself on providing good service for a fair price.
"I know that sounds cliché, but the one thing we have done better than any firm in town is we work hard on our files and our clients pay us a fair rate," Balido says. "Which is unusual because a lot of firms bill a high rate and sometimes don't get the results that we get."
Mike Simpson, a longtime plaintiffs lawyer and partner in Decatur's Simpson, Boyd & Powers, likes it when Walters Balido & Crain defends cases his firm files. It forces his firm to try a better case, he says.
"They're the kind of lawyers you like to meet. They are always prepared, they are good and they will not hesitate to try a case. You will find nothing but good things from me to say about them," Simpson says.
"We've lost to them, but I think that it's a fair fight and I've always gotten that from them," Simpson says. "You like to have lawyers on the other side that are capable of evaluating a case and capable of trying a case and these guys are."