2020 has not been the year many of us planned, but for us it marks a year of celebration. 2020 marks 40 years in the history of RMWBH. While we have not been able to gather with our clients and friends to celebrate the occasion, we still would like to celebrate how we got here and look ahead to where we’re going next. In celebration of 40 years of RMWBH, we sat down with each of our Founding Shareholders, over Zoom, to get their perspective on the history of their career and the firm in their own words.
Q: What Made You Want to Become an Attorney?
Marc Markel: I became aware at an early age that advocating for a position with opponents and getting a good result was something I liked doing. I started doing it when I bought a bicycle at age 10 that had a big price tag, and I worked really hard to save and buy it, but the frame cracked within six months. After successfully negotiating a replacement frame with the bike company, I thought this is not a bad deal, and I continued to do this for myself and some family members over the years for other issues. I thought advocating and winning was a good thing, so I became an attorney.
Gregg Weinberg: Interesting question, difficult to answer. I will just say this. I was always interested in politics in high school, and when I was in college, I worked for a year as a legislative aide in the Legislature on the Constitutional Amendments committee. One of the amendments I actually helped write was to ban an income tax in Texas. While I was there, I was interested in politics and that’s what I was trying to do and work on campaigns. I realized many of the successful legislators had a law background and I realized there’s something there I had to go to law school. Within the first semester of law school, we were involved in moot court, which is practice court, and also mock trial. The thought of politics left me completely at that point. I really had fun doing the mock trial, the moot court, and it became a passion and that’s why I do litigation.
Rick Butler: When I was in high school, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I thought I might want to be an architect or a lawyer. Don’t ask me why because there’s no architect or lawyer in my family and we had no family friends who were either. So as college approached, I felt like I had to make a decision. I opted to get a business degree and then go to law school thinking if I didn’t like law school, I had a business degree to fall back on. I guess the short answer is I was always intrigued with the law.
Jeff Roberts: I just always knew from the time I was a little kid I wanted to be an attorney. I always thought attorneys were people that could do what they wanted to. They didn’t have to work for other people. That is what I liked about it.
RMWBH has not always been RMWBH. RMWBH was built from two firms – Roberts Markel Weinberg and Butler Hailey. Our history dates back to 1980, well before Jeff, Marc, Gregg, Rick and Roy came together as one partnership, so we wanted to learn more about how these individual partnerships came together.
Q: Marc, what do you remember about first meeting Jeff, and why did you decide it was a great idea to partner and start your own firm?
MM: I met Jeff before we were lawyers. We were both law clerks at the same firm. After we had worked with each other at that firm for a couple of years, we decided it was time to venture out on our own because quite frankly as two-year attorneys we were pretty much operationally running that law firm. We decided that if we could make money for them, we could make money for ourselves. That is really how it started. We had no idea if we would be successful. We just rolled the dice and it looks like it has worked out.
Q: Jeff, what do you remember about first meeting Marc, and why did you decide it was a great idea to partner and start your own firm?
JR: I met Marc when I was still in law school. We met as law clerks at a small law firm. I had gone away to the DA’s office for an internship and while I was gone, they hired another law clerk. Now, my typical attire at the time was rumpled J.C. Penny suits, and I walked in and saw a guy in a 3-piece Brooks Brothers suit with a watch chain and smoking a Sherlock Holmes pipe and I hated him on sight. But over time, I realized Marc was more than he just appeared. He had a sense of humor and was a really smart person and we got to know each other.
After clerking with each other and working together in the same law firm as attorneys for a couple of years, we were pretty much running this law firm. So, we decided if we were going to do all of the work we might as well have our own law firm. It is unusual for people two and a half years to go out on their own, but we decided we wanted to do our own thing.
Q: Gregg, why did you decide partnering with Jeff and Marc was right for your career?
GW: I’ve had three law jobs. This is number 3. I started at one of the biggest firms in the state and stayed for a couple of years. My next firm, I stayed at for 25 years. While there, I met Jeff Roberts when we ended up trying a case together. Over the years, I got to know Jeff over our shared passion of drinking scotch and smoking cigars. In that time, Jeff would always say why don’t you come out and join us and practice law. I always told him no because I was very loyal to my firm, but times change, and I concluded my old firm was not going to go on a pathway towards fulfillment or growth. So finally, the siren song of Jeff going “hey why don’t you come over here, we could have some fun” clicked and I said OK let’s do it. After joining the firm, I met Marc for the first time, and we have hit off well together ever since.
When talking to our founders, they all agreed 40 years is a long time. They have all seen a lot of change occur in the legal field, and they have a lot to look back on in their career and reflect about.
Q: What have you seen change in the last 40 years in the legal field?
MM: 40 years is a really really long time. I saw my hair change color and fall out. I saw me growing a beard. 40 years ago, this would not be occurring. We would not be doing an interview over something called the internet. 40 years technology has advanced change and changed the way we practiced. Without these technological advancements we would not be able to continue to serve our clients through this horrible pandemic.
GW: I’ve seen a lot of change. As far as litigation goes, it was a much more collegial atmosphere around, and it’s changed in that, and I don’t want to blame it on email. It’s not email, it’s the fact that the way the dockets are held now there’s no reason for people to get together at the courthouse. There’s not the same restaurant and bar we would all go to a block and a half away from the courthouse. People would see each other at lunch. We’d see each other at watering holes. It was one of those situations when you were handling cases over the years you got to know the rest of the trial bar in this town, even though it’s a very large town. There just isn’t that sense of community anymore.
RB: The biggest changes have been the changes in communication through technology. You have to remember when I started, we thought an IBM Selectric Typewriter was the wave of the future and then along came the fax machine. We thought that was really something special. Obviously, email has expedited the turnaround time and expectations from clients exponentially, so it has really changed the speed at which we communicate with clients. I’m afraid we’re going to lose the personal touch because we don’t talk on the phone and meet in person as much as we used to. My encouragement to the young attorneys is to pick up the phone. Don’t always just send an email to communicate with the client. Talk about things other than the issue. Talk about personal things when given the chance.
JR: It’s changed a lot. It’s morphed more into a business than a profession in my opinion. Part of the reason we have always treated it as a profession is why we have been successful. What I think is true in any profession or any service organization is there are very few people who put the client or customer first. At the very beginning, that was our goal. It wasn’t about making money. It was about practicing law and working for people. What we learned very quickly is if you put the client first it’s an unusual scenario and people notice. So, we got a lot of repeat business and a lot of referrals, and that is how we’ve grown by providing customer service to our clients.
Q: When you look back at your career and the history of the firm what are you most proud of?
MM: I am most proud that I believe we have always done the right thing. If there was a conflict we stepped aside. If there was a dispute with a client over a fee, we stepped aside. We would always in my opinion take the high road operationally and with clients. I am also proud that RMWBH has provided client satisfaction for 40 years.
GW: I am most proud that we have developed a litigation department that when they see our name on documents that there is someone competent on the other side who is going to give them all they can handle. I really can’t ask for much more than that. Everybody here I can lean on and send cases to and they handle it. It’s a team-effort and is going to do nothing but grow.
RB: The fact that I had the courage to go out on my own as a young attorney and develop a practice. To be able to do that and have a firm 40 years later is what makes me most proud.
JR: What comes to my mind, especially during COVID, is we employ over 140 people and their livelihood, and their families depend on us. Not only have we provided really good service to thousands of clients, but we’ve kept the firm together and provided a good livelihood and a secure place for a lot of people. We’re not changing the world, but we are making a direct difference in the people we come into contact with.
Over these last 40 years, our Founding Shareholders have developed unique relationships both personally and professionally that have helped build and grow the firm. We wanted to get their thoughts on some of those relationships, as well as other ways that have helped the firm grow in the past 40 years.
Q: Jeff, when it comes to building a collaboration with business partners, how important do you think that is to us as a law firm?
JR: What I think is sometimes lost in our profession is customer service and relationships. We have moved so much towards billable hours and accountability that we’re losing that. When you work with a client like a partner, and you develop a relationship then it is a win-win when you succeed, and they succeed. I think that’s very infectious. We’ve had clients for 20 or 30 years. We’ve had clients that started like we did with just a very small operations that have grown into statewide operations. There is a lot of satisfaction with having grown that way. It’s not just about the money. It’s not just about the trappings of success. It’s the relationships. When you really look back on the years, those are the things you really remember are the relationships you’ve built. I think that’s internally too. I can say without reservation, we’ve been successful as lawyers, but what I think has been most successful is my friendship with Marc.
Q: Marc, how do you want the firm to continue to market and outreach? How do you see it growing?
MM: I don’t consider what we do to be marketing. I consider what we do to be more education, and that people want to hire us because we demonstrate to them that we are the attorneys that know their practice area, whatever practice area that is that we are teaching about. I’m hopeful that when we get hired we don’t get hired because of our hourly rates or they picked our name out of a hat. I always want to be known as the firm to go to for that practice area. That is the message that I want us through all of our departments to spread.
I guess it was 3 or 4 years ago, it seems like yesterday, I convinced the firm we needed a marketing manager, later to become a director of marketing, and have a full department of marketing people. What they do is not really marketing in the true business sense of marketing. It’s spreading the word and continuing to inform, and that is really what it is all about. I believe that is what we do and that is what we will continue to do so long as we have attorneys who are willing to donate the time to educate, write and present on the topics that our firm handles.
Q: Rick, over the years, the firm has very much been a family business with fathers and sons working together, and you working with your wife, Mimi. How has that been able to help you over the years?
RB: Mimi was hired by the firm as an attorney in 1987. Obviously, it didn’t start as a romance, but it developed into that. In 1993, we got married, so for the last 27 years she has been a practicing attorney and my wife. That has been very beneficial to me. When I was just starting out, I had an older attorney tell me the practice of law is a jealous mistress. What he meant by that was the practice of law is demanding. It is demanding of your time and thoughts. It can impact a marriage, it can impact your family life, it can impact your health, it can impact you in so many ways, particularly private practice. Mimi is a lawyer. She knew what it took to practice law. She knew what it took to develop a practice, and she helped me do that. We have always been a team.
In 2015, we unfortunately, lost one of our Founding Shareholders, Roy Hailey. Roy was a celebrated member of the Texas legal community actively involved with the State Bar of Texas, Community Associations Institute and countless other organizations. Roy’s legacy lives on throughout our firm, and in an effort to make Roy apart of our celebration, we asked our Founding Shareholders to share a memory of Roy.
Q: What is a memory of Roy Hailey you can share?
RB: We could talk all day about my memories of Roy. The story about Roy that most people don’t know is how we ended up being law partners. Most lawyers that end up being partners worked together at another firm, went to law school together, or had some form of a relationship. That was not the case with Roy and me. We didn’t know each other, but around 1985 or 1986 I got a call. The voice on the other line said “Hi Rick, this is Roy Hailey. You don’t me and I don’t know you, but I know who you are. I know the type of law you practice, and I practice the same type of law, but I don’t want to do it where I am long-term. I am looking for hopefully a long–term relationship somewhere else. I’m hoping you’d be willing to talk to me.” I thought to myself it doesn’t hurt to talk. Lo and behold, we talked, and he came over and became my law partner, and we were partners for 29 years.
The thing about Roy was we worked hard. We had a lot of stress, but we had a lot of fun. We had a ton of fun. There wasn’t too much we ever disagreed on. I feel like I am a lucky person to have found a partner like Roy, and it all started with a simple phone call.
MM: I knew Roy Hailey a very long-time, probably over 30 years. Peripherally we worked together on many things. We worked on things through the Community Associations Institute. We worked on legislative issues together. We worked on some lawsuits together. Over the last 10 years of our relationship, I was always trying to get him to join our firm. I thought the firms would be better together than apart. For 8 and a half of those 10 years, he just kept thinking we were kidding each other, and I said I’m really serious. Finally, he said if you’re serious let’s look at it. Going through that process of bringing the firms together, I got to know Roy a whole lot better from a business perspective, not just a lawyer perspective. Immediately after the firms merged, he and I started working on client development relationship issues together. My last memory is one with mixed emotions but also a very fond memory. Roy and I were teaching a complex class for a community association management company. It was so much information we were going to have to do it in two days. We met with them for two, two and a half hours. On the way up there, he and I met for a cup of coffee and talked about how happy we were to finally be working together under one roof. We taught the class and said we couldn’t wait to come back and finish this in two weeks. Unfortunately, he died before we got to finish that class. Although it’s a sad memory, it’s a memory that stays with me because it’s something that told me that I’m glad I had the chance to work with Roy and wish it would have been longer.
GW: I only got to meet Roy when we merged, so I only got to work with him for about a year. In the time we were together, we had a number of outings. For example, a Shareholder retreat in Austin where we went up to his and Rick’s place on the Pedernales River. We had a great time. He told us stories where I was just dying in laughter. One thing that Roy would always say he would just finish it and would say “just sayin.” The main thing was Roy was a dapper dresser. Not a hair out of place. He looked right out of the pages of GQ. You would never know he was from a little town called Rosebud, Texas. He grew up on a farm, ranch whatever you want to call it. That is the furthest thing from style or fashion that there is. He was a friendly guy, and everyone liked him. I remember more than anything else him being a jovial guy and easy to talk to. He obviously knew his craft and kept his clients happy.
JR: To be in this profession can be contentious and the nature of it is adversarial. But Roy had a unique ability to be effective and adversarial and at the same time maintain that human factor. I’ve never met a lawyer or a client that felt Roy was anything other than a first-class human being. I don’t think you would hear that much about me if you ever talked to those I’ve worked around or against, but Roy maintained that human side very effectively. I think that was really unique about Roy.
40 years of RMWBH is an accomplishment we are all very proud of. This is because of the loyalty of our clients, the guidance of our Founding Shareholders and all of the hard-working attorneys and staff that have been a part of the RMWBH team over the years and for that we say thank you!