Love it… Hate it… An Attorney’s Perspective
As 2016 draws to a close, I’m reflecting on what I love and hate, respectively, about being an attorney.
Let’s start with the good part of this story: what I love about being an attorney. As many of you know, I spend most of my time practicing municipal law. I am a City Attorney, City Prosecutor, and City Judge. You may also know that I represent small cities, typically with populations of less than 5,000 inhabitants. Now, I am going to throw in some educational information here, so brace yourself.
There are three types of cities in Texas:
- Home-rule cities. These cities have a population of over 5,000 inhabitants and operate under a Charter. A Home-rule city can pretty much do anything as long as it does not contravene state law, federal law, or its own Charter.
- General law cities are typically, but not always, under 5,000 inhabitants. A General law city can only do what state law specifically authorizes it to do.
- Special-law cities are those cities that operate under a Charter granted by the legislature.
OK, now back to my story. I represent both Home-rule and General law cities but even the Home-rule cities are quite small. There are two aspects of my job that I love: the people I work with and the results of my legal advice.
As to the results of my legal advice, I am fortunate to see my advice play out in real-world time and not in some abstract legal memorandum that sits on a desk and is never looked at, or if it is looked at, is not understood. For example, I may have a code enforcement official call me and ask me how to remove a dilapidated and dangerous structure. Something like this:
I have seen these types of nuisances removed because of the legal work I do to remove them. I see the direct result of my work. And that is one of the most satisfying parts of my job. This is just one example of hundreds or even thousands where I see my legal advice make a real difference for the betterment of a city and community. I see how my work helps the mayors, councilmembers, employees, volunteers, and citizens enhance and protect their communities.
What I love is working with the people in my cities to achieve such results. I get to know mayors, councilmembers, employees, volunteers, and citizens that make the city function. I know these people on a personal and professional level. I am so fortunate to interact daily with people who care about their work and communities, and it never hurts to find humor or a smile when times are difficult. I can honestly say that the people make my job the most satisfying.
So, what do I hate about being an attorney? I despise politics. I have written about how the City Attorney does not play politics, but that does not mean that people will not try and pull the City Attorney into the political arena. I have seen politics stifle the growth and development of a city. It makes me sad to see such divisiveness at the local level. I can’t image its exponential impact on the state and federal level.
With that said, there is a difference between playing politics and people just having different ideas on how a city should operate. The latter is what this country is built on. The former is what can destroy it. Here is a non-city example of what I have seen as a lawyer from someone getting divorced. The couple had a dog. The man did not like the dog but knew his soon-to-be-former wife loved the dog. So, he wanted the dog. That is politics. By contrast, two people raising the dog but having different ideas on how to rear a happy and healthy pet is not politics, that just life!
So, as I move into 2017, I embrace all that is good in my work life (and personal life) and am mindful of the minefields. It is my wish to see my cities continue to flourish in the coming year and to help guide them legally when needed. I wish everyone who reads this blog and those that do not, a happy, safe, successful, and laughter filled 2017! And to quote (with a little artistic license) a much beloved Star Wars character: when times are rough, remember, there is always “hope.”
Timothy Kirwin is a Senior Attorney with the Randle Law Office in Houston. A native of Houston, Mr. Kirwin previously worked as Assistant Curator at the Houston Fire Museum and an Archivist at Baylor College of Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from the University of Houston, Mr. Kirwin has practiced in various areas of municipal law, first as an assistant city attorney in Missouri City, Texas, and since joining the Randle Law Office, serving as a municipal prosecutor or city attorney for multiple cities. He is also Associate Municipal Court Judge for the city of Hedwig Village.