The Greater Good
State Bar of Texas President Tom Vick on helping others.
By Patricia Busa McConnico
When Tom Vick was nine years old, he would ride around rural Parker County in a black 1958 Pontiac with his father, the county judge, stopping at tiny farm houses and crowded coffee shops to hand out vote cards and talk to folks about their problems and concerns. He enjoyed meeting those people and watching his dad try to help them, and he looked forward to Saturdays when he could sit in his father’s large leather chair at the office while his dad took care of things.
“One reason it is so important to be cognizant about how we conduct ourselves as lawyers is that we can never be cer-tain who is watching and what they may be taking away from our conduct,” said Vick, who realized early on that he wanted to be an attorney like his father and serve others and the community.
After attending Austin College in Sherman and playing basketball there, Vick went on to become a lawyer and returned to Weatherford, about 30 miles west of Fort Worth, to practice with his dad. He knew from his days as a boy spending hours after school with the neighborhood kids, run-ning up and down the creek at the end of his street until dark, that the small town was a nurturing environment for raising a family. It didn’t take long for Vick to start giving back to his community—at 27 he was elected mayor and constructed a city hall and fire station with no increase in taxes.
Above left to right: Tom Vick at age 17 while living in Fort Worth; the 6-foot-8 Vick played on the basketball team during college; the young Vick at Austin College, where he liked the atmosphere and the emphasis on education first and basketball second.
His strong commitment to service continued as he built his family law practice, served local and state associations, and acted as a trustee for the Weatherford Independent School District. Vick has continuously used his talent for consensus building and his strong leadership skills to help others, most notably when he mobilized 400 lawyers in 10 days to represent the more than 400 children removed by the state from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community near Eldorado. “I have never been more proud to be a lawyer,” Vick said, “than that morning when so many of my colleagues came from all over the state and lined up to get into the courthouse to safeguard the rights of those children.”
Above from left to right: Tom Vick in 1982 holding his son, Gabe T. Vick III, at their home; Vick getting sworn in as mayor of Weatherford at age 27 by his maternal grandfather, E.W. Johnson, at the city’s library.
On June 23, Vick will be sworn in as president of the State Bar of Texas at the bar’s annual meeting in Dallas. Vick recently talked with the Texas Bar Journal about his career, role model, and plans as president of the State Bar.
Who is your legal role model or mentor and what impresses
you most about him or her?
My father had the greatest impact on me both as a public servant and a lawyer. But I have tried cases with other lawyers and have watched other attorneys in and out of the courtroom that shaped my life. Terry Gardner of Fort Worth is the most well-prepared, graceful, articulate, respectful gen-tleman that ever tried a lawsuit. He is a lawyer’s lawyer. I wanted to be like him since the first day I saw him in the courtroom.
What lesson or experience has most impacted the way you
What goes around comes around. Never pass up the chance to be courteous, forgiving, and generous.
How is family law different from other kinds of law? What do
you like most about your practice area and why?
In family law, we are affecting people’s lives every day. We are representing good people at some of the worst times in their lives. We can help them through these crises and work with them to find positive ways to survive and move forward.
The family bar is very collegial. That is borne in part out of the reality that I may have the good party with the good facts today, and the roles probably will be reversed when we next meet. That dynamic keeps you more grounded and realistic. It assures that to succeed over the long term, you must be an ardent advocate for your client’s position, but you can take none of it personally. It requires patience, professional-ism, and civility to last in this area of the law.
What is the biggest challenge and what is the biggest reward
of working in a small firm?
The biggest challenge was competing with big-firm capa-bilities. Technology has leveled that playing field considerably. I can go to trial with an iPad today and do things only the biggest firms with information technology departments could do a decade ago. The reward is being autonomous.
You have a history of getting things done and building
consensus. What gets you motivated and how do you motivate
I was fascinated with politics and government from an early age. I studied and was impressed by the work of deliberative bodies invested in putting the needs of our state or country ahead of provincial interests. I learned that politics is the art of compromise. Most people want to do the right thing. The key is taking the time for careful consideration so everyone in the process is invested in the outcome or at least respects it because they have been heard. I enjoy that process and find it very rewarding. I like finding good solutions to vexing problems, and I am extremely optimistic in my ability to help get that done.
What do you think the legal profession will look like 50
years from now?
Fundamentally it will be much the same. Access to justice will still mean access to lawyers. What will be dramatically different is how attorneys and clients communicate, how practitioners are compensated, how courtrooms function, and how transactional work is conducted. At some point brick-and-mortar law offices will be relics. The hourly rate will become obsolete except in extreme circumstances. Artificial intelligence will be an indispensable part of legal research and writing.
But at the end of the day, when someone loses a spouse or a child in an accident or is on the precipice of ending a busi-ness or marriage relationship, there can be no substitute for the consolation, assurance, and counsel only a face-to-face meeting with a lawyer affords.
Name your three absolute favorite things to do on the
My ideal Sunday morning is drinking coffee on the back porch and reading the local paper, the New York Times, and excerpts from a dozen other publications. That is about a three- or four-hour process. Then I enjoy playing golf and relaxing with friends.
You have talked about civility and professionalism in the
legal profession. What else will you be focusing on this year as State
The first part of the year will be devoted to finding the right successor to Michelle Hunter, who is retiring as our executive director in January 2018. Replacing the 20 years of institutional knowledge and relationships she has forged will be a monumental task.
There is a world of technology we can leverage in meeting the legal needs of all Texans and finding good, productive work for our lawyers. I want to more fully develop the bright minds in tech who can bring that to fruition. The day will soon be here when our citizens can find answers to their legal needs much the same way they find a ride home. Matching those desires with lawyers interested in doing the work in a fee structure they all agree on is closer than you might think. We can get that done. And it is time for Texas to have its own technology conference, much like the ABA TECHSHOW.
If you could try a case with any lawyer (dead or alive), who
would it be and why?
My partner Dan Carney and I last tried a case together about 25 years ago. We had incredible fun doing it and would “fight” about who got to cross-examine a particular witness. He practices only criminal law. It would be intellectually interesting to get out of my bailiwick and try a case with him again.
The other is Gabe T. Vick III. I cannot express the satis-faction of having a son who has turned out to be a very good trial lawyer. We have one case together now. I am looking for-ward to being his co-counsel at trial. My life, as a parent and as a lawyer, is validated by the lawyer and the man he has become.
Describe yourself in five words.
Witty. Blessed. Happy. Intellectually curious. TBJ