The Amazing Reign of Joe Jamail
He has been called a savior, a good ol' boy and an SOB. But one thing he will never be is boring!
Love him or hate him, Joe Jamail still commands respect after 50 years as a lawyer. And he's as adamant as ever about the importance of juries.
MY TRIALS AND JUBILATIONS Highlights from Lawyer
"I grew up loved. And I grew up fighting. I had to. I'm still fighting, in a different way. Bullies and snobs have always ignited in me the fire that smolders inside my soul. I have never been able to stand by and let someone abuse another person. I have to go in and help. And win,"
Professor Morris asked me what my parents did. 'Grocery business,' I said.
'I suggest you become a grocer,' he said. 'You are just taking up space here.'
"He later told me that he was happy for me and very proud to have been my teacher."
"I told the jury, at the beginning of the Olin Robertson case, 'If you can't decide this case in the amount of $510,000 in thirty minutes, then you need to tell the judge that you need to go on home.' You have to challenge the jury. This has been my war cry. It has the added virtue of being true."
"The deputy and I walked into the Sears store and went upstairs to the manager's office. He was startled and asked what we wanted. I said that we wanted the keys to the store and ordered him to get on the loudspeaker system and tell the customers to leave, as we were closing the doors."
"I have been told since law school that the lawyer has to be objective, not get involved with the client emotionally. To that I say, nonsense How can I not be involved? I have been involved all my life."
Joseph D. Jamail, Jr.
Outstanding Fifty Year Lawyer Award
Texas Bar Foundation
Joseph D. Jamail, Jr., is one of the recipients of the Outstanding Fifty Year Lawyer Award for the year 2003. The Fifty Year Lawyer Award was the first award established by the Texas Bar Foundation. The award recognizes attorneys whose practice spanned fifty years or more, and who adhere to the highest principles and traditions of the legal profession and provide service to the public A Houston native, Joseph D. Jamail was admitted to the Bar in 1952 and received his law degree from The University of Texas School of Law in 1953. Mr. Jamail is a Sustaining Life Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, a trustee of the UT Law School Foundation, Fellow of the International Academy of Law and Science, and Fellow of the American College and International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from The University of Texas. He is internationally recognized as one of the most successful personal injury trial attorneys in the world.
Highlights from Oral History Interview
"Well, I was so goddamned naive. I didn't even know you had to take an exam to get into Law School, so I just started going to classes. They assumed, I guess, that I had passed the exam. And I took the bar exam seven or eight months before I graduated on a dare. ...I remember Denzil Bevers looking over and saying, "Listen, loud-mouth, if you're so goddamned smart, why don't you take this f___ing exam?" ... All these guys were standing by the door and I opened it (the exam results) up. It took a grade of seventy-five to pass, and I had made seventy-six. I looked at them and said, 'Shit, I've over-trained!' "
"As for doctors, I was in this debate once with the head of the Harris County Medical Society, and it was being televised. He went off on lawyers; it was terrible. And the last couple or three minutes the moderator looked at me and said, 'Mr. Jamail, I'm sorry he's taken most of the time but you have thirty seconds if you'd like to respond.' I said, 'That's more than enough time. I would like for you to remind the doctor, and I hope he doesn't mind if I call him a doctor. I would like for you to remind him that when his professional ancestors were putting leeches on George Washington to bleed him, mine were writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.' That ended that shit."
Lawyer of the Century
by John Spong
When Joe Jamail won an $11.2 billion jury verdict against Texaco for his client, Pennzoil, in 1985, the plaintiffs lawyer from Houston officially became larger than life. But he won that case and so many others by humanizing concepts as nominally intimidating as "tortious interference with contractual relations" and reminding businessfolks that a handshake really does mean something. And he is decidedly human himself: Despite securing more than two hundred verdicts and settlements in the neighborhood of $13 billion, he counts among his proudest achievements a summary judgment over McCarthyite attack dog Roy Cohn ("I sent his ass back to New York in tatters") and the fact that a group portrait hanging outside the Joseph D. Jamail Center for Legal Research at the University of Texas shows him holding a highball. Runner-up: Leon Jaworski, who prosecuted Nazi war criminals, a segregationist Southern governor, and a lying U.S. president
2006 COVER STORY
The Amazing Reign of Joe Jamail
America's King of Torts
IT'S GOOD TO BE THE KING
by Anthony Head
He may be the richest lawyer in America, but even at 78 Joe Jamail shows no signs of slowing down.
The King is 45 minutes late when he walks out of the elevator and into his penthouse office, high atop 500 Dallas Street in Houston. His pace is slow and regal through the lobby, as he is being politely acknowledged by his staff. He doesn't need to explain where he's been. After all, he is a man who claims more trial victories than anyone else, ever. A man who forced the withdrawal of three products from the marketplace because he deemed them dangerous. A man who won the largest civil damage award in history. A man whose legal victories are so astounding and groundbreaking that he was acknowledged in the Guinness Book of World Records. But this is no mere man.
This is Joe Jamail — King of Torts
Newsweek bestowed that moniker upon Jamail in the early 1970s after he won a half-million-dollar jury award for his client, an electrician who had lost his hands because of a faulty electrical box. It was the first time in American tort law that an individual had received a verdict with so many zeros on the cashier's check, and it forever helped change Texas law concerning product liability At the completion of that trial, Jamail's career began to escalate, and, always working on a percentage basis, his war chest started filling up fast. And you can bet the media took notice.
Jamail has loved every minute of it. "Hey, man, I'm a ham. I love this stuff," he says with a laugh. He relishes the spotlight and talks about his past battles as if they were playing out right in from of him. The smile that creases his face never wavers while he recalls the countless highlights of his legendary career, which has grown to near-mythic proportions.
After attending to some business, he finally settles into a brass rocking chair. In a pressed blue jacket, Jamail measures his every word like a man contemplating the virtues of a fine martini. He is 78 years old, and his blue eyes sometimes appear a bit clouded in the sunshine streaming through the windows. But they also convey a solid willingness to continue practicing and winning — which is very bad news for you if you happen to come up against him in court.
"I'll be honest with you, when you're a winner — and I've won so much — they tend to publicize it, glamorize it, romanticize it....You know everybody's looking for a hero,” Jamail says when asked about the king's crown he was presented by his colleagues in deference to his media coronated royalty. "I'm not sure any of it means anything except that I've been able to be really advantageous for my clients. And me. I've made a lot of money"
Yeah. That's true. About a billion dollars or so. His name is usually found on the list of wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine, where he has also been cited as the country's highest-paid plaintiff's lawyer. But Houston's native son says there's nothing for him to he ashamed of because he's made his money honestly while helping out people who would otherwise end up shafted by greedy and irresponsible corporations.
"I'm not saying money's bad. I like it. But there are no vaults where I'm going. Up or down. So I try to give back because there's just so much money you can spend. you know? There's just so much you can eat and drink." He leans in, pulls the room together with his sly smile and knowing wink, then clarifies: "Good drink, that is."
Oh, yes, the King likes to imbibe on occasion. In fact, a morning's worth of Jamail's stories tends to start out the same way: "I was drinking with a couple of my buddies when ...”
For instance, where was he when he was first inspired to become a lawyer? In a saloon in Lafayette, Louisiana, trying to score with the barmaid when an attorney named Kaliste Soloom intervened to spark Jamail's curiosity about the law.
Where was he when he decided to take the bar exam on a dare -- with only three days to prepare? Drinking off-campus with some law school buddies. He passed by one point -- and boisterously claimed that he had overtrained for the test — then headed right back out to celebrate.
Where was he the night before he was to deliver his closing arguments in the historic Pennzoil versus Texaco trial? Drinking with Willie Nelson and former University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal. "Willie and Darrell showed up in a white stretch limousine and started pounding on the front door They kept me up drinking and bullshitting past midnight," says Jamail.
Despite that highly unusual all-night liquid strategy session, Jamail still nailed the summation and cemented his footprints into the legal walk of fame with the verdict that followed.
By now, a trainload of ink has been spilled over that trial, and Jamail still considers it the shining jewel in his crown. It took place in the mid-1980s, a period often perceived as a decade of greed. Getting a jury to care about two big oil companies fighting over more money seemed a daunting task. What's more, there would be substantial testimony of Wall Street dealings and business acquisitions and a whole mess of other financial stuff that might confuse or bore a jury.
Jamail was representing Pennzoil, who claimed that Texaco knowingly savaged its deal to take over Getty Oil. He agonized for weeks over how to argue it. Finally, he found the clarity he was seeking and saw the situation as a matter of honor, and that's the foundation with which he chose his picks for the jury "[Pennzoil] didn't have a signed contract, but we had a word. We had a handshake. So I was looking for people with long marriages, long church affiliations ... people whose word meant something," says Jamail. "I had to try to make them understand that they didn't give up their common sense when they got to court. And it worked for me."
Oh, it worked all right. Jamail compelled the jury to get excited enough to send a warning shot across the bow of every company in America that morality and ethics have a place in business just as they have in life's other arenas. And it was a big shot. The largest legal shot in history, in fact. It was an $11 billion shot, and, of course, Jamail got a lawyer-sized cut of the award. (And even though the case was ultimately settled for $3 billion, that's still a lot more money than most attorneys will rack up in a lifetime of litigating.)
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Jamail was born in 1925. That's possibly why he's so passionate about what he does and about whom he chooses to look after. Though his family wasn't terribly impacted by the events of the late 1920s and early 1930s, he still lived through the Great Depression and witnessed how people treated their neighbors in times of crisis. As he remembers it, his parents were always willing to feed a stranger passing through town looking for work, and their compassionate spirit has remained hard-wired into his quest for justice.
After serving as a Marine in the Pacific during World War II, he returned home and started taking pre-med classes, but soon changed to law at the University of Texas. That's where his unusual approach to the profession began. Jamail says that he was so naive at the time that he didn't realize that he needed to take an exam to get into the law school. He simply showed up and started taking classes.
His grades weren't stupendous at first, but his desire and his talent were apparent very early. In fact, he actually tried a case before graduating. You see, Jamail was drinking with a couple of buddies in a favorite bar when the bartender cut herself on a beer bottle that she was trying to open.
"I told her we should just sue and see what happens," Jamail recalls. He admits to being a little lost in court, which is understandable since he didn't even have a degree yet, but the judge guided him through the proceedings. When the defendant, Pearl Brewing Company offered $500 to settle, Jamail asked for $ 1,000. He ended up taking $750 and collecting a third of it for his fee. which naturally was used to buy beers for his friends all night long.
After graduating, he took a job at Freeman, Bates & Jaworski. "I lasted about 20 minutes in that kind of corporate law-by-committee environment," Jamail says. He then went to work for the district attorney's office and fine-tuned his chops while working on every kind of case, including murder and the strange case of a man having sex with his mule.
Jamail eventually formed his own practice, where he could take the cases he wanted and handle them his own way, which at times veered toward the unbelievable. He immediately grabbed headlines with a case he won for the widow of a man who had been drinking and drove his car into a tree. After Jamail was through, the city paid the widow and cut down the tree.
WORTHY OF THE THRONE
He's charming and talented, but Jamail is also a warrior. He’s extremely hard-working and thorough when preparing for a case. "When you really prepare — and that's one of the things that I'm noted for: I really get ready — then it looks like it's all coming right off the top of your head. But look, the only thing that comes off the top of your head is dandruff. So I drive everybody around here nuts picking apart every little thing,” says Jamail. "Anybody who thinks they're smart enough to go to court and the Holy Ghost is going to descend upon them with all the knowledge they need to win is ... goofy. It just doesn't happen like that. If you're not prepared, you're just not gonna win."
Today the man knows a lot about winning and outright success. He has a leather-bound book of victory clippings thick enough to be a doorstop at the gates of Buckingham Palace. If you own a Remington Mohawk 600 rifle or a three-wheeled Honda all-terrain vehicle, then you bought it before Jamail personally had them, along with the drug Parlodel, completely recalled because of the inherent dangers they posed. His trophy room is crammed with awards, honors and testimonials. There are statues of him around town, and the football field at Texas Memorial Stadium sports his name. Jamail, though, is particularly proud that his peers at the California Trial Lawyers Association named him "Trial Lawyer of the Century"
But all that happened last century. What about now? "I'm starting out pretty good on it," says Jamail, who has a full docket for the foreseeable future. "I like knowing that I'm helping somebody and I like the courthouse. It beats selling bananas. And that's what I would have been doing if not for this."
The discussion swings toward the current political climate — which he is none too happy with and what he perceives as an erosion of civil liberties. He then leans in to make his last point crystal clear and the soon-to-be octogenarian assumes the role of warrior king again. "There's never been a bigger assault on people's privacy and their liberties and on the Constitution itself ... because of some hocus-pocus cry of `war-time president!' thereby revoking all our constitutional guarantees. Give me a break. I don't believe that. I don't like that and I'm not going to put up with that. I'm going to fight that."
But now the King rises. He is off to receive guests for lunch, and he's just a little bit late. It's a good bet that wherever he goes he'll probably have a couple of drinks, and who knows? Maybe he'll figure out how to save the Constitution. Long live the King.
Dallas Morning News
The following is a cached version of the Dallas Morning News, High Profile article
High profile: Joe Jamail Once a crusader ...
Friday, November 28, 2003
By STEVE QUINN / The Dallas Morning News
Joe Jamail loves getting in the last word. After all, he is a lawyer, and at 77, he's as chatty as ever. Whether it's cross-examinations in a courtroom, discourse at a reception – interrupted only when a glass of scotch is reaching the depletion stage – or text in his new book, Lawyer, Mr. Jamail's got something to say.
And no matter what, this Houston lawyer will have a captive audience: a jury seated for trial; people wondering what brings him back to the courtroom; or folks simply wanting to know what's on his mind.
Practicing law is no longer about the big payday because, as of Nov. 20, 1985, he had one of the biggest: On that day, he successfully convinced a Houston jury that Texaco Inc. derailed his client's efforts to buy Getty Oil Co. and won a $10.53 billion judgment for Pennzoil Co.
A settlement later reduced the payout to $3.3 billion, which still meant a $400-million-plus payout for Mr. Jamail. So, with all the money he could use and 50 years of trials under his belt, why does he keep coming back to the courthouse?
"Ego," he says. "I need the light on me, but you know, I still think I'm doing some good.
"It gives me a real sense of power that I'm not going to let you run over somebody. I don't care how big you are."
A Tight Family
A grocer's son and of Lebanese descent, Mr. Jamail grew up in Houston in the "Jamail Compound," where aunts, uncles, and cousins also lived. As a neighborhood runt and facing pressure of being as good as his older brother, George, he quickly grew to resent authority. But the chip on his shoulder "the size of a manhole cover" taught him to fight back, long before he started taking on big corporations.
Once, sick of being a bully's punching bag, young Joe kept a sock loaded with marbles handy.
"I just got tired of it, so when he got close, I nailed him," Mr. Jamail recalls. "It taught me something. If you don't stand up for something, then what are you going to do?"
That same chip, however, produced a slow start at the University of Texas in Austin, so the young man joined the Marines during World War II and returned home in 1946.
A chance barroom encounter with Louisiana lawyer Kaliste Saloom proved fortuitous. Mr. Jamail later visited him and watched him assure clients he could help. The meeting had Mr. Jamail thinking, "I can get paid for this?" and drove him to harness his energy and resume school.
He earned a liberal arts degree in 1949 at UT, then earned his law degree in January 1953, six months after passing the bar. Thanks to a bet – driven by plenty of hubris – Mr. Jamail took the exam before his final semester. Tired of hearing law grads bellyache about the upcoming exam, he wagered $100 that he could pass it. He won by exceeding the cutoff by one point. And today his connection with UT remains strong. The Jamail name is on its football field, the law school library and a natatorium, as well as several endowed chairs.
The Court as a Stage
If the legal world were a theater, the courtroom would be Mr. Jamail's stage. Although his workload has been scaled back after nearly 50 years of practicing law, the courtroom still energizes him. He enters a room walking with a slight hunch and speaking with hoarse voice, punctuated with a country drawl and smile. Other lawyers will come to the courtroom to watch just because he'll be trying a case. Sometimes, it'll be a case other lawyers wouldn't touch.
"He still has suppleness and agility he had as a young man," says Houston colleague Harry Reasoner, 64, who worked with Mr. Jamail during the Pennzoil-Texaco appeal.
"A trial is theater, but in a classic sense like Greek theater, where you get catharsis and truth from the exercise.
"It's his ability to capture your attention, keep it interesting and engaging and then allow you to learn from it that makes it classic theater. That's Joe in the courtroom."
Even foes acknowledge Mr. Jamail's courtroom presence.
"He's a shrewd person about weaknesses of people," says Richard Miller, who represented Texaco during the suit. "He understands human frailty, and that's a big part of his success; nobody can deny that."
But Mr. Miller adds success can breed contempt.
"Some consider him a friend, others don't; I don't consider myself either one," Mr. Miller says. "But he is not a loved person. People who say they are his friends are afraid of him because of his money." Nevertheless, Mr. Jamail is still winning in the courtroom, colleagues say, because he keeps law simple while mincing no words.
He breaks down cases to their essence rather than relying on a sleight-of-hand shell game. It's basic execution that is held up as an example in classrooms, especially in UT law classes.
"He almost always uses very traditional theories of liability," says Bill Powers, who is the dean for UT's School of Law and still teaches tort-law classes.
"His forte has always been his technique. He takes the core legal principles and tells a great story to the jury under those traditional principles: If they are violated, then someone ought to pay."
Mr. Jamail will stun juries with blunt deliveries, just as he did one afternoon when admitting that his client, paralyzed in an accident, registered a .31 blood alcohol content – more than three times the legal limit. He went on to convince the jury that his client, despite being drunk, was not weaving or causing his own peril but was forced off the road by a commercial truck. The jury returned with a $6 million award.
"Any attorney who goes into court thinking he's going to flim-flam a jury is nuts," he says.
"That's why I told the jury during voir dire: 'I want you to know right off my client was drunk. I don't care what you've seen, you've never seen anybody as drunk as he was the night this happened, so if anyone who feels it's open season on drunks and they are not entitled to protections of the law, I need to know.' Half wouldn't give a drunk a fair trial."
"A Recreational Process"
For all the talking Mr. Jamail does, conversations with Gus Kolius are an absolute must for him.
First a formidable opponent then an employee who one day found his name on the same letterhead as Mr. Jamail without explanation, Mr. Kolius still looks forward to his friend's calls, sometimes it's to talk about current cases, other times to reflect on old ones.
Mr. Kolius, now 84, worked 20 years with Mr. Jamail. Mr. Kolius "called in rich" and retired in his 70s, but his longtime friend keeps working.
"Practicing law is really the only thing Joe really enjoys," Mr. Kolius says. "It's a recreational process for him. I think he just gets a kick out of it. I don't think he'll ever quit or run out of cases."
Mr. Jamail believes he and other lawyers are losing ground outside the courtroom.A steadfast believer in the jury system, he believes the court's role is being slowly removed from conflict resolution.
Even in defeat, Mr. Jamail still supports jury trials, as he did in 1993 during a losing effort on behalf of Northwest Airlines, which lost an antitrust suit to American Airlines. Corporations and legislators, he says, are making inroads at lessening their accountability for their products, actions and policies.
He argues in Lawyer that it's the court system – and not legislators – that has produced the most telling societal changes: desegregation; products liability; free press; compensation for bereaved; the rights of illegitimate children. If more legislators had their way, he says, disputes would progressively be worked outside the courtroom. This thought sends Mr. Jamail into a closing-argument-like diatribe.
"What is justice? It isn't some magical thing that needs to be decoded. No, it's an opportunity to have whatever dispute you've got heard," he says
"Who is the guardian of human rights? Do you think it's the legislators? No, my friend. It's the courthouse. It's the juries. "
"Even the ones I lost, based on what the jury had, I'd have to agree they were right. They may make mistakes from time to time, but we have courts who can rectify those mistakes. "
"And if we don't continue to have an independent judicial system, they will settle disputes in the streets. Is that what we want?"
"I'll tell you this. I'm proud to be a lawyer. It's the last place to fight for people legitimately without swords, knives and machine guns and tell the corporate world they are not going to get away with this."
JOSEPH D. JAMAIL, JR.
Jamail & Kolius
500 Dallas Street, Suite 3434
ouston, Texas 77002-4793
Born: October 19, 1925 Houston, Texas
Preparatory Education: University of Texas(B.A., 1950)
Legal Education: University of Texas (J.D., 1953)
Admitted to the Bar: August, 1952, Texas
State Bar of Texas (Chairman, Grievance Committee, 1963,
District 22. Chairman, Town Hall Task Force, 1973-74)
American Bar Association
Houston Bar Association
Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers
Fellow, International Academy of Trial Lawyers
Inner Circle of Advocates
Advocate, American Board of Trial Advocates
Fellow, International Society of Barristers
Fellow, International Academy of Law and Science
Fellow, Council of Law and Science
Association of Trial Lawyers of America
World Association of Lawyers
World Jurist Association
Philosophical Society of Texas
The University of Texas Ex-Students' Association, Life Member
The University of Texas School of Law created "The Joseph D. Jamail Centennial Chair in Law and Advocacy"
Recipient of the 1989 Jurisprudence Award by The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
Grand Marshall of the Martin Luther King Day Parade, Houston, Texas, 1989
Recipient of the Southern Trial Lawyers Association 1993 War Horse Award.
Recipient of the 1993 Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
University of Texas has designated the Jessie Jones Hall at the Law School as "The Joseph D. Jamail Center for Legal Research."
Recipient of the 1993 Houston Texas Exes award.
Recipient of the 1996 University of Texas School of Law Outstanding Alumnus Award.
Recipient of the 1996 University of Texas Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Honorary member Order of Barristers, University of Texas
Recipient of the Texas Appleseed 2005 Good Apple Award
Named by Texas Monthly Magazine (12/99) "The Lawyer of the Century" and named "King of Torts" by Washington Post, Chicago Tribute and other publications.
Featured in recent book America's Top Trial Lawyers by Donald E. Vinson
Copyright 1994 by Prentice Hall Law & Business
Named one of country's top trial lawyers by most credible legal publications.
Represented a client who received the largest jury verdict in the history of law - Pennzoil v. Texaco - $11,120,000,000.00.
Represented a client who received the largest cash award at the time in the history of Tort law - Coates v. Remington Arms. Guiness Book of World Records
Represented a client who received a verdict and judgment for $560 Million in a negligence and fraud case - United States National Bank of Galveston, et al v. Coopers & Lybrand, et al.
Has been lead counsel in over two hundred personal injury cases where recovery, either by verdict or settlement, was in excess of One Million Dollars.
Has over $12 Billion in jury verdicts and over $13 Billion in verdicts and settlements.
Guest lecturer at many law schools throughout the country, including the University of Texas.
Named Trial Lawyer of the Century by California Trial Lawyers, Texas Monthly and others
Tried three cases which resulted in manufacturer product recalls - Remington 600 | Honda All Terrain 3 Wheel Vehicle | Prescription Drug: Parlodel