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THAT’S MY JOB: It’s all laws and lassos for Eddie Shell

Eddie Shell with granddaughter and friend

Horse and rodeo trainer Eddie Shell (left) evaluates barrel run techniques with granddaughter Austyn Shell and her best friend, Haven Huffstuttler, in Eddie’s practice rodeo arena behind his Marble Falls home. Shell is a criminal defense attorney and musician as well as a rodeo trainer. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Eddie Shell grew up on the back of a horse, beginning on a ranch in Bertram, where he was born. His father taught him to break horses and compete in rodeo events, mainly calf roping and pole and barrel racing, something he passed on to three of his four children, his first three grandchildren, and now his 7-year-old granddaughter Austyn Shell. A fifth grandchild, Miller, is riding at 5 years old and will most likely follow in his sister’s competitive hoof prints. 

In 1981, Shell and wife Dale co-founded Shell and Shell Attorneys at Law, which has offices in Marble Falls, Burnet, and Lampasas. The firm specializes in criminal defense and family law and now includes son and daughter-in-law Austin and Bobbi Shell.  

Basketball is another great passion nurtured in the Shell family. Eddie and Dale hosted a basketball camp at their Marble Falls home every June for nearly 15 years. The camp also included horse and rodeo training.

“It was a tough camp,” Shell said of Big Daddy’s Day Camp. “We put three for four students into Division I colleges in basketball because of that camp. It was a big part of my life.” 

Among those basketball stars were his youngest daughter, Morgan, and later her daughter, Ruby. When Morgan played for Marble Falls High School, the girls’ team won state. She was a star player for Southern Methodist University and the University of Denver. She, too, is an attorney but at a law firm in Austin.

When Eddie graduated from the University of Texas, he was accepted into two law schools but instead went into coaching. He joked with his coaching colleagues in West Texas that he should have gone to law school so he wouldn’t have to get up at 5 a.m. for work. 

“My friends held a party one night, and when I got there, they helped me fill out a law school application,” Eddie said. “It was to just one school, Washington, D.C. School of Law. I got in.” 

Although he had a job in D.C. after graduation, his heart was in the Texas Hill Country, and he returned to the Highland Lakes, where he started doing legal work at a title company. 

“Some of these clients would come in with DWIs, or their kids had a DWI, so I became the DWI lawyer,” he said. “Turns out, I was pretty good at it. Word got around, and I eventually branched out into criminal law.” 

In 2001, Shell wrote the law that established public defenders in the state. He testified before the Texas Legislature in support of the Fair Defense Act, and when it passed, the local district court judge appointed him Burnet County’s first official public defender. 

Recently, Shell sat down with The Picayune Magazine to talk about his work in the legal system, the rodeo arena, and on stage at his bar, the Cadillac Dance Hall in Marble Falls. Eddie Shell and the Not Guilties play regularly in multiple other venues, too, with Shell on harmonica and rhythm guitar and providing vocals.

The following is Shell’s description of his job in his own words:


Criminal defense lawyer

We go to court four out of five days a week. Mostly, we have docket calls where the judge wants everybody that’s charged to come in and stand up before the court, and we try to work out an agreement. 

I tell my clients there’s only two ways out of this trap, there’s not three. You either work out an agreement you can live with or roll the dice and go to trial by jury. It’s the client’s decision. In some cases, there is no way in the world to get a “not guilty.” Some cases are iffy and some, believe it or not, are innocent. 

When I first got started, I always thought big fancy defense lawyers in big cities tried a lot of cases. They do not try half the cases we try. I have tried as many as 30 jury trials in a year, almost a jury trial a week. 

You learn to pick juries, you learn to cross-exam, you hone your skills. What I look for in a juror is somebody that doesn’t just follow every single solitary rule that they hear. Sometimes, rules are not necessarily correct; laws are not necessarily correct.

I love talking to people. I love helping people. I love picking juries. You bring 60 or 100 people in, and you have to make decisions in 30 minutes about who needs to be struck from that jury and who needs to be on the jury. It’s a pretty challenging, rewarding experience. 

The worst part of this job is having to tell somebody that (they’re) going to prison no matter what I do. Say your exposure is life in prison, but if you take 20 years, you have a chance to be out in 10 or 12 years. If you go to trial, the jury is going to find you guilty. That is my opinion. I always follow it up with, “You are my boss and I will do exactly what you tell me to do.”

I’ve lost some cases I should have won. I lost a murder case in Llano that to this day haunts me. I don’t think the lady should have been found guilty, and they gave her life. And you blame yourself for that. You worry, “I should have handled it differently. I should have asked this question or that question.” But I didn’t. 

What I like about my job in Texas, there is so much lawyering to be done. In other states, you go to trial and get “guilty” or “not guilty” and the judge sets a punishment. The lawyers go by a chart. There’s not that much lawyering to do. In Texas, you have a range from probation to life in prison, and in some cases, the jury gets to decide that.

Rodeo training is my relief. It is when I think about nothing involving the law. I think about how much they (trainees) have improved from this practice to that practice. 

I’m spending more and more time on my hobbies, which are kids and horses and rodeos and on the road. I also have a band, Eddie Shell and the Not Guilties. You can look me up on our website. 

When I’m done with this (interview), I’ve got to make some phone calls for a professional barrel racer, Taylor Jacob (Hanchey), who used to train with us out at Big Daddy’s. She’s in the national finals nearly every year. She is very well known in barrel racing. She’s a household name in barrel racing. The WPRA (Women’s Professional Rodeo Association) is trying to sanction her. They are claiming she entered rodeos not correctly. We may have to go to trial on this case to keep her eligible. Hopefully, we can keep her eligible.