Brian Oates – 20 Under 40

Jackson Walker

39 | Education: Trinity University and Texas Tech University

Brian Oates is a Jackson Walker “lifer,” meaning he joined the firm upon law school graduation and has been there since.

He focuses his practice on three areas of litigation: trademark, oil and gas, and real estate disputes.

“Unlike a lot of big firm litigators, I have had the opportunity to be in the courtroom frequently,” Oates said. “I have tried numerous jury trials to a verdict as the ‘first-chair’ lawyer.”

His trademark work typically takes him to federal courts in big cities, while oil and gas cases often take place in small towns throughout Texas.

“That diversity in subject matter, settings, and people keeps me on my toes and ensures that no two cases are alike,” Oates said.

As a dad of three children under 8, most of his volunteer work includes coaching his kids’ sports teams through the Moody Family YMCA, Upward Athletics, and Dallas Hardball. He’s also active in the Bradfield Dad’s Club, which includes a softball league against dads from the other HPISD elementary schools.

He also has taken up pro bono work and says these experiences “help remind me how fortunate all of us in the Park Cities and Preston Hollow are and how easy it is to take for granted things in our life.”

“Just recently, I was able to represent an individual who had been sued and could not afford representation, successfully obtaining the lawsuit’s dismissal,” Oates said. “I also tried a several-days-long arbitration for an elderly couple who found themselves in a consumer dispute with a large business.”

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

My first real job was as a professional baseball player in the Seattle Mariners organization. I was a pitcher. I credit baseball with teaching me so much, including teamwork, work ethic, how to compete, and the importance of setting goals. But truly, the thing professional baseball taught me was humility.

What was your “lightbulb moment” that led you to your career? 

I took a political science class as a sophomore in college, where the professor made us all stand up and argue various positions in front of the class on a variety of topics. He was essentially making us prepare for and deliver an opening/closing argument. I loved it. I thought, “I could do this for a living.”

What (or who) motivated you to get involved in the community?

I am originally from Huntsville, Texas. When I moved to Dallas approximately 12 years ago, I would have never imagined I would experience the same type of tight knit community as I did growing up in a small town. But a wonderful tight knit community is exactly how I would describe the Park Cities.

It truly is a blessing to be able to walk outside my front door on any given day and have a meaningful conversation with a neighbor. It is through getting to know the wonderful people on my street that I realized how special it is and how much I wanted to ensure it remained that way. I think what makes the Park Cities so special are its schools and the togetherness that common education brings to the community. Given my background in playing sports, I thought the best way to get involved is through the schools and to help the younger generation develop lifelong skills through sports.

Where do you see yourself and/or your career 10 years from now?

Personally, I think life will look very different. I will have two kids in high school and will be thinking less about the dozen plus activities every weekend and more about getting them ready for college.

Professionally, I see myself much where I am now, a partner at Jackson Walker, but I hope to have evolved in that role. My goal is to have tried many more cases in courtrooms all over the United States as well as to be a mentor to young lawyers at the firm.

What is your favorite local restaurant or shop?

This one is easy for me. It is Al Biernat’s. The food there is top notch, but most importantly it’s the customer service. Al, Brad, and Miguel have become friends over the years and always remind me that great customer service is not dead. My go-to order is a wedge salad and the cowboy ribeye with au gratin potatoes and asparagus. My wife and I always like to split the coconut cream pie for dessert.

What’s on your bucket list?

Incredible experiences, like epic golf trips with close friends; an African safari with my wife and three kids; and front row on 18 green for Masters Sunday.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?

My parents, but my dad in particular. My dad taught me the meaning of worth ethic and determination. He was raised in a poor, rural east Texas community by his deaf farmer parents. His first language was sign language. He was the first in his family to graduate college, and he worked an overnight shift as a police station dispatcher to pay for it. Ultimately, he obtained his master’s degree and worked in education for thirty years all the while working nights and weekends on businesses he started and owned. Any time I think I’m working hard, I just think back to what he was doing in his late-thirties and that gives me perspective. In addition, his intellectual curiosity is unmatched and there is no doubt impacted me. He is always interested in learning about a new topic and to this day asks me regularly about any new matters I’m working on because he is genuinely curious. I think much of my success as a lawyer is attributable to watching and trying to emulate his work ethic and desire to learn about new things.

How do you motivate yourself and others?

In my opinion, long term, sustained motivation comes from within. I think years of attempting to be a high achiever in baseball has carried over to my career as a lawyer. I’ve always been a fan of setting short term and long term goals so that you have an objective measurement for your success and/or failures. Plus, now it is important for me to set an example for my kids so they understand that anything they choose to do should be done to the very best of their abilities.

Motivating others can be hard. But I think being a good leader and teammate is key. You have to lead by example and have people buy into the group’s end goal. If you can get people to understand that they are part of a team and others are counting on them to achieve a result, it usually is a real motivator. That is especially true if the group’s leader is in the trenches working hard next to them.

What’s a fun fact that someone wouldn’t know about you?

My family owns and operates a business that sells sports conditioning equipment, with a primary focus on baseball. That business, Oates Specialties, just celebrated its 20th year in business and lists every Major League Baseball organization, hundreds of college teams, and countless high school programs, including the Highland Park Scots, as clients. I am involved with the business on both operational and legal aspects.

What would you tell an 18-year-old you?

That 40 years old is not old! It is funny how age is all relative. I would also tell an 18-year-old me to focus on three things: (1) work ethic, (2) integrity, and (3) relationships. With those, the world is your oyster.

What advice do you have for other young professionals?

Probably the three things above that I would tell a younger me. I would also tell them to pay close attention to how their superiors manage and/or treat them. Keep two lists: the things they like and find effective and those they don’t. As they rise up the corporate ladder, implement the former, don’t ever do the latter.

If someone made a movie about your life, what would it be called and who would play you?

I’d definitely like to think that Chris Hemsworth would play me and people would see similarities in our looks. But that seems to be more fiction than reality. I’m not sure what the movie would be called. At 39, my life story is still being written, so I think it is difficult to come up with a title. Maybe check back with me in another 20 years.

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