One attorney’s non-traditional path to law

By Floyd E. Guest Jr.

Upon graduation from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a major in accounting, my plan for a career as an FBI agent was changed when my older brother called me in April 1952 and asked me to move to Houston to help him form a life insurance company.

During WWII, my brother Jim was second in command of a Landing Ship Medium at Okinawa with the U.S. Navy when he was accepted into Harvard Law School for admission once the war ended. When Japan surrendered, Jim’s ship was decommissioned in Orange, Texas, and while there, he visited Houston, which appealed to him as a right-sized Southern town that would give him a better career opportunity and a more Southern lifestyle—something he desired. He was raised and educated in Anderson, South Carolina, and graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1943. After finishing Harvard in 1949 and working for a patent law firm in New York for two years, Jim decided to leave the big city and start a law practice in Houston.

While waiting to take the Texas Bar Exam in early 1952, Jim found a job with a life insurance company selling retirement annuities to servicemen, which changed his thinking about a career practicing law. He decided to form a life insurance company for himself and me instead. Texas law had been changed to allow new charters to be issued for mutual life insurance companies with no capital required. Jim sold me on the opportunity and I joined him in the project until 1959, when I decided to get my law education. I sold him my company share so that I could attend the University of Texas School of Law. I liked the financial services industry so I concentrated my law courses on wills and trusts rather than trial procedures.

Upon graduation in 1962, I passed the Bar Exam and was hired by the Bank of the Southwest in Houston as an assistant trust officer. After five years, Capital National Bank of Houston hired me to help open its trust department. My career path changed again because of the Keogh plan, a law that allowed qualified retirement plans to be opened for self-employed individuals. Banks or trust companies were the only allowed trustees for the plans, and split-funded accounts were approved so permanent life insurance could be used as a fixed investment on the lives of plan participants allowing annual premiums on policies up to 50 percent of the contributions. The balance of the contribution was to be invested in equities by the bank trust department. In 1969, bank officers were not among the highest income earners, and by then I had a growing family to support. I resigned the job with Capital National after being offered a partnership interest by an industrious life insurance agent to market the bank’s new Keogh retirement plans.

The partnership grew rapidly, and my income increased substantially with the sale of life insurance to unincorporated lawyers, doctors, partnerships, and other businesses. My partner and I both qualified for the insurance industry’s Million Dollar Round Table in 1971 and we continued to qualify for each of the next 15 years when he retired. We had formed a retirement planning company, PBA Retirement Plans Co., which I acquired by our buy/sell agreement. I later sold it to two of my key employees in 2004 upon my retiring from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. At the ripe old age of 75, I started my solo law practice focused on wills, trusts, and probate while continuing to work as an insurance broker. At age 88, I probated a will in Houston for an old life insurance client who had died at age 88 after having a distinguished career as a professor of ophthalmology at the Baylor College of Medicine. That may be my last probate case since I am seriously thinking of retiring again now that I am widowed and living in an assisted living facility.

While in Austin enjoying my law student days, I served as president of the Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity, Sam Houston Senate (the University of Texas Law School chapter). My thought then was that I could practice law as long as I had good health and my thinking cap was still working, but now may be a good time to hang up my shingle, as I am tired and retired. My law school education has served me well as a basis in all of my varied careers, and I can recommend it to anyone interested. Go for it and enjoy your life and family. As the saying goes, some old lawyers never die, they just lose their appeal. Check back with me in a few years when we meet again for an update on my career plans.

Floyd E. Guest Jr. is an 89-year-old attorney from Spring who originally became a licensed Texas attorney in 1962 but took a non-traditional path that included years spent working in the life insurance industry, with wills and trust, and in a retirement-planning company, as well as teaching ophthalmology at Baylor University. At 75, Guest began practicing law, having recently taken up a probate case while retired and living at an assisted living facility,