Race to win: Competitive spirit drives Fort Worth litigator

Betty Dillard bdillard@bizpress.net Trial lawyer Lisa Vaughn Lumley loves to do battle in and out of the courtroom. The will to win has garnered the business litigation partner in the Fort Worth office of Shannon, Gracey, Ratliff & Miller LLP a track record of victories and favorable settlements for clients over more than 20 years. A penchant for mechanical things drives Lumley in her cases representing clients in industries such as oil and gas, aeronautics, manufacturing and construction. These disputes involve unfair competition and trade secrets, mineral leasing and land use, contract breaches and personal injury claims in mechanical and vehicle accidents. She also litigates over exotic, rare and high-value automobiles. “The cases I litigate for my clients are fights over contracts, especially those involving mechanical things and oil and gas. Those are areas of the law that I really like,” Lumley said. “That leads into the standard joke that my interest in oil and gas is now what goes into my race car.”

In her personal time – away from litigating, speaking and writing on issues involving interpretation and enforcement of business and energy industry contracts, and teaching trial advocacy techniques to lawyers and aspiring lawyers – Lumley can be found on the raceway, fueling her passion for one of her favorite pastimes, BMW racing. Over the past few years, Lumley has raced a modified BMW M3 she built herself in the BMW Series and also in NASA (National Auto Sport Association) events around Texas and the country. A relative newcomer to the sport, Lumley earned the title of BMW’s 2013 Regional Champ for the South Central Region in her class. “People are surprised when they hear I race. I get the funniest reactions,” she said. “I drive an F-450 truck every day and that gets a lot of stares.” The formidable racing champ and litigator took a brief pit stop to talk shop with the Fort Worth Business Press. What inspired you to become an attorney and what attracted you to being a trial lawyer? From way back when, I really just wanted to help people. I felt like there was this whole part of the government that people didn’t understand or work their way through. I thought I could help these people. When I was in high school that’s what I thought a lawyer did, go to trial. It fits with my personality. What I really enjoy doing is learning a lot about whatever it is I’m doing. If you’re going to be a trial lawyer you’ve got to learn all about your client’s case. You’ve got to put all the facts together. It’s a very in-depth research problem. Then if you’re a trial lawyer you’ve got to have a competitive spirit. I can win. I can win this for my client. And I really do want to win for my client. Having a competitive spirit is an advantage that helps you win. As a client, you have to have someone to fight for you. How did you get interested in racing cars? Again, I really enjoy learning about things. That’s partly what drew me into the racing. I didn’t grow up working on cars. I didn’t grow up watching racing on TV but when I got introduced to racing it became a whole new field I could learn about. I could learn about cars, about strategy and about the mechanical bits and pieces that help a car go faster. I didn’t know a lot about it so I used the skills I learned as a lawyer: dig in, get some books, start talking to people, start learning and applying. Problem solving is one of the things I love about racing and one of the things I love about being a lawyer, the MacGyverism of it, figuring out how to solve the problem. I haven’t been doing this for a long time. It’s part of this later-in-life thing, my mid-life crisis. I started in 2006 and got my race license in 2008 or ’09. I’m going to be 50 this year. I started late in life but I can learn all about this. I still have the desire to win and the compulsion to win and to keep studying to do what it takes to win. There are so many people out there much better than I am but I’m going to get there. I want to get good at this and I want to win. I really want to win. I would love to win the 2014 Regional Champ but I’ve had a mechanical issue with my car this year. I would love to win my first national race, too. I want to keep racing as long as I can. It exercises my desire to win and to learn. Are there many women in amateur racing? No, and at the local level, I’m pretty much it. Every now and then at a national event there will be a couple of women. But for BMW races around here I’m the only one. I’m used to that. I’ve been in a male-dominated world in law. I’ve been the only woman in the room for a long time. Back when I was in law school there were beginning to be more women, about one-third when I graduated. Now we’re graduating more women than men. That’s one of the things Shannon Gracey is strong on. We have a large percentage of women lawyers.

Your racing has led to your litigation over exotic automobiles? It has. Here’s a funny anecdote about that. I represented a man who owned a Shelby Cobra, a very expensive sports car. He had had the engine worked on and the service facility technician then wrecked the car. I thought we had a rock-solid case and the only thing we were arguing about was the damages. I thought my battle was going to be over the value of the car. The lawyer on the other side had a dispute on the liability. He said they weren’t liable because the accelerator stuck. I was really surprised by that. I had to point out to him that this car has a clutch. What’s the best part of your job? The best part of my job is always taking the burden off my clients and helping them win the fight. When they come to me they’ve always got a battle or an issue. Sometimes they’re the underdog. Sometimes they’re facing the underdog. Helping them structure the fight in a way that they can achieve resolution that is a win for them. Whatever is best for the client, that’s the best part of my job. Sometimes it’s helping them avoid conflicts to begin with by helping get those contracts in shape. Worst part of your job? The worst part is always the expenses of litigation. Describe your leadership style. I’m not a dictator. I seek input from my team. They are invested in the result. I try to build up every team member and help them get invested in and to care about the result. That’s how you get the best result for your clients, when everybody cares. Your advice to aspiring attorneys? Work hard, study hard. Learn as much as you can. One piece of advice that’s a little unusual – do the best to be nice to all the other lawyers. Don’t play lawyers’ games. That’s not in the best interest of your clients. The objective is not to fight for the sake of fighting. The objective is to fight to win. You can do that by being nice to the other side. It’s just like with racing. We’re all very competitive when we’re racing but when we’re done, we’re helping each other with our cars. We share spare parts and we share mechanical knowledge. It’s teamwork, camaraderie. What’s more challenging – law or racing? That’s a good question. I’m probably better at law and I’ve been more successful at law than racing. So racing is more challenging.