Fort Worth

Texas Law Hawk is flying high for the holidays

Attorney Bryan Wilson, who advertises himself as “the Texas Law Hawk” doing a wheelie on his mini bike near downtown Fort Worth
Attorney Bryan Wilson, who advertises himself as “the Texas Law Hawk” doing a wheelie on his mini bike near downtown Fort Worth dkent@star-telegram.com

“Nobody wants a sweaty lawyer.”

This pearl of seemingly incontestable wisdom comes up quite a bit when hanging out with Bryan Wilson, Fort Worth’s self-proclaimed Texas Law Hawk.

Because, despite his common-sense motto, he works up a sweat — a lot of sweat.

Wilson is the criminal defense attorney whose unhinged YouTube commercials — a goofball’s fever dream of explosions, dirt bikes, jet skis, lucha libre, flags, fire, bikinis, hawks, Hungry Hungry Hippos and, oh yeah, very loud legal advice — have gone as viral as the flu in January.

And while making them may not require blood (unless one of his stunts goes awry) or tears (ditto), there will be sweat.

Like on a steamy July morning when Wilson, dressed in a courtroom-crisp dark suit, charges like he’s going into battle down the middle of the Fort Worth Stockyards’ Exchange Avenue. He’s carrying a giant Texas flag aloft while screaming at the top of his lungs. This time it’s not for one of his ads but a segment on CMT’s Southbound travel series.

Over the course of the afternoon, his trademarked bellow of “IT’S HOT OUT HERE!” becomes the soundtrack for a sultry day, momentarily diverting tourists’ attention from cowboys and cattle. Between takes, a towel turns out to be nearly as invaluable as his old Paschal High School buddies, Nic Butts (the bullying Officer Butts in Wilson’s ads) and Drew Garrison, who help him out on his shoots.

And he may even have come to terms with his propensity for perspiration.

“I don’t much care anymore,” he says. “If I’m sweating, it’s Texas, it’s hot as sin, and it’s the middle of summer. Anybody in Texas, which is my potential client base, knows how hot it is.”

Global attention

Turns out, many people do want a sweaty lawyer.

Wilson’s four commercials — a holiday-themed fifth one is set to drop online Nov. 27 — have turned the 30-year-old attorney with a small office on the edge of downtown into an online sensation. His third ad, released just over a year ago and the one that really sent him into internet overdrive, has attracted nearly 1.8 million views.

Stories about him appeared in the press from New York to New Zealand . CNN said his videos are “laugh-out-loud funny, a mix of schoolboy antics, boisterous characters and comedic sketch show.” BBC labeled him “the loudest lawyer in America,” Texas Monthly lauded him as “the internet’s new favorite lawyer,” and the Houston Chronicle cranked it up a notch, declaring him “the Evel Knievel of lawyers.”

His videos caught the attention of Madison Avenue, too. He appeared in this year’s Taco Bell Super Bowl ad, where he loudly makes a case for the Quesalupa, and in a slightly less voluble spot for Clio, a legal-software company.

The exposure has drummed up business. And the ads aren’t just about going for giggles. Wilson deals mostly with DWI, assault and drug cases (“I don’t want homicide or animal-cruelty cases”) and each commercial has a lesson about knowing your rights when dealing with the police.

The approach has struck a chord not only with random YouTube viewers but other attorneys, as Wilson was voted the lawyer of 2015 by readers of Above the Law, a news site for all things legal. He scored more votes than Mary Bonauto, who argued against state bans on same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court, and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. (Previous winners include Chief Justice John Roberts and President Barack Obama.)

“I think what people found so appealing and refreshing about Bryan is how he doesn’t take himself too seriously,” David Lat, Above the Law’s founder and managing editor, said in a phone interview. “A lot of our readers, who are mainly lawyers and law students, reacted very well to someone showing that attorneys can laugh at themselves. … You see that he is definitely not conforming to the tired old playbook of lawyers standing in front of a wall of books.”

Nashville-based CMT senior producer Tim Hardiman knew that when his Southbound travel show came to DFW, he had to include Wilson along with some of the usual North Texas landmarks.

“My wife, who is an attorney, showed me Bryan’s ads a few weeks before they went viral. At first I thought it was a spoof, but when she told me he was a legit attorney, I was fascinated,” Hardiman said. “As a producer, I’ve always been drawn to characters. There was something about the Law Hawk that resonated with me.”

More dove than hawk?

But when the cameras aren’t rolling — and he’s not jumping a stand-up jet ski off of a boat ramp or doing wheelies on a dirt bike — visitors don’t need to cover their ears to have a conversation with Wilson.

Sure, he has “hawk” cuff links, and a “Lawhawk” license plate on his Escalade, but whether he’s on his way to a meeting with a judge at the courthouse in downtown Fort Worth or seated in his office — a short walk from the condo he shares with his corgi, Muffins — the Texas A&M and Texas Tech Law School grad comes across as anything but hawkish.

“I’m going to show you a picture,” he says one afternoon, grabbing a photo near his desk of three teenage guys seemingly full of the cool bravado that comes with adolescence. It’s a shot of Wilson, Butts and another friend, Willy Gorfein.

It’s taken inside Fort Worth Municipal Court, where the three had to appear because of a stunt involving fireworks, an orange flame-retardant jumpsuit.

He’s not sure if this was the first time that he became intrigued by the law, but it was one of the sparks. “We started going down to the courthouse when someone would get a seat belt ticket, a speeding ticket or anything,” he recalled. “That was a lot of fun and that was an early taste that I got of being in a courtroom and respectfully arguing a case or presenting your point of what happened.”

Stuntmen and frat boys

But Wilson, the youngest of four and the only son of a psychiatric nurse and an aerospace engineer, also had a more adventurous career in mind beyond law.

“I was actually going to stunt school instead of college,” he says. “I knew I eventually wanted to be a lawyer, but what I was going to do was, straight from high school, be a stuntman and, if it didn’t work, go back to school.”

Wilson, who had played football, says he focused on gymnastics (“I was the oldest and tallest human in that place by a long shot”), particularly tumbling, trampolines, floor exercises and bar work.

But all of his daredevilish plans changed his senior year.

“I shattered bones in both my ankles. I couldn’t even walk up stairs,” he says. “That’s a big résumé gap for a stunt man. I could do awesome wheelies or ride a unicycle, but I couldn’t land on my feet. [I said] I guess I’ll apply to school as fast as I can.”

He applied to TCU and A&M and his father convinced him to go with the latter because it was “way, way cheaper.”

At A&M, he joined a fraternity and, seeing as he’s hardly shy and has, to quote one of his videos, a total “due process, do wheelies” attitude, it would seem like the perfect environment for him — except that it wasn’t.

“I don’t regret many things in my life because it’s led me to where I am, but I wouldn’t do it again,” he said. “They hazed the living dog [expletive] out of me. … I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone about it for a long time.”

He also suffered a skull fracture while playing rugby. His grades suffered. “I had a lot of fun in high school,” he says. “I didn’t have nearly as much in college.”

He graduated with a finance degree in December 2009 and worked at the legendary and sprawling Fort Worth Tex-Mex restaurant Joe T. Garcia’s as a server for a semester. “It was a blast,” he says. “It’s fast-paced and an incredible amount of exercise. You have to sprint or you’re going to be in the weeds. … [And I was] making really good money there.”

But he had made up his mind that he was going to law school.

“I had no idea what it was going to be like,” he says of his time in law school at Texas Tech. “But I just loved every single class.”

The Hawk’s first squawk

And it was at Texas Tech where his alter ego, the Texas Law Hawk, with his razor-sharp “talons of justice,” was born.

It rose out of a weary study session with some friends in the library. They decided they each needed power animals. He was crowned the Texas Law Hawk.

After he graduated in 2013, it came in handy when he opened his office the following year.

Wilson and Butts, who in high school had enjoyed making short films together, decided to make a mock commercial for the Texas Law Hawk and post it to Wilson’s Facebook page. It would combine two of his favorite things — law and stunts — and wasn’t really meant for wide public consumption.

But the video was shared by many and eventually attracted the notice of the State Bar of Texas Advertising Review committee, which regulates how law firms advertise themselves.

“Then came all the hatred,” Wilson says of some other lawyers. “[They said,] ‘This guy’s such a chump,’ ‘What a jackass.’ … At first, people were accusing my advertisements of being unethical. I said, ‘Whoa! That’s something I try hard not to be.’ 

He talked with Darby Dickerson, one of his Texas Tech law professors, about the approach he should take in his videos. She thought a scene in that first video where he kicks a computer out of a policeman’s hands was over the line, while the panel dinged him for not saying his real name every time he identified himself as “the Texas Law Hawk.”

He pulled that first video.

“Bryan is smart, bold and entrepreneurial,” Dickerson said in an email. “I was surprised when I saw the ad. It was … audacious. He showed me a draft, and we discussed some parts that concerned me. But I was impressed that he had researched the ethics rules and also had a very firm sense of who he was trying to reach and why.”

“They do push the envelope a little bit, in my opinion,” says Pat Rafferty, marketing and advertising director at Androvett Legal Media and a public, nonattorney member of the Advertising Review committee, of Wilson’s commercials. “And let me also state that the committee does not regulate taste. … That said, I’ve seen a lot of what he has produced and I think he’s trying to have fun with it.”

Wilson says his intended audience gets his humor, even if other lawyers don’t.

He points to Waco attorneys Will Hutson and Chris Harris — who’ve gone viral with a video of them singing a tune called Don’t Eat Your Weed — as brothers in legal arms.

If you’re caught with marijuana, don’t swallow or try to destroy it, the song says, because that could earn an additional charge of tampering with evidence.

“That’s such an awesome lesson and people need to know that,” says Wilson, “which is what I’m trying to do with each of mine, is teach a legal lesson.”

Beneath all the bluster, Wilson’s videos attempt to answer such questions as: Do you have to take the breathalyzer, blood test or perform field sobriety tests if you’re pulled over? Or, can an officer enter your premises without a warrant?

“I start with the legal lesson and make it funny and under two minutes and within budget,” Wilson explains. “We try to make sure it’s something that people pass around, make sure it’s good and [will] get people to call me.”

Wilson is just the latest in a long line of attorneys making attention-grabbing commercials since the prohibition against lawyers advertising was struck down in 1977. Texans are familiar with Houston’s Jim Adler (“The Texas Hammer”), while Savannah, Ga.’s Jamie Casino has made waves with a couple of extremely cinematic, two-minute-plus spots one with a sledgehammer on fire! — that ran during the Super Bowl on Savannah TV. (Adler was contacted for this story about his opinion on upstart Wilson but declined to comment.)

“I know how ridiculous I’m being,” Wilson says. “Motorcycle people are going to like the wheelies, people who like crazy, patriotic stuff are going to like it, cops like it, people who don’t like cops like it, people who like stunts, people who like silly jokes. … I like making [these videos]. They’re a lot of fun and I get to hang out with my buddies.”

A Hawk holiday

That’s exactly what Wilson was doing on a recent October morning when he teamed up with Butts, longtime friend/Austin filmmaker Jake R. Sam and a few other recruits to make his latest video, a slice of Christmas-themed silliness called Law Hawk on Ice, at North Richland Hills’ chilly NYTEX Sports Centre ice rink.

This time Officer Butts is pulling over Santa (J.D. Jimmerson IV, another friend) and his elf sidekick (actor Kenny Bingham) while they’re trying to deliver packages.

Perhaps most importantly, Wilson’s not sweating this time.

“This is the right temperature,” he says and then references his Dallas Cowboys-themed apparel. “I’m even wearing a sweater.”

But he is busy, helping with everything from blowing air into the plastic reindeer to pulling the makeshift sled across the ice.

He’s both looking forward to and dreading the clip’s big stunt involving a Christmas tree, being filmed later that night at his place. “I might break something on this one,” he jokes.

Back in the summer, he had talked about how nervous he had been just before shooting the fourth video’s jet-ski-off-a-ramp scene.

“I’m never scared of whatever thing I come up with. I don’t think about that until I’m right about to do it,” he says. “I could snap a neck, break a leg.”

And could all of this just be a rather circuitous route to Hollywood, a place he might have landed if not for those shattered ankles all those years ago?

In July, Wilson had batted away the suggestion.

“I think part of my appeal is that I do criminal defense. I don’t think I’m that cool outside of criminal defense,” he says. “Plus, I like what I do, so I’m going to stick with it.”

Cary Darling: 817-390-7571, @carydar

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