GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2004
Voices of Experience
What is your background, and what inspired you to become a lawyer?
I grew up in Houston, Texas, where my father was a scientist for Shell Oil Company. During my junior year of high school he accepted an opportunity to transfer to Shell Oil in The Netherlands for a one-year sabbatical. That event changed my life. I attended the American School of the The Hague and became friends with the son of the American ambassador. I visited the ambassador’s home regularly and found out that he had been a lawyer in Washington, D.C., before becoming an ambassador. I spent a great deal of time asking him about the practice of law and his duties as ambassador. I also had many friends who were overseas because their parents were international lawyers. I became fascinated with the thought of becoming an international lawyer and living abroad. My first year of law school my plans to become an international lawyer changed. I competed in several mock trial competitions and realized that I loved the courtroom. That realization led me to pursue litigation rather than an international law practice.
What influenced your decision to pursue a career in the judiciary?
I never made a conscious decision that I wanted to be a judge. I have always been interested in politics and I became active with the local League of Women Voters. I hosted a local cable television show for the League that focused on local political issues and I moderated several candidate debates. During a debate a staff member for one of the city councilmen suggested that I apply for one of the new Municipal Court judicial positions. I had only been practicing law for five years, but the position sounded interesting so I decided to apply. I was shocked when I found out a week after my interview that I was going to be appointed as a new judge. During the four and a half years that I was on the Municipal Court bench, I presided over 300 trials and 26,000 cases. I truly enjoyed the experience, so when an open bench in County Court at Law #2 became available, I decided to run for election. I won election to my current bench in November 2002, and I now handle civil cases with a $100,000 jurisdictional limit.
What are the biggest changes in law practice you have observed through the years?
It is amazing how rapidly technology has changed the practice of law during the short 13 years that I have been an attorney. It’s hard to believe that people did not have cell phones, e-mail, or Blackberries when I first started practicing, and very few people had laptop computers. All these technological advances are wonderful, but they also add to the stress of practicing law—we are constantly accessible to our office and clients, so it is very difficult to have “downtime” and truly get away from our law practice.
What early lawyer experiences have helped you in your career?
My first job out of law school was as a prosecutor in a small town. I gained valuable jury trial experience and appeared in court daily on plea and motion dockets. I made my fair share of new lawyer mistakes, but what I learned by actually “doing” rather than watching has truly made a difference in my legal career.
Whom do you most admire?
I have always been inspired by women who have a demanding legal practice and still carve out quality time for their families and for community service.
Who or what got you started with ABA and/or GP Section involvement?
In 1994 I was asked to present a Fort Worth Young Lawyers Association project at the ABA/Young Lawyers Division (YLD) National Conference in Washington, D.C. I had such a great time and met such interesting people that I decided to become involved in the ABA. The following year I applied and was appointed as vice chair of the YLD’s Pre-Law Counseling/Law Student Outreach Committee, and eight years later I served as Assembly Speaker and Clerk. Through my YLD activities I met members of the GP Section leadership, and they convinced me that the GP Section should be my new home in the ABA. I am finishing my second year as the Young Lawyer Liaison to the Section, and it is clearly the best Section in the ABA!
What can the ABA and/or GP Section do to be a good home to young lawyers?
The Section should continue to provide practical skills and advice, as well as economical ways to obtain continuing legal education and help with practice management.
What was the best professional advice you ever received?
A good reputation—for hard work, honesty, and integrity—is a lawyer’s most valuable possession.
What was the worst professional advice you ever received?
That the best and most coveted job to land right out of law school is at a large law firm.
What personality trait has served you best through the years?
A sense of humor and being able to get along with people.
What is the one thing you cannot stand regarding the law/lawyers?
Lawyers who misrepresent facts or the law to the court.
What advice would you give new lawyers?
• Be prepared.
• Realize that, as a lawyer, you are constantly learning, and some of the most valuable lessons you will learn are from the mistakes you make. Nobody is perfect.
• Always be respectful to the judge, opposing counsel, and your clients.
• Become active in bar association activities. You will grow personally and professionally. You will also make some of your best friends in your legal career.
• Develop a network of lawyers that you can call on for assistance. Do not be afraid to ask for help!