It’s been five years since the Houston Malpractice Act went into effect.
In that time, a new class of malpractice lawyers has emerged in the state and there are now over 2,500 attorneys working in the Houston area.
As more and more Houston attorneys work in the area, they’re seeing more and the law is becoming more relevant to their day-to-day lives.
According to data from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, over the last three years the number of lawyers who have graduated from the state’s legal school jumped to nearly 6,000.
And in a region where the legal profession is struggling, that’s a significant number of attorneys.
For some lawyers, it’s a natural progression.
When they graduate from law school and they’ve got experience in a wide variety of cases, they see that the law has a role in their lives.
“I think the law in general, and specifically the Texas Bar Association, has been a huge driver of my success,” said James R. Hanks, a Houston attorney and former assistant district attorney who is now an attorney at the Houston law firm of Drysdale & Hanks.
“When you have a bar association that you’re affiliated with that’s been very successful in terms of getting a lot of attorneys in the profession, you’re going to find that that’s an asset that can help your career.”
The law is not a silver bullet, though, as many lawyers have noticed.
Some say the lack of representation in the industry can be an obstacle in their work.
“It can be hard for me to understand why someone who’s experienced with this, who has a real interest in the law, but is not able to find an attorney who’s going to help him in his career, can’t get representation in that area,” said Robert J. Pangborn, a lawyer at Drysdal & Hells.
“There’s a lot more work to be done, and there’s no guarantee that the people in your area who are able to help you in your professional career will be able to get in the door,” said Ritchie L. Miller, a practicing attorney and a member of the Houston Bar Association’s legal committee.
In recent years, Houston has become more hospitable to attorneys seeking legal representation.
A growing number of Houston attorneys have moved into private practice.
And the number and type of cases they’re able to handle has skyrocketed.
“We have more attorneys than ever before, and the demand for representation is outstripping the supply,” said Chris L. O’Connell, a member and president of the attorney community in Houston.
“It’s definitely an uphill battle,” said Miller, who added that it’s also difficult for lawyers who are new to the profession to figure out how to properly navigate the legal system.
Accordingly, many lawyers say that when they get into a new legal position they’re asked to prove they have a law degree, but often they aren’t prepared to do that.
“A lot of lawyers don’t know the requirements of a law school,” said O’Donnell.
“You’re required to have a degree, a master’s degree, an associate’s degree and some college experience.
There are some exceptions for some lawyers who want to get into the private sector, but most lawyers are still learning the basics.””
Most lawyers have not taken the time to get a background check done to see if they’re qualified to practice in the legal field,” said Dr. James W. Goss, the former chairman of the state Bar’s criminal division.
“The majority of lawyers are unprepared to deal with people who are not licensed.”
Many lawyers said that in the last five years, the legal community has become much more inclusive of the community.
“The bar association has a lot to do with the growth of the legal industry, and a lot has to do, as well, with a lot that’s happening in the broader community,” said Laughlin.
“One of the things that has happened is that the public has grown up,” said Hanks of the bar association.
“People are going to lawyers, they are going out and getting lawyers, and they’re not going to the bar.”
Laughlin also pointed to the number one thing that has helped him succeed as an attorney.
“I think it’s one of the most important things that I’ve ever done.
It was a big thing for me when I started out in the business, and it’s still a big deal for me today,” he said.
“There are a lot less lawyers in the community and the profession as a whole.”