I grew up in the suburbs between Fort Worth and Dallas. I still live in the same general area and have for almost thirty years. I've been employed in small and large companies from the time I started working at fifteen as a lowly busyboy until today as the principal attorney of a law firm. I've worked in restaurants, retail, logistics and operations, customer service, data processing, quality assurance, financial services, management, health insurance and of course as legal counsel. I've worked at the nation's largest private employer to the smallest an employer can be (self-employed) and businesses of all sizes in between.
I went to high school and debated at Lawrence D. Bell High School in Hurst, Texas. I attended the University of North Texas where I received a B.A. in Political Science. I then attended Texas Wesleyan University School of Law and acquired my Juris Doctor. As of now I do not plan to go back for any other degrees but if I pay off my undergrad and law school student debt, maybe I will pursue a masters degree if I find it useful.
I opened my own law firm in 2013 to serve the Dallas and Fort Worth communities in the areas of employment law, labor law, personal injury and family law. Employment law is the legal field that speaks most to me. I find it interesting and challenging as a legal practice but I also have always had a deep passion for worker rights and respect in the workplace. Some of that passion comes from my intellectual development as a debater. Some of it comes from experiencing some very appalling working conditions for myself and co-workers in some of my earlier employment experiences. By opening my own firm I believe it gives me the freedom to craft a firm that best represents my clients and their interests while enjoying the work that I do. After all, I didn't spend four years between law school and passing the bar to obtain a career performing uninspiring and unpleasant work.
I currently live in Keller, Texas with my wife and two very attention-hungry cats. In my free time I enjoy homebrewing beer, drinking beer and scotch, traveling, working out, reading, watching football and cooking. Denver, Colorado is one of my favorite places to visit.
Links to more information about me:
- The Kielich Law Firm website
- The Kielich Law Firm Facebook page
- The Kielich Law Firm Twitter feed
- My LinkedIn profile
Some Q&A About Debate, Life, Law School and Practicing Law
I thought I would organize some thoughts about debate and its application to life after high school based upon questions I've received from various people over the years about high school debate and some of my other experiences. Since law school tends to be a natural destination for many debaters, I thought it would be helpful for students or parents to see some firsthand discussion of relevant concerns. (Can I tell you that it's really weird to interview yourself?)
What was life like as a high school debater?
I loved it. I've always loved the give and take of a critical discussion, I've always loved to read and learn. Debate put together a lot of my favorite things in life. I may not have been a popular kid in school but I didn't get picked on or harassed about being a debater. Maybe my exposure to opportunities to be harassed about it was limited because most of my classes were honors/pre-AP/AP/gifted and talented so we were all generally students motivated to accomplish things. I was friends with some people who were rough around the edges who didn't seem to mind and their friends didn't seem to care, either. Maybe I was protected by extension of my unconventional array of friends, I don't know. I just remembered not ever being worried about getting picked on. I did drink a lifetime's worth of Mountain Dew, so maybe I just always looked crazy and hopped up on caffeine and yellow food dye and nobody wanted to mess with that.
What were the important takeaways from debate?
There's quite a few but by far the single most important thing you can learn from debate is the ability to stand up in front of somebody and confidently speak about a topic. You can get that same exposure through speech or even theatre but I think the persuasive element of debate raises the bar. Public speaking is the second greatest fear for most people (behind death) but a highly valued skill in many professions. Even jobs where public speaking is not a critical job function can still entail a good deal of public speaking. You have team/department meetings and presentations is basically every office. Many jobs involve some level of customer/client service or sales which adopt some of the same skills as public speaking. Plus, if you can get up in front of somebody and confidently blab about Rousseau there's little excuse why you can't go into a job interview and confidently sell yourself or approach somebody in a bar.
All the other critical skills for debate are translatable in life: critical thinking, research, working in a team, organization, writing, etc. Unless you go into an academic, medical, or legal field, you are unlikely to spend a lot of time researching but regardless of the field you will probably spend time working in a team environment, using critical thinking skills and writing emails. A well-written email in the workplace is not overlooked.
Why didn't you debate in college?
Well, when I graduated high school I actually planned on it but I got such a bristled, cold reaction from the assistant coaches in my first interaction with them that I really stopped and thought about whether I actually still wanted to debate. I spent the last two years in high school enjoying debate but struggling with my partner to get work done and with my coach to push the team to succeed, so I shouldered a lot of responsibility for the whole team those years. I was team president, I did all the card cutting and argument development for my CX team and spent a lot of time coaching the LDers. I spent most of my awake time debating. I knew I had to find a job to support myself, plus classes and studying, plus developing at least a small social life. I just wanted to debate and have a strong, supportive team where I could learn and work with others. I didn't feel like that was the environment on that team. I didn't think I would have time to shoulder anywhere near as much work as I had in high school, plus my classes and studying, plus working a lot of hours so I could support myself, plus debating on the weekends, plus hopefully having a small social life beyond work and debate.
I don't regret not debating in college. I mean, I wonder how I would have done but simply out of curiosity, not regret. My decision not to debate in college relied on what were probably unfair assessments of the coaches at UNT. However, I think it was just the right opportunity to assess my past and future at the time and in spite of the unfair basis for the decision made the right decision. I closed the book on three great years of debate and I felt ok with it. Instead, I moved on and developed new interests and experiences. Ultimately, had I debated, I would have had to quit because my life became too busy and complex with work, school and personal life. So better I stopped because I wanted to rather than because I had to.
Did high school debate help in college?
Absolutely. In college everybody has to research and write long papers or essay exams at some point during their degree program, so those research and argument construction skills carried over in a big way. Those research skills may be less emphasized today, even in college, due to the acceptability of using internet resources in college essays. When I was in high school, the internet was not considered a trustworthy place to do research except to tap into well known databases or find electronic copies of physically-produced papers. In college, in the early 2000s, wikipedia and similar sites existed but no professor would accept a cite to wikipedia in a research assignment. When my younger brother started college several years after I graduated, his writing assignments permitted cites to wikipedia and other sources of less prestige. However, I imagine if you're trying to get an A you'll need more than wikipedia so those skills are probably still really useful.
What about in the "real world"?
Different skills are valuable in different places. Most jobs don't require a lot of research or critical writing skills but some do, even if it's less formal, non-academic research. Knowing how to efficiently research and write can be useful but some of the other skills you learn in debate are more likely to help you along. As I mentioned before, public speaking skills are a huge advantage in the workplace. There's a lot of small opportunities to do "public speaking" where it might only be a few people or a few minutes at a time. People who can speak confidently to others are perceived as leaders and leaders are more likely to gain promotions and better jobs than people who are shy and don't put themselves out there. Also, as I said before, being able to write coherently is a huge advantage. A lot of communication in the workplace is done by email and intra-company instant message, so there's a lot more writing going on than you might expect. Sure, you can email your friends at work in text-speak but you don't want to send an email to another department or up the management chain that is indecipherable or poorly written because it will reflect poorly on your professionalism and qualifications. Corporate management is full of people who make great money who were once high school debaters, speech event-competitors, or actors in theatre, and carried those skills forward into their jobs. Same goes for people in high end sales positions who learned to speak confidently and persuade. Of course it goes without saying that politics, law, journalism and medicine are full of former debaters.
And law school?
Of course. Law school is a lot of researching, persuading, writing critically and concisely, and public speaking. It's probably the most direct application of that skill set, next to perhaps actually practicing law. In both law school and the practice of law you also have the clearest opportunity to take advantage of the ability to look at a problem from multiple sides and develop legitimate arguments for positions you may not personally agree with. Law school exams usually require you to attack a problem from both sides so it's important to have that mental ability going in.
What is law school like?
It's both exactly like what you see in the movies or read in books and at the same time completely different. If you watch The Paper Chase movie, it's more dramatic than real life, but if you read the book The Paper Chase, it's more realistic but still a little over-dramatized. In both cases, it is a lot of work and everybody is incredibly stressed out, especially that first year, even if you aren't at Harvard, like in The Paper Chase. It's true everywhere. It is more work than you will do in your whole life, except maybe studying for the bar (or if you are a med student, you probably out perform law students). Every fall you see students coming fresh out of college all doe-eyed and dressed in trendy clothes and excited to be in school but by the end of the first semester they show up in jeans and a t-shirt, they've put on ten pounds and are ready to blow up, scream, or cry, over the slightest problem. You will certainly see all three during the first year even if you don't do any of those yourself. As you adjust to the workload and mindset of thinking through legal problems, you work more efficiently and the stress goes down (somewhat).
For most classes you spend the whole semester doing copious amounts of reading, class discusses the readings and then you compile all your notes into an outline that you use to study for the final exam. Most of the substantive law classes will only have a single final exam that determines your entire grade. The exams are long and most likely are at least partially essay-based. There are also writing classes and skills-based classes that emulate some of the practice of law, like mock trial and moot court. You will spend most of your time in class, preparing for class, or studying for the final.
Law schools are predominantly filled with people who have been the big fish their whole lives. They were the big fish in elementary school all the way through college. Even though the pond kept getting bigger, they kept being one of the big fish. Well law school is a small pond full of all the big fish because it's admissions are limited and rely on your college GPA and LSAT score to determine who gets in and who gets left out. Most of the people who get in, even at the lowest ranked schools, are smart people who have excelled in school their whole lives. The problem is the environment is very competitive because everybody is graded on a curve. Not everybody can get an A. Most schools curve classes to a B or B+ which means the majority of students are getting the median grade or the grade immediately above or below it. Few students reach the A- or A, or the rare A+, because the tests are hard and the curve has to fit the school's requirement. Most professors will curve up to the limit but there is usually a natural bell curve of performance. It's rare anybody fails a class unless they do not show up to class enough to satisfy the attendance requirement. Students who don't try usually get a C-something. You really have to go out of your way to not learn anything to fail a course based on your test performance. Due to the curve, there's a lot of competitiveness to reach the A and that drives a lot of the stress. For people who are used to getting A's their whole life it can be difficult to see a semester full of B's. Your grades, in turn, are the key to accessing honors-type opportunities, like law review, getting good internships and ultimately getting a job after graduation.
Everybody seems to have different experiences in law school; I think in part it depends on what kind of person you are and how hard you worked to get good grades. Some people loved their time in law school and made great friends. Others hated the workload and the people. There were some people who would read for class in the morning, go to school in the afternoon and then go to happy hour and that was how they spent most of their time. Although these were the people everybody liked in class, they were usually the ones at the bottom of the class because they didn't put in the work they could have. Others worked all day, every day and they usually were at the top of the class. However, it's not just the volume of work; working efficiently is really important. Many students worked part time so they would lose that time to study. I worked part time my first year and it was really tough. I guess I wasn't efficient enough to juggle both. After that year I quit and went to school full time and my grades improved immensely, although my grades my first year were all above the middle of the pack. Some students juggle a full time job, a family and part time school and still manage to be at the top of the class. They are incredibly efficient or just inexorably gifted (or both). Some people made great friends and liked the people, others saw their classmates engaging in gamesmanship and dealing underhandedly and were distrusting and disliked them. There are some great people in law school but there are also some people who try to game the system by spreading lies about what a professor claimed to tell them in class and spreading fake notes with bad information so other people would bomb the final. Those people were usually discovered before the end of the first year.
What should somebody do to prepare for law school?
Enjoy life while you can. In the summer before law school, that's probably the best thing you can do because that first semester is brutal and you will probably lose contact with a lot of friends and family while you adjust to the workload and begin to assimilate into the law school collective.
More generally, as a high school student I'd say get the best grades you can, so you can go to the best college you can, so you can go to the best law school you can, to get the best legal job you can. Especially if you want to work at a big firm making lots of money and working lots of hours. Aside from that, I think debate is probably the best extra-circular event to begin developing those mental skills that will help you in law school and legal practice, but any communication-related activity will help, whether it's speech, theatre, or even writing-based activities. If your school does mock trial that's another good opportunity to learn about public speaking and see a simulated version of how the law works. Many cities have these teen court programs where teens are sentenced to community service for minor criminal citations, like traffic tickets, and there's a quasi-judicial process where other teens act as lawyers and judges in the process. That's not a bad place to get some public speaking experience but it likely will not give you any preparation for law school beyond that because the teen court program is not concerned with trial procedure like mock trial does. I did it a lot in high school and enjoyed it but the skills developed there were duplicitous with what I developed in debate.
If you're in college, it's still time to try to get great grades so you can set yourself up to compete for a seat in the best law school you can get into. Colleges also have debate and mock trial teams and those are fine to do as well but law schools see a lot of political science majors, former debaters, etc. who see themselves as moving on an obvious path to law school. What they often like to see, at least in addition to those things, is diversity. Join some other organizations that show you are well rounded. Also, consider a major other than history or political science, unless that is really what you want to learn about. If you are science or math minded, take up a degree program in one of those fields. Law schools often favor engineering degrees and other science degrees because those programs are much more challenging than political science and fewer engineers come to law school so they are more in demand. If you are not science or math oriented, find a degree in what you are interested in and major in that. Law schools happily accept art history majors, journalism majors, etc. right along side those political science majors. Business degrees are very common coming out of undergrad so they carry less weight than they used to but it's a useful background when you get out in practice to have some business sense. A lot of lawyers lack that. As you start thinking about applying to law school, take an LSAT-prep class and really focus on getting a great score on the LSAT. Some schools favor LSAT scores over GPA and vice versa, so you want to apply to schools with strength in both places.
Consider working for a year or two in between undergrad and law school. You can work and obtain a masters if you want but most law schools will only look at your undergrad grades to determine admissions. Work experience tends to make for a more well-rounded applicant but probably will not make up any deficiencies in your grades or LSAT score. What it will do is give you a sense of what the "real world" is like and get some business sense. Lawyers frequently have a sheltered view of the world because they spent their whole lives in school and then went directly into the law. It makes the business of practicing law more challenging and relating to clients more difficult if you have that sheltered, inexperienced paradigm.
Do you recommend people go to law school?
I'll give you the "law school answer": it depends. Law school is very expensive and you can easily rack up six figures of debt financing law school. There is no guarantee of a job and certainly no guarantee of a high paying job. If you go to a school at the very top of the ranking to have a good chance of getting a high paying job out of law school (and I mean the big firm, $160k starting salary jobs working 60-70 hours per week). After that, probability drops off sharply. Getting any job in the legal field is a challenge. Estimates from reputable sources suggest, despite law school employment figures, that roughly half of all law school graduates find legal work in the first year following graduation. (Don't believe me? Check out this Wall Street Journal article.) The better the school you attend, the higher the probability. Almost everybody from Harvard Law gets a job, but the schools in the bottom tier are around half or below. So what happens if you're in that 50% that doesn't find a job the first year? You either struggle to pay your loans working at Starbucks while you plead for a legal job or you decide to abandon the profession entirely. That's why your law school performance in the curve and the school you attend is so important to that goal.
Now, all that said, you can go to lower ranked schools (and hopefully get some scholarships out of it to reduce your debt load) and still get a job but you probably won't get that big firm job unless you are at the top of your class. It's easy to sit in your high school or college class and think you'll be that person but the reality may not set in until your first semester grades come in and you see how you compare to all those other competitive students. It's quite a gamble. If you go to a lower-ranked school and do well, or you are in the bottom half of a higher-ranked school, you can probably find a job working in a smaller firm for less money and you may or may not practice in the fields you want to practice. You may end up working at a small family law firm making $20-30,000 your first year. There are frequent stories of first year graduates making a lot less than $20,000 as a lawyer. That's not a great return on a six figure debt and three years out of the workforce. Although there are lawyers making millions per year, the median salary for lawyers, at least in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is around $75,000 so half of all the lawyers in the area make less than that. Still not a great return but at least at $60-70,000 you can pay your loans and buy a house. At $20,000 you won't even cover your loans on the standard repayment plan.
Unemployment for lawyers is usually around 2-3%, so we're better off than most other people in that regard but that might be misleading because people who graduated law school but failed to find a legal job and left for another industry are not counted in that rate. It also ignores the lawyers working part time but wanting full time work. It also fails to address all those lawyers making insufficient pay. So don't assume law school is a ticket to wealth because there's an excellent chance it will not.
I don't want to be in the position of telling people not to bet on themselves or their determination. I want people to contemplate the risk associated with law school and not make a huge, expensive decision based on a myth. If you want to go to law school to make a lot of money, that's ok but you need to be willing to accept the effects of that risk if you go and don't make a lot of money. If you want to go to law school because you really want to practice law, then you'll find a way to make it work for you as long as you make smart decisions about how you get there. Take the time to learn about how the legal profession works to figure out what rank of school you need to go to and what schools in that range are giving you the best scholarships so you come out of school with the least debt possible and the most opportunities available. The prevailing attitude is that you should attend the best school you can to get the highest paying job you can but that's not always the path for everybody. The justification for this attitude is usually along the lines of how you don't know what you will want to practice before law school and if you do, there's a good chance it will change while you are in school. There is some truth to that but it's absolute insanity, in my opinion, to commit three years of your life and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition purely on the premise of hoping for the best. You would never invest that kind of time or money in any other investment based on so little research and risk analysis. At a minimum I think you need to have at least a serious idea of what kind of firm you want to practice in and how you get to that kind of firm from the schools available to you. Research that path and find what works for you. If you want to practice criminal law in a small town you probably do not need to spend Yale tuition to get there. However, if you want to work at a mid-sized or big firm, you do need to get into the best school you can.
What is practicing law like?
Basically nothing like what you see on TV. On TV, most lawyer shows depict the lawyers spending a lot of time shooting the breeze with each other and doing very little work. You have to do that on TV because you have to develop characters and a story line. It would not be very interesting to watch lawyers researching a brief or writing a memo. Instead, like any job, you spend a significant chunk of time dealing with minutiae of the job and administrative work, like recording how you spent your time and organizing paperwork. Running a law firm means I also have to manage all the details of the business, such as tech issues, accounting, marketing, ordering supplies, billing and so forth. I spend a lot less time than I would like doing "real lawyer work" like working with clients, appearing in court, negotiating with opposing parties and researching legal issues. However, I do spend a lot of time doing "real lawyer work" as well. If you go work for a firm, you are going to deal with less of the business details because the partners will do the decisionmaking and the staff will deal with the minor details.
Practicing law, purely from the standpoint of doing the legal work, is a combination of counseling, negotiating, advocating, researching, public speaking and writing. The degree that you use each of those skills depends on the areas of law you practice and whether you practice litigation or transactional work. For example, a litigator, like myself, needs public speaking skills to appear in court to persuade a judge or jury. Conversely, a transactional attorney needs strong negotiating skills to represent her client's needs in developing business transactions. However, as a litigator I do quite a bit of negotiating and sometimes transactional attorneys need to break out some public speaking. We all do quite a bit of client counseling.
What is family law?
Texas family law regulates the legal aspects of family relationships, primarily the marital relationship and the parent-child relationship. A family law attorney can assist people in the marital relationship before the relationship with a prenuptial agreement to making sure the legal requirements to obtain a marriage are met to dissolving the marriage by divorce or annulment. Family law also regulates the characterization of property during a marriage, defining what assets and debts are community property owned by both spouses or the separate property of each spouse individually. The majority of family law work involving the marital relationship is assisting clients with divorces. Divorces can be very complex. It requires taking two intertwined lives and completely severing them, including their property, financial assets, debts and assigning them parts of their parental duties when there are children involved. On top of all of that is the substantial emotional affects of divorce on each spouse and their children.
Family law also regulates the legal relationship between a parent or guardian and a child. This includes everything from proving paternity, assisting adoptions, obtaining child support, defining child custody, obtaining legal orders for guardians, terminating parental rights and duties towards children and emancipating children from their parents. The parent-child relationship is necessarily affected by divorce proceedings but can also be affected independent of divorce by other family situations. Family law also includes provisions to prevent family violence, such as spousal abuse and child abuse.
Family law attorneys represent spouses, parents, grandparents, children and other family members in family legal disputes. We may represent clients in front of a family law court, mediation, arbitration, an administrative agency like the Texas Attorney General, or through informal negotiation. The law surrounding family legal issues is not incredibly complex but the work is challenging because the legal issues are buried beneath the emotional and personal issues involved and require forming a relationship of trust and counsel with clients to properly assert their interests.
What is personal injury law?
Personal injury law covers very broadly legal remedies for injuries to your body and/or your property due to the intentional or negligent conduct of other people or entities. Most people think of personal injury as car accidents, but it also includes other vehicle-related injuries, injuries on the property of another person or business, injuries caused by defective or dangerous products, assaults, harassment, theft of property, invasion of privacy and defamation. It is one of the areas of law many people find themselves dealing with a lawsuit at some point in their lives. Despite what some people think, personal injury is not about getting rich or screwing over other people. Personal injury deals with real harm caused to regular people and those cases are decided by juries of people like yourself and the people in your community.
Personal injury attorneys assist clients in litigating, mediating and settling injury claims. Most personal injury claims involve an injury covered by an insurance policy, so personal injury lawyers often have to work with insurance companies to settle, mediate, or litigate claims. Texas law regulates personal injury law, also known as tort law, as well as insurance law so most personal injury claims are brought in Texas state courts for resolution.
What is employment law?
Employment law regulates the employment relationship between employers and employees. It is very broad; it covers everything from how you are paid, your benefits, working hours, overtime, workplace safety, protections against illegal discrimination, unemployment, workers compensation and more. Employment law is regulated by both the federal and Texas government, primarily through the U.S. Department of Labor and the Texas Workforce Commission, respectively, but is also regulated in part by other agencies, such as OSHA, the IRS and the Department of Insurance. If it is part of your job, it is likely affected by many areas of employment law.
Most employment attorneys only represent employees or employers. Employment lawyers assist employees in asserting their legally protected rights to legally protected conditions of employment, such as minimum wage and overtime, as well as protecting the job itself. Employment lawyers also assist employers in developing policies that conform to employment law and defend employers against employee claims. There is often an ideological difference between attorneys representing employees and those representing employers.
What is labor law?
Labor law regulating the bargaining relationship between employees as a whole and their respective employers. This is different from employment law, which regulates the relationship between each individual employee and his or her employer. Labor law is most commonly thought of as the law regulating unions. While that is true, labor law regulates the rights of most employees to come together, complain and bargain with their employer about the terms and conditions of employment, whether it is within a formal union or informally within the workplace. Labor law is governed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and oversight is provided by the federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Another way to distinguish labor law from employment law is that employment law regulates and sets minimum requirements for the actual terms and conditions of employment, such as minimum wage, while labor law protects your right to bargain above those minimum requirements. Individual employees have very little bargaining power to negotiate workplace rules, schedules and pay, but when employees collect their small bargaining power together in a group they can form enough bargaining power to negotiate an agreement.
Labor lawyers, like employment lawyers, tend to only represent either labor or management. Management lawyers represent employers in labor negotiations, draft labor agreements, represent employers before the NLRB, represent employers in labor arbitration and assure compliance with the National Labor Relations Act. Similarly, labor-side attorneys represent workers before the NLRB and in labor arbitration, negotiate on behalf of workers in labor negotiations, draft labor agreements and may also advise unions on NLRA compliance.