One of America’s most famed – and certainly one of the richest – lawyers died this week.
Joe Jamail died at 90, a man who some claimed was the greatest lawyer who lived and with a fortune over around $1.5 billion.
He was the lawyer of what was then the largest court victory in U.S. history in 1985 when he convinced a Houston jury to award Pennzoil $10.5 billion in damages over a deal to buy Getty Oil.
He was not a lawyer who started out showing a great deal of promise. As the New York Times reported
at the university, Mr. Jamail flunked his first course on torts, the field in which he would excel. Classmates recalled him as a gregarious, storytelling saloon companion and a brilliant but indifferent student. Months before receiving his law degree in 1953, he took the Texas bar exam on a $100 bet, cramming over a weekend and scoring 76, one point over the passing grade.
Forbes reported of his stature as a legal giant:
Jamail embodied the polyglot culture of Texas and Houston. He spoke with a drawl but was born into one of the influential families of Lebanese immigrants who helped establish the business culture in Houston. He served in the Marines and then graduated from the University of Texas Law school, starting his practice in 1952. He and his wife Lee, who died in 2007, gave more than $200 million to charity including $41 million to the University of Texas.
Wikipedia provide a concise summary of the brilliance of Joe Jamail. He was known for his passionate, aggressive, sometimes abrasive advocacy on behalf of his clients.
On its own motion, having reviewed deposition transcripts in the Paramount case, theDelaware Supreme Court referred to Jamail’s conduct as “rude, uncivil and vulgar”, “abusing the privilege of representing a witness in a Delaware proceeding”, 637 A.2d. 34, at 53, as displaying “an astonishing lack of professionalism and civility”, and as “outrageous” and as “unacceptable”, for statements to deposing counsel such as “you could gag a maggot off a meatwagon”. 637 A2d. 34, at 54.
The Court included its admonition of Jamail in an Addendum to its opinion “as a lesson for the future—a lesson of conduct not to be tolerated or repeated.” 637 A2d. 34, at 52. In April 2006, a particularly sharp exchange, titled “Joe Jamail takes a deposition defended by Edward Carstarphen. Hilarity ensues” or “Texas-Style Deposition”, appeared on various blogs and internet sites (particularly related to American law). Following a reprimand by the Delaware Supreme Court, Jamail stated in the press “I’d rather have a nose on my ass than go to Delaware for any reason”
An undoubtedly brilliant and massively successful lawyer, Joe Jamail is someone who will doubtless be seldom seen on the class action legal scene. His legendary appearances and combativeness something that echoes an age that may have passed.