Hire a CPA. One of the biggest mistakes I made as a young lawyer was with money. At my first job, I made partner within a year. At that point, I was paid as a partner. I did not know what that meant and the tax consequences surprised me at the end of the year. Also, I missed out on a lot of tax write-offs by not consulting with a CPA at that point in my career.
As a part of my series about “5 things, I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Hill.
Justin is a personal injury attorney in San Antonio, Texas. He started his own law firm, Hill Law Firm, five years ago after working with one of the highest-profile personal injury attorneys in the United States. He has had numerous high dollar verdicts, won many awards, and most importantly loves what he does.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?
When I was in high school, my family suffered a tragic loss as a result of a defective product. I remember learning about product liability and how some companies just take shortcuts to save money in spite of the dangers they create. At that time, I decided I wanted to hold businesses and insurance companies responsible for bad behavior that harms people. That is why I do what I do.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
There are so many to choose from with this question. One thing in particular always stands out to me. When I tried my first case, it was a case against a university for the death of a student. The defense attorneys were fighting amongst themselves. One of them was sidelined due to that infighting. During the trial, he would follow me into the bathroom or hallways and give me critiques and advice on how to be a better lawyer during breaks. He never disclosed any information, but he just wanted to mentor a young attorney. He is a legend in his own right so I was honored.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am particularly proud of the work our law firm does representing victims of sexual abuse. When I first became a lawyer, almost no lawyers would take these cases due to the difficulty in proving them and recovering any damages. The first one I did was on behalf of a young lady kidnapped and trafficked. The list of defendants included professional athletes and business leaders. I learned a lot. Currently, we are handling some cases against the Catholic Church and some businesses in San Antonio that involve victims of sexual abuse.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
At my first job, I got to work on some of the biggest cases in the United States. I got to attend meetings among the lawyer decision-makers on the BP explosion and spill. I was able to prosecute cases against some of the biggest car makers in the world. And, as previously mentioned, I have worked on very important sexual assault cases.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I am inspired by people that stood up against tall odds. Abraham Lincoln, Clarence Darrow, and John Lewis come to mind. There are so many people that can support change when they are in a crowd. There are very few that can fight within the system when they are fighting against a system that is against them.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
First and foremost, do not become a lawyer if you don’t want to be a lawyer. Too many people go to law school because they do not know what they want to do, someone said they were good at arguing, or some other reason that has no relationship to what we do. I would then tell them to go to a law school in the geographic area they want to practice and that will be the least amount of debt. My final piece of advice is to work hard and graduate as high as possible.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
The first change I would like to make would be to return to trusting juries to make the right choices. Insurance companies and big businesses have convinced lawmakers that juries cannot be trusted and laws have been passed that have closed the courthouse doors to litigants.
The second change would be to implement real oversight on the insurance industry. Their influence, power, and abuses have become too extreme for the good of policyholders and injured people.
Lastly, and I think the shutdown is going to force it, I think courts should be more open to distance options like video or phone conferencing. I do not think trials by a video are a good idea in the long run but the cost-saving on not having to attend a hearing in person would be a big win for clients.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our firm is very committed to supporting our community. We sponsor and promote many nonprofits in the city. We serve on boards and volunteer. And, we help when we are asked.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
I get to fight for those in need on a day to day basis. I feel very passionate about justice and the underdog. That drives me and makes my job very enjoyable.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Say Yes! As a young lawyer, I said yes to all the times I was asked to do something. Sometimes it felt scary or like busywork, but I said yes to the opportunities. That led to me getting more and more responsibility and more and more trust. Of course, if you fail at the task given, you probably do not get more. But, if you succeed, you might get to do things nobody your age gets to do.
- Hire a CPA. One of the biggest mistakes I made as a young lawyer was with money. At my first job, I made partner within a year. At that point, I was paid as a partner. I did not know what that meant and the tax consequences surprised me at the end of the year. Also, I missed out on a lot of tax write-offs by not consulting with a CPA at that point in my career.
- Audit More. When I went out on my own, I assumed everyone was doing their job and would ask them often. I found out after firing one of my first employees that it was all lip service. Now, we audit internally our work tasks and assignments quarterly. It catches things that get dropped. It identifies if people are not working as they should. And, it provides a lot of peace of mind.
- Find a Mentor. Another Baylor Lawyer at my first job took me under his wing and provided me guidance, tough love, and a real mentor. He tried my cases with me and let me try his with him. He critiqued me and challenged me. To this day, I still turn to him for advice. He has made me a better lawyer and continues to make me a better lawyer.
- Enjoy It. Find what you like and do that. If you hate litigation, do not do it. If you love to write and research, do that. You are better at what you enjoy and that will shine through.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to meet and chat with Coach Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. Not only am I a fan, I admire his passion, his quest for knowledge, and the way he approaches life.