The Burgess Law Firm PLLC
Family-owned, local businesses are important to the fabric of the Texarkana community. These businesses help showcase the talents and abilities of our citizens while helping our town continue to grow. One of our family-owned businesses has recently added another member to its ranks. Burgess Law Firm, PLLC, run by father and son duo Mark and John Mark Burgess, has recently welcomed Mark’s brother, Ralph Burgess, into the practice. Ralph just recently retired as Justice of the 6th District Court of Appeals for the State of Texas. “I have heard former athletes say that they just knew one day it was time to retire, and that was what it was like when I made the same decision,” Ralph says. “Mark and I have always talked in general terms about practicing together, but things never seemed to work out where we could. Now that my nephew, John Mark, is practicing, I felt that practicing with them would be the perfect ending to my legal career.”
Mark and John Mark are excited about the change, and they welcome the experience that Ralph will bring to the practice. John Mark said that he feels fortunate to work alongside more of his family, and he feels that Ralph will be an asset to the firm. Mark, who is only 13 months younger than Ralph, is happy that the dream of working together finally fell into place. “We could not be more excited about Ralph joining us. He and I worked in different law firms before he became a judge, and we continued to talk off and on over the years about the possibility of working together,” Mark says. “Ralph will bring an unbelievable level of experience on the legal and procedural aspects of the law, especially on the appellate side, and will be able to help me mentor John Mark in his further development as a young lawyer. Ralph was an exceptional trial lawyer before becoming a judge and will bring that aspect of his practice to the firm. Also, Ralph’s presence will allow us to greatly increase our ability to provide legal services in Texarkana. His exceptional reputation and experience locally and throughout the State of Texas precedes him.”
The Burgess family has always had roots in Texarkana. Ralph and Mark attended Texas High School and met their future wives while in school. Ralph met Laurie (formerly Laurie Yates) their senior year, and the couple has been married for 36 years. Laurie is Senior Vice President and Chief Credit Officer of State Bank in Texarkana. They have one daughter, Rachel, who is 27 years old. Rachel received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from The University of Georgia in May 2021 and is an Assistant Professor of Management at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. “Laurie and Rachel helped me deal with the long hours and stress of my judicial career and my career as an attorney before that,” Ralph says. “They also expended a lot of time and effort during my election campaigns.”
Mark and his wife, Cathy (formerly Cathy Mueller), attended the same church in Texarkana as children and graduated from Texas High School in 1982. They were married in 1987, and they welcomed their son, John Mark, in 1992 and their daughter, Catherine, in 1995. Catherine is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, a flight attendant with Delta Airlines, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. “Cathy and I had the pleasure of watching both of our children attend and graduate from Pleasant Grove High School in 2011 and 2014, respectively, and watching them in their school activities and sporting events,” Mark says. “John Mark and our daughter-in-law, Taylor, blessed us with our first grandchild in February 2020.”
Ralph and Mark also have an older brother, Erby Burgess. “Erby and his wife Suzanne live in Glenwood, Arkansas, where he is the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Glenwood,” Mark says. “The three of us brothers and our wives–Suzanne, Laurie, and Cathy–are very close and enjoy spending time with one another.”
After leaving Texarkana, Ralph and Mark took two separate paths; however, they both ended up in the courtroom. Ralph majored in English and minored in history at Texas Christian University, and for him, law was the natural progression from those two fields. He then received his law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law in 1990, where he served as an assistant editor for the UALR Law Review. After law school, he moved back to Texarkana to practice law and gained 13 years of trial experience in East Texas and Southwest Arkansas courtrooms. “Those years were great preparation for serving as Judge of the 5th District Court. Working with the attorneys and courthouse personnel in Bowie and Cass counties was by far the thing I enjoyed most,” Ralph says. “I had the opportunity to observe and work with some brilliant judges and trial attorneys, and there are no better people than the courthouse employees in both counties. It was truly a pleasure to work with everyone in both counties.”
After Ralph had served 12 years as a District Judge, he served seven years as Justice of the 6th District Court of Appeals in Texarkana that considers appeals from all of the trial courts in 19 counties in Northeast Texas. “Because an appellate judge is required to review the decisions of trial judges, my 12 years experience as a trial judge uniquely qualified me to consider appeals from trial courts,” Ralph says. “The job of an appellate judge is much more academic than the job of a trial judge. To compare it to something most people relate to, a trial judge is like the referee on the football field, and an appellate judge is like the referee in the replay booth. Just as the replay booth official looks at the tape to see if the field referee made an incorrect call, the appellate court reviews the trial court record to see if the trial court made an error in applying the law. However, unlike replay booth officials, appellate judges issue detailed written opinions that become part of the law of the State of Texas affecting future cases. I enjoyed the opportunity to research and write opinions that helped “fill in the gaps in the law in this way.”
Ralph says that he counts no individual accomplishments during his time as a trial and appellate judge, but he simply enjoyed the opportunity to “serve the community” during his tenure. “Litigation is so competitive with so much at stake, and the courts are too crowded for judges to spend a lot of time resolving such cases. However, I tried to be the kind of judge who heard and understood the parties’ arguments and applied the law fairly each time,” Ralph says. “While few people leave a courtroom happy, it is my hope that most participants left feeling that they at least had full and fair consideration of their cases.”
Though Ralph’s path led him to the judge’s bench, Mark stayed in the courtroom. While attending Baylor University, Mark began to consider becoming a lawyer seriously. “While growing up in Texarkana, I was exposed to many excellent lawyers,” Mark says. “After working in the business world for two years after graduation from Baylor in 1987, I made the decision to go to law school at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock in the fall of 1989. Cathy and I had been married for two years at that time, and we decided it was best to graduate from law school as soon as possible before we started our family.”
Like Ralph, Mark moved back to Texarkana after finishing law school to begin his practice. “Both my parents and Cathy’s parents were living here when we graduated from law school in 1992, and we always knew we wanted to be around family when we started growing ours,” Mark says.
Mark became licensed to practice in Texas in 1992, Arkansas in 1993, and Oklahoma in 2017. He is licensed to practice in all Federal Courts in Texas and Arkansas. His specialty is litigation, handling personal injury cases, complex commercial litigation and insurance coverage, and insurance claims litigation. He is Board Certified in Civil Trial and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Texas Bar College. “The best part of my job is helping people solve their problems and working with fellow lawyers,” Mark says. “The camaraderie among the lawyers in Texarkana is exceptional.”
In 2011, John Mark graduated from Pleasant Grove High School and enrolled at Ouachita Baptist University. He had initially planned on going to dental school, but he quickly realized that becoming a dentist was not the best fit for his interest and skills. John Mark recommends that any young person considering a law career have an interest in reading and writing. “Over 90% of what an attorney does is either reading, such as performing legal research or reading briefs filed by opposing counsel, or writing, such as preparing pleadings and briefs or communicating with clients,” John Mark says. “I find that most younger people who have their interest in law school piqued by watching TV shows or movies about attorneys are drawn in by the prospect of high-stakes courtroom drama. While that is certainly part of the job, the lion’s share of work an attorney does requires spending a lot of non-glamourous time reading and writing.”
After his first semester of college, he told Mark and Cathy that he planned to go to law school and then return to Texarkana to work with his father. “I was honored. I never pushed him to go to law school and never discussed it with him so that he would make his own mind up about what he wanted to pursue as a career,” Mark says. “But, when he told me, I started looking forward to that event happening. We began immediately making plans for that to occur.”
In April 2014, Mark decided to start his own practice, and he began looking for commercial buildings for sale. He had always known about the iconic Texas Boulevard location, the “Littleton Building,” due to growing up in town, and when it came up for sale in April of 2015, Mark purchased the building. At the time, Mark knew he needed space because he was already making plans for John Mark to join the family practice after graduating from law school at the family alma mater, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Though working with a parent may seem challenging, Mark and John Mark have forged a way to be open and trusting of each other, learning from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. “I love that I get the opportunity to work with my dad and help solve people’s problems. The practice of law, while difficult, is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally rewarding,” John Mark says. “Also, few people are fortunate enough to both work in an area they enjoy and also work alongside one of their best friends, so I am very thankful for that.”
John Mark says that joining the family business and working with his father gave him more freedom to question, challenge, and analyze legal situations. “Unlike how many young attorneys feel when joining a new firm, I have always felt free to disagree with Dad when discussing and analyzing legal issues,” John Mark says. “Having such a wide latitude to push back in discussions with Dad has honed my practice skills in a way that could only come from working with him, and, ultimately, allows us to give our clients the best legal advice we can.”
One strength John Mark really appreciates about his father is Mark’s ability to communicate with others. “Dad has the ability to communicate highly-complex legal issues in a down-to-earth way,” John Mark says. “One difficult aspect of the practice of law is attempting to take legal problems and synthesize them in a way that juries and clients can easily understand. I’ve been very fortunate to get to see how he does this first-hand.”
On the other hand, Mark has had the unique opportunity to watch his son grow as a man and a lawyer. John Mark met his wife, Taylor (formerly Taylor Wentz), when they were both students at Ouachita Baptist University. Taylor is a speech-language pathologist and works at Encompass Health Rehab Hospital in Texarkana. “There is nothing comparable to working with someone who you can place your absolute trust in. I’ve watched him develop into an exceptional young lawyer. He’s extremely smart and communicates so well in writing briefs to the court and when speaking to judges and juries,” Mark says. “He has a knack for the law, a keen legal mind, and he is a natural. The pride I feel for him as an employee is multiplied into the pride I feel as his parent.”
The father-son duo has enjoyed their time practicing together, and they are excited to add another family member to their team. Though Ralph is just recently joining the firm, he has not been absent from the family. He occasionally joins Mark and John Mark for a game of disc golf at Spring Lake Park, a pastime that John Mark hopes they will enjoy more of now that the three will work together daily. “While Mark and Ralph have the edge on me in legal experience, I usually get the better of them in disc golf. I’ve got to take my wins against them wherever I can,” John Mark says.
Ralph plans to represent parties in litigation pending before the state and federal trial courts in Texas and Arkansas. He will also represent parties in cases pending before the appellate courts in those venues. Finally, he will work as a mediator to help resolve such disputes. He is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law (since 1998) and Personal Injury Trial Law (since 1997) by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, so his work will primarily involve civil cases, but Ralph will also represent clients in criminal cases from time to time. “I am looking forward to the change. One of the things that I missed most during my tenure as a trial judge was the opportunity to work with and against the other attorneys. In the local bar, there is a lot of camaraderie among attorneys, and I look forward to reconnecting with the attorneys in that way,” Ralph says. “Also, I enjoyed the brainstorming and creativity of the law practice, and it will be nice to be able to do that again.”
During his time as judge, Ralph was able to view the law in new and different perspectives, and he plans on bringing that knowledge to his clients at the firm. “Due to the number of cases on a court’s docket, the trial judge (and jury) is often playing catch-up when trying to decide a case. It is like walking into a movie 30 minutes late and trying to figure out what happened before you got there based on what you are seeing now,” Ralph says. “As a trial judge, I saw many ways attorneys could help the judge, and the jury get up to speed regarding the facts more quickly. As an appellate judge, I saw many ways attorneys can help the judge get up to speed on the law more quickly. The sooner the trial judge and jury can figure out what the dispute is really all about and what the law is that governs that dispute, the better it is for your case. And as a former appellate judge, I know the kinds of issues that are potentially successful on appeal and those which were not.”
Now the clients of Burgess Law Firm, PLLC, will get the full benefit of what each Burgess lawyer has to offer. Mark says that John Mark has developed into an “exceptional trial attorney and appellate attorney” in the four-plus years of practice with the firm. In addition, Mark and Ralph have a lot of combined experience. “Ralph has practiced law and served as a judge for 32 years, and I have practiced as an attorney for 30 years. Plus, Ralph and I are both Board Certified in the area of Civil Trial Law and in the area of Personal Injury Trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, through the Supreme Court of Texas,” Mark says. “To be Board Certified, you are required to try many jury trials and sit for and pass an intensive Board Certification exam. Only ten percent of lawyers in Texas are Board Certified. Also, Ralph and I are both members of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), a lawyer’s organization committed to the preservation and promotion of the civil jury trial right protected by the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
All three men say that their five-year goals include continuing to provide the excellent service that Texarkana has come to know and expect from their firm while enjoying their time together. “Our firm practices a wide range of specializations which you don’t typically find in small firms, in both civil and criminal matters. We have a familiarity with the sorts of legal issues people in Texarkana will regularly face and the practice skills to provide top-notch, professional services,” John Mark. “Ultimately, adding Ralph to the team is an invaluable asset for our firm. That aside, I feel fortunate that I get to work alongside more of my family.”