“I can’t remember a day in my life when I didn’t think I would be a lawyer. But that was my goal and I never looked back,” says Julie Pettit, founder of the Dallas-based Pettit Law Firm.
Formed in 2009, the firm serves clients statewide in civil litigation, with many cases involving real estate issues. Pettit and her three attorneys normally represent plaintiffs, litigating construction defect cases, builder disputes, and also represent many homeowners in lawsuits against lenders based on servicing violations on their home mortgages.
Her approach to each client is to focus on the desired outcome. “As soon as I meet a potential client, I’m automatically thinking with the end in mind. I’m thinking, ‘What about this client? What is his or her story that I’m going to eventually tell the jury? How do all the facts fit together to tell the story? From day one I’m envisioning trial.’”
The realization that she had made the right career choice arrived when she picked her first jury. It was something she had always dreamed of. Her mom, her best friend, and one of her mentors were watching. She says, “There was something about that moment and that day as I was about to pick a jury that would decide the fate of my client. I will always remember standing there knowing that this is it. This is exactly what I want to be doing.”
A Real Estate Pathway into the Real World of Law
Real estate is a primary focus of the firm and one of the reasons is Pettit’s extensive background in that field. When she was in high school she worked in her father’s mortgage company making late payment and collection phone calls and in the process learning the basics of real estate at an early age.
Those experiences proved invaluable when she started law school. She planned on moving to the West Coast, but at the last moment decided to attend SMU.
The Dallas and Ft. Worth real estate market was at its peak during that time. Pettit attended real estate investor meetings and interacted and learned from real estate professionals in the area. “I knew the market was strong, so I decided that I wanted to buy and sell real estate. I saw that these real estate investors were doing it, and I believed I could do the same thing. The summer before I started law school at SMU, I bought and sold 20 homes in the Dallas area. That money paid for my entire law school education,” she says.
Pettit says her fellow students would joke with her when they discovered that while they were in the library cramming for an exam, she was on the phone in a quiet corner closing a sale.
“When I got out of law school I had this passion for real estate and I had some experience in it so I followed that path. I’m definitely a trial lawyer at heart. I feel at home in the courtroom and I love real estate, so I focus on clients whose litigation involves real estate.”
After graduation she worked for two years at a real estate publishing company as its general counsel and editor in chief of one of its real estate publications. During that time she got a small taste of being in the courtroom and litigating cases.
“After gaining a little experience in the courtroom, I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I left the company, but eventually took the company’s litigation with me. To this day they are still a good, long-standing client,” she says.
Mentors, Motivation and Moving On
Success has come quickly for Pettit and she gives credit for much of the motivation that led to her success to her mentors.
From the time she was in second grade, her father paid her to read business and finance books. “I would read them and then he would talk to me about business strategies and ideas.” She credits her business sense to her father, and she credits her compassion for people to her mother. “My mother is one of the most compassionate people I know. She taught me skills that help me every day as I listen to and empathize with my clients.”
When seriously contemplating forming her own firm, she sought the counsel of friend and mentor, attorney Lisa Blue. She says, “I was nervous and doubting myself. Lisa talked through everything with me and then said, ‘Do it. I promise that you’re never going to regret it and you’re never going to look back.’ Knowing that she believed in me gave me the courage to do it. I followed her advice and she was exactly right. I’ve never regretted that decision for one minute.”
Once in business she wanted to ensure her business would continue to grow. She asked another mentor how to make sure she would always have another big case coming. He told her: “The best way to get the next case is to do a great job on the case you’ve got.”
Pettit says, “I really took that to heart. I’ve found that doing great on a case leads me to my next case. One client will refer me to another client. Or another lawyer sees me litigating a real estate case in court and then refers a case to me.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to be mentored by what I believe are the greatest trial lawyers in this city. Lawyers in the Dallas legal community are giving with their time and their knowledge. I was blessed to have these mentors so early in my career,” she says.
Pettit also credits the attorneys she has faced in the courtroom with enhancing her knowledge and skills as a lawyer. “I get to litigate against the best lawyers in our field. I credit so much of my knowledge to them. They keep me on my toes.”
She says the greatest compliment she gets is when a former opposing counsel refers her a new case. “It has happened so many times. A potential client contacts a defense firm practicing real estate litigation and the defense firm refers them to me.”
Available, Responsive and Prepared
Pettit says, “When you put the client first everything else seems to fall into place. I am always available to my clients and I never stop thinking about our cases. Clients always thank us for being available, for being so responsive, and getting back to them when they need us most. My goal is always to be the most prepared lawyer in the courtroom. So while I may not have decades of trial experience under my belt, I try to know the facts and the law better than the other lawyer in the courtroom.”
Pettit’s management philosophy is to maintain an open-door policy. “We have a very collaborative environment. No one works on a case by himself or herself. Ideas and creativity fl ow better when there are multiple people contributing to projects and cases. Plus, it is fun to work on cases with your friends.”
Pettit says she is thankful that she found a profession that she loves and a subset of that profession that she feels passionate about. “I look forward to going to work and facing the challenges and opportunities of the day. Our firm has the best cases and the best clients. What’s even better is that we get to make a difference for our clients every day.”