The solo practitioner is a unique breed in the practice of law. Rather than becoming a smaller member of a larger body, he’s on his own in a way no other attorney is. He’s a firm of one, the only named partner, and his success or failure rides solely on his efforts. It’s a brave endeavor.
Some lawyers strike out on their own after years of employment with a firm or corporation. While risky, their experience and clientele provide a foundation for working alone. Other lawyers throw themselves into the fray on day one. This is an especially brave endeavor.
And it’s the path Matt Brock is walking.
Best described as an entrepreneur – or a staunch individualist – Brock has never felt the comforting warmth of a law firm. He’s never been spoon fed cases as an associate or stood in the shadow of an experienced attorney during a trial. Rather, he’s faced the daunting specter of an empty case load as he started out on his own, and he’s stood in the back of crowded courtrooms and struggled to be heard.
But Brock doesn’t talk about his 15 months as an attorney as though it’s been one long fight. And he doesn’t complain about having to drum up business on his own or struggling to earn respect. Instead, he talks about the challenge of getting started as though he’s relished every step, and would have been disappointed had things been easy.
“I don’t just enjoy a challenge,” he says, “I like throwing myself into the middle of a fire.”
Brock doesn’t even appear to have been singed. Rather, he’s come out of the flames with a singular focus on representing clients charged with a specific crime: driving under the influence.
“When I started out, someone told me I could get appointments in criminal court,” he says. “I’d never thought about doing criminal work – I was more interested in business law – but I went anyway, and I found out I love being in court.”
Brock took other advice to heart, including suggestions to specialize. “People told me an attorney should focus on one area of the law,” he says. “Criminal law is a vast area, with tons of cases and statutes, so there are plenty of areas to explore. I picked DUIs because they’re unlike any other arrest. They’re very involved.”
To be able to represent his clients well, Brock immersed himself in the literature of his chosen field. He spent his days off reading and analyzing cases, and earned certifications that gave him insight into the enforcement of impaired driving laws. The walls of his office at 2401 Broad Street are already home to several framed certificates, including one that identifies him as a field sobriety test instructor. The course was based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s manual for making a DUI arrest.
“There are three steps to a DUI arrest, and each step is made up of several smaller steps that must be done right,” Brock says. “If someone has cues that suggest they were driving while impaired, I’ll show what they did well.”
Brock says he was amazed by how complex DUI laws are. This intricacy continues to motivate him to deepen his knowledge and sharpen his skills.
“You can get into the science of things, down to how the body absorbs and eliminates alcohol,” he says. “You can never stop learning because there are so many ways to pick DUI cases apart – from the time the cop decides to pull you over to when your blood results come back from the lab.”
Brock appears to have chosen his specialty wisely. He likes working with DUI clients, partly for the challenge, and partly because every case is unique. “I know this is a cliché, but every day is different,” he says. “That’s important to me.”
Representing DUI clients has not only given Brock a niche in which to work, it’s also taught him something surprising about himself – he truly enjoys helping people.
“In criminal law, you’ll often represent a client who was a victim of his circumstances,” he says. “He’s a good person, he just didn’t know a better way. I find it gratifying to help people like this.”
Brock sometimes takes his work a step farther and tries to point a client in a better direction.
“I have clients who still keep in touch with me, which is cool because although we’re here to protect everyone’s rights, the counselor part of our job allows us to help people in other ways.
“If I can get someone out of a tough spot, I can also say, ‘Is this what you want to do with your life? Because here’s an opportunity maybe you haven’t thought of.’ Sometimes, they seem to take that to heart.
“Of course, sometimes I’ll find out what I said didn’t ring true for them, but it’s nice when it sticks.”
While Brock’s success rate with steering clients toward a better life might not be as high as he’d like, he’s pleased with what he’s accomplishing in court. He won’t provide a specific number, since he doesn’t want to seem to be guaranteeing results, but he does say his success rate is better than 12 percent. “The DUI conviction rate in Tennessee in 2014 was 88 percent,” he says. “I’m doing a lot better than that.”
As well as Brock is doing, he’s not always been an attorney. A Chattanooga native, he graduated from Ooltewah High School and then the University of Tennessee at Knoxville before working as a Realtor at Prudential Realty Center. Some people thought he was following in the footsteps of his mother, who was a real estate agent, but he says he was merely interested in avoiding more school.
“People always told me I should be an attorney because I was good at arguing,” he says. “They put that idea in my head, so I’d always thought about it. But when I was done with undergrad, the last thing I wanted to do was go back to school.”
Brock, a diehard Vols football fan, quickly found out real estate was not for him. “I liked the work, but I love college football, so riding someone around in my car while the Vols were playing was unbearable,” he says. “I’d be asking a buyer if they liked mahogany when what I really wanted to know was the score.”
Brock missed the gridiron enough that he decided to go to law school. But rather than return to UT, he opted for the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Calif. “I’d heard law school is hell, so I thought I might as well do it in heaven, and enjoy the palm trees,” he says.
Although Brock is a solo practitioner, and deserves credit for what he’s achieved, he knows he doesn’t work in a vacuum, and is therefore quick to credit the many attorneys who taught him the ropes.
“Most criminal defense attorneys practice alone, which is tough when you’re starting out because of everything you need to know,” he says. “So, I appreciate the people who helped me through my first year. The Chattanooga Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has been especially helpful. I wouldn’t have the comfort I have today if it hadn’t been for the people there, who were always happy to answer my questions and guide me through the process.”
Brock is also grateful for the attorneys across the country who have schooled him on the ins and outs of a DUI-focused practice. “Some of them are the foremost experts and practitioners in this field,” he says. “They’ve given me a great foundation, and continue to be available to me.”
The help Brock received taught him the importance of giving back – something he’s already doing through the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the Chattanooga Bar Association. Although he joined the YLD board only a few months ago, he’s already knee-deep in helping to build the mentor program. He also volunteered as a juror during last month’s mock trial competition.
Even as he’s giving back, Brock knows he’s benefitting from his participation, too. “It good for me to have relationships with the people at the Bar and the YLD,” he says. “Not only have I learned the names of other lawyers, I’ve gotten to know them as people. If I’m going to refer a client to someone, I want to know the attorney is competent and trustworthy because that will reflect well on me.”
Although running a solo practice can be time consuming, it gives Brock the freedom to enjoy life outside the walls of the local courthouses and his office. To that end, he spends as much time as he can with his family, which includes his parents and two siblings as well as a pair of nephews. “The kids were one of the reasons I came back from California,” he says.
Brock also works out with his brother, gets on the water as much as he can, and has been “trying to hit golf balls.” But he says Tennessee football is his passion.
“I’ve been telling people I need some hobbies,” he says. “Maybe I could take up origami.”
Brock is kidding about origami. But he’s serious about his practice. It’s his focal point during this stage of his life. “DUI is a crime that’s not going anywhere,” he says. “So, right now, my focus has to be on becoming the best attorney I can be.”
By David Laprad