Jim E. Lavine, Class of 1974
Leading criminal defense attorney in Texas
Jim Lavine is a noted criminal defense attorney in Houston, Texas and former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. A partner in Zimmermann, Lavine, Zimmermann & Sampson, P.C. since 1986, he began his career as a prosecutor in Chicago, serving as an Assistant State’s Attorney in the Special Prosecutions Bureau Organized Crime Unit in Cook County from 1975 to 1980. He later served as an Assistant District Attorney in Harris County, Texas for five years before moving into private practice. Lavine represents clients at trial and on appeal in state and federal courts, as well as before professional licensing boards and in regulatory compliance matters and as witnesses, suspects or targets in grand jury investigations. He has successfully defended clients in a wide variety of cases, including conspiracy, securities fraud, bank fraud and murder.
Lavine was named Lawyer of the Year by the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association and Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in 2006 and was presented the prestigious Robert C. Heeney Award by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 2007. In addition to being a former president of the NACDL, he is a former member of the Board of Directors, a former director of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and a former president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
From the time I was in 8th grade, I wrote a career paper that I wanted to be a lawyer. That was always my goal from middle school onward, how I was going to get there was kind of unknown. I chose the law path and kind of knew that early on. I’m not exactly sure why. My grandmother was a lawyer, a graduate of Chicago-Kent from 1913. While she did mostly probate and real estate, I always thought lawyering was a profession that helped people and that’s what I wanted to do.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Certainly juggling family and the profession is a challenge. The law, as they say, is a jealous mistress, and there’s a reason for that. If you really are devoted to the profession, you end up spending a lot of time doing it. Being able to juggle that and the requirements and joys of being a family man are equally important. The hardest thing a lawyer does is defend someone who’s innocent, and someone on Death Row who you know to be innocent. You just dig in and you work harder. It’s always harder defending the innocent.
How would you say Chicago-Kent prepared you for your present success?
Warren Wolfson, the Moot Court Society and the Trial Advocacy programs taught me to become a zealous advocate and to defend with the highest ethics. That in order to be successful, you have to establish credibility with courts. As a defense lawyer, I was hoping to have the ability to practice anywhere in the country. To do that, you have to establish a reputation. The most important reputation you can establish is being honest and ethical, which is one of the things I learned at Kent.
Kent instilled in me a love of the trial floor. In the course of doing that, Kent taught me to be meticulous, to be well prepared, to leave no stone unturned, both factually and legally, to never quit, and to learn that each case is the most important case to that client, so that we treat every client with respect.
Warren Wolfson also taught me to defend with passion, with zeal, with professionalism, and with ethics. A moral culture was ingrained in me at Chicago-Kent and I’ve carried it with me ever since I graduated. This distinction is a validation of my education at Chicago-Kent.
What advice would you give to young attorneys just starting out today?
Establish your credibility in the community. By doing that, work hard and prepare hard. Don’t ever go into court unprepared, don’t ever lie to or misdirect a court. You have to out prepare the other side. You need to know more about your case than the other side does, so that way you establish your credibility with the court. Even if the law is against you, you establish your credibility.
Don’t ever do something that feels bad. Understand the ethical rules. Treat all of your clients as individuals and with respect and you will have a successful career. If you’re going to be on the trial floor, you need to defend with passion.