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Adversaries to Partners

In this episode of Summary Judgment, Josh and Aaron are once again joined by partner Mark Farris as they discuss the journey of how Mark came to join the firm.

Listen here or read the transcript below. FVF’s Summary Judgment podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and more.


0:00:00.4 Josh Fogelman: Hey, Aaron.

0:00:02.4 Aaron Von Flatern: Hey, Josh and Mark.


0:00:08.4 Mark Farris: Are we live?

0:00:09.8 AF: We are here.

0:00:10.6 JF: What can you tell me about OSB?

0:00:15.2 AF: Oh my gosh, sheathing. You’re talking about sheathing. Are we talking about weather-resistant barriers and their deterioration on residential structures?

0:00:24.6 JF: Maybe.

0:00:25.4 AF: Yeah, so fun. You know what happens when you don’t have an adequate weather on a certain barrier, right?

0:00:30.8 JF: Hey, Mark, what happens when you don’t have an adequate weather-resistant barrier on a residential or commercial building?

0:00:38.6 MF: It leaks.

0:00:39.9 JF: It does indeed.

0:00:41.5 AF: Mark is not allowed to say anything else. Catch us up. What are we talking about?

0:00:46.4 JF: Yeah. So we just want… We’ve got Mark Farris here, he’s one of our partners at FVF, and wanted to talk a little bit about how Mark, who’s one of the best litigators in the state of Texas, arguably in the country, came to join the law firm that was Aaron and I. Many, many moons ago, we had, Aaron and I were thrown into the midst of a somewhat complicated construction defect case when we were both pretty green and you were not on our side.

0:01:29.5 AF: That’s right.

0:01:30.4 JF: You remember that case?

0:01:31.2 MF: I do. I do remember it very well.

0:01:37.5 AF: So much happened during that case personally, professionally, we formed some interesting relationships from that time, but I guess I’ll just say during that case, my boss at the time died, and Josh, your father died, and Mark, I believe, during that case, you had started a firm of your own, is it right?

0:02:02.0 MF: Yes, I was at Farris and Hutton, so I was at my own law firm that was kind of a fledgling firm, we had been around for four or five years.

0:02:10.9 AF: So, left a big national firm.

0:02:14.3 MF: Yeah, I left a national firm, started my own firm. Was doing a lot of insurance defense work and construction defect work, and utility work at the time.

0:02:24.5 AF: Yeah, so during the middle of this case, we had like these major life milestones for all of us occurring at once, and we were of course legal adversaries, but in this business, you have people who are dedicated to professionalism and they take it very seriously, represent their clients is, this is a very serious business. It doesn’t always mean you have to be enemies with the person who’s doing the exact same thing for their client who might be against you. And so what I saw happened during that case is that we found you to be, although an adversary legally, a trustworthy person, a person who seemed to care about other humans. And of course, I don’t think that could have been demonstrated any more clearly than when you attended the funeral of Josh’s dad. And I don’t wanna tell the story ’cause I feel like this is maybe Josh story to tell, but.

0:03:24.6 JF: Yeah, no, that you’re right. That was a crazy case for a number of different reasons. Aaron, it was kind of the first case that you and I worked together. We were in different law firms at the time, we didn’t know Mark, except for your involvement as a defense attorney in that litigation, but we were at different, Aaron and I were different law firms at the time, but co-venturing that case, and we were more less thrown to the wolves. We were learning as we went about so many different aspects of litigation, and actually in the middle of our main experts deposition, I got a call in a room full of lawyers, Mark included, that my dad had suddenly and unexpectedly and somewhat tragically died, which was super disruptive of course to so many different things, but also a catalyst of so many great things that have since occurred in my life, including this bond that has been forged. And yeah, I mean, obviously, I was out of commission for some period of time starting that moment, and was just very surprised to see Mark who we had a professional relationship at that time, and we had become friendly at that time, but not anything like we are now, showed up at the funeral.

0:04:48.7 JF: Not a huge funeral. And to me, that was pretty left a major impression on me to the character of who you are as a human being, and really deep and began to solidify something, I mean our relationship changed, that from my perspective our relationship changed after that.

0:05:11.1 MF: Yeah, no it did, it did. I remember that day distinctly, and then before that, we had a very good relationship, even though we were adversaries, and while maybe our clients were hostile towards each other, there’s no benefit to having unnecessary hostility between our firm and any other firm or between me and you guys at the time, and typically, if you work well with people and respectful for people, they act that way in turn, and I remember that case was a highly contested complex construction case.

0:05:51.0 AF: A lot of lawyers. A lot of parties.

0:05:52.2 MF: Alot of lawyers, a lot of parties, a lot of acrimony.

0:05:56.0 AF: A lot of experts.

0:05:57.6 MF: Yeah, and I remember sitting in a deposition when you got news of your father’s situation and death, and so I, at the time had an affinity for both you and Aaron as professionals, as people, and so yeah, that’s what you do. You know you…

0:06:19.6 AF: Show up.

0:06:20.3 MF: Yeah, you show up.

0:06:21.2 AF: I think that’s really what sticks in my mind is that the whole to me, the FVF culture, the way we support each other as lawyers, and it’s not just us three, of course, there’s over two dozen people who are working at FVF for our clients, and we all take it seriously, the idea of showing up for each other and communicate with each other and making sure that we understand where people are, especially in this remote environment, as we do so much work remotely now. I feel like we still have a long way to go, but we do a lot of checking, checking in on each other. The other thing about that funeral by the way, is that that’s the first time I had heard Josh do something that I’ve heard him do a million times since, and that is Just stand and be his true, authentic self in front of a room full of people and just exposed himself wide open and just say, this is what’s happening, this is who I am, and this is who my dad was, and I was moved by that funeral, still am. I still think about it.

0:07:33.3 AF: I thought it was an amazing command of your own emotions and just the ability to leave those out there for people to see, and I feel like that’s part of being a great advocate for your clients, is to just be as transparent as possible, because when the truth is on your side and/or you can’t change the truth as was the case there, there’s no point in putting on any kind of other show. And I just felt like Josh connected with every single person in that room that day, and I really appreciated it.

0:08:07.5 JF: It’s part of the human experience. Right? We have to be able to be vulnerable is part of what makes us a community. But any event, you’re making me well up here. That was, yeah, that was a crazy case. But that was kind of the beginning of our relationship. I remember we got that case resolved and we kept in touch, and not so far after we got that case resolved, we were talking and having lunch fairly frequently, or at least somewhat consistently after that. And then Aaron and I started a firm, you were still rocking and rolling at Farris and Hutton, by the way, doing great at Farris and Hutton, your own firm. And Aaron and I came upon a case that involved a pretty complex engineering problem that we had gotten some, maybe less than reliable expert opinion on from a certified engineer, and I remember we had been talking and you had had some exposure to what happened in this case, is a structure collapsed A weld broke and the structure collapsed. And you, I remember talking to you and you were sort of counseling. You were always doing a great job of counseling Aaron and I through things as we were starting off on our own, and you had actually had some experience in dealing with welding failures for some of your work with the electrical company, and I remember reaching out to you and asking for your help. What do you remember about that case?

0:09:45.2 MF: I remember you sending that case my way while I was at a different firm, and looking at it and thinking that it doesn’t look like there is a case here, because your expert said there’s not a case here, and then you sent me a set of design calculations which are just numbers. If you don’t know what design calculations are, they’re basically calculations that engineers perform to evaluate pre-construction, the integrity of what it is they’re putting together. And so all we had in that case were some post-accident photographs of this collapsed structure and some numbers. And then there was a letter from the defendant saying that there was no problem with whatever they did with the engineering, that their engineering was fine, that it was our client’s fault for this failure because he didn’t weld something the correct way. And so that’s what we had, we had a letter saying it wasn’t our fault, we had an engineer saying, our own engineer saying doesn’t look like there’s a case here, and then you had some design calculations and it just happened that I have had some familiarity with reading and interpreting design calculations based on other work that I’ve done related to construction defect. And so you could look at the numbers and assess whether or not this design that was employed met the appropriate strength standards and it did not.

0:11:15.2 MF: And I remember the other lawyer, I said, “Well, I’d like to work on this case with you, and let’s do this together,” and my first call was to the other lawyer, and I said to them. I said, “I think you have a problem here.” And he said, “No, we don’t.” And he was like, “Why do you think we have a problem?” I said, “Cause I can read your design calculations”. And he said, “Well, there’s probably more to the story than you know at this point,” and there was. It was a… I think they realized immediately that they weren’t gonna be able to obscure the truth of what actually occurred out there. An engineer ended up losing his license as a result of it.

0:11:53.3 JF: Well, hold on. An engineer didn’t just end up losing his license as a result of it, you on your own found that they had failed to engineer this structure properly, that they had engaged in an overt cover-up of that fact despite the catastrophic injury that had occurred to our client.

0:12:23.4 AF: We should mention this guy broke almost every bone in his body, and he was a lovely human being.

0:12:28.0 JF: Amazing steel worker. Great guy. They refused to be cooperative and transparent during the limited discovery that we were able to do, we were handicapped in our ability to do discovery and learn more because of a weird procedural issue in engineering failure cases that you have to have an engineer telling you there was something wrong before you can go and discover what was wrong and you were able to end around that and get it sorted. But any event, you discover the failure and you discover to cover up, you filed a complaint with the Engineering Board because this person had lied in an official document that the state mandates he prepare to discover and explain when a catastrophic failure like this happens. You created exemplars demonstrating the significance of the failure, you went down to the Engineering Board hearing related to his license and you testified and the Engineering Board took his license away, which was an absolute incredible act of justice and a heroic victory for you and for our clients, and I don’t under play that.

0:13:44.3 AF: I will just say for all the engineers out there, including my brother-in-law is a structural engineer. Engineers don’t like it when people get hurt. I mean, they are not… It’s one thing to be like part of the engineering brotherhood and, oh, this guy lost his license, that lawyer got him. No, that’s not how they’re viewing this, they’re viewing it like, the one thing you’re not supposed to do is lie when someone gets hurt about your calculations, and if you’re doing that, you can’t be part of our brotherhood, that’s the rule. And I think Mark enforced that rule to, I think, for justice.

0:14:22.1 MF: It’s funny ’cause I think the last thing I told the Engineering Board was that this particular engineer who had actually made the mistake…

0:14:31.5 JF: Former engineer.

0:14:31.8 AF: Former engineer who made the mistake, then concealed the mistake. My point to the Engineering Board was, this man is a serious threat to the safety of the public, but he is a greater threat to the integrity of the engineering profession and the people that they oversee, and this was the Engineering Board that determines whether or not somebody gets to keep their license after complaints filed and he surrendered his license, and I think he needed to.

0:15:00.8 AF: Structural engineers, I think structural engineers take very seriously what that structural means, right? So it’s a sub-specialty of engineering requires additional diligence and intelligence frankly, and the people that are part of that club know that the reason it’s a smaller subset is because you’re dealing with the possibility of collapse and the possibility of catastrophic human loss. So I think they protect that club, frankly. So, man, amazing job and couldn’t have happened to a cooler client. I just love that guy.

0:15:40.7 MF: That guy deserved it, and he’s recovered pretty well from his injuries, but he couldn’t have been happier with the result, and he’s moving on with his life, and I think he’s got a new start outside of his chosen field, which was welding. And he can’t do that anymore, but he’s been able to embark on a couple of other careers since then.

0:16:05.6 JF: But that case was the first case that we worked together.

0:16:08.8 MF: Correct. Yeah.

0:16:09.8 JF: When you were one of your first real exposure since your days in South Texas to the plaintiff side of the bar and you absolutely knocked it out of the park. It was an incredible start for our firm, helped us build a lot of confidence. We learned a ton watching you through that process, and that’s when the harassment began.


0:16:34.3 AF: Whatever do you mean, Josh?

0:16:36.5 JF: That’s when I realized this guy is a master of this and he’s on the wrong side of the V, and we need him to go on this journey with us together. And we had already developed a great relationship, by that time, we were pretty close. And I think what, I was shamelessly telling you to come join us, that was… There was no, please come join us. We have cases. We’re doing this great thing. We want you to be a part of it. You had your own flourishing law firm at the time, doing primarily defense work. So what changed for you?

0:17:17.0 MF: Largely, one, it was a respect for what you had going at FVF, I mean, that was number one consideration. You had a thriving practice, a strong practice, you guys knew what you were doing. I’d been up against you in the past, I liked the culture of your firm, I liked the vibe of your firm. It was a right fit for me. And at that time in my life, I’d been practicing for probably 23 years, and I was on the defense side where things began to feel a bit routine. I report to insurance companies, I report to clients, I do my billable hours every day, it’s a much more static environment where you don’t have the latitude to do what you wanna do. For instance, on the defense side, if I want to hire experts, I gotta get approval from clients and insurance companies, and then sometimes use the ones that they wanna use. That’s not the case with you guys. And I appreciated the fact that I’d seen y’all in other cases, pour resources into cases to make them the most valuable and get the greatest recovery for your clients, and I wanted to be a part of that, I wanted to stop the defense side of it, I wanted to take what I had learned on the defense side, specifically the pressure points with companies and knowing how things move companies to action, move companies to pay clients or our clients now.

0:18:48.0 MF: So I wanted to try something new and different, and I wanted to try it with a young, vibrant, growing firm.

0:18:56.7 JF: It was an incredible part of our evolution when I remember you sitting down with me. I think we were at Vaqueros, you still…

0:19:08.2 MF: I think it was Three Amigos at the time.

0:19:09.8 JF: Tres Amigos. I think I had just… Anyway.

0:19:12.5 AF: This podcast brought to you by Three Amigos and Dasani who may not sue us for saying that.

0:19:20.0 JF: You’re still serious about us coming, and I was kind of like, oh man, this guy is gonna shut down his own law firm and come and join us. How are we gonna make sure that we can support him? And we just rolled the dice and you definitely took a risk and it’s been just the best thing that ever happened to the firm. Since then, that was a long time ago, but just the results that you’ve been able to secure for our clients, seven figure results and eight figure results and counting has just been incredible, the work that’s been done for these clients.

0:19:57.3 MF: The fact of the matter is the firm was in place and doing extremely well when I joined you and you all had it going on, and I was impressed with what was happening over there and how you both were professional, courteous, client-focused, and that’s what I wanted to be part of, and so now I’m just a piece of your puzzle at FVF, of our puzzle at FVF.

0:20:21.0 AF: Lies.

0:20:22.6 JF: Not at all. Absolutely incorrect. We’re so grateful to have you and we’re looking forward to many more milestones ahead.

0:20:31.4 MF: Absolutely.

0:20:32.1 AF: Thank you, Mark.

0:20:32.5 MF: Let’s keep doing it.


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