College Columns May 2022 - Page 4

President ’ s Message : These Old Boots

Charles A . Beckham , Jr ., Haynes and Boone , LLP President , American College of Bankruptcy
Hey , while I ’ ve got ya , let me take you for a journey in These Old Boots . Many of you know me but most of you don ’ t . I want to take the opportunity of my first President ’ s Message to introduce myself with a little history of how I became a bankruptcy lawyer and what inspires me about the College and our profession .
I grew up out in the West Texas town of El Paso . El Paso is the Texas portrayed in movies and songs with desert , mountains , and tumbleweeds . Most folks need a pair of cowboy boots to protect against rattlesnakes and prickly pear cactus when they go walking around in the desert or to look fashionable when they walk to the courthouse . After graduating from law school in San Antonio and clerking for the federal district judge in Lubbock , I moved back home to El Paso to start the practice of law . I joined a great firm , Kemp , Smith , Duncan & Hammond , the largest law firm in El Paso and second oldest law firm in Texas . It was 1980 ; I joined as an associate in the litigation section ( there was no bankruptcy section ). In the early eighties , the Bankruptcy Code was new and fresh and the dust clouds of the Texas Oil Bust of the 1980s were building in West Texas . In November 1981 , the partner who was about to become my boss walked into my office to tell me that I was no longer a litigation associate but a bankruptcy associate working for him . It was my first experience with Involuntary Bankruptcy . I freaked out .
One , I never took bankruptcy in law school and two , I didn ’ t want to be a bankruptcy lawyer . It sounded dirty . Fortunately , within an hour , the litigation partner who I worked for ( a future federal district judge ) assured me that my bankruptcy assignment would be only temporary because this “ bankruptcy bubble ” would burst within six months and I would be back working for him . I felt relieved but still questioned why I had to live in this bankruptcy gap for six months .
A few days later , 81 year old Eugene Smith , the patriarch of Kemp Smith , strolled into my office and eased down into a chair . Mr . Smith came into the office every day , but he rarely walked the halls , and he never visited an associate ’ s office . If Mr . Smith walked into an associate ’ s office , it was serious business . Mr . Smith had been a crusty old trial lawyer for decades . Before that I assumed he had been a crusty young trial lawyer .
He started out by saying , “ I heard you are going to be a bankruptcy lawyer .” I nodded , “ Yes sir ,” with a grimace on my face . He responded with , “ Have I ever told you about my first bankruptcy ?” He had not . Frankly , I was shocked that Mr . Smith had ever been involved in a bankruptcy . Mr . Smith was a storyteller and took a deep breath and started :
“ It was 1929 . The depression had just begun but the tentacles of impending doom were already reaching into far West Texas . A nice young man down the street owned a shoe shop and boot store . He shined shoes , repaired shoes , and made boots . He even had a couple of younger fellows working for him . I was one of his regular customers on Tuesdays for a 5-cent shoeshine . The