• November 30, 2020

Lawyer eschews ‘corporate mold’ - Odessa American: Local News

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Lawyer eschews ‘corporate mold’

Odessa personal injury attorney lets clients ‘make all the important decisions’

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  • Straight Shooter

    Odessa attorney Robert White has pursued a personal injury practice since his early years with Jerry Childs and Clyde Bishop, who gave him worker’s compensation cases for training. His office is in the same location where the legendary Warren Burnett practiced from the 1950s into the 1990s.

Posted: Sunday, November 8, 2020 4:30 am

You may know attorney Robert White from TV ads in which he stands atop an 18-wheel truck and invites you to call him if you’ve been hurt by such a truck.

That’s one side of the 63-year-old Texarkana native who grew up in Hobbs, N.M., and Odessa, but as it is with everyone, the full picture is much more complex.

White attended Reagan Elementary, Bonham Junior High and Permian High School before earning accounting and law degrees at the University of Texas at Austin and the South Texas College of Law in Houston.

Then he started learning personal injury law with the late Jerry Childs and Clyde Bishop, who assigned him to workers’ compensation cases and whose names are still on his firm.

Referring to the late flamboyant Odessa PI lawyer, White said, “I’d be riding my bicycle and see John Watts in his big Caddy, smoking a cigar, reading the newspaper and going down my street at about 5 mph.

“I always had a lot of empathy for people. I’m more of an inclusive guy. The corporate mold never did suit me. I like helping people. I clerked for a defense firm in Houston and saw Joe Jamail win a million-dollar judgment on a rotator cuff case in Bay City. That might have done it for me there.

“I have never not been busy. There is always something going on.”

Assisted by his wife Lori, his office manager, and trial lawyer Greta Braker, White has 265 cases pending and has won hundreds of millions in settlements during his career, he said. He spends over $100,000 annually on advertising. The Whites have a son.

In cases involving vehicles, oilfield accidents, medical or pharmaceutical malpractice and other injurious events, he often uses a focus group to help choose jurors and sometimes calls in Dallas jury selection consultant Kellye Raymond.

“It would be nice if I could write them a letter and they’d write me a check, but it doesn’t work that way,” White said, explaining that it normally takes from six months to two years to settle a case.

Working from his office at 230 W. Third St., the office that the legendary Warren Burnett used from the 1950s into the ‘90s, he said, “We look at whose fault it was, what type of insurance coverages might be available and what type of injuries there are.

“People may get to a point in their treatment where no amount of medicine will make them any better. Then they have to get a life care specialist and live with it and the only thing I can do is sue for money and work on contingency. I don’t file a lawsuit just to make a statement because I could get into trouble for a frivolous pleading.”

Upon reaching a settlement, White gets 33 percent of the award, or from 40-45 percent if the case went to trial.

In the meantime, pursuing a case to a judgment can be expensive for a plaintiff’s lawyer with a doctor’s deposition costing from $5,000 to $10,000, a medical illustration from $15,000 to $25,000 and an accident reconstruction from $50,000 to $300,000.

“Sometimes people call from a motel and say, ‘I just got run over by an 18-wheeler,’ and want us to send a big paycheck,” White said. “The funniest thing was during my workers’ compensation days when a guy came in and hired us and said, ‘I’m losing everything! Can your loan me $100?’ He had gone to 10 other lawyers and got $100 from each of them.”

White’s father Billy Bob was a sales representative for Humble, Enco and Exxon, supplying service stations and convenience stores, and his mother Phyllis Ann a secretary for the Federal Aviation Administration. He is an only child.

“I have been asked how I avoid malpractice, but that’s backward thinking,” White said. “You need to be open and honest with your clients. As long as you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing and treating them right, everything else falls into place.

“Develop the case, work it up and tell them all the pluses and minuses so they can make all the important decisions. Always do your homework and be prepared.”

With chiropractor Mark Mehaffey, Dr. John Molland, United Fleet Sales owner Shan Johnson and District Attorney Bobby Bland, White often plays golf at Odessa County Club in games that the men say are as much jovial camaraderie as sport.

“Everybody sees the guy standing on top of the truck and yelling into the TV that if you’re hurt, call him,” Bland said. “But if you meet him one on one, you know he has a good heart and is a really good guy. He likes to laugh and is very funny.

“We just enjoy hanging out together. We don’t talk politics much because he is a Democrat and I’m a Republican, but other than that we get along well. Robert is one of those guys who is dedicated to what he does. He cares about his clients and is passionate about being a personal injury lawyer.

“He’s an upbeat guy who has a positive attitude about his work, his family and everything he does,” Bland said. “He is kind and generous and he and Lori throw great little dinner parties. My wife Heather and I are lucky to consider them friends.”

Johnson said White “is a wonderful guy with good morals who loves the Texas Longhorns.

“If Robert could buy burnt orange underwear, he would have it,” Johnson said. “I would honestly say that he bleeds burnt orange.”

Also avoiding political discussions with White, Johnson said he “is a great father and husband and a caring, compassionate friend.

“I didn’t know his father, but his mother was a very sweet lady,” Johnson said. “His wife has had the most positive influence of any person in his life. They’re very grounded and have always had a great marriage. They love each other just like the first day they met.”

The Whites had just returned from a vacation in Vail, Colo., and they ski at Beaver Creek, Colo., and Ruidoso, N.M., go to shows in Las Vegas, water surf at Lake LBJ and ride bicycles around Lady Bird Lake in Austin. “When I learned to ski at Ruidoso, they gave me a half-day’s lesson and took me to the top of a mountain,” said White, laughing.

“We went to Italy two years ago, but I would just as soon stay in the U.S. and see all of it.”

His recreational reading includes Brad Thor and James Patterson and he and Lori listen to recordings of novels in their car. “We’ve been listening to ‘28 Summers,’ which is a love story by Elin Hilderbrand,” he said.

Odessa, TX

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