Instrument of Change

Benjamin L. Hall III believes in the power of the written word—and the pen that creates it

Published in 2019 Texas Super Lawyers Magazine

Fifty years ago, when Benjamin L. Hall III’s grandfather passed away, there was one item his grandson, then 14, really wanted to remember him by. “That was his fountain pen,” Hall says.

It wasn’t an expensive pen; just a Sheaffer, a “poor person’s pen,” Hall says. Yet it meant the world.

“He stressed being intellectually fit,” Hall says of his grandfather, who was the son of a slave. “He would always make this statement: ‘The brain is a trapped organ, and the only way it expresses itself is in writing or by mouth.’”

Today, Hall is not only a passionate orator with a penchant for handwriting notes to colleagues, clients and judges, but an avid collector of unique fountain pens. Since inheriting his grandfather’s beloved keepsake, he has amassed a collection of more than 400.

At first, he scoured garage sales, flea markets and antique stores, shelling out $2 to $5 for each pen. As his career grew, so did his stash of high-end writing implements, starting with the German-made Montblancs. “That was the first of the madness,” he says.

These days, he buys many of his limited-edition treasures—primarily Montegrappas, Viscontis, Montblancs and Omas—from Dromgoole’s Fine Writing Instruments & Stationery in Houston. “I know exactly the pen I’m going to get the moment I see it,” Hall says. “I’m like a bigmouth bass. If it’s the right thing that I want at that time, that’s probably what I’m going to get.”

Among his most exotic finds: the “beautifully ugly” Montegrappa Chaos, embellished with a snake, skull, and yellow-and-red accents; the futuristic Omas Imagination, engraved with the formulas for the theory of relativity, quantum theory and superstring theory; and the Montegrappa Thoth, a golden beauty engraved with wise utterances from the Egyptian god whose name it bears. Hall also owns a cigar-shaped Krone Lincoln with the former president’s DNA, replicated from hair strands, sealed in the cap. This one, he says, “reminds me that momentary failures/disappointments—like Lincoln had before becoming president—do not define the purpose or ultimate accomplishments of a person.”

A high-stakes trial attorney and ordained minister known to “preach to the jury,” Hall has nailed some of the largest jury verdicts in Texas, with more than 100 winning verdicts, totaling over $300 million. In the past few years, he has gravitated toward socially meaningful cases, including a successful pro bono lawsuit against the city of Houston—while running for mayor, no less—which stopped a utility-upgrade project from digging up street bricks and the sacred religious artifacts beneath them, laid by freed slaves in Freedmen’s Town. On the other end of the spectrum, Hall is currently embroiled in a $38 billion federal suit claiming racial discrimination against Capital One Bank after the financial institution allegedly closed branches predominantly in African American and Hispanic communities.

Hall’s office is home to a “big ol’ fat” Montblanc 149, a Visconti Alchemy set in gold and sterling silver, and a few other “working pens.” But the one he deems “most important” is the Visconti Declaration of Independence, inscribed with that revered document’s wording. It comes with a magnifying glass and a tiny Liberty Bell tucked inside.

Hall, who still maintains his personal Penman13 email account, belongs to a large, informal club of Texas attorneys who collect fountain pens. His current favorite is a black Graf von Faber-Castell Samurai, the company’s 2019 pen of the year and a tribute to the ancient warriors. “It reminds me of the noble Japanese samurai tradition, which stressed courage, strength and wisdom,” he says. “I think of those virtues when I am litigating tough cases against wonderfully gifted opposing counsel.”

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