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Life as a Charlotte Family Law Attorney - Part 2

Charlotte Divorce Lawyer Tom Bush joins Law Talk with Bill Powers to discuss the practice of law, life as a family law attorney, and the path towards becoming an attorney.

Tom Bush: And one of the things that in these days I'm very much concerned about, we brought some of this on our ourselves, but lawyers have never been looked at in a sense of likable. Beginning back with Shakespeare's comment of kill all the lawyers, and of course what he meant by that was if you wanted anarchy, if you want to do away with order, if you want to do away with protecting people, then kill all the lawyers. He really said the lawyers aren't the most popular people around, and some of that we've done to ourselves in some ways, but one of the most important things I think now at my age is making sure that we set examples for the younger lawyers not to cross over that imaginary line where you are creating in the mind of the trier of fact something that just plain and simply is not true.

Bill Powers: Well, that's a great point and I hadn't thought of that. It reminds me of something in the sport of golf, which I'm terrible at, but I've always admired golf being a... It's a competitive sport but it's also based on honor and even if someone doesn't see the extra stroke or you accidentally hitting the ball, you scored against yourself and the definition of character in my mind is doing the right thing when no one's watching.

Tom Bush: That's right.

Bill Powers: And I think that's very much what the rules of professional conduct require.

Tom Bush: That's right. And I think the other thing is some balance. Of course, I sort of condemn myself when I talk about this. But there was a period of time where I got to know Dr. Billy Graham, and one of the comments he made was that he never wants a great pastor. He wants a good one but he doesn't want a great one. He says a great one, and just like a great lawyer, there's something missing in the great lawyer's life or the great pastor's life that somewhere, it might be his marriage, it might be addictions, it might be some other loss in life that loses... some of the benefit in life that loses because he or she is a great lawyer or a great pastor. There's some balance that's needed and if I had to do it over again, I think I would...

Tom Bush: What helps a lawyer more than anything is an understanding of music and understanding of art and understanding of history and understanding of the humanities and understanding of vocabulary and oratory and things of that nature, that law school really doesn't teach you. But learning about the fine arts does, learning about history does. There's a lot to be said for a lawyer having a very liberal education the first four years of post high school.

Bill Powers: I think it's a good point, I also think there is an aspect of this asking why lawyers are lawyers. In fact, rather than focus on specific issues on this podcast, or practice groups, we spend a lot of time talking about lawyering, and as someone who's dedicated the majority of their adult and professional life to the Advocates for Justice where we teach lawyers that do continuing legal education, we are helping lawyers to be better at what they do on a technical, proficiency side.

Bill Powers: I think it's very important and something NCHA been good about, of asking why are you a lawyer? Why did you go into this? Is there a service aspect of things? I myself call myself an accidental lawyer, I went to law school because I did not want to get a job. I fell into a profession despite my best efforts otherwise.

Bill Powers: Some people would say if you're a fan of Thomas Aquinas and natural law that you are born to the profession. And I now know myself, I know I was meant to be an attorney despite how much I've fought it. Tell me about your path to becoming a lawyer, what motivated you?

Tom Bush: Well, I think what motivated me more than anything was a burning desire for politics. I think that desire started maybe when I was 15, 16, 17 years old. I was working at a very exclusive hotel on an island, [inaudible 00:17:06], and I had opportunity there to be the pool boy. And as the pool boy I was putting out chaise lounges for very wealthy people in this exclusive hotel, and they would throw me a dollar once in a while or they'd be down there for a week, they'd throw me a $10 bill when they were leaving.

Tom Bush: For me, it just confirmed, because I took care of people like J. Edgar Hoover, who would be down at the hotel, and I would talk to him for 30 minutes or so every day and fascinating man. Probably the most vulgar man I've ever met in my life. Then I would see Mr. Nixon regularly down there. Then there were others like the attorney general John Mitchell and his wacky wife Martha Mitchell, but taking care of these wealthy people and not because I wanted wealth, I've never wanted wealth in my life, but seeing these people that held political power, and I thought to myself, I can do that. That person's no more capable than I am.

Tom Bush: And so I decided that I was going to go to law school unfortunately. It took me a while to get out of high school and I couldn't get into college, I went to junior college. Finally got into Florida State and the first thing I did at Florida State was get involved in a fraternity and go crazy over a girl and flunked out. Back to the junior college. What is now a community college.

Tom Bush: And then got back into Florida State again. By then I sort of learned that if you're going to get yourself out of college and get a degree you're probably [inaudible 00:19:02] take second place and discipline yourself a little bit about girls. As you know Florida State used to be a girls school.

Bill Powers: I did not know that.

Tom Bush: Yeah, and so about the time I, some years later it became coed, but it always was predominantly girls. So if you're a boy you're like a kid in a hobby shop. But the point was when I got out of Florida State I could not get into law school, everybody turned me down, simply because my grades weren't even good enough and even Florida State turned me down, and one day I got a letter from the University of Tennessee that said, "I'm sorry, we can't admit you now but we might be able to admit you next year."

Tom Bush: And I was so troubled by it and I just wanted to not let it stop. I could fly free, my dad being an airline pilot. And I got on an airplane, I read that letter about 11 o'clock in the morning, I got on an airplane at about 1:30, and flew to Knoxville Tennessee commercially, got to the law school there, and when I did it was dark and there was this one hunched over old man in there that asked if he could help me. There were just one or two lights on. I said, "Yeah, I just got this letter from the college of law and I guess I'd just like to ask you to reconsider and let me in now, can you tell me who I can talk to?"

Tom Bush: He said, "Well, you can talk to me I'm the dean of the law school." And he let me in. And of course I came in in March and I didn't know the language, everybody was ahead of me, but he gave me the chance and all I did was study. I studied, studied, studied. I let myself have Saturday night and did some crazy stuff on Saturday nights where you've just been cooped up for six days and I made what would be the equivalent of Cs the first semester, but they say your first year you're scared to death, your second you're worked to death, and your third you're bored to death.

Tom Bush: With me I just kept studying and studying and studying because I didn't feel I had the natural gift. But I now have learned that the best trial lawyers are the ones who are not the A students in law school, the A students go on to work for big corporate firms or they teach. The trial lawyers, the ones who get right down there in the midst of it, who take on huge burdens and responsibilities, and a loss or a win has an incredible effect on people. I've tried a total of about 14 first degree murder cases where maybe you don't have it, the facts have it, but you feel like you've got their life in your hands.

Tom Bush: Or whether it's a big case wherein the custody of children, where these kids are going to live the rest of their life, or whether it's a woman who has been badly damaged from a medical malpractice case or whatever it might be, trial lawyers have a heavy responsibility. And that's probably why they have a lot of addictions. Lawyers are right up there with, believe it or not, dentists who have the most suicide rate, alcohol problems.

Tom Bush: So I learned that even though I wasn't an A student in law school, the minute I got into the legal clinic where we were allowed to go over and represent people charged with misdemeanors under the mentoring of a private lawyer or one of the legal clinic lawyers, and the first case I tried over there I couldn't believe it. I can actually do what I was taught. That lawyer used the word objection and leading and hearsay and the lawyer I was watching was older, he was in his 60s.

Tom Bush: And I thought oh my gosh, this stuff actually works. These rules of civil procedure and these rules of evidence and here's this successful older lawyer in a little non-jury misdemeanor case using that terminology and using that knowledge.

Bill Powers: It's something I've known about you. You've always been good with people and maybe that's one those skillsets we're talking about because Richard Nixon was not known as being all that good one-on-one. Frankly, I think Billy Graham even said that, that some of the best preachers are not... and from my own experience, found that to be true, they may be great orators and one-on-one they can be a bit stilted.

Bill Powers: And the politics aspect was interesting to me too because I think you said at one time you actually saw John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev riding in the car together and getting out of the car together considering the missiles of October incident.

Tom Bush: Yeah.

Bill Powers: So maybe you've had the ability just to talk to people. And understand and relate to people because I think that's very important with clients, especially with what you do.

Tom Bush: Yeah, like I had said earlier, one of the things that politics taught me is once you take a position you're going to create some trouble. Having served in the Florida House of Representatives and served on the County Commission in Charlotte, there were times when I didn't know whether to duck or pucker up when I would walk into [inaudible 00:25:13].

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