Stephen Foster / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript

Louis Goodman

Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law. How they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show. And yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He is a former Bexar County, Texas Assistant District Attorney. He honed his courtroom skills and then opened his private practice. His firm based in San Antonio handles Business Litigation, Will Contests in large estates and Fiduciary Litigation. He has been named a Super Lawyer by Texas Monthly and a Rising Star by Superlawyers.com. He has also served as a television commentator, and been published in newspapers throughout the state of Texas. Stephen Neil Foster, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Stephen Neil Foster

Well, thank you very much, Louis. You know, when you say that all together, it sounds really good. I’m glad that it does.



Louis Goodman

Where’s your office right now?



Stephen Foster

It is in San Antonio, Texas, kind of north part of town.



Louis Goodman

Texas is a very big state and San Antonio, sort of South Central Texas. Is that correct?



Stephen Foster

You got that right. And Texas is a big state. And you know, just like anyone in Texas, they will let you know that. But yeah, San Antonio is probably about two hours from the border.



Louis Goodman

San Antonio is known for the Alamo. Is that correct?



Stephen Foster

It is, we’re always told, remember the Alamo. You know, Texas didn’t win, but we’re proud of it anyway,



Louis Goodman

One of the reasons that I was interested in talking to you is that you are in Texas. And it seems lately that there’s been a lot of movement by people in California, to Texas, including several lawyers that I know. I just thought it’d be interesting to talk to a Texas lawyer, especially someone who’s had some experience as a criminal prosecutor.





Stephen Foster

Yeah, well, I’ll tell you, it’s growing. If I’ve been gone for a week and come back home, there’s five new buildings in my neighborhood that have popped up.



Louis Goodman

So what type of practice do you have Stephen?



Stephen Foster

Well,we do an awful lot of litigation. And a lot of the kind of the specialty areas that we found for ourselves are the areas where lawyers are agreeable, and just generally speaking, decent human beings, you know, like probate estate planning, but then we come in when things go horribly wrong. We also do a lot of collections as a turnover receiver from people frequently that have a judgment against them that they’re trying to hide or run from, or transfer properties into one LLC, or in another one, or, oh, that’s actually my mother’s trust, you know, all sorts of shenanigans, but it’s all litigation. It’s all fighting. You know, from the moment I wake up, I’m struggling with someone.



Louis Goodman

Where are you from? Originally?



Stephen Foster

Well, I was born in Denver, Colorado, and moved around the age of 10. I went to high school in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which is probably about 90 miles kind of, he’s more or less east, a little bit south but east of Pittsburgh. A coal mining industrial region, which is where my mother’s family’s from my mom’s side. It’s called miners all the way back until my grandfather sold everything and came to the United States to avoid everything that was going on right before World War Two. So I’m grateful for that.



Louis Goodman

When you graduated from high school in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Where’d you go to college?



Stephen Foster

Well, I went to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma.



Louis Goodman

What prompted you to go there? I mean, it’s a long way from Western Pennsylvania.



Stephen Foster

You know, my dad went there. And my dad’s family is from Oklahoma. And as a result of that, the tuition was $1,500.









Louis Goodman

Wow.



Stephen Foster

Well, that’s a little while ago. I mean, I’m not saying I’m an old timer. But that’s, you know, something that kids today don’t usually have. I don’t know what it is now. But I think college everywhere is just way more expensive than it was.



Louis Goodman

How was your experience in college in Oklahoma?



Stephen Foster

Well, I liked it at the time of my life. It was I mean, it was kind of exciting, getting away from home. You know, it’s kind of that first taste of independence anyone ever has. I can’t say I did anything but really enjoyed it.



Louis Goodman

Now when you got out of college, did you go directly to law school, or do you take some time off?



Stephen Foster

I was finishing up taking summer classes and then I started in the fall. So I didn’t even take a summer off. I was just kind of ready to get after it?



Louis Goodman

When did you start thinking about being a lawyer? And you know, kind of what prompted you to go in that direction?



Stephen Foster

Well, I watching court shows on TV. There was some blood show called Superior Court and it had a character on there named Anthony Monopoly, that always be yelling and screaming. And it just looked like a lot of fun. I didn’t really know what a lawyer did. But I knew that I didn’t want to do manual labor.



Louis Goodman

What did your friends and family say when you told them, hey, I want to be a lawyer?



Stephen Foster

It’s a good question. I’m not sure I exactly remember. I mean, I was always running at the mouth. And you know, I don’t think any of us realize that being a lawyer wasn’t just going into court and running at the mouth. So I don’t know if anybody was surprised.



Louis Goodman

How did you happen to go to the District Attorney’s Office?



Stephen Foster

Well, I was working down my first job, pretty much my first job. But my first real solid, somebody wanted to actually give me money job, was doing Insurance Defense on Medical Malpractice cases, mostly, basically getting thrown out of court, because the plaintiffs would miss things. And I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. When I got there, from there, I went to the District Attorney’s Office in Webb County, with Enza Potter County, which is right on the border. I spent a couple years there, everybody thinks of it as being what lawyers do. But there’s no better experience and basically being thrown in there. And being told to try a case, when you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. Because now there’s, you’ll learn something a lot more when you mess it up and embarrass yourself. And when you read it in a book, that is something that I have, sadly had to learn the hard way.



Louis Goodman

At some point, you left the District Attorney’s Office and you open your own practice?



Stephen Foster

I did. I opened a practice with a couple of my colleagues, my buddies from the DEA office, from the Simpson Foster and Gold in Texas, and I started doing a whole lot of civil work.



Louis Goodman

How is actually practicing law met or different from your expectations about it?



Stephen Foster

Well, I think the level of stress and the level of worry, and the level of organization that’s required, I mean, I’m very fortunate that my law partners, my wife, in that, you know, she is by far the most organized person I’ve ever met. And she is on top of everything. And so that lets me relax and focus on some things while she does all the worrying. But you know, even with having someone that is a master organizer, and one of the most brilliant women I’ve ever known, there’s still constant worry in the back of your mind, thinking, well, should I have done this? Should I have not done this on a case? You know, what’s, the best use of client funds? Am I wasting my money by doing something? If I get this expert am I wasting $20,000 of my clients money? Or if I don’t get the expert and lose the case is that mistake, and it cost a half million? Should I file? You know, I mean, as a lawyer, you know that there’s a million little decisions that you have to make a case. And, just when you spend your life worrying, and never not thinking about minutes, there’s never an evening that goes by that my wife Ashley and I aren’t talking about a case or you know, she’s giving me solid advice about something that I asked about a week ago. And, you know, in about 10 seconds, she gives me the answer, just kind of out of the blue.



Louis Goodman

What about the business of practicing law? How’s that gone for you? And how’s that, you know, matter different from your expectations about it?



Stephen Foster

As a lawyer, I think we lie to ourselves. If we don’t realize we have a business, you know, if there’s lights on, if there’s a staff that needs to be paid, you’re in business.



Louis Goodman

You bet.



Stephen Foster

I don’t think there’s any glory or anything notable about saying that you know that you’re basically thinking that you’re above that because, you know, you’re part of a profession. You know, I mean, you’re just you still got a staff that’s relying on you. And so you need to make more good decisions than bad ones to keep the lights on.



Louis Goodman

Is there anything that you know now that you really wish you knew before you started practicing law?



Stephen Foster

Well, the importance of humility, which kind of ties into what we were discussing earlier about, just, if you don’t know something, just speak up and say it, no one’s gonna think less of you, because you don’t know everything.



Louis Goodman

But I would say, how much hard work beats talent. You know, you’ve said a couple things that I thought were interesting, and I’m wondering if you could comment on them. One thing you said was that no attorney can do everything. That’s a good point.



Stephen Foster

Yeah, I’ve found that when I wrote, the more I focus on something, the better I can be, and so there’s just such tremendous value in figuring out what it is you’re going to do and focus on that. And this if there’s no, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value to kind of having a broad range of experience. But no one can do everything. And you’re better off being really great at one thing than being pretty good at 100.



Louis Goodman

In taking a case, do you consider the notion of can you make the client happy?



Stephen Foster

I think you’re smart if you do, and I certainly tried to. And there’s two aspects of that. One is, are you going to be able to be successful? Because I don’t like to get involved in cases where I don’t think that I’m going to be successful. I actively look for reasons not to take cases, because I’ve never regretted a case that I haven’t taken. But I have regretted some cases that I’ve taken. And just generally, if your client is someone that has reasonable expectations. In general, it’s going to make things a lot easier down the road, when you get them a reasonable result, because you don’t get people 10 times what they’re entitled to each and every case.



Louis Goodman

What do you think about the notion that clients and attorneys really need to work together and to trust each other?



Stephen Foster

Well, I yeah, I think obviously, you need to work together, you need to trust each other. But I think that a lot of that is on the attorney to give the client a reason to trust them. You know, I don’t know exactly what the public perception of attorneys are in California. But I can tell you in Texas, it’s not always that good. And there are a lot of attorneys that have given people a lot of reasons not to trust attorneys.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Stephen Foster

You know, my mom gave me so much good advice. She had so much wisdom, but one thing she always used to say, and for some reason, it stuck with me is that, a big shots just a little shot that keeps on shooting. And she also always used to tell me, if you’ve got just about everything that a person wants or needs, if you have enough money to put cheese on your hamburger.



Louis Goodman

Yeah, there’s some wisdom to that isn’t there.



Stephen Foster

I mean, there really is. So you can spend your whole life always wanting more, or not always looking for what the next best thing is. But really, I mean, we’re all pretty fortunate. You know, if you’re a lawyer, something’s gone right in your life, that you were able to devote years of your life to studying and learning. And all of us that are lawyers, generally speaking, you’re working in air conditioning. While there are people out there doing manual labor, there are people on roofs that are in 100 degree heat. You know, there’s people out on roads, there’s a lot of people in this world, that when they when they wake up in the morning, in their backs a little sore, they just have to know that there’s gonna be worse by the time they’re done doing a full day’s work. Now, there’s a lot of lawyers that are very unhappy. Suicide rates for lawyers are pretty high. And on one hand, I can say, Hey, I’m pretty fortunate to be a lawyer, the other hand, I’ve known attorneys that have taken their own life. And sometimes I knew that they were going through trouble, it was just a complete surprise. So that’s something for me to keep in mind as well, that, you know, even though I’m very fortunate to be living my life, not everybody living a very kind of similar life might be feeling so good about it.







Louis Goodman

Yeah, I think we all have a lot to be grateful for. And yet, lawyers do suffer depression and suffer from dealing with the troubles of the world that are brought to us.



Stephen Yeah, it’s understandable.



Louis Goodman:

Do you think the legal system is fair?



Stephen Foster

Well, I think the legal system here in the United States is fantastic. That said, are there injustice is absolutely there are. But I think, we always think of justice is, Lady Justice, and she’s standing there blindfolded with her scales of justice, and you know that that’s an ideal of perfection that we aspire to. And anytime you aspire to an ideal of perfection, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. Now, if you kind of take a step back and you think, what’s the legal system replacing, what was how were people resolving their disputes before the legal system kind of came to be? There were gun fights. There were gun fights and strong people just did whatever they want, and weak people just kind of had to let them. So, you know, if you look at the legal system, what we’re replacing, and what justice for lack of a better term was, not too long ago, there it’s kind of mind boggling how unjust the world is. If you compare it to how it used to be, you’ll think, Wow, this legal system, we’re doing a lot of really great things here.



Louis Goodman

But you and your wife work together, what other things do you like to do as a family?



Stephen Foster

Well, as a family, what we like to do is Chase around our little six year old boy, he just turned six.



Louis Goodman

That’s great.



Stephen Foster

And I don’t think that there’s a moment we spend, that we’re not just kind of together as a family.



Louis Goodman

What kind of things keep you up at night?



Stephen Foster

Thinking about cases is what keeps me up at night. Thinking that I do something wrong, you know, it’s not so much the fear of losing as much as the fear of letting someone down. There’s so many different things that it’s not unusual for me to get up in the middle of the night, and go just to check to make sure that something was calendered a certain way, and that’s on top of having just a compulsive system. We have rules, and we follow them, just, you know, A, B, C, and D. But I would say that, and just, you know, looking at my little boy and thinking how fragile he is, and kind of how scary that is, and also how sad it is, when I think of when I was a prosecutor and also, to a certain extent as a criminal defense attorney, you know, a good long time ago, when I handled those cases. Just the tragedy that so many kids grow up around.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you and your wife came into some real money, a few billion dollars, what if anything would do differently in your life?



Stephen Foster

A few billion? Well, one thing I can guarantee you that my wife would do is yeah, I just, I can’t even imagine the charity they just did, she’d give most of it away to charity. I mean, frankly, I don’t know what I do with even just 1 billion. You know, I mean, you kind of reach a certain I’ve just got a very simple kind of very comfortable life. So I mean, I hate to say, oh, give it away to charity, cuz I’m kind of presenting myself as being more of a saint, that I really am. I wouldn’t need a fancy car. Maybe be nice to have an airplane. So I could go wherever I wanted to whenever I wanted to go there. But even then it’s probably easier to just get a plane ticket. You know what, I never think about money ever again, I guess. I mean, that’d be the biggest day to day change isn’t, you know, not what you get? Or what you do? Just the fact that you never have to think about it.



Louis Goodman

I kind of think that’s the question like, what would you do differently? If money was just not an issue in your personal life?



Stephen Foster

I would probably work about half as much as I do. I don’t think I just stopped because then you just be sitting around doing nothing.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you had a magic wand that was one thing in the world, in the legal world or otherwise, that you could change? What would that be?



Stephen Foster

I guess everybody is a kid would draw up in a happy, healthy home. Would that be one thing? Does that count as a whole bunch of things?



Louis Goodman

No, I think that’s one thing.









Stephen Foster

I mean, I’d say it wouldn’t have if you give me one, it would be something like that. If you gave me three, it’d be two things like that. And my swimming pool full of gold.



Louis Goodman

We’ve talked about a number of things. Have you had any mentors who have really influenced you in your life or your career?



Stephen Foster

I’ve had so many obviously, my parents, they are probably the first most influential mentors I’ve ever had. I don’t think that I’ve ever had a boss that I’ve worked for that wasn’t outstanding. I’ve really been fortunate in that regard, that I’ve never really had a job where I wasn’t, I didn’t feel like I was learning from somebody that was just at the top of their game. And I, to a certain extent, I guess I get credit for that from putting myself in positions to learn from really great people. So I don’t know if I really have any wisdom to give you from that. Other than that. You know, be very careful, not just who you hang out with, whenever you’re thinking about, professionally and mentors, but just in general, if you’re around positive people, it’s going to put good things in your head. And if you’re around people that don’t do the right thing, you know, morally, ethically, legally or otherwise, it’s gonna get really easy to start kind of acts in the same way yourself.



Louis Goodman

Stephen Foster, thank you so much for joining me today from Texas, on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.



Stephen Foster

Thank you very much. It’s really been a pleasure being on here. And it’s also a pleasure listening to all your other great guests. I appreciate what you’re doing here.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always, to my guests who share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music, Brian Mathison for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Stephen Foster

The best thing I ever did was married my wife because I that was the best thing I could have done for my family. It’s the best thing I could have done for my law practice and certainly the best thing I’ve ever done for me.




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