What Does a City Attorney Do?
What does a City Attorney do? Sounds Kind of Boring! At dinner parties and social gatherings, people often ask, “what do you do for a living?” This is not an easy question to answer.
I am a private practice attorney who spends the majority of my day representing multiple public municipalities (i.e., cities) in and around the Houston area as outside legal counsel. I usually tell people that “I provide advice to a city on what they can and cannot do legally.” That simple answer really does not convey how I spend my workday as an attorney.
The longer answer might be something more akin to the following:
I draft all local city legislation, called ordinances, based on input from city staff and the city council. For example, one city I represent is considering adopting an ordinance banning cell phone use by motor vehicle drivers throughout the entire city unless the driver is using a hands-free device or an emergency situation exists to warrant using the cell phone.
My job is to advise the city on the limits of their power to regulate such use, making sure that the law is constitutional.
I also review and edit contracts, draft personnel manuals, ensure compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act, prosecute cases in a city’s Municipal Court, answer purchasing and procurement questions, and defend cities against lawsuits. I answer legal questions from the city’s Mayor, City Council, City Manager, and City Secretary as well as all city departments and divisions such as Parks, Police, Planning and Development, Public Works, Fire, Finance, and Human Resources. Moreover, I also advise commissions and committees, such as the Park Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, economic development corporations, and ordinance committees.
Separately, I also serve as an Associate Municipal Court Judge. So, if you receive a traffic citation or any class C misdemeanor citation, you may be appearing before me in Court.
Still sound boring? Well, it is such a varied practice that every day is different and every city council has its own, unique collective personality. Today, I will be drafting an agreement to incentivize a new business development to move into the City via city-sponsored grants. I will begin drafting the adoption of new building codes for another city. And I will advise yet another city on the legal procedures to follow in demolishing a substandard house.
In addition to the city attorney practice that I maintain, I also represent many private clients. I act as general counsel to a mid-size engineering firm, a start-up project management firm, a local non-profit organization, and a newly-formed homeowner’s association. Moreover, I represent individuals on a wide range of legal topics including real estate transactions and navigating permitting processes of other government entities.
If this still sounds boring, maybe I should take up skydiving.
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.