Sam R. Aucoin, Esq. - Attorney and Counselor at Law
Who I Am
I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1963, and lived in an orphanage with the Sisters of Charity after being given up for adoption by parents I never knew. Although obviously too young to understand it at the time, I realized early in life that I had been adopted by a father and mother who loved me more than life itself. My adoptive parents' love and desire to share their lives with children was shown by the devotion and care they gave to my adopted brother and myself throughout our lives.
Three of the most important things my adoptive parents instilled in me were a love of God, a desire to learn, and an appreciation for hard work. Even today, I can remember my father and grandfather bringing me with them while I was still a toddler to watch them perform various tasks at several rental properties they owned. It was very satisfying for me to see them fix something that didn't work or to build something new. I was especially happy when they allowed me to "help". Although my contribution to the project was minor, it was very important to me that they thought to include me.
Those odd tasks helping my father and grandfather led to my first "paying" job: cutting yards for neighbors at the age of 12. Once I began, I continued to work through high school, college, graduate school, and law school. I delivered groceries and supplies to sea-going ships serving Louisiana's Gulf of Mexico oil industry, I ordered and kept track of stock for a large supply warehouse, I painted and roofed houses, I worked two years as a butcher and one as a plumber. While earning my Master's degree, I served our local state representative as a legislative aide for three years, and worked as a research and teaching assistant for the head of a Graduate School department at LSU.
I didn't work because I had to - I worked out of a desire based on the example of my parents and grandparents. I have carried that work ethic with me to the present. That spark that drove me to strive for something better and is still with me today.
Aside from the fact of who adopted me, I considered myself lucky because my adoptive parents were from completely different ethnic backgrounds: French-Acadian on my father's side, and Sicilian on my mother's side. My adoptive parents descended from ancestors who had immigrated to the United States at different times, but for the same reason: necessity caused by the sudden disappearance of their old way of life.
During the French and Indian War, British colonial officers along with New England legislators and militia, carried out what came to be known as "The Great Expulsion" between 1755–1763. In that eight year period, they deported approximately 11,500 Acadians then living around the northeastern parts of modern-day Canada and Maine (a French colony known then as "Acadia" - hence, the name "Acadians"). With many families given less than 24 hour notice, the British told the French settlers:
"That your Land & Tennements, Cattle of all Kinds and Livestocks of all Sorts are forfeited to the Crown with all other your effects Savings your money and Household Goods, and you yourselves to be removed from this Province."
Approximately one-third of the banished Acadians perished from hunger, disease, and drowning in shipwrecks as they were carrying some of the deportees. Some of them who survived settled in what is now the southern part of Louisiana, or what many locals refer to as "south of I-10". My adoptive father's family descended from this group of settlers. Known today as "Cajuns", these Acadian descendants began a new life in and around the Atchafalaya Basin area (home of the largest swamp in North America) by literally living off the land - picking moss for the Ford Motor Company for use as cushion material in car seats, making charcoal for use in kettle-stoves and ovens, hunting, shrimping, and trapping (mostly for their own food, with only the extra being sold for money), and harvesting the thousands of mighty Bald Cypress trees that once flourished in southern Louisiana.
In the late 1800's, two significant events in Sicily occurred that affected the ability of men to provide for their families: (1) the prices of wheat and citruses - large Sicilian exports - crashed, and (2) the discovery of large sulfur deposits in the United States led to the U.S. and other countries less dependent on Sicily as their main source for the mineral. Facing crushing poverty, a large wave of Sicilian immigrants came to the United States with the hope of starting over. My adoptive mother is the only surviving child out of four born to first-generation Sicilian immigrants who hailed from Corleone, Sicily in the 1890's. According to a ship manifest and immigration document I found researching the Sicilian side of my family tree, one of my ancestors arrived at the port of New Orleans as a young teenager with one suitcase, the clothes he was wearing, the equivalent of $13 American dollars, and unable to speak english.
A New Generation
Despite such humble beginnings and experiencing great tragedy (my maternal grandmother lost three boys under the age of two to diseases that are cured or prevented today by common antibiotics and vaccines; my paternal grandmother outlived five out of eight children), my adoptive grandparents, and then parents, perservered and lived a life centered on a belief in God, family, and hard work. Although neither of my parents had much formal education after high school, they recognized early on that a good education would be a key to success in the world, and they both worked very hard to make sure that my brother and I had a chance to obtain that education after high school.
After graduating from Patterson High School in Patterson, Louisiana, I enrolled at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, majoring in Political Science. I earned my Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree after four years of study from 1981 to 1985.
I then attended LSU Graduate School at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge from 1986 to 1988, earning a Master of Public Administration Degree with a focus on Political Science. As a result of a high GPA and work as a Graduate Assistant for the then-Director of the LSU Graduate School Public Administration Institute, I received a full "scholarship" (the scholarship was a waiver of tuition and fees, plus a payment each semester for reseach and teaching assistance) on condition that I maintained good grades and completed my work assignments. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA.
Finally, I attended Louisiana State University's Law School (called "The Paul M. Hebert Law Center") from 1988 to 1991, where I earned a Juris Doctor degree in civil law. While in law school, high grades coupled with a background and love of rhetoric led to an invitation to join the Moot Court Board after earning two of that year's highest grades in trial (87 out of 89) and appellate (88 out of 89) advocacy (then called "Moot Court I & II"). Based on a high overall GPA, I was offered numerous clerkships throughout the state, and ultimately chose to clerk for four law firms while still in school: Roy, Kiesel, Aaron, Tucker & Zwick (as a freshman), and Voorhies & Labbe', Phelps Dunbar, and Adams & Reese (as a Junior).
While earning my Master's Degree, I took several doctorate-level courses in Political Science with the goal of one day earning my Ph.D. In addition to practicing law, I hope to teach part-time at a local university.
I joined Voorhies & Labbe’ as an associate in August of 1991. I chose a "medium-sized" firm (relative to the other firms where I had clerked) to begin my practice because I knew that my goal of trying and appealing cases would happen much sooner than if I had selected a position with one of the "mega-size" law firms. Historically at that time, new associates at large firms were simply not permitted to handle cases in court as quickly as new associates at smaller firms.
I tried my first solo trial before a judge within a few months after becoming an attorney, tried my first jury trial alone within the next two years, and successfully argued before the Louisiana Supreme Court while still an associate (many attorneys spend their entire professional life without ever appearing before the Supreme Court). From that point forward, my firm and its clients had enough confidence in my abilities as a litigator to permit me to handle every file assigned to me - from responding to the petition through the final appeal - with me being the sole attorney representing the client.
As the years passed during my time as an associate, I volunteered every chance I could to attend depositions in cases for other attorneys, as I knew that deposing witnesses was excellent preparation for successfully interrogating witnesses in court. Even when I did not have a hearing or trial in one of my own cases, I would still go to the courthouse to watch and learn from other attorneys as they argued motions, made opening statements, and presented closing arguments, hoping to learn as much as possible about litigation. In watching and studying the reactions of the judges and juries to the different approaches of other attorneys, I saw first-hand the techniques and tactics that worked, and those that did not.
Voorhies & Labbe' permitted me to learn the art of litigation through what I called "trial by fire", and not simply tagging along with other attorneys for years just to hear and watch their court appearances. I am not suggesting that a new attorney should be sent to court without ever having seen the inside of a courtroom, and Voorhies & Labbe' did not do that with new associates. But Voorhies & Labbe' also did not hold me back when they realized that I had the skills necessary to successfully try cases. Nothing has been more professionally rewarding than standing before a judge, a jury, or a panel of appellate court judges, and arguing that my client's position is correct and then learning that judge, jury, or appellate court agreed with my argument.
I left Voorhies & Labbe' after almost 13 years as an associate and then shareholder, and joined The Dill Firm. Although much smaller than my first firm, The Dill Firm was even more litigation-oriented because its primary practice area was defending the trucking industry. Given the nature of the cases - accidents involving large tractor-trailers ("18-wheelers") - the potential for a large jury award was always looming. This was so because the public almost always assumed the 18-wheeler driver was at fault, based primarily on the size difference between a tractor-trailer and, say, a Toyota or a Nissan. Our job as civil defense attorneys was usually an uphill battle from the first day - defend a lawsuit filed after an accident between a two or four-door/four-wheeled car weighing around 3500 pounds and approximately 15 feet long and a tractor-trailer with 18 wheels, weighing at least 40 tons (minus cargo), and often over 80 feet long.
To overcome this "societal assumption", we had to depose more witnesses, conduct more inspections, and attend more hearings than the usual "fender bender" auto-on-auto accidents cases. And as accidents involving 18-wheelers usually had greater damage potential because of the sheer size and weight of them, our clients demanded that we adopt a "leave no stone unturned" approach in defending those accidents. Despite a fearless attitude toward trying cases, we did not go to trial just for the sake of doing so. We settled cases that needed to be settled, and we did not appeal when we thought we had little chance of winning on appeal. But despite the perception that 18-wheelers were owned and run by big corporations that could easily "absorb" any large damage award, we never hesitated going to court when we believed we had at least an even chance of winning. Our fellow litigators who knew our firm also knew that we did not fear the courtroom. And that lack of fear gave us a distinct advantage: our opponents knew that they could not use the "fear of trying cases" as a factor in trying to obtain more money during settlement negotiations. If they wanted more money from our clients, they would have to win in court.
After four years with The Dill Firm, I began a solo practice in 2008. Practicing with a firm and practicing alone each has their advantages and disadvantages. I miss the comraderie and sense of "family" that accompanies being at a firm where one could always walk down the hall and bounce different ideas off of other attorneys. Becoming a solo practitioner, I gained the freedom to select the cases I wanted to handle, and am bound only by the wishes of my clients and the rules governing the practice of law. But in the end, I am the only person to whom the client looks after a final judgment, good or bad.
At heart, I will always be a litigator. To date, I have taken over 700 depositions - at least 300 of which have been of various types of health care providers, including orthopedists, neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, neurologists, and psychiatrists. I have also had extensive experience deposing experts in a variety of fields such as accident reconstruction, economics, engineering, vocational rehabilitation, and actuarial science.
In addition, I have tried over 100 cases before state district judges, state district juries, workers' compensation judges, administrative law judges, civil service boards, and federal district court judges. In my appellate practice, I have briefed or orally argued more than 35 cases before four out of Louisiana's five appellate courts, the Louisiana Supreme Court, and the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. At least 15 of those cases resulted in published opinions, with several cited in major treatises as having an important impact on certain areas of the law.
I am admitted to practice before all Louisiana state district and appellate courts, as well as the Louisiana Supreme Court. I am also able to practice before all federal district courts in Louisiana (consisting of the Western, Middle, and Eastern Districts), the United State Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.
My clients have ranged from the average citizen seeking a divorce or help in resolving a business dispute, to those as large as the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, Fruit of the Loom, Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government, Horace Mann Insurance Company, Progressive Insurance Company, and Zurich North America.
As mentioned before, although I maintain a general, broad-based trial and appellate practice involving several pratice areas, my primary focus now is on Family Law.
When I began at Voorhies & Labbe' out of law school, I was the only attorney at that firm who volunteered to begin handling family law matters because the firm was engaged primarily in insurance defense. After joining the firm, I noticed that it was turning down family law case referrals because none of the firm's attorneys practiced Family Law. As I had studied Family Law in law school, did well in the courses, and liked the issues those types of cases presented, I volunteered to begin accepting them and thus my Family Law practice was born.
In managing a Family Law practice, I have encountered almost every dispute that can arise in those cases: adoptions, divorces, custody, visitation, temporary restraining orders, injunctions, community property partitions involving estates with only two vehicles to those worth several million dollars, spousal support, child support, curatorship, interdiction, adoption, and loss of parental rights for failure to pay child support.
I also regularly handle cases involving The Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act, Tort Law (accidents away from work), Employment Law (such as violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans With Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Equal Pay Act), Obligations Law (contracts, sales, leases), Property Law (boundary disputes, ownership by occupation, rights of use and habitation), and Successions and Donations Law (inheritances with and without a will, and donations between living persons).
Outside of the Office and the Courtroom
A well-rounded attorney - even a trial and appellate litigator - does not spend all of his time in court or pouring over files and casebooks. A good attorney maintains personal and professional relationships outside of the courtroom and is always seeking to better himself through these relationships.
I am a member of the American Inn of Court of Acadiana, The Federalist Society, Scribes - The American Society of Legal Writers, The Thomas More Law Center, The Louisiana State Bar Association, The Lafayette Parish Bar Association, the Louisiana Association for Defense Counsel, and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
I served for 8 years after being appointed by the Louisian Supreme Court as a Bar Examiner for the Louisiana State Bar Association Bar Exam given twice each calendar year.
I have given numerous seminars providing continuing legal education for fellow attorneys, the latest including:
- Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Law Update - Council on Education and Management - March 2000
- Domestic Law in Louisiana - National Business Institute - December 2000
- Penalties and Attorney’s Fees Under The Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Law - Lafayette Parish Bar Association - October 2000
- Advanced Workers’ Compensation in Louisiana - Lorman Business - January 2001
- Difficult Depositions - American Inn of Court of Acadiana - April 2007
- Can You Purchase Insurance to Cover Discrimination Claims? - Louisiana State Bar Association - March 2009
- When Settlements do Not Actually Settle Cases - American Inn of Court of Acadiana - November 2011
And I have a particular fondness for teaching "legal writing" to fellow attorneys.
Long ago, many members of the law profession thought (and, unfortunately, may still do) that they needed to "sound lawyerly" when writing, often using obscure terms that even the writers themselves did not know the meaning of. I believe the thinking behind using "legalese" in writing was that if an attorney was to charge a client a relatively large sum for his work, that attorney should produce something that "sounded" like no one could understand it except, perhaps, other attorneys and judges. But even other attorneys and judges failed to understand what many attorneys wrote.
The ultimate goal of an attorney should not be to sound like an attorney - his goal should be to successfully convey an argument to the judge, to the jury, and to the client, using simple, every-day language that anyone can read.
With the well-known legal writing scholar Bryan Garner as a role model (I have attended several of his seminars and own all of his books), my goal and hope is for every attorney to begin writing in a way that any layman can read and understand what that attorney has written. The reader may not grasp the legal concepts or issues presented if he is not an attorney, but he should nevertheless be able to read an attorney's memorandum or brief and understand the goal that attorney is trying to achieve or the gist of that attorney's argument.
Life Away from the Law
I am the father of 4 children: my oldest, Samuel Joseph is a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, my second oldest, Jean-Paul, is a Freshman at college, my third, Anna Maria, is a Freshman in high school, and my youngest, Michael Anthony, is an eighth-grader in junior high school.
I served as Webelos and Cub Scout Den Leader for the Evangeline Area Boy Scouts in Carencro while my two oldest sons were scouts.
As all of my children went to private school, I was fortunate to have been elected to serve as both a member and President of the school boards for two Catholic schools (eight years with Carencro Catholic School and four years with Teurlings Catholic High School). I was also later confirmed by the local Bishop for the Diocese of Lafayette to serve as a member of the Diocesan School Board for four years.
I am a member of St. Peter Roman Catholic Church in Carencro, and have been a member of the Carmelite Guild (a lay group that supports the local Carmelite Convent) since 1993.