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"I thought Royce was pretty well-positioned prior to November, but November showed how powerful and influential he is," Coggins says. "He has a very safe seat in the Senate, has a tremendous law practice, and his voice is probably as loud and powerful in North Texas, probably in all of Texas as far as Democrats are concerned."
If there is a nagging question that surrounds West, it's whether he has used his stature as a state senator to benefit himself in other ways, particularly as a lawyer. Over the last five years, West's small law firm has collected nearly $2.5 million in legal fees from the Dallas Independent School District. It billed more than $400,000 to Wilmer-Hutchins during the last four years of its existence. He also works as a co-bond counsel for the city of Dallas. No one is saying that West used his position on the Senate's Education Committee to receive these contracts, but doesn't his standing give him at least a tiny advantage when he's competing against an anonymous law firm with an office on Central Expressway?
On a Monday morning in February, West sits in his law office in Oak Cliff, in the building he owns just off Interstate 35. Dressed in a dark, well-tailored suit, West is ready to leave for the funeral of Shapiro's father. Like a good Southern attorney, West is measured and thoughtful, his voice is steady and calm, regardless of whether he's talking about the remarkable turnaround of his surging party or his law firm's lucrative work with the public sector.
On the latter, he makes no apologies, and it's not exactly clear that he should. Paid only $7,200 a year as a state senator, West has to make a living somehow. The question remains: Is there a conflict of interest for West, a powerful legislator who sits on the Senate Education Committee, to do business with two school districts in his purview? Or to put it another way, is West the state senator a rainmaker for West the attorney?
In fact, West claims, "It's just the opposite." Being a state senator can hinder his law practice, forcing him to weed out clients who may be trying to exploit his position in the Legislature.
"I have to be very cognizant of the fact that people are hiring me as their lawyer and not for anything else," he says. "I have corporate clients who want to continue sending you money after you do their work."
West says he goes to great lengths to remind clients that when they come to visit him, they're not sitting down with a state senator but with a lawyer eager to work on their case and only their case. "I tell people all the time, 'When you come into this office, you're seeing me as an attorney.'"
It's easy to see why they might be confused. In West's law office is a nameplate, positioned at the front of the desk, facing potential clients. It reads, "State Senator Royce West."