Life outside billable hours
As an attorney, Nick Bettinger gets roughly $400
per hour. As a balloon man, it’s slightly better: “ 50
smiles an hour,” he says.
The Fort Worth attorney twists, squeezes and
ties his way to every one of those smiles. He’s
created balloon sculptures of everything from a
4-foot, flag-waving panda to an American bald
eagle with wings that span 6 feet to a car for his
daughter, Lauren, on her 16th birthday.
Bettinger, who practices personal injury defense law, started his hobby almost a decade and
a half ago, when he wanted to put a smile back
on his own face.
“Litigation is adversarial—and it can be badly
adversarial sometimes,” he says. “I’ll never forget
[one day], I was just staring at my wall. I was looking at my clock and I was having this, just, tooth-and-nail fight with another lawyer on the phone;
and I hung up the phone and I thought, ‘Nobody
smiles in this occupation.’”
Nicholas S. Bettinger
PERSONAL INJURY -
The Balloon Man
Nick Bettinger spends his free time twisting ‘sculptures’ and delivering smiles
BY CARLOS HARRISON
That wasn’t the way he thought it should be.
Bettinger had wanted to be a lawyer since he
heard the profession existed—at the age of 5, play-
ing The Game of Life with his mother.
“I’ll never forget spinning that wheel and hitting
the lawyer,” he says. “I didn’t know what a lawyer
did, and I asked my mom and she said, ‘They help
people.’ And I said, ‘You know what? That’s what
I’m going to do, Mom.’”
After he got his J.D. at Baylor, Bettinger landed
a job in his hometown, at McDonald Sanders. It
was 1991. The state had just overhauled the work-
ers’ compensation system, and business in that
area—helping companies that opted out of the
state system to set up private programs—boomed.
His mentor, Gary Thompson, showed him the
ropes. He also taught him a life lesson.
“He was one of the happiest guys around,”
Bettinger says. “He would whistle when he walked
around the office. He always told me, ‘You’ve got to
When daughter Lauren turned 16,
Bettinger surprised her with a car.
She had to wait till she got her
license for the real thing.
Bettinger made a patriotic panda
for his neighborhood’s Fourth of
July parade, then gave it away to
a little girl who admired it.