Being a Lawyer

 
Being a Lawyer
Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden

NAME: Lisa M. Tatum

AGE: 42

HOME: San Antonio

QUALIFICATIONS: Served as an assistant criminal district attorney in Bexar County / Founded her own firm, the Tatum  Law Practice, in June 2011 / Became the first black president-elect of the State Bar of Texas in May 2012

● Who wasn’t inspired by Atticus  Finch as a child? He was such a dignified gentleman who took a strong stand on an unpopular position. And believe me, because my mother was an English teacher, I read To Kill a Mockingbird  long before I saw the movie.

● I didn’t always know that I wanted  to become a lawyer. During the winter recess of my junior year in college, it hit me, and I burst into tears while talking with my mom about it. She asked me why I was crying, and I told her I wanted to go to law school. I was afraid, because I knew it would cost a lot of money and take a lot of time.

● I wanted to become an attorney  because, looking at our history, I realized that peaceful protests and demonstrations only go so far. If you really want to effect change or hold on to the things you value in society, you have to get involved with the law.

● I loved being a prosecutor, although there were certainly times when that  hard bench I sat on while waiting for a jury to return its verdict started to seem like it would make a good cot.

● One thing law school doesn’t  prepare you for is how to handle the wide variety of witnesses. You don’t get to pick your cases when you represent the State of Texas, and let’s just say that not all your witnesses are likable.

I once had a murder case  that just didn’t feel right, and I drove our detective crazy with follow-up questions. But they led us to a witness we didn’t know about—and proved that our original suspect should not have been charged. We eventually convicted the right person, and I’ve always felt vindicated by that. A lot of people were telling me to just go with what I had, but you have to be willing to trust your gut.

● People don’t think working  in corporate and public finance law is as sexy as being a prosecutor, and one thing is certain: there’s far more paperwork involved in civil litigation. But now that I have my own firm, I enjoy the freedom to choose my cases. 

● Believe it or not, I don’t know  a single good lawyer joke.

● The State Bar of Texas has  93,000 members, but the bad actors often get all the publicity. We have to think about what it means to be talented, ethical lawyers. The attorneys we remember from the days of old were public servants held in high esteem, and that’s not our reputation today. Our value has slipped. We owe it to ourselves and to the community to demonstrate our worth and our contribution to the greater good.

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