Kent Krabill is a highly regarded trial lawyer representing clients in a variety of complex commercial, environmental, real estate, and others.
Kent graduated summa cum laude from the University of Texas at Arlington while working full-time. After graduation, Kent became a teacher and taught children with disabilities and 6th graders for two years while starting a family of his own. To pursue a childhood dream, he moved to California with his family and became a lawyer. This led to a successful academic career with graduation honors of magna cum laude from Pepperdine University School of Law. While at Pepperdine, Kent served as a law review editor and writing instructor and excelled in moot courts and mock trials. He subsequently clerked for Chief Judge Edith Jones of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Kent’s exceptional work has earned him the admiration and esteem of his peers, having been selected as a Texas Rising Star by Thomson Reuters from 2010-2015 and as a Texas Super Lawyer for 2020-2022. He is also a driving force behind the firm of Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann, LLP. That firm has been ranked amongst the elite Commercial Litigation Firms in Texas by Chambers and Partners.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I always dreamed when I was a kid about being a lawyer, but always a criminal defense attorney. I was really attracted to defending. I don’t know why I was always drawn to that. But I have no background of education in my family at all. I’m the first one to go to college, so there was nobody I knew that was a lawyer or anything like that, especially in a criminal defense situation.
I kind of had that in my mind growing up as a kid watching TV shows — I guess Perry Mason, and I loved Atticus Finch [from the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird] because who doesn’t love Atticus Finch? I always thought that was cool, but as I got going in school, I was really good at math and science, so I kind of got filtered toward the sciences and engineering. And I was a good football player, so I was going to play football in college.
My senior year in college, I got hurt playing football and so I had no more scholarship opportunities. I started in engineering, but I didn’t go back to school until I was 26 because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I worked construction until I was 26. When I was 26, I went back to college.
While I was going to school, I flirted with either medical school or law school. But my wife and I had been married for quite some time. I was a little bit older and I thought, “Ah, I don’t want to go to school. I’m too old to go to law school or medical school.”
Then we had our first baby and my wife wanted to stay home. And so that’s how it happened. There’s nothing magical about it. She wanted to stay home. I need to figure out a way to make money. I thought: Maybe I’ll go to law school.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
At any given time, I have 20 to 30 cases going on. So I don’t think I have a typical day. You have your cases at all different phases. My typical day is, I look at my phone and computer and go.
I have associates who do the work for me. Let’s say the beginning of a case, pre-suit. A client calls me up and says, “I have this problem.” Sometimes the problem is they got sued and we dive right into it, but let me give you the pre-suit. The client has to tell us the story and give us all the documents and I’ll call an associate in and we analyze it. We get through the documents, we interview people, we put it together.
Now we’re going to file suit, we’re going to send a demand letter. Usually it’s a demand letter you send to the bad guys, you’re like, “Hey, you’re doing this. This is wrong. You need to pay us back or stop doing it or we’re going to sue you.”
Once that happens, I review and revise the demand letter. I might have a follow-up, a call with the client and say, “Is this really what you want? Is this what you like?”
Then we sue. I send off that letter, the opposing attorney calls me and negotiates, “This is all B.S. It’s not true. Blah blah blah.” Or, “You’re right. We’re going to stop.” That’s part of my day too, those calls with opposing counsel.
Then we file suit, but you have to draft petitions, you’ve got to have motions, you have discovery, depositions happen. My day is filled with setting up, preparing for depositions, preparing for hearings, and reviewing and revising motions. People are in and out of my office all day — associates, paralegals — because we have teams that do it all.
You have mediation that happens with every case. We prepare for mediation, where we go try to solve the problem with a mediator without having the court’s involvement. That usually fails. Sometimes it settles, but it usually fails. Then you have your motion practice and eventually you have a trial. Our trials are usually three days to three weeks, sometimes they’re longer. I’ve been in five-week trials — that’s my longest one.
Then you’re in trial and trying to juggle all the other cases and survive while you’re in trial. Because obviously you’re paying attention to one case during that time. A lot of time in the evenings, I’ll spend an hour or two while I’m in trial on my other matters, call back clients, email them back. I always let them know we’re in trial so they know.
Every day is different and I love that because I’m driven to distraction anyway. I’m an ADHD child and I love having all those balls in the air all at once. For somebody like me, that’s awesome. It keeps my brain occupied and I have systems to not get lost. Since I’m 55, I know how to stay on task even though my brain likes to bounce around to a lot of different things.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Discovery is insane. It’s gotten so voluminous because of the way every single communication is saved by companies, by individuals. The exciting part of that is there’s artificial intelligence involved with reviewing documents now, and we’re starting to see that. That helps, and I hope AI eventually saves clients money. A huge amount of money and litigation is being spent on discovery needlessly.
The one exciting thing is over the years, the federal rules — and now we’ve seen the Texas rules — start to adapt where there’s more transparency in the process, and you just have to give the other side everything that’s relevant.
However, there are big battles over that: what’s relevant, what’s related to the case, what’s not. There’s millions of dollars spent on these large cases that, I think, for nothing because the reality is we know the key docs at the beginning or the bad guys have the key docs within a few weeks or months. Everybody knows there are a few documents that are really, really important to the case. Everything else is just kind of noise.
Then we spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, on cases fighting over all the noise, all the other stuff that might be there. Maybe there’s a smoking gun.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am an incredibly disciplined person. In law school, I left my house early every day and ended late. I’d come home and eat with the kids, go for a walk with the kids, put the kids — they were babies — put them down and then work.
I did that basically until I became a partner at the law firm. I use a lot of spreadsheets. I have a spreadsheet for every case that has the full life of the case. It has all the rules and it has everything that has to be done. It’s got boxes to check and assign who it needs to be assigned to.
I think organization’s a big key because nothing in a case ever goes as you think it’s going to go. You have to have the road map of where you think it’s going so that you can adjust.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Just relax. Just relax and take it as it comes rather than always being so worried about everything. It’s hard, because part of the worrying is what makes me good at what I do, but it doesn’t make me a good human and it doesn’t make me healthy. I’ve had to balance that and I’m not the best at that. But COVID has been really helpful to me, because it forced me to break my routine and stay at home. And I’m an office person; I never liked working from home, ever.
Maybe the advice is, “Kent, if you’re going to get into this career that’s in constant conflict, go do yoga first. Go learn yoga, learn mindfulness first.” Maybe that’s my advice. I wish I would’ve been like my son. I wish there would’ve been COVID when I was in college and I could have figured this out before I jumped in.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I don’t believe humans have free will. Most people do [believe it]; I don’t. I’m a scientist and I believe in determinism and I don’t believe we have free will at all. That’d probably be one. Well, I wouldn’t say most, but I would say a lot of people don’t agree with me.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
A long time ago I read in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which I’m not recommending, but he did say in there that there’s the gift that’s space between the stimulus and the response.
At the time I thought it was profound. The good part about meditation or yoga is, when you practice it, you actually see that. You actually have the tools with the breath and mindfulness to allow that space between the stimulus and response to be productive. Whereas I spent my entire life training my mind where my reactive mind just reacted, react, react, react. And that’s just a really bad place to live.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Our firm has tried to recruit out of the big firms after someone’s had a year or two experience because they’re really good at identifying talented people and paying them a lot of money out of law school. Those people, if they’re our type of lawyers, won’t last at the big firm. They’re just too hungry. They’re first chair. They’re the ones who are going to fly the plane. They’re going to drive the bus.
People like us don’t take orders from other people very well. We’re the hired gun, we’re the horse in the gate ready to be let go, but we need somebody to flick it, let us go, and then we’re going to run. But if you want to be a part of a huge meandering inefficient team, big firms are great at that. If you want to be strategic, like special forces, and go in and win the case and lean with a lean team, that’s us.
That resonated with me. I’m a first-chair trial lawyer. I’m a type A personality. I’m never going to be a good follower. I’m a leader and I will solve other people’s problems. That was my mentality and it was a perfect fit for me.
It’s not a fit for a lot of people at our firm. We don’t have all the safety rails and wires to keep you safe. We fly without wires. We’re flying without the net. It’s lean, it’s efficient, and it’s fun. So negative recruiting really works well.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
It’s hard because I don’t have a lot of failures. I may have losses, but I’m thinking of a big failure to overcome. I would just say the biggest failure in my life was quitting college my freshman year. That delay of eight years of returning to college, it always puts you on another track. You’re always the old guy in college. We waited to have kids, [then] you’re the older person with kids. You’re the older person in your law school. You’re the older person starting at your law firm and your group.
I think I turned all that into advantages because I used those years to work hard and learn and then realize when I was sitting in class like this is actually beneficial and it’s for me. But when I was 18, I didn’t know that. So I think that’s the biggest failure, not being able to take a breath and refocus and figure out how I can do it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
It’s called The Grand Biocentric Design: How Life Creates Reality, by Robert Lanza, Matej Pavsic, and Bob Berman.
What is your favorite quote?
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” It’s been attributed to writer George Eliot.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.