Raleigh trial attorney, Dan Hartzog, methodically laid out the evidence then delivered a crisp, succinct closing argument. The jury didn’t deliberate long; it was a school night.
The go-go growth years for Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog were also the go-go growth years for Hartzog’s children, Dan Jr. and Anna. He always kept a priority on his family and made a point of returning home in time for dinner with his wife, Tricia and their two children every night followed by a bedtime story.
Bedtime stories were sometimes supplanted by a case presentation. “It was amazing,” he recalled. “At 4 and 5 years old, Dan Jr. and Anna had such insight. They were so unbiased, untainted by adult life. They made the perfect jury. And maybe that’s how they both wound up going into law.”
Surrounded by his family – liberated from his suit and tie – he tells me about his practice. Scattered across his living room are three generations of Hartzogs smiling from silver frames.
PROFESSION OR BUSINESS
In 1992, Hartzog, Paul Cranfill and Bob Sumner along with 24 other attorneys left the firm they were all working for and launched Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog.
Today, the firm employs more than 90 attorneys across their three offices – Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington. They represent clients in a broad spectrum of practice areas, with a focus on civil litigation. “Growing was never a part of our plan,” Hartzog said. “We grew because we had business and we needed to.”
Hartzog has always served as the managing partner. “It just proves I haven’t been able to get anyone else to do it,” he jokes.
“People always argue if the practice of law is a profession or a business. Of course it’s both. But when you get to my stage and you look back on your years of practice, you aren’t proud of the dollars or the billed hours,” he said. It’s the guy who wants to hug you 15 years after a case you won for him; that’s what you look back on. That’s the stuff you feel best about. You’re proud of your accomplishments as a professional.”
The firm has grown through the addition of young attorneys who share the firm’s values. “I’m convinced they do things the right way for the right reasons,” he said. “They know how to fight the good fight. They’re aggressive in the right way. They’re not unpleasant. I’m proud of that, and I think that’s our reputation with other law firms. It is a source of pride.”
Some of the young lawyers have earned Young Guns awards and other members of the firm have earned a wide array of honors such as Super Lawyers and NC Legal Elite. In 2013, Hartzog was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers. “It’s a very impressive group or lawyers who have been selected in the past. I was very honored and flattered to be asked to join that group.”
When the firm was launched in 1992, Hartzog was using a bag phone and the firm did not have computers. “One of the first things we did was get everybody computers, show them how to turn them on and how to use them. I had so many people come to me and say I don’t need one of those things; I’ve got my legal pad. I was adamant that we were going to get them and people were going to use them,” said Hartzog.
The firm just launched a workers’ compensation online micro site (www.cshworkerscomp.com) where clients can use interactive calculator tools and on-line resources to help them evaluate their claims. “It’s one of those things we hope will improve our efficiency with this interactivity and help add value to what our attorneys do,” said Hartzog.
“We have certainly tried to keep up and stay at the forefront of technology. I don’t want to be the law firm that has the technology equivalent of the bag phone,” he said with a laugh.
The firm is very active in its support for nonprofit and community projects. The list of organizations the firm and its employees are involved with is extensive. “Community involvement is a goal we set for the firm. We have a committee that considers charitable requests made from employees for the projects they are involved with,” said Hartzog. The firm is currently committing a significant amount of its charitable resources to a variety of organizations across the state, such Transitions Life Care, a nonprofit hospice facility in Raleigh.
“I DO LIKE LITIGATION”
“Civil litigation is the essence of what we do. I do like litigation. I can feel myself getting more animated just talking about it,” he said. “I’m different in court than I am at home.”
Hartzog is, by his own admission, low key. In the courtroom however, it’s a different story. “I enjoy going to trial. I’m more comfortable sitting in a courtroom talking to a jury than I am at a cocktail party. It’s where I’m at home.”
“People say you’ve got to have an ego to do this,” he continued. “I hope it’s not ego. I look at it more as confidence. I don’t really think of myself as a competitive person, but I guess I am–it’s part of what I do. There is a sense of competition. You have a mission. You want to win every important point and you want to win every case and the other side does too, but most importantly you have the interest of your client to protect.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Hartzog was born and raised in Raleigh by parents who “encouraged us in every way you can encourage people. I owe a lot to my parents. Because of them I have the same attitude of encouragement and support for my children and grandchildren.”
That attitude was evident as the family gathered for our photo shoot. There was warm laugher and happy chatter.
Hartzog takes pride in knowing that those courtroom lessons he taught at bedtime helped create the foundation for Anna’s practice at K&L Gates LLP in Raleigh. The lessons have also contributed to a family bond between Hartzog and his son, Dan Jr, and daughter-in-law, Katie, as they work together at Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog.
“I’m straight forward and genuinely honest in my discussions with Dan Jr. and Katie and really with all the young people in my law firm family,” he said. “I think it goes both ways. You don’t want to let people like them down. If I we are working on a case together, there is a strong incentive to make sure everything is done just right. It’s not extra pressure; it’s extra assurance that we’re not going to let each other down.”