Vol. 32, No. 3
Profiles of Success
Lyle Richard (“Dick”) Bratton
by David L. Masters
Lyle Richard ("Dick") Bratton
The Colorado Lawyer publishes profiles of practicing lawyers on a quarterly basis. The CBA Profiles Committee selects Colorado Bar Association members who are nominated as outstanding lawyers by their peers. With these profiles, the CBA hopes to: promote the image of lawyers by emphasizing qualities that should be emulated; show the benefits of public service to both the lawyer who serves and the community; emphasize professionalism; provide role models for new lawyers; manifest ways of becoming successful and respected; and reward deserving lawyers for their contributions to the profession. Please send your suggestions, comments, or questions about this ongoing feature to: Arlene Abady, Managing Editor, 1900 Grant St., Suite 900, Denver, CO 80203; (303) 824-5325; fax: (303) 830-3990; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author:
David L. Masters is a small firm general practitioner and legal technologist in Montrose, Colorado—(970) 249-2622. He also is a member of The Colorado Lawyer Profiles Committee and The Colorado Lawyer Board of Editors.
Lyle Richard "Dick" Bratton is pushing hard at 70, loving life, his family, his community, and the practice of law. His is a distinguished career of a distinguished professional. What makes Dick Bratton special? Many things, but two guiding principles —competence and integrity—set the tone.
Personal Background and
Early Law Practice
Dick was born in Salida, Colorado, and spent his early years in Garfield, where his father was a miner (on Monarch Pass). When he reached age 7, at the insistence of his schoolteacher mother, the family moved back to Salida for Dick to attend school. He went on to attend Western State College in Gunnison on an academic scholarship. During his senior year at Western, Dick married Donna. Now married for nearly fifty years, Dick and Donna have two daughters, Susan and Sara, and three grandchildren. Daughter Susan is an investment banker in New York; Sara is a schoolteacher in Littleton.
After graduation from the University of Colorado School of Law in 1957, Dick returned to Gunnison in 1958 to be an associate of Ed Dutcher. According to Dick, Dutcher was a great litigator and water lawyer. Dick thought he would spend a couple of years learning the ropes and then move on to wherever he was going. He wasn’t sure what his life and the practice of law held in store. Two years later, Dutcher was appointed to the district court bench in Grand Junction (at the time, Grand Junction and Gunnison were in the same judicial district). Dick took over the practice and stayed in Gunnison for his entire career.
Early in his career, Dick took on a controversial criminal case. The people on his side of the case came from poor families; the other side had money. The community took sides. Dick found the confidence and developed the competence to see the case through to a successful end. The case taught Dick that the practice of law has to be something you want and enjoy; otherwise, you "leave something on the table." His reward for this discovery was the pleasure of helping people. Dick stayed in Gunnison to practice law to help people, not to make money. He insists that successful lawyers practice law because they believe they are doing something worthwhile. His goal: to be able to look back on his life and career and tell his grandchildren why he did what he did, without apologies—a goal that he believes he has attained.
John McClow, Dick’s current law partner, describes Dick as always willing to share information, always willing to give the other side the benefit of the doubt if it will help the client, and always positive ("not a negative bone in his body"). John believes Dick has been brilliant at seeing the big picture.
A Practiced, Practicing Lawyer
A weekend reconnaissance of Dick’s office in Gunnison with John McClow revealed a well-used and comfortable workspace. It was not a space occasionally occupied by a senior lawyer subsisting on his reputation; it was a real lived-in workspace. Yes, there was a computer, and yes, it received regular use. In addition to the expected family photographs, there also were pictures of Dick with four Colorado governors and President Gerald Ford.
Dick was responsible for starting the Water Workshops now held annually in Gunnison. After less-than-hoped-for attendance at the first workshop, Dick decided the conference needed some name recognition for promotional purposes. A series of phone calls convinced the four governors to attend. President Ford, who was elected to Congress the same year as Wayne Aspinall, came to Gunnison for dedication of the Aspinall-Wilson Conference Center at Western State College, another of Dick’s projects.
Dick began his career as a small town general practitioner. He represented clients in domestic matters before no-fault divorce became part of the law; tried cases, including jury trials in Justice of the Peace court; examined real estate titles for the princely sum of one dollar per entry; prepared tax returns; and generally did everything that a ranching community needs a lawyer to do. Early in his career, Dick became counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and was active in Republican politics on water issues. As years passed, Dick’s practice focused more and more on water matters.
Dick has been a lawyer on the go, with many irons in the fire. During his travels around the state to attend to litigation, bar activities, and water matters, he would stop at every pay phone to check with his office and return client calls. Then, his partner John bought him a cell phone. At first, Dick was resistive to the new technology, but soon adapted. Today, he often can be seen with a phone in each hand, a conversation for each ear, multi-tasking at the age of 70.
An Attitude Toward Community Service
Dick has a long history of involvement in community and bar activities. He draws parallels between those activities and the practice of law. In essence, it comes back to his guiding principle that success requires competence and integrity. He believes integrity comes from doing what you say you will do. Beyond this, Dick counsels that success derives from competence—and competence from hard work. Happiness enables you to work hard. Exercise, a healthy diet, and plenty of rest enhance the "happiness-enables-hard-work" formula.
Dick’s contributions to his community and the Bar would be too long to list here, but a few should be mentioned. He served on the Board of Trustees of the State Colleges in Colorado and on the Colorado Bar Association Board of Governors, organized and promoted annual agricultural and water law workshops in Gunnison, did more than his share of community fundraising, and currently serves as the chair of the Upper Colorado River Commission.
A commitment to lifetime activities rather than single events allows success derived from competence to be a process and an attitude. Dick cautions that while success and competence come from hard work, lawyers must be mindful that they are not the only ones working hard. Any successful lawyer owes a fair portion of his or her success to staff, family, and members of the community.
According to Dick, lawyers must find the balance between family and profession. The better the balance, the better the lawyer. He feels that he did not do as well in this area as he could have and, given a second chance, would spend more time with his family. Also, if given a second chance, he would spend a second lifetime practicing law in Gunnison, although he believes he could be happy almost anywhere. By practicing in a small town, Dick believes a lawyer can create his or her own situation and really make a difference.
Lawyers and Litigation
After many years as a civil litigator and water lawyer, Dick developed an effective method for dealing with difficult lawyers. He suggests that lawyers try to find out what makes difficult lawyers tick by putting themselves in their shoes; then try to figure out what they are looking for and what they want. It may not be easy to overlook rudeness and anger coming from the other side, but it is important to give such lawyers time to get it off their chests and calm down. Then, you may be able to see where they are coming from.
When engaged in this process, Dick suggests you don’t let your ego get in the way of a resolution. Sometimes, you just need to find a way to get difficult lawyers to fear that they will lose; sometimes, there is no solution other than to figure out where they are coming from and "take them on." In the end, it comes down to integrity—establish your reputation for integrity. If opposing counsel can trust you, regardless of how difficult they may be, you will accomplish more. Along the way, you have to try a few cases to let them know you are willing and able to take them on. Through the hard work of preparation, competence will be established. In addition to difficult opposing counsel, clients also may lead you into a battle of egos. Dick’s advice is: Don’t go there.
When it comes to litigation, Dick sees the usual two parts, law and facts, but also sees more. In his view, the lawyer must persuade the decision-maker to want to decide for you. To accomplish this, you must look at the overall case and be prepared with a thorough understanding of the applicable law and relevant facts. He stresses that litigation is only one tool; winning in court is only one way to resolve disputes. Lawyers must see the big picture, discern what the client wants as an outcome within the big picture, and then use all available resources to achieve the client’s objective. Also, clients always must be made to understand the cost of litigation, both financially and emotionally.
The Keys to Success:
Competence and Integrity
Dick Bratton is a person who has succeeded in the community and at the Bar by identifying and adopting a pair of simple core values: competence and integrity. For Dick, competence is attained through hard work and preparation; integrity is earned by doing what you say you will do. Competence and integrity are the two keys to Dick Bratton’s success.
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