Tom Melsheimer Tom Melsheimer

Before Dallas trial lawyer Tom Melsheimer and Judge Craig Smith co-authored a new book on jury trials, they definitively decided what they didn’t want the book to be.

The longtime friends didn’t want “On the Jury Trial: Principles and Practices for Effective Advocacy” to be a comprehensive trial manual, said Melsheimer, noting that there are plenty like that on the market. They also didn’t want it to be a bunch of war stories from old trial lawyers, he said.

They aimed to write a book that’s a reference for trial for young lawyers as well as seasoned trial lawyers, said Melsheimer, managing partner of Winston & Strawn’s Dallas office.

“We wanted to do something that was practical. We wanted to have a broad appeal. There is a substantial focus on Texas; [but] it’s not a Texas book by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

Melsheimer said he and Smith, a judge in the 192nd District in Dallas County since 2006, had several conversations over the years about trials and came to the conclusion that it would be great to write a book about trying jury cases.

“It’s intended to be a reference for any trial lawyer seeking excellence or trying to maintain excellence,” Smith said.

Smith, who worked as a trial lawyer for nearly 26 years before he was elected a judge, said trials have evolved over the years because of technology. Over the last 40 years, Smith said, juror expectations have changed in part because they have watched television coverage of trials.

Smith said the book is concise and each page contains tips for the reader.

In Melsheimer’s view, the takeaways for readers are: Seek advice, trust your judgment and be authentic; and seek out opportunities to get jury trial experience, whether as the “briefcase carrier,” or on a pro bono matter.

—BRENDA SAPINO JEFFREYS

 

Haynes and Boone Knows Chili

Robert Albergotti has an unusual skill set that makes him invaluable to Haynes and Boone’s restructuring and bankruptcy section: he knows how to make a mean pot of chili.

And for the second time in 10 years, Albergotti helped the firm take the grand prize last month at the 10th annual AlixPartners’ Chili Challenge.

“It’s the only reason they keep me around at the tender age of 72,” Albergotti laughs. “It’s probably the most important thing I do.”

The chili cook-off is judged by Chef Dean Fearing and draws 25 teams from among Dallas’ top law firms and banks to determine who can make the best version of Texas’ official state dish.

“It’s become a big deal in the bankruptcy/restructuring world,” Albergotti said. “There’s a long list to get the opportunity to participate.”

Haynes and Boone first took the grand prize four years ago after finally adding the right amount of salt to their recipe, Albergotti said. And the ingredients the firm uses in its chili is much like a Chapter 13 bankruptcy—it’s complicated.

“The recipe is now a composite of ideas after looking at 25 or 30 recipes,” Albergotti said. “What we do is make a chili slurry of six or seven different peppers, wet them in a beef broth for a couple of hours, we blend it up with a handful of tortilla chips and then the rest of spices,” he said.

Another secret to Haynes and Boone’s winning chili is the firm browns the meat, which is essential in getting the flavor of Texas chili right, Albergotti explained.

“One of the problem with remote chili cook-offs is they use a gas burner and it doesn’t generate enough BTUs,” he said. “We brown the meat the night before at home. And we use a cast-iron skillet.”

The second grand prize win was just as sweet for the firm’s chili cook-off team, which also includes bankruptcy attorneys Stephen Pezanosky and Ian Peck.

“It made my year,” Albergotti said.

— JOHN COUNCIL

HABITAT AWARD

Houston Habitat for Humanity presented the Houston Bar Association (HBA) with its inaugural Legacy Award last month for its members’ commitment to build 20 Habitat homes over the past two decades.

“We are deeply honored to be the first recipient of this award from Houston Habitat, an organization that has helped thousands of Houstonians achieve their dream of home ownership,” said Alistair Dawson, president of the HBA and a former chairman of the HBA Habitat Committee.

“The award reflects the commitment of our members, who have generously donated over $1,180,000 to build 20 homes since 1997.”

Over 4,400 volunteers helped build the HBA’s 20 houses that are for low-income families, including 26 adults and 41 children. Habitat homeowners contribute up to 300 hours of “sweat equity” and complete home maintenance and financial training to purchase homes with affordable mortgages.

— JOHN COUNCIL

FRISCO FIRM

Dallas-based family law firm Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson has opened an office in Frisco, hiring partner Paul Hewett to help staff it.

Partner Jeff Anderson, who joined Orsinger Nelson in 2012, will head the new office. Hewett previously practiced at Woods May Rachel Matlock & Hewett in Frisco. Also, of counsel Chris Oldner, a former state district judge in Collin County who joined the firm in January, will work in the Frisco office.

Keith Nelson, a co-founder of the 17-lawyer firm, said Orsinger Nelson has considered expansion into Collin County for a while. “Frisco is the place to be in Collin County for many businesses. It’s growing, expanding,” Nelson said.

Before the office opening, Orsinger Nelson, which also has an office in San Antonio, was meeting with clients in Frisco by appointment only.

Nelson said Hewett is well-known and well-respected in the Frisco area and is a good addition to the firm.

Woods May did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on Hewett’s departure.

Hewett said he lives in Frisco, and could not pass up the opportunity to join Orsinger Nelson in the firm’s new north Dallas office. He said the populations of Collin County and neighboring Denton County are growing with professionals and “high-end businesses,” which creates a need for family lawyers. Frisco is split between Collin and Denton counties.

—BRENDA SAPINO JEFFREYS