I understand that you guys love what you do. I’ve been doing this work for 23 years working with maritime workers, and I can tell you, nobody chooses to come into our office voluntarily. Usually, something has happened to our clients that puts them in connection with us, and we feel fortunate that they trust us with their case.
We understand that they’re asking us to help get them back on the right path and get them to a better place. We understand our clients are very proud, they love the work that they’ve done offshore. Typically they’ve been the providers in their families. They have been the one that their children look up to; that their spouses love. They provide for their spouse with the careers that they have. We understand that’s all been taken away from them when they come through our doors.
What we see our role as is trying to help get them back on their feet, move them forward.
They’re going through an area of law that’s very complicated, and more than anything, I want them to know that we have helped other people do this. They can get through it, they’re going to get to the other side. It’s going to be a journey that we’ll do together, and we understand that it’s scary for them. Other people have done this, you can get through it also, and we understand what’s at stake for you. There are a lot of clients that we’ve helped who have gotten to a much better place, and you can do it, too.
How My Life as a Maritime Attorney Started
I always knew what I was going to do when I grew up. If your father or older uncles worked offshore or on vessels or tugs, you may have been the same way. My father is an attorney and around the house he would talk about his work and the cases he was working on. As a child I heard all about my father’s offshore clients. He never told stories about his insurance company work or the large companies that he helped file some paperwork for in court. No, instead it was always about a hardworking man in Florida or Alabama or Mississippi or south Louisiana who got hurt on an oil rig or a vessel.
These were the stories that made me wonder, “Dad, how did it turn out for him?” Each case had a person’s name on it. It was “Gene Grace’s” case or “Lars Carter’s” case. Over the years he gathered more and more stories of meeting their wives and children. Growing up we had gifts of handmade Christmas ornaments from a client and homemade wine from another.
It really was about people. I associated doing good work with helping someone through a pretty bad time in their life.
My Education & Licensure
To get into law school I had to take a standardized test called the LSAT. It measures your ability to think logically and to analyze situations. I scored extremely well on it (a 45 out of a possible 48). I guess I have a natural talent for looking at a situation, analyzing it and “connecting the dots”.
I went to Tulane Law School and enjoyed it. I know that’s weird because most people hate law school, but I enjoyed the challenge. And I did well. I graduated from Tulane in 1993 with honors. I am licensed to practice law in both Louisiana and Texas. I actually took the Louisiana bar exam during one week on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then flew to Houston and took the Texas bar on the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday! I passed them both, but it was a long two weeks. People thought that was crazy but it worked for me. It’s funny too, because that is how trials are now—you buckle down hard for a good week or two and do what you need to do.
For more than 20 years I have focused my practice on helping injured maritime workers. I have tried plenty of cases and argued in the Appeal Courts, both state and federal, many, many times on maritime and Jones Act cases. I have had several jury awards reduced by the trial judge or appeal court which usually makes me mad. A fair jury believed my client was entitled to a certain amount, yet a judge or appeal court disagreed and got to lower the award.
I now limit my practice to handling only maritime and Jones Act cases. Sometimes I think our maritime and Jones Act clients don’t understand how important that is. Being able to pay attention to one thing, and get good at it is so important these days. I am continually telling my children to focus more, and get distracted less. To go deeper into a few things rather than bouncing around many things.
Since 1993 I have focused on maritime law and Jones Act cases and I have handled cases in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida on behalf of clients from across the country, but mostly from the Gulf South states.
Over the years groups have asked me to give talks on maritime law and the Jones Act. The Alabama Trials Lawyers invited me speak at their annual conference in Florida. I have also appeared on TV in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida many times to discuss maritime issues for workers. I have written several books which educate maritime workers on their rights and options. And I belong to state and national groups of attorneys who practice maritime law, including the Louisiana Association for Justice (where I am on the Board of Governors) and the American Association for Justice (where I am a member for the maritime section).
I am married and I have two children, a daughter and a son. They are technically what some people call “step children”, but I don’t like that term. My wife works for the local Catholic Charities here in New Orleans and is in charge of raising money for their many social programs throughout south Louisiana. She and her work are a great inspiration for me. It’s important to see work that is more important than just ourselves. We were both born and raised in New Orleans and love the city. Like most parents we think our kids are on their laptops and phones too much, but they are still really great kids. We have a cool dog named ‘Simon’ who is smarter than all of us because he has us trained to wait on him and give him anything he wants!
What’s the Reason I Do What I Do?
In every case I handle for an injured rig or vessel worker there are many times in the case when I get furious at the other side. The company lawyer is trying to twist our client’s words or catch him on video trying to go back to work and help his family, or take some technical law and hang it around our client’s neck. Other lawyers will tell me not to take it personally, and that we lawyers have to stay professional with each other. I understand that. But during those moments in each case, I truly see things from my client’s point of view. I am standing in his shoes. Those times motivate me like nothing else possibly could. I truly feel alive and thankful for what I do. It’s not just his fight anymore, but my fight for him and his family. Those times always remind me how important what I do is for my clients.
Maritime and offshore injury cases are different from any other case. You guys have more serious injuries, you risk your jobs when you file a claim, and your claims are more important to you than most claims are to other people. That is why the only types of cases I handle are offshore injury cases. It’s very important work and it makes a difference.
What I Have Learned About My Clients
I have learned a whole lot about my clients over the years. It starts when we first meet and they explain their problems to me. Usually, these include worries about monthly bills, and being blackballed and getting good medical treatment. They always mention their wives and children and worry about how they will pay for this or that now that they are hurt. Will the company keep them around or run them off? Should they go see the company doctor again? But those are simply the ‘facts’ of what they are going through. What’s more important is how they feel.