Life as a Charlotte Family Law Attorney
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.
Speaker 1: You're listening to Law Talk with Bill Powers, your resource for answers to your most pressing legal questions. Attorney Bill Powers sits down with some of today's leading legal minds to discuss everything from legal issues and legislation to practice tips and policy. Now, here's your host, an NBTA board certified criteria law specialist, former president of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, and renowned trial lawyer Bill Powers.
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Bill Powers: This morning out guest is the legendary Charlotte family law attorney Tom Bush. Tom Bush is not only a former law partner and friend, he's one of the best courtroom lawyers I know. His knowledge base on a wide range of legal topics and skillsets is unparalleled. The highest compliment I can give a lawyer is to refer to him or her as a lawyer's lawyer. Tom is that and more. Good morning, Tom.
Tom Bush: Good morning. How are you, Bill?
Bill Powers: I'm well, I'm well. Tom, thanks very much for your gift of time this morning, it truly is an honor to have you as a guest, and I hope given your extensive experience in the profession you'll agree to have a regular guest on Law Talk. If you're new to the law or even a more seasoned lawyer, if you truly know Tom I think you'll agree Tom is an amazing font of information. He's down to earth, straightforward, and a no-nonsense person. He also has some of the best sayings I've ever heard and on more than one occasion I used myself what I call a Tomism in court to take a very complicated legal issue and make it crystal clear and easy to understand.
Bill Powers: And I have my little abbreviations for some of these, I call them throwing rocks at alligators, sand in shoe, cloud without rain, hat with no cattle, without wood there's no fire, and talking of forming a circular firing squad are some of the Tomisms.
Bill Powers: Tom is the senior attorney at the Tom Bush Law Group on East Boulevard in Charlotte. And while he's handled an incredible number of different types of cases from personal injury matters to criminal defense, Tom is known wide and far as one of the best family law attorneys in not just Charlotte but North Carolina. Indeed, I can think of only maybe one or two other family attorneys who also have actually tried a murder case to a jury.
Bill Powers: I met Tom Bush through his kids, I was one of their youth leaders at church. At the time Tom was running for a seat in United States Congress, I was a candidate for district court judge in Mecklenburg County. Tom, like me, grew up in South Florida, he's the former chair of the Mecklenburg County commission. And for the record Tom endorsed my opponent who won the election and of course so did [Bill Deel 00:03:25] interesting enough. They clearly knew something that I did not know at the time, and despite that or maybe because of that a friendship and eventual law partnership developed.
Bill Powers: Tom has some amazing life stories, including hobnobbing with President Ronald Reagan and Nancy, Tom's path towards law school and how he got admitted is nothing short of spectacular, it's one of the best stories I've ever heard. His institutional memory of Charlotte, local politics and the practice of law was something that that I helped to dig into this morning.
Bill Powers: My friend, fellow fisherman and Charlotte divorce lawyer, Tom Bush, did I get it mostly right?
Tom Bush: I think you did get it mostly right. You and I go back a long time and we've shared a lot of things. The fishing, the flying airplanes, the occasions when we didn't know whether to duck or pucker up in politics. We go back a long time.
Bill Powers: Well, I'd like to jump into one shared passion right now, what's biting and what are they biting on? How's the fishing going?
Tom Bush: Well, for everyone else, they're biting on just about anything. For me, they're... short of going down and spearing one of them, I don't know where the fish are right now.
Bill Powers: Well, fishing and all joking aside is one of your passions, and in fact I've always admired about you is your wide range of passions and energy. Some say you're driven. Whether it's your-
Tom Bush: [crosstalk 00:04:56]
Bill Powers: I'm sorry, go ahead?
Tom Bush: No, go ahead.
Bill Powers: I'm just saying whether it's your faith or your family, fishing, flying airplanes IMC conditions, working out, helping clients, you've always been what I call all in. So my first real question to you is where does that come from? What drives you? Is it something natural or is that an intentional part of you?
Tom Bush: You know, I don't know. I think you were talking about the fishing. I learned at a young age that God talks to little boys somehow when they're alone fishing. We grew up on an island and it was surrounded by what we call mangrove trees down in South Florida. I can remember fishing and thinking about what I wanted to be when I grow up and the things that I thought through, the things I wanted to do, of course I never wound up doing sometimes. I always thought I would be a member of the US Senate, I never got quite that far.
Tom Bush: But for somebody who had to stay in high school a little bit extra because he couldn't pass high school one through the third time, and he couldn't get into college and he couldn't get into law school. There was times in my life where I thought well, I'm going to be on a roof in the hot summer sun putting a new roof on somebody's million dollar home. But somehow through a couple of different interventions by divine providence I somehow got through law school.
Bill Powers: Right. And so you grew up in South Florida, and if memory serves your dad was a pilot. I think he participated maybe in the Berlin air drop at one point, professional airline pilot. You have a couple siblings and you are the oldest child, is that right?
Tom Bush: Yup, I'm the oldest one and something you never hear of anymore, I remember my dad as a senior captain ultimately with Pan American told his wife and my mom, "Mira, I made $32,000 this year, more money than we'll ever make in our life and we've got this house that we bought for $13,000 and we'll never get it paid off but I want to educate all my boys through college." And he did it. Three of us. I had two brothers that are twins.
Tom Bush: I can't believe what a great gift that was until I saw the lawyers that work here, all of them with heavy student loans. So I was very fortunate in a lot of ways.
Bill Powers: Right. And that's even changed since I went to law school. It was always a struggle, obviously, and concern for students when they got loan debt coming out but now it's... To say astronomical I think is a bit of an understatement. But you didn't have lawyers in your family or did it skip a generation or were you the first attorney that you know of in your family that became an attorney?
Tom Bush: I didn't even have in my family anybody that graduated from college. My dad went to Emory University after the war, pharmacy school, but never completed it. So my dad was always proud of me, always bragging about me to others, to fellow pilots and others, and he really... I thank my mother for my Christianity and I thank my dad that I was able to do some of the things I did because he always encouraged me, he was my best friend for a long time and I miss him.
Bill Powers: That's sweet. I personally think the best lawyers I know are born to the profession. While there are things you can train people on, there are certain innate characteristics or personality types that make some lawyers better than other in court than others.
Tom Bush: Yes. I think I agree with you but you know, as you know if you see a great pianist and you can look for one second and you can see where the piano and the pianist have become one, they just are one, or you see a great pilot where the airplane and the pilot become one, there's a natural gift. So you're correct that really good trial lawyers have some natural gift, but I also know that no matter how brilliant you are as a lawyer, no matter how persuasive, no matter how good looking for that matter, no matter how much you hook up with a jury, preparation trumps brilliance every time.
Tom Bush: When I learned a long time ago that a good landing starts 60 miles out and if you want to prevail in a trial then you start doing your homework months before your trial. You can't just pick up a file and walk into a case.
Bill Powers: Sure.
Tom Bush: And even preparation sometimes doesn't work. I tell your listeners that in my... the first trial I had was a criminal trial, a man was accused of... I was defending him and he was accused of breaking into a home. And I had everything down on cards that I was going to say to the jury and when I got up to talk to the jury and get my opening statement the first thing I said was, "Ladies and gentleman I want to thank you from the heart of my bottom the opportunity to talk with you today."
Bill Powers: Well, I think that's true.
Tom Bush: Well that's how it started off but sometimes preparation doesn't do it all.
Bill Powers: True. I think there is two sayings there that come true. The first one is how do you get to Carnegie Hall and practice? And the second issue... I haven't really thought about it so I appreciate bringing it up but I sometimes tell clients I can't file a motion to change the facts.
Tom Bush: That's true. And we all think lawyers have this fine line of ethical responsibility not to exaggerate, not to hint at a truth that doesn't exist. One of the most difficult things those lawyers that have had to defend people charged with a crime are in that very difficult human desire of wanting to win, wanting to prevail.
Tom Bush: For much of my life, and I still do it to some extent, it helps my spiel if I look at the practice of trial law as great sport. It's a sport, this is gamesmanship, and usually that might sound a little bit light but usually the client benefits from that. So to the extent that you're in the courtroom and that you want to win but at the same time you've got this ethical responsibility not to misrepresent something or to create a set of circumstances that never really existed.