May 2, 2021

The Life and Times of a Country Lawyer: Chapter 10

The Life and Times of a Country Lawyer: Chapter 10

The Dallas law firm, Strasburger & Price, had a trial section which was extraordinary and unusual in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Hobert Price was unquestionably the most eminent legal scholar in North Texas. He seldom left the office. Henry Strasbuger and their trial lawyers would scatter out into the district courts of Dallas and all other district courts of North Texas each Monday morning. They were generally representing defendants in civil jury trials.

During the day and as long as the trial continued, if a complicated legal question arose, they would call Hobert Price and ask him for authorities (recent reported cases and statutes) and the answer to legal questions which the court was considering. This is an enormous help for the trial lawyer, for the defendant would like to have a reversible error in the record in the event the case was lost and the plaintiff would like an error-free record of the trial so that the judgment of the trial court could be affirmed on appeal. I have never known any person who maintained a current knowledge of present court rulings and statutes as well as Hobert Price.

He very seldom appeared in court. Mr. Strasburger called me one day and said Hobert was defending a case I had filed because the only issue was a legal question. When the case was set he came to Sherman and checked into the Grayson Hotel. Mr. Price was obviously not well. I have wondered if this was his last court appearance. I believe he died in 1965 and this setting occurred shortly before that date. Everyone who knew him respected him. As strange as it sounds, when other law firms were defending a case I was trying, I have called Mr. Price seeking the answer to a legal problem which he gladly gave me. This is not usual in the profession and the fact that it occurred might indicate that I was a member of the inner cadre.

This inner cadre had no name or exact membership. It was simply a group of skilled and experienced trial lawyers who trusted each other’s word, ethics and ability. In the 1940s Sherman’s Head, Dillard, Maxey, Freeman and McReynolds firm generally represented defendants, and its Rice Maxey, followed by Jim Henderson and later Joe Wolfe would have been qualified for membership.

On the plaintiff’s side of the docket Spearman was an accepted member. In this early time there were two large trial sections in Dallas: Strasburger’s and the Thompson & Knight firm, together with several smaller firms, representing defendants. Some of their lawyers appeared in the courts of Grayson County and some of them would also qualify.

From the early fall to the late spring, civil jury trials in the state courts were usually set every two weeks. The plaintiff’s attorney by writing a letter to the court and the defendant’s attorney would cause a case to be set for trial. I often had between two and five cases on each setting in the state courts. During the week before the trial date some would be continued by agreement, one or two settled, and on the trial date one might be tried.

The period immediately after Spearman’s death was a busy time for the office because some attorneys were reluctant to discuss settlement with me. This forced the trial of the case. At one time we had eight judgments on appeal in the state courts. Being a member of the inner cadre makes the handling of cases much easier. If the lawyers trust each other, cases are more easily settled. This avoids expensive discovery, trials and delays and is advantageous to litigants because of reduced costs and time. I remember one settlement of a worker’s compensation suit with an attorney from Strasburger’s firm when no deposition was taken and no discovery had. I simply furnished the opposing lawyer the statement that Miss Ruth had routinely taken when she opened the file in our office. This was a privileged instrument and since the information conformed with the defendant’s investigation there was no need to incur additional time and expense. This could only happen between two attorneys who were in the inner cadre.  

One morning, several years after Spearman’s death, Mr. Strasburger called me and stated that he was going to stop answering my cases in Grayson County and have other members of the firm appear for their office. He stated that he felt that he might not be properly representing his clients. To me this was the ultimate compliment. He liked and trusted me. This great man thought I was capable of taking care of myself. I now felt certain that I was an accepted member of the inner cadre.

The last time I saw Henry Strasburger he was an old man, weak and hunkered down near the curb of a busy Dallas street. I believe he was waiting for his car to come by and pick him up. I hurriedly crossed the street to speak to him. He appeared frail and sick. For only a moment we talked of Spearman and earlier times. I believe he died shortly thereafter in 1972. There is a monument in Dallas honoring him. It is the law firm of Strasburger & Price.

 Neilson Rogers practiced law in Sherman for almost 60 years, from 1938 until 2002, except for the five years he was in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 2007 he was recognized by the Grayson County Bar Assn. for seven decades of service to the legal and judicial communities. In retirement he wrote this memoir, which will be serialized in the North Texas e-News. Before his death, Mr. Rogers asked Dr. Jerry Lincecum to edit the memoir and gave him literary power of attorney to make decisions about publishing his writings.

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