Shared Vision

How the courtroom duo of Dustin and Dennis Burrows overcome the latter’s failing eyesight

Published in 2014 Texas Rising Stars Magazine — April 2014

In the tale of two Burrows, it happened for Dustin before he even knew it. The maverick high school student found himself occasionally blowing off biology to take in a trial. “I’m not quite sure how it happened,” says Dustin R. Burrows with a laugh. “I just started to spend time watching [my father] in trial or at the [U.S.] Court of Appeals.” Nevertheless, he got his undergraduate degree in economics. “The market crashed when I was getting out, so I thought, ‘Might as well go to law school.’”

It had happened for Dennis years earlier, when he was the high school student ditching classes in favor of heading down to the courthouse. “We had a very eloquent prosecutor for a small town,” Dennis R. Burrows says. But once in college, Dennis had also settled on economics, until he realized law was his true love.

For the past nine years, the Burrows men have been in business together at McCleskey, Harriger, Brazill & Graf in Lubbock. They share a vision—in more ways than one. Diagnosed in 2005 with a rare form of macular degeneration called Stargardt’s disease, Dennis has slowly been losing his eyesight. Almost legally blind, he relies on Dustin as his second set of eyes.

“He does all the voir dire, as that’s very visual, and also a lot of the technical witnesses that are heavy-document involved,” Dennis says.

Dennis brings four decades of experience to the team. Dustin calls his father’s talents at cross-examination “amazing,” adding, “I always wonder if it’s having to rely so much on listening.”

Opposing counsel might take Dennis’ vision impairment as a weakness, but that would be foolish. For one thing, Dennis has software that translates text into audio files on his computer. For another thing, he has Dustin.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Dennis of his son’s decision to join the firm. Dennis was beginning to burn out. Thoughts of his Colorado vacation home, resplendent in the alpine sun, started to creep in during the daily grind. “But when Dustin came along with his eagerness and new perspective, it invigorated me. It was fun again.”

What did Dustin get out of the deal? “I learned to keep my mouth shut, be a little more patient and have better timing,” he says. “My wife would probably say that’s a life lesson.”

The two have their act down pat. “Dad and I have tried so many cases together, we kind of anticipate what the other is going to do, and we usually divide a case up in a practical way,” says Dustin. “He still surprises me sometimes, though. I’ll watch him in cross and I’m like, ‘Man I didn’t think of that! Boy, he’s pretty brilliant.’”

Their practice encompasses everything from plaintiff’s personal injury to wrongful death defense to contract disputes and commercial litigation. This year, the two have a heavy docket on tap, with a trial every month from January to April. “We spend a lot of time together, and not just at trial,” Dustin says. “Dad stopped driving, so I pick him up and drop him off, and we do lunch every day. There is something special about that.”

Even with all that face time, the pair says tension is almost nonexistent. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” Dennis says. “We don’t fight, but you also can’t discuss the law and what the law is, or what the law should be, unless you have an argument and different perspectives.”

At the end of the day, their M.O. is clear: Keep it fun.

“This one case we had was getting better and better on our side,” says Dustin. “I took a good deposition; Dad made a pretty big stand in mediation. It was my birthday, too. We went to mediation and the other side didn’t want to pay us enough money. They came to me and said, ‘Our guy overheard your dad say he was never gonna settle this. Was he serious?’ I said, ‘Listen. This is what we do. His vision is gone, so we don’t get to go fishing or hunting together. What we do get to do is sit up all night, drink some nice Scotch and talk about the case. This is our fun. In fact, when we start trial on Monday, it’s going to be my birthday present.’”

The Burrows pair had brought along an associate, who witnessed the exchange. “Call him in here right now, and he will still say he never saw a man’s face turn so white,” Dustin says. Both Burrows men laugh.

“We settled that thing for more than twice what we thought it was worth,” Dennis says.

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