Mark A. Shank: Work Hard – Play Hard

Mark A. Shank
2024 Feature Nominations

“The firm is a small business and I like that. I grew up in a small town where my parents ran small businesses, so I’m back to my roots.”

Mark A. Shank’s personal philosophy can be summed up as work hard – play hard. He is a law firm partner who tries lawsuits; a citizen who manages high-profile political campaigns; and an athlete who gets up on Saturday morning to go barefoot water skiing.

Shank is a partner in Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail Shank LLP, one of the nation’s top litigation firms. His primary practice areas are employment litigation and commercial litigation.

He is board certified in civil trial law and labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is an arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association.

He is equally enthusiastic about all facets of his life: work, civic and political activities, and his personal interests. When he was inaugurated as president of the Dallas Bar, its outgoing president introduced him by saying, “This is a man who exudes energy.”

Shank says, “My wife says that I have no governor; I’m either on or off. And that’s how I’ve always lived and it really works out in terms of being a lawyer because clients and judges and audiences want to know that you’re enthusiastic about your subject matter. Clients want their lawyer to care. I care deeply about my clients.”

A Rare Depth of Experience Shank is well-recognized for his work in the area of employment law. He mixes deep experience in employment and business disputes, with extensive trial experience. Opponents know he is willing to go to trial. “Mark is a complete lawyer, in the very best sense. He has a special blend of professionalism, knowledge, skill and decency. I know when I am dealing with him, that I can count on him to be first rate in every way,” says frequent adversary, Hal Gillespie.

Shank finds the fact patterns that emerge in employment cases to be especially fascinating, even more so than those in a contract dispute or in many other areas of the law.

“Employment litigation cases are like divorce cases because people get emotionally involved. On the flipside, you do get to solve real life problems for people,” Shank says.

Shank and his firm primarily represent medium to large companies, but in some cases they will represent the smaller business. “I really enjoy solving my clients’ problems. Helping them is what charges me up.” He says that he takes a Norman Vincent Peale approach to all his cases – be positive. Solve problems for your clients.

Shank is confident in giving responsibility to younger attorneys in the firm. “I often tell my associates, I’ll give you as much responsibility as you demonstrate you can handle. I really like it when people take charge.”

A Published Author Shank is the author of “The Texas Litigators’ Guide to Departing Employee Cases” published by the Texas Lawyer. He is the only author to write a book on departing employee matters in Texas and to his knowledge the only author solely on that subject in the nation. It is a comprehensive guide for litigators with clients facing employees who leave and then, as Shank says, “start misbehaving” in such areas as non-compete agreements, trade secrets and so on. The book provides a practical and comprehensive guide for the lawyer handling these cases.

Twice a week he comments on the current state of the law in his blog, The Workplace Legal Blog, which he launched in November. The blog is written for attorneys, business leaders and people interested in legal employment topics.

Doing Well by Doing Good Shank says his overarching concept for business and life in general is doing well by doing good. He is active in numerous professional and community organizations and causes, including Habitat for Humanity, Dallas Breakfast Group, Cristo Rey High School, and Genesis Heroes a group that supports the Genesis Women’s Shelter.

Shank doesn’t view his commitment to doing good as merely an obligation. He sees it as a process that brings significant personal rewards and one that recharges his mental, emotional and spiritual batteries. “I wake up every day helping people and I go to bed every day helping people. I’m thoroughly energetic about helping my clients.”

Helping others in the community feeds that energy. Nancy Thomas, former district judge and former client, says, “I have observed Mark in every walk of life. He exemplifies ‘doing well by doing good.’ Mark enjoys helping people and making a difference in their lives, and he does that very well. He is also an excellent lawyer, but he never loses his sense of humor in the process.”

Back to His Roots Shank grew up for the first 12 years of his life in Clayton, Illinois – a farm town where his father was born and only nine miles from where his mother was born.

In 1967 they moved to Lake of the Ozarks, where his parents purchased a mom and pop resort with 20 cabins. During those years, Shank became an avid water skier and for six years his summer job involved skiing in a water ski show in Missouri.

When he graduated law school he met a young woman from Texas. “I asked her to marry me. She said yes and then asked me which part of Texas I wanted to live in,” he said. “We packed up and moved to Dallas. I did not know a soul except for my fiancé. Thirty-four years later, we’re doing fine.”

He and his wife, Lu Ann have three kids Katie, Aden and Christian.

Shank is still active in barefoot skiing and competes in tournaments in trick and slalom and in barefoot skiing endurance races.

He became a partner in Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail Shank in 2009 and says he is proud to have his name on the masthead. He appreciates the autonomy the firm offers, its lack of politics, and ability to gauge entrepreneurial spirit, a lack of conflicts, and no bureaucracy. All these things tie together and allow him and the firm to better serve clients. “Great lawyers, great people,” he says.

“The firm is a small business and I like that. I grew up in a small town. My parents ran small businesses. So, I’m back to my roots.”

Dan Baldwin

Dan Baldwin is a writer for Attorney at Law Magazine. He has been contributing to the magazine since 2012.

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