Richard Schellhammer serves as the managing shareholder of Underwood Law Firm PC’s Fort Worth office. Underwood, a 103-year-old law firm based in Amarillo, lured Schellhammer to plant its flag in Fort Worth after he had spent 32 years practicing construction law in Dallas.
Schellhammer started his legal career after ending one in the military. He received a bachelor’s degree from the Virginia Military Institute, followed by 12 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, serving as a Green Beret with the 5th Special Forces Group and Special Forces-Thailand in the 70’s.
While assigned to Tulane University’s Army ROTC program, he received a law degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, which allowed him to leave active duty and accompany his wife, a longtime Fort Worth resident, to establish their home in the Metroplex.
Schellhammer’s law practice focuses on business controversies and litigation, with a significant portion of his practice involving construction disputes. He represents design professionals, contractors, subcontractors and material suppliers. He has tried numerous construction disputes in both state and federal courts and arbitrated a substantial amount of construction disputes before AAA and privately appointed arbitrators.
Schellhammer currently serves on the State Bar Association Construction Council and Foundation and will serve on those boards until the end of 2017. He is also a member of the Construction Specialization Advisor Group to the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, whose goal is to raise the level of professionalism for all lawyers seeking to practice construction law.
He has written numerous articles on areas of the law of particular interest to the construction industry, including the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the Residential Construction Liability Act, mechanics liens, calculation of damages in construction disputes, and minimizing risk in the practice of architecture and engineering.
When not at the office, Schellhammer can be found spending time with his family, driving around town in his 1974 Triumph TR-6, or exercising at the Fort Worth Club. He is also involved in a number of community organizations revolving around historic preservation projects and the arts.
Which legal case in American history do you see as the most influential? Why?
United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256, (1946) stands out as an example of the Supreme Court adjusting established legal principles to fit modern realities. And as a construction and real estate lawyer, this case has influenced not only my profession, but all of our daily lives. Causby was a North Carolina chicken farmer whose farm was located near an airport regularly used by the United States military. He sued the United States, claiming that low-flying military planes frightened his chickens so severely that they ran into the coop walls, causing death or severe injury. Causby argued that in accordance with ancient 13th century English common law, he owned the space from heaven to hell and the military had confiscated his property without compensation in violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court, realizing the implication to modern air travel, ruled that while landowners owned the air immediately above their property they don’t own it indefinitely upward. The court changed “infinite” airspace to a distance to allow the airplanes to take off and land near the property. While Causby was compensated for the loss of his chickens, the Supreme Court ruling has enabled air traffic as we now know it.
What inspired you to become an attorney?
Law has always been at the forefront of the United States’ existence and development and has provided the foundation for insuring and protecting citizens’ rights in a way that no other country enjoys. The law has played an enormous role in making the United States exceptional and this has always attracted me toward the legal profession. I didn’t have the opportunity to study law, however, until I was assigned to Tulane University’s Army ROTC Department.
What is your most significant professional achievement?
I’m most proud of the fact that my very first client is still my client after 33 years of practicing law.
What motivates you?
There are a number of factors, but the most important is my desire to give clients the best legal advice based on my experience and training in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
What are the major challenges facing young attorneys?
I’ve been fortunate to work with talented young lawyers at Underwood and witness different challenges from when I began practicing. One stands out, however, and that is the need to sacrifice “instant gratification” in order to truly learn the craft of practicing law. Young lawyers are better served taking the time and expending the energy required of our profession instead of choosing the quick and easy path.
Do you have a specialty area of practice?
– Staff reports