Being a lawyer is a very interesting profession because it involves so many interesting cases. Janson Bailey talks about what drove him to be an attorney and shares his experiences in his profession. As he shares some stories of cases where he has learned some great lessons and applied it to his own practice, he also talks about the importance of achieving balance in life to refine yourself as a lawyer. Janson then turns the table to ask host Jason Byrd a couple of questions about his lawyering experiences. Sit back and know more about Janson’s adventure as a young criminal defense lawyer.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Challenges Of A Young Lawyer with Janson Bailey
Janson is a young lawyer. He’s been practicing for a while in his mid-30s. I haven’t known Janson for a long time, but I got to know him a few years ago. Coincidentally, his office is in the building next door. I got to know him. He’s a fun-filled young guy. He’s working hard and gotten to be friends with him, which is good. It‘s good for me to talk to people professionally who’ve been in a lot longer than me, learn things from and also people who haven’t been in as long. There’s a benefit that I get out of that.
You are an attorney of a different breed, which I truly appreciate the difference than the status quo. You are hardworking, ambitious, successful early and one of only two or three lawyers that I enjoy hanging out with.
I don’t hang out with a lot of lawyers either. It’s weird that I’m doing a law-related show, but that’s why I say it’s loosely law–related. Who wants to listen and talk about the law all day long? Janson has a cool practice. He started out as an assistant district attorney. You started out purely criminal.
I was a prosecutor in Jefferson County for about a year. I was in county court. I prosecuted misdemeanors, DWIs, possessions. I was fortunate enough when I came on, the dockets were busy and I had a judge who was appointed to fill a judge who had passed away. He was ambitious. I’ve enjoyed the practice of law but specifically being in trial. That’s something that I’m steadily trying to hone my skill. Maybe one day, I’ll be good at it. We are working towards that goal.
That’s why it’s called the practice. It’s the same thing with doctors. My mom will go to the doctor and they say something. If they’re a nice guy, it’s like the gospel coming out of his mouth. I have to remind her, “They see a lot of things and they have a lot more expertise in whatever they’re talking about than you do.” It’s still a practice for them. The same thing goes for us. People come to us when they’ve got a problem.
When someone asked me what I do, “I’m an attorney.” The next question is, “How do you like it? How do you feel about it?” One quick way to sum it up is, “Yes, I do thoroughly enjoy what I do, but my every day is filled with everyone’s worst days in a way.“
Sometimes I regard myself in many ways as a problem solver. In fact, I tell people that. I met with a lady and I said, “I got a little bit of information about what you’ve got going on. Let’s run through it. We’re going to identify what the problem is, how we solve it and whether that involves me or what are the best options.” That’s probably a little unique mostly. I don’t handle any criminal law work, for example, in which if you have a criminal charge, you can regard that as a problem. Mine is usually involved in the transfer of money one way or the other.
I do a lot of criminal defense and not near as much as I did in years past and trying to switch over to do a lot more personal injury and civil litigation. No two DWIs are the same, no two anything. There’s always a set framework, but there are always different avenues to go through to solve the problem. I completely agree. It’s about being able to solve the problem.
You did criminal law work primarily to start your career and you’re trying to change that now?
It was always part of my bigger plan to switch it over. The idea was to get as much trial experience as I could early on to feel comfortable in the courtroom. When you’re at the courthouse every day, you know everybody. You know all the judges, all the support staff, all the bailiff. You know everything that’s going on, who’s involved. The first idea was to immerse myself in it, not look back. I tried eight or nine cases in the first three or four months. Criminal cases are much different than civil, but the process is being a baby lawyer and feeling comfortable in the courtroom. It’s knowing how to pick a jury, knowing how to think on your feet and solve problems that arise that were unexpected. It’s the same basic principles.
To a large degree, that experience is invaluable. It’s not like you’re going to come straight out of law school and you’re doing civil work. You’re going to have a glamorous trial experience. It’s not going to happen. Particularly the larger the firm you’re working with, regardless of what type of work you’re doing, you’re not going to get it for a while. You’re going to carry some briefcases for six to eight years if you’re allowed out of the library. No one uses the law library much anymore. That is a great avenue for a young lawyer to get some real–world trial experience.
I always thought that might be what I wanted to do, but truly made me want to focus because I’ve been fortunate to win more than I’ve lost. I still always have the same feeling after four or five, six days of trial. It’s always, “I could have done better.” Even if I win, I get what the client asked for. You’ve always had that sense of, “I messed this up or I could’ve done this better or I need to hone in on this.” After you get comfortable, the legal framework, you can apply it across the board. You don’t get a lot of trial experience in civil, especially starting out if you’re with a bigger firm. I got friends that I went to law school with who haven’t even stepped into a hearing yet. That’s not what I wanted to do. Unfortunately now to where I do have some smaller and civil things, cases that I’m bent on trying, going to try it. Not too much at stake and have some larger ones where there are. There are lawyers who track cases and there are lawyers who don’t. You never want to be regarded as a ladder because you’ll get undervalue for your clients. You aren’t doing the best job that you can.
Also on the flip side of that, I hear a lot of lawyers talk a lot of bullshit, “We’re going to try this,” whatever. Do your job. My job is to give the options to my client, make a recommendation and go from there. It‘s been, at least in my practice, in my experience that the ones I’m going to do well down there at the courthouse don’t get down there. I know I’m prepared as if that’s where we’re going, get it ready and push in. It doesn’t happen. The ones that tend to get down there are the ones that maybe I don’t want to be down thereon. After you do a little digging under the rocks and do some of the discovery, the evidence comes out, they may not be quite what you thought.
What is interesting to me and I haven’t yet dealt with truly seasoned trial attorneys or defense side, but it’s the inability to see a case and it will change. It’s never as good as you thought it was right when you got it, but it changes. The inability of other lawyers to see their faults in the case. They might be looking at you and thinking, “What is he doing trying to try this or what was he thinking?” The other flip side is, “How did you not see this coming?” I’m sure that didn’t happen necessarily as far further up, but I’ve seen a lot of miss valued in cases. I’ve seen a lot of cases that that should never have gone to trial in a criminal case.
I‘ll tell the prosecutor, “Give me a better deal or let’s do something different because this isn’t necessarily the case that I don’t think would be a great case to try.” That’s what happened with that DWI when I got the not guilty of that .239. It was weird facts. The defendant was called in by a 911 caller and they followed her to her home. She walked into her home for four or five seconds, maybe ten seconds and walked out. The police showed up on the scene and didn’t observe any of the driving or anything like that and automatically arrested her for DWI. It’s crazy to me that the prosecutor thought that’d be a good case to try.
There may be a quality control issue or who knows what exactly it is. Sometimes people get a little overzealous. I’ve seen it. I don’t do criminal law work. I’ve sat on a criminal jury once.
How long ago was that?
It’s probably a few years ago.
I don’t know why they left you on, but the defense was very happy to what was the outcome.After you get comfortable with the legal framework, you can apply it across the board. Click To Tweet
It was a second–degree felony, but they tip their hand that it was an enhanced set of statute.
Is it assault or theft?
It’s allegedly a theft. Here’s the deal. The kid was nineteen when this alleged crime occurred. They proved that he probably broke a window, but nothing was stolen. They were playing chicken with them. According to them, this was their best of eight cases against him. They offered him something nine years and that’s it. He said, “It’s the rest of my life.” It’s going to totally destroy my life. I didn’t find his defense lawyer particularly effective. It was someone I didn’t have any personal knowledge of or dealings with. He was court–appointed. Frankly, the district attorneys are the lawyers who handled it, they did a fine job. They were good lawyers. I thought they did a good job. The mechanics of it and judgmental cases to try, but they shouldn’t have brought it.
On top of that, the crime had happened four years before some of the investigations was arguably bumbled. It was good to see how you get back in the room and see how the juries work. I stepped back for a while. Ultimately, I became a foreman. They forced it on me. We had the consensus. It was a mix of men, women, age and race. It was a pretty representative sample, the community I thought. The women were like, “This kid was up to no good. We’ll find him guilty, but we’ll give him six months.“ I said, “Slow down. That’s not how this works. I’m not an expert in criminal law by any means, but there‘s an enhancement on the recidivist statute.” If we find him guilty, it’s going to be 20 to 25 years. I can’t remember.
You always go to the judge because you know what a judge is going to give. You don’t know what twelve random strangers are going to give.
That’s not how it’s going to work. Let’s examine what they proved. They proved he broke a window most likely. It should have been a criminal mischief charge. They had no lesser inclusions. If you don’t know what I mean by that, you could have let’s say a murder, for example and there are different levels of that. You could have a premeditated first degree. I‘m going to demonstrate as a prosecutor that this guy planned this out. Here’s this receipt where he bought the bullets. Here’s where he did this and all the things leading to the plan. It’s premeditated, but they may also charge you with manslaughter as well. Allowing the jury to say, “Maybe if they don’t buy that, he planned this out. We still have a dead guy here and we know he caused it. It’s a little further left. It’s the same crime, but it gives the jury options the lesser included. I did a little investigating because I was curious then. They do that a lot. They‘re playing chicken.” No lesser included, we’re going to charge you with the one highest thing we got.”
That’s wrong with the system. There are so many cases and what it is they show up. The guy might be innocent and they’re saying, “We’ll offer you fifteen years.” He could be facing up to much more 50, 60 years. What they do is they leverage you on a plea, even though you might not have done it, you can’t risk it and you might not have the money to pay for it. That’s why one good defense lawyer, Ryan Hertz, always told me, “You always want to charge your client the full fee. You never want to charge them half if we go to trial or if I plea, another half if we have to go to trial. Half the time you’re going to get stuck with a client who doesn’t have the money, who’s going to take a plea because they can’t afford you to get a trial for them.” It’s an ethical issue.
I’d agree with that. Afterward, I went up to the DA’s office to tell them, “Here’s how it went down.” To explain it, I thought they would appreciate that. They were pretty indignant, pissed off and told me to get out of there.
That’s about what I get to. What’s interesting is there are some people who have a truly as a calling as anything. There’s been a lot of turnovers here. I was in court. I always like when they hire people who are from this area before they get to law school because that tends to mean that they’ll stick around in that job and they won’t try to go somewhere else or whatever.
There’s a community. They have roots. They have a reason to be here.
It’s the same reason I’m here.
Ultimately, it’s the same reason I’m here for my wife’s sense of community, but it’s no different than large civil law firms. When I came to work in here, one of the big interests was they were more interested whether or not I would stay in this community, whether or not I was on law review, which I was on the law review, believe it or not.
I love Jason Byrd. He’s a special guy and genuine, which is hard to find in what we do. He’s one of the smartest people that doesn’t put it on you like a lot of other people do. I made him hang as a high school valedictorian frame deal. Anyways, that’s a big deal.
You did pitch me for that. If it’s still sitting in there, I don’t think it’s staying.
Let me ask you a question. You‘ve been practicing for many years. You’ve learned a lot. You’ve been through a lot. I’m still trying to figure it out. What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do? What would you tell someone who might be wanting to get a little school or on the fence? “If you’re on the fence, don’t do it. Either you’re all in or you’re all out, but what’s the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?
What’s the outcome you change for regular people? For me that’s individuals or small business owners, people that I know that I have relationships with and sometimes in the deals that I have, it’s about maybe a bet the company type situation. It may be something that has pretty significant at least economic consequences to these people and changing the outcome or the direction of their life in a lot of ways. That’s rewarding. Fortunately, there are a lot of things I can’t do for people. At the end of the day, we do well. I deliver, but at least I know in the commercial type of cases that’s what it’s about anyway.
Would you want any of your kids to go into your profession?Treat the support staff better than you treat the judges because the odds are those judges come and go. Click To Tweet
I wouldn’t push it.
Maybe you’d be proud if they did, but would you want them to?
I’m 50/50 on there. If they wanted to do it, I would push but absent an already existing strong commitment, I don’t know that I would push it hard.
What’s the biggest, not necessarily regret, but hindsight if you could go back and tell yourself eighteen years ago, make sure that you do this better? If you could give yourself advice, what would be the number one piece of advice you’d give yourself?
I’ll do that, but I’ll couch it in terms of first, anybody who answers that question is going to have to be unique to them. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. Now, it may because I’m getting older, I’m a little better at seeing those in myself and every once in a while doing something about the weaknesses. The very first part of my career, I had a mentality of me against the world. I don’t think it needed to be that stark. I still have a tinge of that. It’s hard to say I shouldn’t be that way because to a large degree that’s what drives me too. I don’t know. I was always very unwilling to ask for help, seek out help or ask for advice. I can do it all alone. If I work hard and I’m smart, it will be fine. Not everything has to be that hard. I learned the hard way.
I’m definitely thinking of heeding your advice.
Number two is have some self-reflection and try to regularly do that. I can get caught professionally in a track where I feel like I’m supposed to have all the answers because smart people come to me when they have a problem. They’re in a box or they need to figure out a way out of it or whatever the situation. A reasonably decent job intend to have those answers, but I don’t always have the answers and that’s okay too. I don’t know is fine. Early in my career, that was something I’d be scared to say to a client or prospective client. I know I’m going to tell you if I don’t know, I’ll say, “I don’t know. Here’s what I would think and let’s figure this out.“
I overstretched to help when I know into a negative. That’s the worst thing you can tell someone is I can’t help you. I don’t know how to help you or the situation is dire, there’s nothing that I could do. You always push. In reality, if I would step back and say, “Genuinely, I’m giving you the best I got. I don’t have the answer for you or that’s been the hardest thing for me, overstretching to make things happen when they weren’t supposed to happen.”
The advice I’d give to young lawyers as well would be, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” It happens a lot in our profession and we joke about it. We don’t hang out with a lot of lawyers because a lot of them could be a real pain in the ass to be with. I can’t take myself too seriously. For the most part, I like being a lawyer. I’m not defined by that. I try to have more good days than I had bad. It’s probably about four good days to three bad. That’s okay though. I wasn’t guaranteed or anything because I went to school, because I can remember things and regurgitate them when on the test for it. I’m not guaranteed anything and recognizing that helps to serve me and keep me coming.
The next true big issue is life balance. I don’t think I ever had a balanced life. You’d look back and you’re supposed to be balanced. It will make you better in the long run.
I don’t think the balance makes you better, it’s the strive for the balance. The people who truly strive for the balance, who truly strive for them for the balance with some real focus never get it. It’s that path of striving for it that’s going to refine. It’s going to make you good at this part because you’re focused.
You make my time management better.
I never had a problem with this. I always treated the staff at the office as well as I possibly could. I see many young lawyers who aren’t good at that yet. Those are the people who make or break you. If you can’t make it happen, we can’t make it happen. That’s how it is.
That’s why I’ll give one piece of advice to any lawyer, aspiring lawyers reading is make friends with all of the court support staff, all of the coordinators and all the bailiffs because I can’t tell you how many times I was supposed to be in court, but I was in another court. The criminal practice is volume. I’ll have a bailiff text me. I’d be like, “Thank you very much,” or I have a case that I need to get reset the day before because I have a CLE or something came up. You call and you’re like, “Would you mind?” Truly treat the support staff better than you treat the judges because odds are those judges come and go. They have the same support staff. They don’t leave. They‘ll be there for 20, 30 years.
It’s a good rule to try and treat everybody well, treat everybody with respect unless they clearly demonstrate as undeserved. I try to operate by that and I treat everybody pretty fairly.
If you’re going to show up late to court wearing collages, that’s another one.
You’re the first lawyer in your family, aren’t you, Janson?
What drove you to do that?
It stems from a very personal thing that occurred in my early twenties. My name is Janson Bailey. I had a twin brother named Jonathan Bailey. We’re very close. There were nine sets of twins in my graduating class from Westbrook High School. We were by far the closest. We didn’t sleep in different beds until we were in college. We were just so close. That’s the way my mother raised us. We have a phenomenal mother. We were celebrating our 22nd birthday in College Station. I was at Texas A&M and my twin brother was playing basketball at Rice. I convinced him to come to College Station to celebrate because there’s nothing fun to do in the rest of the campus. At that age, you’re not thinking. You didn’t know any better. We were celebrating our 22nd birthday. We went out to a bar that he used to work at. I knew everyone. It was fun and it was a Tuesday or Wednesday night. It was packed.
There was a little kerfuffle that broke out and a little bar fight situation where a guy got bumped, swung at me and missed. One of my buddies get on and they threw the guy out of the bar. They didn’t throw me out of the bar. I saw the guy on this phone. A couple of minutes later I was thinking, “What did we do to resolve this before the police come? It’s my birthday. My little brother Christopher was there. He was seventeen. We got him into the bar. I was walking back to my vehicle and I realized it didn’t have the keys because my girlfriend was driving. It was an Expedition. I turned and I saw two guys running towards me in an alleyway. It was at Church Street.
No one was out there. I was jumped and didn’t realize it at the time that I was being stabbed. I was on the ground may be less than ten to fifteen seconds. My twin brother ran up and hit the guy off of me. The guy with the knife, I didn’t know it at the time, immediately jumped and stabbed him in his heart and in multiple places and he bled out in the street. That happened and three years later, we go to trial. The guy hired a guy named Dan Cogdell, who is one of the nation’s best defense attorneys. It was a family connection. He didn’t charge them a whole bunch of money.
We went to trial for eight or nine days. They acquitted him for murder. I knew what happened. Christopher knew what happened, but that’s the first time I realized that the courtroom is truly an unwritten storybook. You can narrate it how you’d want to. You have to play or if you have the intent. You have the charisma, whatever you can draw up, any story that you want. My mother looked at me crying and in tears. We were always raised that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. She asked me, “How could this have happened? I didn’t have any answers for it. That day, I told Dan Cogdell I would go to law school and I sure enough did.
It‘s a powerful story and thanks for sharing it. I knew the story and I wouldn’t try to set you up there. It’s important to share it for them to know and at least for you to remind yourself because every day you go to work, you’re carrying Jonathan’s legacy. It’s powerful.
You get so bogged down into every day. You were speaking about being reflective, that‘s a truly reflective moment. That’s why I am here. Otherwise, trying to think of what I would do anyway. I was in school for Engineering. I was great at math. That’s about it. There’s a true calling of my life. That’s another reason why I don’t want to continue down the criminal defense path. There’s nothing wrong with making sure everyone’s treated equally, but I didn’t do this to use whatever God–given ability I have to fight that battle. It’s time for me to switch over. That’s why my little brother is a lawyer. It’s a good question that a lot of people don’t ever truly think I’m going to answer it like that.
I’m glad you’re here. I know you’re shifting your practice, but I’m going to tell you if you get drunk, don’t drive. If you get drunk and drive and get a DWI, call this person. He’ll take care of you. I wanted to get in and at least get the audience introduced to you. We might have you on some more. We’ll do something where we get all drunk and have a good time. Apparently his little brother, Chris is seventeen years old, they stepped in the bar that night. He’s a lawyer now too. He is truly a youngster. Thanks for coming in. If someone did need to reach you, how do they find you?
I’m located at 470 Orleans Street, Suite 950 in Beaumont, Texas. It’s right next to the Byrd Law Firm. My office phone is (409) 892-8900. My email is Janson@Bailey.Law. If you have an issue, I’ll help you out.
I appreciate it. We’ll do it again soon.