If you know a lawyer, you’re probably aware that life in the legal lane is nothing short of life-consuming. This rings especially true for trial lawyers who spend countless days mired in highly emotional and intense cases. Seems like a career you might know you’re headed for, right?
Well, not always.
Meet Danny Russell, a Baton Rouge based personal injury, DWI/DUI defense, and family law lawyer who thought he wanted to be a football player. Based on the context clues of this site and our business, you’re probably aware that those plans didn’t really pan out, but something else sure did.
Now with the help of his wife Michelle, Danny works to represent those he sees his past self in – honest, down on their luck folks in need of help. His story is one that beautifully illustrates that our most fantastic plans can go right down the drain, and sometimes for the better.
Small Screen, Big Ideas
Have you heard of Opelousas? It’s a city in central Louisiana that sits on the crossroads of I-49 and Route 190, and thirty minutes northwest you’ll find the tiny town Danny Russell was born in: Ville Platte. Most folks from Ville Platte stick around, but Danny was of a different mind even from a young age. As a child, he flipped through the few channels his family had access to and often landed on the Louisiana Public Broadcasting station. It was the images of strangers and distant places he saw moving across that screen that made him wonder what else was out there.
Danny’s first plan was to play football. He was a star quarterback at Ville Platte High, and his talent didn’t go unnoticed. People saw Danny as a real star, but to this day he credits his success to his 6 foot stature – an uncommon sight in the middle of cajun country. Simply put, he “was tall and could throw it over everyone.”
You’ll see that humility is a bit of a theme with Mr. Russell.
But athletic plan A was foiled with a torn ACL during Danny’s senior year of high school. After that, Danny decided to head to LSU and study one of his true curiosities – political science.
The catch? Tuition doesn’t pay itself, and Danny had to put himself through school. This meant that when his friends were joining student government associations and clubs to start building their civic knowledge, Danny was waiting tables.
But did he nod his head and acquiesce to the reality of his situation?
Junior year brought with it Bobby Jindal’s campaign for governor, and Danny saw a golden opportunity to bypass the clubs and networks and jump into the real, paying world of politics. Without a backward glance, Danny contacted Mr. Jindal and asked if his team had room for one more.
Turns out the future governor did need a little help in the field, and Danny became their newest addition. During that summer, Danny campaigned door to door every single day, and that was when he wasn’t working or sitting in class. When Mr. Jindal won the election in the fall of Danny’s senior year, he joined the team officially as an intern and eventually as a receptionist when no other spot was available. Did that matter to Danny? Not really. According to his wife Michelle, “he just decided ‘fine. I’ll be the best receptionist there ever was.’”
No self pity, not self-righteousness, just an unrelenting determination to make the best of whatever life handed him.
Eventually, it handed him something a little better, and this time in the form of a new role on the team: director of external affairs. Between traveling with the governor and speaking with constituents, Danny spent a good amount of time interacting with lawyers. Their profession got him thinking, and eventually a switch flipped on in his head.
Danny found another opportunity.
The Lightbulb Years
In the fall of 2010, Danny enrolled at the Loyola University New Orleans School of Law where he attended night classes while working full time as the director of Road Home Disaster Recovery, an organization that helped Louisianians return to their home state after the destruction of hurricane Katrina.
But what was the real reason he went to law school?
Well, it wasn’t just the stimulating legal conversation he had on the campaign trail. In fact, the real story is a bit more personal.
During his sophomore year of college, Danny was hit head-on by another driver on his way home from work.
Though he wasn’t critically hurt, he sustained some painful injuries and the car he bought with months of saved wages was totalled. About a week after the incident, he was relieved to to find an insurance adjustor at his front door. She gave him a check, made sure he signed on the dotted line, and left him on his doorstep. That check was more money than he could imagine having in his hands, (and as it turned out, that’s what the insurance adjustor was banking on).
The amount he accepted from the insurance company was significantly less than what he was entitled to under the law, but he would only learn that years later. It was this experience and the grueling months afterwards that ignited the spark of motivation he needed to get through night classes and a full time job. Not childhood dreams, not money, but the desire to equip himself with the knowledge to help people in their most vulnerable times rather than take advantage of their fear, desperation, and simple lack of knowledge.
Law the Personal Way
Several years and law firms later, Danny finds himself practicing at his very own firm in Baton Rouge. With the help of his wife Michelle, Russell Law Firm has gained the reputation of being a business with a head, heart, and conscience.
Danny has never forgotten the event he endured at the hands of injustice, and it is the memory of that difficult time paired with his commitment to protect others from a similar struggle that defines his every day.
For Danny, that’s what being a lawyer is about. It’s personal.