By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Ads like the one where a car drops through the roof onto Loncar's desk, smashing it to bits, are seen in these circles as just more sludge on the profession's already miserable reputation. But there are those who liken "TV guide lawyers" such as Loncar to dollar stores and garage sales. They serve a segment of the market.
Loncar, who took a very public stand against the state bar's imposition of advertising standards in 1993, said last spring, "I'd advertise against dogs if it brought in more business." He defended his right to do so on populist grounds: "I represent people who wouldn't be let in the door at the firms that want to limit advertising."
Talk of class struggle aside, Loncar's formula has been so successful that he indicated in an application form that turned up in one lawsuit that he made $1.3 million in 1994 and $900,000 in 1995. In October 1994, he bought a $1.2 million, 8,551-square-foot, two-story brick house in Highland Park, complete with seven bathrooms and two wet bars, and furnished it with fine antiques. Dallas property records also show he owns a second home in Far North Dallas, a 3,543-square-foot job valued at $305,840.
But personal injury lawyers around Dallas say the best days for advertising-intensive lawyers like Loncar may be behind them.
The number of lawyers advertising on TV has quadrupled in the past four years, says one competing lawyer. "It gets harder and harder to get your head above the crowd."
Furthermore, plaintiffs' lawyers say a drum-beat of tort reform propaganda by business organizations and resulting shifts in public attitudes have cut jury verdicts and settlements by one-third to one-half over the last several years. That means contingency fees are down by similar percentages.
"The sympathy levels of jurors in Dallas County is nonexistent," says Cynthia Solls, an experienced plaintiffs' lawyer. "This business isn't what it was in 1994."
A man with a sort of Animal House party-monster reputation in his college days, Loncar racked up two DWIs in his first three years in Dallas, receiving two-year probations in 1987 and 1991.
He has told those around him of joining Alcoholics Anonymous in the early 1990s. Still, he hasn't become a stranger to local traffic cops. Since 1987, Loncar has received an impressive 21 traffic tickets: 12 for speeding, and others for running red lights and stop signs or failing to pay on the tollway. A sort of patron saint of bad drivers, he has successfully fought all but one ticket, and that case remains pending.
By most accounts, Loncar isn't a daredevil or show-off driver, just a distracted one.
Stories of similarly quirky behavior surround him.
Roxanne Linscomb, the former adjuster, recalls a time when he took her and a few other employees out to lunch with a doctor who was doing business with the firm. On the way to the restaurant, driving through downtown Dallas, Loncar donned a black Lone-Ranger-style mask and even wore it into the restaurant, she says.
Another time, she says, he leapt off the office balcony, landing once on a ledge, and a second time onto one of the sofas in the reception area.
"He was in obvious pain" when he landed, she says. "There was a client right there. He got up and ran."
A second witness to the incident confirms Linscomb's account. "He's like that," she says.
Loncar's wife, Sue Loncar, testified last year that her husband has hypomania, a mild psychological disorder characterized by abnormal excitability and exaggerated feelings of well-being. He has told people around him that he takes lithium to treat the condition.
"I'm more sympathetic toward him because of it," says Robert Love, who says he has played golf with Loncar and once considered himself to be a close friend. Much of the time Loncar can be funny, engaging, and generous, he says.
For instance, Loncar bought a piece of art last spring that takes a dark shot at personal injury lawyers. The collage by Dallas artist Tim Pashley pictured lawyers' phone book ads--Loncar's among them--surrounding a host of accident victims. The injured souls' faces are shown behind a cracked, bloody windshield, and at the center is Jesus Christ with outstretched arms, which gives the work its satirical title: "Our Lord Hands Over Responsibility to Those Who Care."
After he bought it, Loncar said he would hang it in his office lobby "to get the conversation going." "I can laugh at myself," Loncar said, although a recent visit to his office lobby found the painting nowhere in sight.
His employees say Loncar is often generous with salaries and bonuses, and he is known for handing out $100 bills to his staff after landing a particularly good fee. "There were times you'd have to work late; he'd give you money and say, 'Go buy yourself a good dinner,'" recalls Rita Paredes, the legal secretary.
Says Shirer: "On any day he can be extremely charming, very affable. He isn't arrogant. There are a lot of fun Brian stories. Everybody who meets him remembers him, good or bad."
That goes at least double for Mary Loncar. Legal hostilities between her and her ex-husband have lasted longer than their marriage, which dissolved in 1994 after two contentious years. The union produced one child, Hailey, now 3, who has been the focus of almost continuous family court litigation.