Joe Jamail was a man from another era.
The larger-than-life trial attorney and University of Texas graduate was known for his outsized personality, profanity-laced outbursts, brilliant one-liners, love of Scotch, and for winning. A lot.
He wasn't afraid to call himself the greatest lawyer who ever lived and he backed it up:
His $10.5 billion verdict in Pennzoil v. Texaco in 1985, still the largest jury award in history, was merely the most famous. He's had five verdicts for over $100 million and more than two hundred for at least $1 million. Forbes has repeatedly declared him the world's richest practicing attorney and estimates his net worth at $1.7 billion, a particularly staggering figure when you realize that most of it came from contingency fees from settlements and jury awards.
How Jamail won the Pennzoil case only added to the substantial lore surrounding his persona. Though he was known as a man who could put down Scotch with the best of them, he achieved such a high level of success as a trial attorney in no small part because of his preparation ability.
But as he sat down the night before his closing argument against Pennzoil, a blaring car horn interrupted his work. Outside in a limo were his friends, Darrell K Royal and Willie Nelson. They wanted Jamail to come out and tie one on with them and wouldn't take no for an answer:
"I tried telling them that this was the biggest damn case of my life, hell, of anybody's life and that I needed to prepare," says Jamail. "But they weren't having any part of it. They kept me up all fucking night drinking. I could barely see straight the next morning."
He won it anyway because he was Joe Jamail.
Few moments better sum up his personality than this particularly contentious deposition (Jamail is off screen to the right):
Professional? Not by most standards, but it was 100% Texan and 100% Joe Jamail.
Here are a select few of some of his best quotes:
On corporations and his role in keeping them in check:
"The corporate boardroom mentality and structure encourages companies and their executives to fuck each other," he says. "So, there's always going to be a need for good lawyers."
Jamail pauses to clarify. "By good lawyers, I mean good trial lawyers," he says. "They've invented this new term, litigator. What the fuck is a litigator? I'm a trial lawyer. I try cases. There are some lawyers who do nothing but this mediation bullshit. Do you know what the root of mediation is? Mediocrity!"
A defense attorney once offered to settle before trail for $300,000 and for $5 million during the trial. When he offered the latter settlement, he made the mistake of offering to read it into the record. Jamail politely declined to let him do that:
"No, I need you to put it on paper so you can wad it up and shove it up your ass."
The case settled after triall for $16.6 million.
Willie Nelson's song "Good Hearted Woman" was supposedly written about Jamail's wife:
"Thanks you son of a bitch," Jamail told Nelson. "Spread it all over the world that Lee's a good-hearted woman married to a good-timin' man. That's all I need in my life."
To Texas law students at a commencement:
"Don't believe that accepting a license allows you to sit on your ass and collect fees. You take an oath to help people.
"It's not a bad thing fighting for equality and helping the poor. It's not a bad thing to have on your professional tombstone: He believed in equality and he helped the poor."
Jamail on Texas fans:
"You're asking me why Texas fans are upset?" Jamail said in a story about then-athletic director Steve Patterson. "I represented Darrell Royal, and fans have been upset long before that.
"They're born with the red ass."
But Jamail was far more than just a hard-charging trail attorney with a flair for cursing -- he was a proud University of Texas graduate who never forgot how much the university gave to him.
And he almost didn't end up at Texas at all.
"My brother had gone to Texas A&M, so my family drove me on the Sunday after I graduated high school to start summer school at A&M," Jamail told TexasSports.com. "I stayed one day, and then I just got out of there and hitch-hiked to Austin. I had heard about UT most of my life and had followed the football team, so I enrolled at UT."
Like most things with Jamail, he didn't exactly do it by the books. He flunked out of pre-med school at Texas after one semester, then did the only obvious thing -- became a Marine by forging his father's signature on the enlistment documents. After returning and getting a liberal arts degree, he simply decided to show up for law school and started taking classes without ever taking the LSAT, then passed the bar after making a $100 bet from a friend.
"Shit, I'm overeducated," he recalled later. "We used the $100 to buy a lot of beer and got drunk by the lake."
Jamail credited the University of Texas for much of his success later in life and he continuously went out of his way to give back. As a result, the football field is named after him, as are the swimming center and a center for legal research. There are two statues of his likeness on campus, including one at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium next to a statue of DKR, his longtime friend and drinking buddy.
In sum, Jamail gave away more than $250 million to Texas and other charitable endeavors.
Not known as a man prone to excessive humility, he tended to become reverential when talking about his alma mater and the athletics program that he supported so whole-heartedly throughout his life.
"Athletics is the window to our entire university. It's what brings the alumni back, and it's really the key to showing the world what we're about," Jamail told TexasSports.com. "My interest is not just athletics, but I see athletics as a way to influence alumni to come back to Austin and see the progress that we've made in so many areas."
Jamail was integral to that progress and cemented an indelible place in Longhorns lore with his generosity. The statement from former athletic director DeLoss Dodds after Jamail's passing on Wednesday morning at the age of 90 sums up how he approached those gifts.
"I don't think The University of Texas has ever had a better friend than Joe Jamail," Dodds said. "When something needed to get done on campus, you could count on him to help. Joe wasn't a guy wanting to give advice or get his wayâhe just wanted to know what he could do to be part of the solution. Joe was a dear friend of mine and our coaches. He was very close to Darrell and Edith Royal and Mack and Sally Brown. He shared in our national championships and we are proud his name is on our field -- it's very deserving."
There were will never another like him and we are all simultaneously diminished by his passing and enriched by his incredible life -- he was a damn good man.
And so this evening, Mr. Jamail, I will raise a glass of scotch in your honor and wish you Godspeed into the next life.