Justice Cory Carlyle: Discovering The Most Right Answer

2024 Feature Nominations

Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Justice Cory Carlyle, who has sat on the Fifth District Court of Appeals, Place 11, for the past five years. His court has jurisdiction over appeals in cases from Dallas, Collin, Grayson, Hunt, Kaufman, and Rockwall counties. The court handles civil, criminal, family, probate, and juvenile appeals as well as writs of mandamus and habeas corpus in certain cases.

AALM: Describe your style in the courtroom.

CC: I try to ask the questions that find the heart of the matter. What I’m doing, in a way at least, is channeling my kids’ energy. The questions I ask are the same types of questions my 9- or 12-year-old will ask when we talk, even though I’m fairly sure they aren’t very well-acquainted with anything like the “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Maybe someday. But this feeds into my general view that the law is a big ol’ game with a lot of rules that should all generally work together and they should make sense when they do so. And all you really need is to figure out most of the problems is to think about them like a kid.

I also do my level best to keep an even keel on the bench. The lawyers have enough on their plate without having to engage with a judge lacking the self-control to calmly and respectfully address them and the important case before the court. I take the matters before the court most seriously and enjoy the time we have to work through the sometimes complex and always interesting issues our fine bar of lawyers brings before us.

AALM: What do you love about your job?

CC: Being an appellate justice means having the freedom to explore issues as deeply as you must, a luxury most practitioners cannot afford. I absolutely love the time I spend learning new areas of the law and finding deeper understanding in those in which I am more experienced. We appellate justices get to think thoroughly through how the law should operate and, when there is space between existing precedent, to define what the law is or suggest what it should be.

Indeed, I had the great honor of the Texas Legislature acting on a criticism I made in a concurring opinion about the way a law worked in health care lawsuits. Senator Nathan Johnson spearheaded a bill that took my suggestions and changed the way courts evaluate those cases in their early stages. Both houses signed on, and in at least one small way, Texas law works better for all.

Moments like this make a career on the bench all the more fulfilling!

AALM: What do you believe is the biggest difference between practicing law and presiding as a judge?

CC: To me, the largest chasm between lawyering and judging is the total absence of party advocacy we do as judges. And for me, it is the benefit of the job I indulge most because it removes just about all the stress from this wonderful job. I never have to worry about pleasing a client! But the liberty to work through a problem to the most right answer I can come to without having it be the one my client needs it to be is the defining—and freeing—difference.

AALM: What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?

CC: First and foremost, I hang out with my family when I’m not at any of the many community or legal functions I’m called to attend. With a 9- and 12-year-old, I’m well aware it is only too soon ‘til they fly the coop, so my wife and I treasure our time together as a family. But right behind that I am an avid tennis player and sometimes indoor cycler. I also enjoy reading fiction, and my favorite author is Michael Chabon. Against tendency, however, I read an extensive amount of non-fiction this summer, including a fascinating history of revolutionary Mexico and a review of qualified immunity in cases against police officers.

AALM: Tell us a funny story either from your days as a practitioner or from your days on the bench.

CC: I was in a depo on a construction case and the witness spoke Spanish, so we had an interpreter helping us with the proceedings. At a certain point, the lawyer’s question revolved around a backhoe, and the interpreter began to give the witness the question. But at the first part of the word “backhoe,” she stopped, repeating “back-, back-,” and then with the most innocent lilt to the second syllable, “umm, back-whore???” That got a pretty healthy chuckle from the whole room.

AALM: Are there any changes in the future that you’re looking forward to?

CC: I’m fascinated how AI will change how we learn and how we will integrate knowledge into our profession. We already see periodicals using it to generate content, and though some of the early AI forays into legal writing have been giant flops, I’d be surprised if some weren’t already great successes that have escaped major attention. I have no doubt some very smart people will harness the technology to work for the legal process and understand that some in the legal research space already have begun that work. It will be left to us as a profession to finely tune its wide-ranging power for the betterment of all affected by our work, and I hope to be among those helping to do that.

Side note, AI had no part in drafting my comments here.

To close, I feel an immense gratitude to be able to do the important work of the people of North Texas, where I was born and raised, and look forward to the presence I can be on the Fifth District Court of Appeals.

Attorney at Law Magazine

Attorney at Law Magazine is a national B2B trade publication for and about private practice attorneys. The magazine focuses on the industry, its events, happenings and the professionals and firms that drive its success. The editorial is a collaboration of interviews with professionals, industry expert penned columns and articles about advancing your legal practice through marketing, practice management and customer service.

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