Day Trips

A barista is someone who performs the ritual of espresso with panache to produce a coffe drink perfectly tuned to the customer's preferences.

A barista is someone who performs the ritual of espresso with panache to produce a coffee drink perfectly tuned to the customer's preferences.

photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

At Legal Grounds Coffee Shop the barista is a barrister. David Musslewhite can serve out sound legal advice while making a good cup of joe. The Dallas attorney set up his legal practice in a small office in the back of the coffee shop he and his wife own.

Between dispensing legal opinions to clients, Musslewhite often works the front counter of the coffee shop making espresso drinks, fixing sandwiches, or serving pastries to hungry customers. "People like to see their lawyer washing dishes," the friendly and easygoing attorney says.

He and his wife, Leslie Murphy, thought they would give the idea of combining the two businesses a try after she saw a similar operation in Santa Monica, California. There is no health department rule against mixing sometimes messy legal affairs with food preparation.

"Running a coffee shop is not as easy as I thought it would be, but a whole lot more fun," Musslewhite says. The concept is simply to make legal counsel more accessible. "There is a huge amount of people who don't use lawyers," he says. "We want to provide a fun, warm, informal environment to encourage people to take care of their legal affairs."

They opened the coffee shop/law office in April 1997. The former business lawyer now does general law and feels more like a country lawyer. Most of his cases are wills, helping buy and sell property, uncontested divorces, and a variety of matters that the average person has to deal with.

"This has been very rewarding," says Musslewhite. Offering people a non-threatening environment tends to encourage them to take care of business that is often complex and bothersome. From his office near the kitchen in the back of the coffee shop, Musslewhite has found "the greatest sense of service" in his 35 years of practice.

Part of the coffee shop and legal practice's success must be attributed to Leslie's recipes for delicious pastries, desserts, and casseroles. The "Daily Lunch Docket" menu above the coffee bar touts Supreme Court Salads, Side Bar Sandwiches, Commonlaw Casseroles, Criminal Delights (desserts), and for the kids, Child Support (peanut butter and jelly, BLTs, and grilled cheese sandwiches).

The atmosphere in the small shop is respectfully comfortable. With one wall dedicated mostly to law books, the table area has the feel of an English library. But the small tables near the picture window and on the sidewalk out front give the shop a relaxed ice cream shop ambiance. Leslie also operates a small gift shop next door to the coffee shop.

On one wall is the food and drink menu. On the other wall, surrounded by bookshelves, is a menu of legal services that are done for a flat fee. In the front window is a sign that proclaims, "If our coffee doesn't open your eyes, our legal advice will."

A short distance from downtown near the corner of Abrams and Gaston, a lot of the shop's lunch business comes from the center of town. Even though there are at least two other coffee shops in the area, most of the coffee business comes from the neighborhood. The legal clients come from all over town.

Because of the publicity that the combination of two business has generated, some people have the misconception that the shop is a legal aid, Musslewhite says. People come in and want to chat about a problem when they buy a cup of coffee. He says that he will give free advice, but the cappucino will cost them $100.

Practicing law in the neighborhood has given Musslewhite contact with a variety of clients and situations that the 62-year-old truly enjoys. Recently he had an elderly client who had been cited for housing violations on a boarding house that he was running. The man was still pretty feisty for his 90 years and felt like the city was infringing on his constitutional rights. One day all conversation in the shop was interrupted by an incessant car horn coming from in front of the shop.

When Musslewhite went to investigate what the noise was, he found the 90-year-old client sitting in his car waiting for his attorney to come out and take care of some business. Returning to the coffee shop, Musslewhite said to an employee behind the counter, "I guess now we've added curbside service to our list of services."

Where else can you see a member of the bar working behind the coffee bar? "I work the counter several shifts a week," Musslewhite says. "Sometimes I wish I could do just that." Legal Grounds is in the Lakewood Shopping Center at 2015 Abrams, about a mile and a half north of the Deep Ellum entertainment district on the northern edge of downtown Dallas. The coffee shop opens 6:30am-6pm weekdays, 7am-6pm Saturday, and 7am-noon Sunday.

Coming up this weekend ...

Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio, presented by the Institute of Texan Cultures, is perhaps the largest gathering to celebrate the ethnic diversity of the Lone Star State. Nowhere else will you see more diverse entertainment and culinary offerings, Aug. 5-8. 210/458-2300.

International Jazz Festival in Houston brings the world of music to Sam Houston Park, Aug. 6-8. 800/231-2299.

Fireman's Fiesta in Brenham benefits the local fire department with cookoffs, water polo, live music, and Blue Bell ice cream, Aug. 6-8. 888/273-6426.

Coming up ...

Photographic Trail Rides through the Big Bend Ranch State Park cover ground not seen on most tours. Horses, guides, meals, and campfire entertainment are included on the trips planned for Sept. 10-12, Oct. 29-31, Dec. 3-5, and Dec. 10-12. Reservations required. 398-7627 or

Canyons of the Eagles has opened the lodge and cabins in addition to the RV slips and campgrounds. In past issues we incorrectly listed the number. We apologize for the erroneous information. The correct number for making reservations is 800/977-0081.

Texas Accommodations Guide Online can be found at Fun-seekers can search by city or lodging category and link to visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce, airlines, and car rental companies.

Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is now available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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