I recently met an attorney at an alumni function. He was an older man who started practicing law when I was in elementary school. He told me about how he had recently appeared for an oral argument in an employment law case before the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans. That’s one step below the United States Supreme Court! In the attorney world – not just the employment law world, but in the legal field as a whole – this guy is bit of a bigshot. And I mean to imply no sarcasm in saying that. He really is an amazing lawyer with a tremendous amount of responsibility and an incredible range of experience. There is simply no denying the fact that I am a mere Young Master Luke to his Obi Wan Kenobi.
Despite his having WAAAAAAY more experience than me as an attorney, were he to go up against me in an eviction lawsuit I would run circles around him. That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, does it? A lawyer’s a lawyer, right? So isn’t a more experienced lawyer ALWAYS better than a less experienced lawyer? Not necessarily…. And for the record, my being less experienced than this other attorney does not mean I am a greenhorn lawyer. I have a substantial amount of experience as an eviction attorney!!
Despite the fact this other attorney had been practicing law for nearly 30 years longer than me, this guy works in an entirely different area of the law AND his practice focuses on federal appeals cases. Evictions begin in state trial courts, not federal appeals courts. But the biggest and most important difference is that all Texas evictions must begin before a Justice of the Peace court.
There are three really good reasons why you should hire an experienced eviction attorney as opposed to an attorney who is experienced with other cases and who occasionally – or rarely – handles evictions.
First, Texas Justice of the Peace courts use rules that are entirely different than other Texas trial courts. Thus, hiring an “experienced” lawyer who has never worked in a Justice of the Peace court is not going to be terribly useful to you. Such an attorney will likely be unfamiliar with the different procedural rules and the different rules for admitting evidence in these courts. And most of these rules changed in late 2013.
Second, eviction law is a particularly deceptive area of the law for attorneys who do not regularly handle Texas eviction cases. I have had many attorneys shrug and say, “Evictions!?! They’re in Justice of the Peace Courts, so how complicated can they be?” Justice of the Peace courts do go out of their way to make evictions accessible and easy to understand for non-attorneys. And a standard, plain vanilla eviction isn’t terribly complicated; but such evictions are also somewhat rare. Even an otherwise easy eviction can suddenly get complex when a tenant exercises one of the three methods of appeal. Probably the most nefarious thing about evictions is that they can often appear to be a simple matter when they are actually a rather complex case. For example, you would think an eviction with a verbal contract would be simple. Yet verbal lease cases can be among some of the most difficult evictions. Another complicating factor is that often Justices of the Peace will hold attorneys to a higher standard than non-attorneys. If you have a law license, you better know what you are doing in eviction court. Many Justices of the Peace are former, licensed real estate professionals and they received MUCH more training in this area of the law than we attorneys ever had in law school. Virtually everything I know about evictions I learned after obtaining my law license.
Third, there is what I refer to as the sales aspect of practicing in Justice Courts. Most Texas Justices of the Peace are not attorneys. Some don’t even like attorneys! This means your eviction attorney will need to understand how far to push a non-attorney opponent before the Justice of the Peace gets too irritated and perceives your attorney as treating the other party unfairly. This is where it really pays off to have an attorney who regularly practices in front of your Justice of the Peace. An experienced eviction attorney will appreciate the fact they must be much more delicate in their interactions with the other party. I have seen Justices of the Peace rule against an attorney-represented party for what appeared to be no other reason than the attorney was being mean to the other, unrepresented party. Practicing before a Justice of the Peace Court often involves a certain level of politics, can demand as much salesmanship as it does lawyering, and requires your attorney to have some street-sense. If you are going to hire an attorney to evict your tenant, you need a lawyer who has experience working with Justices of the Peace and who understands that he needs to present his case tactfully and gracefully.
Think of it this way: if you had a kidney problem, would you hire a brain surgeon? Of course not! If you’re about to evict a tenant, you need an texas eviction attorney. Never hire a family attorney or a bankruptcy attorney to do an eviction attorney’s job! You can always verify what areas an attorney practices by looking up the attorney at https://www.texasbar.com/ or on http://www.avvo.com/.