8 Questions with Joel Reese

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Dec 19

Joel Reese is a founding partner of the commercial litigation firm Reese Gordon Marketos.  Before founding Reese Gordon Marketos in 2011, Joel practiced for more than 10 years as a trial lawyer and member in Winstead PC- one of the largest commercial law firms in Dallas.  Joel served as lead counsel in the seminal electronic discovery case from the Texas Supreme Court in In re Weekley Homes, L.P., 295 S.W.3d 309 (Tex. 2009).  In re Weekley Homes was the groundbreaking decision that set the standard for the discovery of electronic information in Texas.  David Weber, General Counsel for Digital Discovery, recently spoke with Joel about his practice and the influence of eDiscovery.

1. As a young lawyer you were part of a big firm.  How did you use that experience into building your own practice?

I practiced at Winstead for almost 11 years, and the experience I gained there not only helped me in handling complex civil litigation, but I also developed relationships with the lawyers and the clients that I needed to build my practice.  Winstead is an excellent firm with outstanding attorneys, and being a partner there connected me to hundreds of lawyers and to potentially thousands of clients.

2. What was the impetus for starting your own law firm two years ago?

Just a desire at this point in my life to take a risk and strike out on my own.

3. Were you aware of the significance of the Weekley Homes case as you were walking it through the appeal process?

 Yes, I set up the trial record so that I could pursue what I thought would be an important mandamus petition.  My opposing counsel (Chris Renzel with Bracewell Giulanni) was an excellent lawyer who vigorously represented his client’s interests.  But I knew that unless he had an extremely strong record, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, unlike perhaps the federal rules, would not permit him to search my client’s hard drives.  At the trial court, I attacked every issue, including (a) the fact that a third party would have access to private conversations, trade secrets and privileged communications; (b) there was no proof that the proposed protocol would find data deleted in 2004; (c) the subject information was not part of any request for production; (d) a “motion for limited access to computers” was not a permitted discovery device; (e) the search terms were overly broad; and (f) the proposed process required my client to create a log of irrelevant documents.   I thought all of these objections were valid under Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.  Over the course of several hearings, I made my objections in writing and orally, and I obtained the rulings I needed for an appeal.  Thankfully, the Texas Supreme Court agreed that I was correct.  As of my last check, the Weekley case has been cited in dozens of reported opinions across the United States and has been the subject of countless CLE and law firm presentations.  

4. In retrospect, do you think Weekley has changed the way litigators look at e-discovery as a tool during litigation?

Despite the fact that Rule 196.4 was adopted more than a decade prior to the opinion, Weekley is the Texas Supreme Court’s only substantive discussion of e-discovery.  It provides a step-by-step guide for obtaining e-discovery. Although I think there are still problems and open issues with the Court’s procedure, it is a step in the right direction and has definitely changed how lawyers seek electronic discovery.

5. What are the keys you are looking for when evaluating whether or not to take on a new case?

We handle business litigation from both the plaintiff and the defense side.  From the defense side, the analysis is straightforward.  The case needs to be a business or commercial dispute that is of sufficient size to justify our involvement.  On the plaintiff side, we are much more selective.  We do not want to waste our time, or our clients’ time and money, litigating a dispute unless we think we can win.  Consequently, we will evaluate a host of factors including (a) the factual basis for liability; (b) the legal basis for liability; (c) the amount of recoverable damages; and (d) the size and solvency of the defendants.

6. How has your business background enhanced your law practice?

I graduated with a finance degree with a real estate emphasis.  Having a finance and real estate background has helped me in the analysis of complex claims.  It is not uncommon for our cases to require the use of an Excel spreadsheet and a financial calculator.

7. How do you see technology changing the face of litigation in the future?

Technology is not only changing how we litigate cases, it is also changing how we practice law.  When I started practicing law, some partners had more than one secretary, and if you wanted a computer, you had to buy it yourself.  Most lawyers dictated everything.  Now because of technology, three or more lawyers share the same secretary, most lawyers draft their own documents on MS Word, and very few lawyers under the age of 40 dictate anything.

My guess is that the law will continue to catch up with technology, and it will become easier and cheaper to handle large complex cases.  Technology will make lawyers more productive and efficient.  The days of needing a mass of lawyers on a large, complex case are coming to a close.
8. What would be your best words of wisdom for new lawyers trying to start their own practice?

Connect yourself to the best lawyer you know and then work as long and as hard as you can.  Work not only on what is on your desk, but work on developing long-term relationships with clients and other lawyers.