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Alumni Spotlight with Dave Polsinelli ’13

Q:  What brought you to law school?

A:  I went to college not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. And the luckiest thing that happened to me – one of the required courses for my finance degree was business law.  I cracked open the textbook for business law, and I realized that for the first time in three years I actually enjoyed reading a textbook. After that, I started looking into what I needed to do to apply to law school. 

 

Q: What brought you to South Texas?

A: While I was applying to school and taking the LSAT, I started thinking about where the best place would be to live. And for me, being a California native and going to college in Connecticut, I learned being in Connecticut that cold weather is not my thing! So I looked into options in Texas, and South Texas College of Law Houston looked like a very pragmatic school where a lot of successful lawyers and judges had gone. And I guess you could say the rest is history.

 

Q:  What was your most memorable time at South Texas?

A:  Absolutely, undoubtedly moot court.  I was in several tournaments and was lucky enough to win a national championship in the National Criminal Law Tournament in San Diego. Some of my best friends to this day were in moot court with me, and I think probably the most valuable skill that I apply to this day as a lawyer is what I learned during moot court, especially when it comes to seeing both sides of an issue.

 

Q: What's special about South Texas?

A: South Texas to me is a very practical school that has a focus on skills that will help you become a better lawyer. It certainly has great professors, nice facilities, great location, but the focus is always on what's it going to take to put this student in a position to succeed in a legal career.  What kind of skills do we want to provide to these these students so they can become better lawyers? You know, I can only attest to my experience in South Texas, but having conversations with people that went to different law schools, you know, oftentimes it's kind of a theoretical approach. You know, this is why laws exist and this is just kind of up and, you know, a bigger picture view, but without really understanding what then how do you take that approach and put it in a brief and convince the judge that your side is right? You know, that's the kind of thing the South Texas emphasizes.

 

Q: Do you feel a special camaraderie with other South Texas graduates?

A: Absolutely, especially if I was in school with them. Law school is a grind.  I don't know any other way to describe it. You create a bond with your classmates that you really can't replicate in any other experience, especially your first year when you're new to it and you're kind of getting your feet wet in terms of what it takes to succeed. But even for South Texas lawyers who I wasn't in school with, there’s obviously a bond there.

 

Q: Why is it important to stay connected with South Texas?

A:  One, South Texas helped me to get to where I am today. It’s just paying back for what the school helped me achieve. Two, I have a passion for helping people.  And so if I have the opportunity to help a current student or an incoming student with their law school career and their legal career, I want to take it and I want to help them achieve their full potential.

 

Q: Did any South Texas experience change your life?

A:  The experience in law school that changed my life was when I was auditioning for the varsity moot court team in the trophy room with Dean Treece, and he said “Oh Dave, you know, you're real good, and I got a spot for you on the team. And just make sure, you know, don't tell anybody, because I'm not releasing publicly yet. But, you know, you got a spot on the team.”  And I remember leaving the room and just glowing. I was... I felt like I was bouncing as I as I left the trophy room.  I just remember this feeling of confidence that he put in me.  I had no idea that I was good enough to be on the varsity moot court team. But that that day when Treece told me that I was changed my life.

 

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A:  I spend a lot of my spare time with my wife and our three-year-old chocolate lab named Cow. As boring as it sounds, one of my favorite things is just to lay on the couch with them and watch a movie or watch a show. But aside from that, I love to travel, and my wife and I try to travel as much as we can in different places around the world.

 

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to apply to law school?

A:  I would ask him or her “Why do you want to apply to law school?” That would be my first question. And if the answer tells me they're serious about it and they have an real interest in it, I would say go for it. But I would make sure that they understand that you can't go into law school half committed.  If you want to get the most out of law school, you need to fully commit to trying as hard as you can in all your courses. You want to expose yourself to as many extracurriculars and different kinds of courses as you can. 

 

Q: What do you want to do in the future?

A: I want to be someone who people consider a reasonable person, a fair adversary, a good teammate, and someone who practices law the right way.

 

Click Here to Watch the Interview

SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE OF LAW HOUSTON PRESIDENT AND DEAN WILL STEP DOWN NEXT SUMMER

 

Century-old South Texas College of Law Houston’s 11th President and Dean Michael F. Barry has announced he will not seek reappointment to his leadership role when his term ends next summer.

Barry said he and his wife Lee made the decision together “after much thought and prayer.”

“The decision on when to leave a leadership position is never easy, and this decision is bittersweet,” Barry said. “For many reasons, however, my sense is this is the proper time. The law school is living its mission of diversity, opportunity, excellence, and service; is fiscally sound; is well-positioned for the next 100 years; and has strong board, faculty / academic dean, and administrative leadership. It is well positioned for its next leader.”

Board Chair Genora Boykins said, “The board greatly appreciates all Dean Barry has accomplished for the law school since his arrival in 2019, and we look forward to working with him and the South Texas Law community to build on the successes achieved under his leadership.”

In recent years, the law school South Texas has launched a number of new initiatives and important improvements, including an ABA-approved online J.D. program, the Benny Agosto, Jr. Diversity Center, and a Legal Writing Center. Bar passage and career placement rates are at their highest in a decade, the advocacy program continues to be the envy of other law schools, and our Randall O. Sorrels clinical program has garnered two Texas Access to Justice Foundation awards in the last four years.

Boykins said the Board of Directors will establish a Search Committee to identify the law school’s next president and dean and to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

SOLD-OUT SOUTH TEXAS LAW CENTENNIAL GALA RAISES NEARLY $750,000 FOR SCHOLARSHIPS

 

Close to 600 South Texas College of Law Houston alumni, faculty, staff, and supporters celebrated the law school’s 100th anniversary Saturday night. The sold-out Centennial Gala exceeded expectations, raising nearly $750,000 to support student scholarships. A highlight was a performance by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee the Spinners.

“We are thankful to the many generous contributors for their support of our students and our law school,” said President and Dean Michael F. Barry. “The sole focus of the gala is student scholarships, and this is our largest fundraiser. The annual gala is tremendously important to our ability to bring an exceptional legal education within reach for dedicated students eager to study law.”

Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz and Stogner was presenting sponsor for the gala. Two couples with strong ties to the law school — Karen and Roland Garcia ’86, and Jen and Brant Stogner, both class of ’06 — chaired the event. Roland Garcia is a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Brant Stogner is a partner at Abraham Watkins, and Jen Stogner is Of Counsel at Abraham Watkins and president of the STCL Houston Alumni Association Board of Directors.

The gala featured a film celebrating four second-year South Texas Law students: Davis Burns from Houston; Jaylan Sanders, originally from Macon, Ga.; Paola Vela from Mission, Texas; and Malik Wilson, part-time student from Houston.

Guests filled the lower and upper stories of the classic Corinthian. The special evening included a champagne toast to STCL Houston’s first 100 years — and to the next 100 years as well!

The Gala was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of September 24, 1923 — the official day classes began at South Texas 100 years ago.

Click here for more Centennial Reunion Week event photos.

Anyone wishing to donate to student scholarships at South Texas Law may do so at stcl.edu/give.

STCL HOUSTON CELEBRATES J.D. GRADUATES AT SPRING 2023 COMMENCEMENT

 

 

 

South Texas College of Law Houston conferred Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) degrees to more than 240 graduates May 13 during the Spring 2023 Commencement ceremony at the George R. Brown Convention Center. STCL Houston, which is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, honored the graduates for their hard work, outstanding academic achievement, and their perseverance through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Congratulations on a job very well done,” said President and Dean Michael F. Barry. “As the graduates of 2023, you will forever be known as the ‘Centennial Class’ of South Texas College of Law Houston. I hope this distinction carries with it a special sense of pride for you — and a special sense of purpose. I am sure our founders would be proud of your persistence, commitment, and dedication, undeterred by the seemingly ever-changing landscape the global pandemic created. Because you persevered, I have the honor of proudly welcoming you today into the distinguished profession of law.”

 

Commencement speaker Nathan L. Hecht, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court and the longest-tenured Texas judge in active service, delivered a commencement speech that congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments – and challenged the newly minted attorneys to foster innovations that will make the justice system more accessible to Texas citizens.

Justice Hecht also reminded the graduates of their role in preserving the rule of law, engaging in civil discourse, and maintaining our democracy using the art of persuasion. “Law school has enveloped you in a culture of persuasion, has shown you the power of ideas and words, and has given you the tools to use them,” Hecht said. “Now it’s your turn to take on the changes that will keep our justice system not only the best in the world, but the best in the history of the world.”

 

 

Taylor Leger, valedictorian of the graduating class, was an active and successful member of the law school’s award-winning Advocacy program. A second-career student, Leger achieved the highest grade in many of her classes, securing a spot on the Dean’s Honor List each semester. She won the Best National Brief Award at the prestigious New York City Bar’s 72nd National Moot Court competition, and the Dean’s Outstanding Advocate Award.

Leger encouraged her fellow graduates to share their moment of triumph with all the people in their lives who were supportive of them throughout their law school experience. Her address included wishes for success and personal growth – particularly when that growth is the result of conflicts and difficulties.

 

HOUSTON COMMUNITY JOINS STCL HOUSTON IN CELEBRATING ITS CENTENNIAL FOUNDER’S DAY APRIL 13

 

 

A day of celebrations marked South Texas College of Law Houston’s Centennial Founder’s Day April 13 on the campus of Houston’s oldest law school.

Addressing an audience of some 500 alumni, community leaders, faculty, staff and students, STCL Houston Board Chair Genora Boykins ’85 kicked off the day’s activities. She welcomed the audience and a slate of guest speakers that included judges, community leaders, and federal, state, and local officials.  From Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, each emphasized the significant contributions South Texas has made to the community in its first 100 years.

Dave Oelman, a member of the STCL Houston Board of Visitors and a great-grand nephew of the law school’s founding dean, Judge Joseph C. Hutcheson, Jr., introduced STCL Houston President and Dean Michael F. Barry. A partner at the law firm of Vinson & Elkins, Oelman included historical context and family recollections about Judge Hutcheson in his introductory remarks.

Dean Barry delivered a  multi-media presentation, “STCL at 100,” highlighting the law school’s many accomplishments over the last century and its distinguished place in the region’s legal community. The presentation provided an historical background and timeline, interwoven with the school’s commitment to its mission.

“I stand here in awe today of what this law school has accomplished over a century… the opportunities created, the doors opened, the minds sharpened, the lives changed,” Barry said. “South Texas has contributed greatly to the legal community and has changed the face of law in Houston, in Texas, and across the country.”

Many national, state, and local organizations and individuals marked the day by issuing special proclamations, including Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, U.S. Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, City Councilman Robert Gallegos, and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who proclaimed April 13 as “South Texas College of Law Day.”

 

Other guest speakers included U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, State Bar of Texas President Laura Gibson, YMCA of Greater Houston President and CEO Stephen Ives, and Executive Director Betty Balli Torres of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

A number of guests who could not attend were featured in recorded remarks, including Governor Greg Abbott, U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Texas Representative and STCL Houston alumna Ann Johnson, and Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben.

In addition to the presentations and the dean’s address, the Centennial Founders Day Celebration included a 24-hour Give Day fundraiser. The goal was to raise 100 for 100 or $100,000 for 100 years of legal education, and the results were impressive. Give Day raised $117,924 from 256 donors. Alumna Sharon Schweitzer ’89 stepped up with a leadership gift of $50,000 to challenge her fellow alumni to make their own commitment during Give Day. Alumni can still give by going to my.stcl.edu/giveday.

“The law school of the future does not yet exist,” Barry said. “It is our collective responsibility to envision it. And then it is our responsibility to create it. For 100 years, we have provided individuals with a chance. And future generations are counting on us to innovate and evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of students — and the legal profession — for the decades to come.”

The future of STCL Houston will build on its strong foundation. Barry said, “We will remain true to our history and our mission. We will strive for excellence in all we do. We will commit ourselves to diversity. We will create opportunity. And we will be bold in service to our community and our profession.”

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: RON HAGGERTY ’96: PRESIDENT OF STCL HOUSTON BLACK ALUMNI CHAPTER PASSES BATON

 

Second-career attorney Ron Haggerty ’96 attended law school part-time at South Texas College of Law Houston while working for a large power company.

“I was a mechanical engineer, working as an operations manager at a power generating facility,” Haggerty said. “In a few years’ time, I went from being a guy who worked in power plants, to being a guy who worked on deals to build power plants.”

A background in science made Haggerty the ideal candidate to become a patent and intellectual property lawyer. After passing the bar, he found himself in the legal department of the power company he worked for, eventually rising to the position of Assistant General Counsel. A corporate attorney at the forefront of the energy business, he consulted on the development and construction of power plants and pipelines and was plunged into international travel and transactional work.

“STCL Houston allowed me to experience the career-changing potential of the law degree,” he said. “However, I did have a big learning curve when I began the journey. As a nontraditional student, I had to relearn how to study and take exams.” As a graduate of Prairie View A&M University, a historically black institution, Haggerty had never attended a predominantly white school. “I had to learn how to navigate this new environment.”

Remembering how it felt to be in that situation, Haggerty is dedicated to helping others learn to navigate unfamiliar waters and bring people together. He was involved in the creation of the Alumni Association’s Black Alumni Chapter (BAC) in 2016 and became its president in 2017.

“I wanted to use my skill set and talents to help others, while creating an opportunity for people to bring a different perspective to STCL Houston,” he said. BAC members have served on search committees and advised leadership on various social issues.

Haggerty believes his most significant contribution as president of the BAC was creating an emergency fund to assist students who are “in the no-man’s land” between earning the law degree and passing the bar exam. “It can be a tough time. You are not a student any longer, and you are not a lawyer yet,” he said. “You are studying for the bar exam. Your financial aid is running out, and there are bills to pay. We were able to galvanize BAC members to give generously.”

A native Houstonian from Sunnyside, Haggerty credits his parents with his passion for public service. His father was a first-class machinist and civil rights pioneer who successfully sued his employer and won the right for African Americans to apply for skilled labor jobs and be hired. His mother was an entrepreneur who owned a successful hair salon and always encouraged him to “do his part.”

“I got a lot of encouragement and support from my parents, in word and in example,” he said.

Haggerty, now a solo practitioner, plans to remain involved with the BAC as the immediate past president and lend stability to the organization as the transition to new leadership takes place. “I will still be available to meet with students and alumni to let them know they belong, they can do this, and they get to decide what success will look like as they pursue their career.”

 
ALUMNI PROFILE: JENNIFER STOGNER ’06

Jennifer Stogner ’06 wants to build community. So much so that in her Commencement welcome as president of the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, she invited the December graduating class of 2022 to lunch with her. All of them, one on one, and she will pick up the check. “Just send me an email. We’ll go to lunch and discuss your career path,” she said.

Stogner is excited about her new position and the opportunities it brings to make a difference in the careers of attorneys – both recent graduates and established lawyers.

“Building community requires relationships,” she said. “It requires connections and conversations.  Diversity and inclusion are necessary. The Benny Agosto, Jr. Diversity Center is a fantastic way to really bring us together and to listen to all the elements of our community. It also requires trust: knowing you can ask for help when you need it, and you will receive it. Community also means giving back through new relationships. If you had a great mentor, I hope you will consider paying it forward and being a good mentor to a young lawyer who is just like you used to be.”

Born in Galveston and raised in Corpus Christi, Stogner is a married mother of three. She always wanted to be a lawyer.

“I liked to argue, and often found myself standing up for what I thought was right, even as a child,” she said. Stogner worked as a legal assistant for her father, making $6 an hour for two years prior to law school. His gold standard is still her golden rule: “If it goes out with our family name on it, it had better be right. Otherwise, it tarnishes the reputation we worked so hard to build.” Forty-nine years after graduation, her father continues to practice law in Corpus Christi.

Stogner decided to attend STCL Houston because it was her father’s alma mater (Michael O’Brien ’74) and because, as a debate and theater veteran, she dreamed of joining the award-winning advocacy program under Associate Dean T. Gerald Treece. Also, one of the largest factors was a conversation with Assistant Dean of Admissions Alicia Cramer.

“I had toured other schools, but there was a synergy at South Texas,” Stogner said. “Dean Cramer really listened and answered all my questions. It just felt right.”

She met the man she would marry on the first day of orientation at STCL Houston — fellow student Brant Stogner ’06. “We were study partners, we started dating, and we won a national title in mock trial together,” she said. “I like to think it was meant to be.”

Building on their relationship and ties to the school, Dean Treece officiated their wedding ceremony.  Indeed, two of their law school classmates, Ryan Haun ’06 and Rick Berlin ’06, are godfathers to their two sons.

Today, Stogner is Of Counsel with Abraham Watkins Nichols Agosto Aziz & Stogner, the oldest plaintiff’s personal injury firm in Texas, where she works with her husband and firm partner, Brant.

Celebrating the law school’s centennial year as the president of the Alumni Association board is particularly exciting for Stogner, who also is serving on the Centennial Steering Committee.

“I think about the original mission of South Texas: to provide a legal education to anyone,” Stogner said. “This school was founded during Prohibition, just after World War I ended, and a few years after women were given the right to vote. They created this co-ed law school for working people. It took a leap of faith based on the relationships of our founders. 100 years is an amazing milestone, but without relationships, without community, we never could have made it this far. It’s our job to continue that legacy – to foster faith in the practice of law and fellowship with one another.”

Stogner is working with other board members to create new opportunities for meaningful networking and mentorship that will bridge the gap between students and alumni.

“Being a young lawyer can be scary. Each one deserves a good mentor,” Stogner said. “Additionally, the energy that law students and recent graduates bring with them benefits established attorneys. They can see the spark in their eyes and sense their excitement and good energy. That ultimately benefits the firm who hires them and their clients, too. It’s win, win, win.”

Outside the office, Stogner enjoys watching her three children play basketball, soccer, baseball, or beating them in any board game or video game of their choice.

VETERAN PROFILE: ERIC D’OLIVE ’11

Eric D’Olive ’11 serves as general counsel for Emmanor Group, Inc., a private investment firm with a large real estate portfolio. He is a member of the South Texas College of Law Houston Alumni Association’s Board of Directors. His grandfather, Norman S. D’Olive ’33, was an early South Texas alumnus.

Married with three children, D’Olive is also a volunteer mentor with the Houston Bar Association. His demeanor is calm and collected. You might not suspect he once spent time jumping out of airplanes as a paratrooper.

The former Squad Leader, U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, is proud of his combat infantry badge and his six years of service. D’Olive enlisted in 2003, not long after the beginning of the Iraq War. With a family history of military service, he knew he wanted to do his part. He had always told himself that if there was a war, he would go fight in it.

“I arrived in Iraq at the time of their elections, and our mission was to re-establish order,” D’Olive said. “I am so glad I was able to serve at that time, but it seems a bit surreal to have been part of history, part of something that happened on the world stage.”

D’Olive continues to make full use of what he learned during his military service. He believes veterans often succeed as law students and as attorneys because of their training.

“We know how to plan and prepare, and when you are prepared there is no need to be nervous,” he said. “Combat veterans usually bring a grateful, positive attitude. There is a certain confidence and maturity you gain in the field — an ability to stay focused and keep things in perspective, even in the face of unexpected adversity.”

 
STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: TAYLORE WILLIAMS, 3L, RECEIVES COMMENDATION FOR PRO BONO SERVICE

 

South Texas College of Law Houston received notice that Taylore Williams, a law student in her final semester, was commended by the Texas Access to Justice Commission for “her outstanding contributions to the provision of legal services to the poor.”

Williams was nominated by the law school as STCL Houston’s 2022 representative for the TAJC Law Student Pro Bono Award. The TAJC executive director, in her letter to the school, noted that she was “personally very impressed with Taylore’s work.”

Law school is Williams’ second career. Prior to law school, she worked as a scientist and regulatory affairs manager in cell and gene therapy at Lonza Biologics. She chose to attend STCL Houston was because she wanted to close the socioeconomic equity gap in the biopharmaceutical field. As she notes, the only way for scientists to discover new and unique solutions to medical diseases is by diversity of thought.

“Diverse groups of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds are needed to solve these complex problems,” Williams said. “However, lower socioeconomic populations are generally excluded from being able to engage in scientific research.” Her goal as an attorney is to help start-ups navigate the fundraising, corporate, legal, and regulatory landscape to ensure society has the best medicine science can create.

While in law school, Williams has been actively and passionately involved in the Actual Innocence Clinic within STCL

Houston’s Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics. This clinic is close to her heart. While working in Maryland, she volunteered as a track and field coach, and one of her athletes was wrongly convicted of a murder he did not commit.

“I felt helpless in that situation, and I never wanted another person to feel that way, so I enrolled in the Actual Innocence Clinic with Dean Burnett,” Williams said.

Her background in science was rare and valuable in the Actual Innocence Clinic. It allowed her to discover alternative ways science can be used to make sure the wrong person is not wrongfully incarcerated. She provided roughly 120 hours of pro bono work with the Actual Innocence Clinic.

“One of the problems we encountered in the clinic is sifting through all the mail we get from people who are incarcerated and think they have a claim,” Williams recalled. As part of her service, she worked on a machine-learning text analytics tool that would be able to sift through the mail and help determine potential claims vs. non-claims. After graduation, she wants to complete the tool so that the team at South Texas can spend more time helping clients and less time doing non-value-added work.

Outside of school, the majority of Taylore’ legal pro bono work is in the realm of government affairs as a lobbyist. She has had the opportunity to meet with legislators on the state and federal level to lobby for programs that benefit all levels of society. In the past year, she was able to go to Capitol Hill to meet with several senators on behalf of patient groups to lobby for the passing of two bills to benefit ultra-rare disease patients.

Williams went to Virginia Tech, and the school motto there is UT PROSIM, which is Latin for “that I may serve.”

“That is what pro bono means to me… being a servant to the most vulnerable people in society,” she said. “I think the kind of student you are is the kind of lawyer you will be. So even as a student, I have committed myself to serving others. I believe that we, as future leaders, have a responsibility to create pathways of accessibility for the next generation.”

At STCL Houston, Williams has been actively involved in the Black Law Students Association, serving on the BLSA board for two years. She has helped BLSA raise more than $9,000 for scholarships. With BLSA, she also has focused on helping students dealing with food insecurity and food instability, helping them understand how they can apply for SNAP benefits without feeling shame or guilt.

After law school, Williams plans to join Wilson Sonsini in the corporate and biotech transactional practice groups. With the skills she learns in the transactional practice group, she wants to help impoverished and underrepresented groups start tech companies. She also plans to continue working with the Actual Innocence Clinic because it is “very dear to my heart.”

Catherine Greene Burnett,  South Texas associate dean for experiential education, professor of law, and director of the Actual Innocence Clinic, said, “Taylore exemplifies the passion and commitment that are hallmarks of the STCL Houston student.”

 
ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: TARA TAHERI ’11, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF NIGHT COURT 2022

 

Tara Taheri ’11, a native Houstonian and senior privacy associate at Baylor College of Medicine, is executive producer of Night Court 2022, “Justice by the Dozen,” set Aug. 17-20 at the Hobby Center. Part of the proceeds benefit the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics at South Texas College of Law Houston. Go here for tickets, and use the promo code STCL to get $5 off.

In this Q&A, Taheri shares insights about producing Night Court and being a proud second-generation STCL Houston alum.

What is Night Court and how did you get involved?

Night Court is Houston’s all-lawyer theater company that performs an original musical comedy annually at the Hobby Center in downtown Houston. It is a public 501(c)(3) charity that donates its proceeds to Houston-area charities that provide free legal services to people in need here in our community. This includes the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics at South Texas.

I became involved with Night Court in 2014. I love the nonprofit’s mission, and I have a passion for singing, dancing, and acting. This show is a fantastic way to blend my interests. In addition, I remembered Dean Helen Jenkins discussing Night Court during law school. I had the honor of performing with her in the show several times!

What keeps you involved in Night Court?

Working together to help people who need free legal services means so much to me. Lawyers in Night Court wear many hats. They build and paint sets for the stage, rehearse songs, learn choreography, and more in just six weeks.

It is emotional to experience the creative role everyone plays while bringing together a successful show that impacts our community. I want to note that Night Court couldn’t exist without the generous support of donors and sponsors. They are pivotal in the organization’s mission. It’s been an honor to share the stage with incredibly gifted and sensational people, and to connect off-stage with noble, passionate charity leaders.

Switching gears a bit, what made you decide to become a lawyer?

I grew up listening to my dad, Dr. Marshall Taheri ’73, tell stories of helping others in his role as an attorney. It really resonated with me and was a driving factor in my decision to attend law school. Advocating for others and for animals is extremely important to me.

Why did you choose South Texas Law?

My dad always spoke highly of South Texas College of Law Houston. It’s a family-like environment and the professors are outstanding. They not only teach the law but really demonstrate preparation and professionalism.

How does it feel for STCL Houston to be such a big part of your family?

It’s tremendous feeling. We all had the great experience of studying at a top-notch school. My sister, Sara Taheri ’11, attended South Texas at the same time. Law school is such a memorable experience, and it was especially memorable that we were here together. We didn’t often study together, but we talked about classes and challenges and professors.

We had the same classes for the first year and then we branched off into our areas of specific interest. Though Sara and I are not twins, people sometimes confused us or wondered which of us was older.

What are family dinners like?

They are interesting! We frequently discuss current legal cases and ask each other for our opinions and thoughts. In addition, Dad enjoys discussing, generally, about some of his past cases. He loves the law. It’s always been his passion.

How did your experience at South Texas shape you as a lawyer?

Since the professors emphasized preparation and presentation, it provided a stellar legal foundation combined with confidence.

What student organizations, if any, were you part of while attending law school?

I was a senior senator, worked as a Lexis Nexis Associate, and served as a member of the Animal Law Society, and Sports and Entertainment Law. Annually, I participated as a student marshal at graduation, dabbled a little in mock trial, and was added to the Garland R. Walker American Inn of Court, where I’m still a member.

Was there a particular law professor who made a big difference in your education or career path?

Although, she wasn’t my professor, Dean Helen Jenkins and I have had a chance to perform together, and she introduced me to Night Court. She’s an amazing professor and friend. In addition, Professor Lisa Dahm was a major influence in introducing me to privacy and security in the healthcare sector. She and Dean Jenkins are still my mentors to this day!

What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now? What are your goals?

Privacy and Security are interesting to me, and I hope to continue down this path for many years. Additionally, since being in the role of media chair for Night Court, I’ve become intrigued by media relations and consider dabbling more in that area as well. I studied music as an undergraduate and played in an all-original local band. In addition, I used to sing with the band at church and currently perform in Commissioner Cagle’s Shakespeare in the Shade. Performing is a passion that will always be a part of my life.

NAACP PRESIDENT PRESENTS INAUGURAL DIVERSITY LECTURE

 

 

Alumnus Derrick Johnson ’97, president and CEO of the NAACP, addressed a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday, Oct. 4 as he delivered the inaugural lecture for The Benny J. Agosto, Jr. Diversity Center at the South Texas College of Law Houston.

Urging members of the legal community to “force the Constitution to live up to its promise,” Johnson spoke passionately about the need to support diversity and strengthen democracy.

“Democracy is messy and none of us has all the answers,” he said. “But we all have a piece of the solution, which means we must work together. It’s our job to make possible what others think is impossible.”

“We are excited to launch our Agosto Lecture Series with an alumnus who is a champion for civil rights and racial justice,” said South Texas Law’s Dean and President Michael F. Barry. “Derrick Johnson’s inaugural lecture today is the first of many conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal community.”

The center, founded with a $3 million donation from alumnus Benny Agosto, Jr. ’95 and his wife, Nichole, will host prominent scholars, thought leaders, and innovators who can foster important conversations — both inside the law school and in the larger legal community.

“Our differences make us stronger,” said Benny J. Agosto, Jr. ’95 in his remarks. “Diversity creates firsts, and to be the ‘first’ is to be free of the restraints of history.” He encouraged those present to “set remarkable goals.”

The Agosto Diversity Lecture series aims to engage STCL Houston students and the legal community on diverse topics, fully embracing the conversations and public policy surrounding diversity and what it
means to be a lawyer in a pluralistic society.

Johnson thanked the Agosto family and praised STCL Houston’s leadership for “creating a space at the
law school that is welcoming and inclusive – and leading important conversations about diversity.”

“We are grateful to the Agosto family for making the center possible and we appreciate Mr. Johnson for launching the center’s Diversity Lecture Series with such an excellent presentation,” said Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Professor of Law Shelby Moore.

 

About the Distinguished Speaker

Derrick Johnson ’97 serves as president and CEO of the NAACP, a position he has held since 2017. Johnson formerly served as vice chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors and as state president for the Mississippi State Conference NAACP. A longstanding member and leader of the NAACP, Johnson has helped guide the association through a period of re-envisioning and reinvigoration.

Under his leadership, the NAACP has undertaken such efforts as the 2018 “Log Out” Facebook Campaign, pressuring Facebook after reports of Russian hackers targeting African Americans; the Jamestown-to-Jamestown Partnership, marking the 400th year enslaved Africans first touched the shores of America; and the 2020 We are Done Dying Campaign, exposing the inequities embedded into the American healthcare system and the country at large.

Born in Detroit, Johnson attended Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He then received his J.D. degree from South Texas College of Law Houston. He completed fellowships with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the George Washington University School of Political Management, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has served as an annual guest lecturer at Harvard Law School and as an adjunct professor at Tougaloo College.

 

About South Texas College of Law Houston
South Texas College of Law Houston is one of America’s most diverse law schools in America’s most diverse city. In 1923, the YMCA established the law school to offer night classes for working professionals. Today, the ABA-accredited, independent law school in downtown Houston offers both full-time and part-time schedules to earn a J.D. degree. STCL Houston, recognized nationally as an advocacy powerhouse, provides an exceptional legal education featuring renowned faculty and nationally recognized, experienced-based learning. The law school’s 16,000-plus alumni lead and serve with distinction as Texas Supreme Court justices, Fortune 500 CEOs, Tier 1 attorneys, state and national officials, judges, law professors, and more.

STCL HOUSTON RANKS FOURTH IN ABA’S COMPETITION CHAMPIONSHIP

South Texas College of Law Houston placed No. 4 in the nation on the American Bar Association’s (ABA) 2021-22 Competition Champions list, rising two places in the rankings since last year’s inaugural appearance.

Published annually by the ABA’s Law Student Division, the list recognizes law schools that go the extra mile to help prepare their students for practice. The list is compiled using law schools’ performance in four national practice skills competitions – Arbitration, Negotiation, Client Counseling, and the National Appellate Advocacy Competition. This year, more than 1,300 students from 281 law schools virtually participated in one or more of the competitions sponsored by the Law Student Division.

“Our four competitions offer students an amazing opportunity to hone essential lawyering skills before they enter practice,” said Connie S. Smothermon, ABA competitions committee co-chair. “Through consistent participation and success in ABA competitions, these law schools display especially well-rounded practical skills training programs. We are thrilled to recognize these schools through the Competitions Championship.”

STCL Houston Prof. Debra Berman, director of the law school’s Frank Evans Center for Conflict Resolution, said, “These competitions are an integral component of the experiential programming available to students at the law school. Our successful track record is attributable not only to the hard work our students and alumni coaches devote to preparing for the competitions but also to the practical skills students learn simultaneously in classes.” Prof. Berman’s students have brought home 23 national and international championships over the last decade.

Under the guidance of Prof. Rob Galloway, STCL Houston’s vice president, advocacy, South Texas students have claimed five national advocacy championships in the past academic year, bringing the law school’s total to 138 — more than twice as many as any other law school.

This year’s top 10 list was dominated by Texas law schools, with five of the positions going to schools in the Lone Star state.

The 2021-22 top 10 ABA competition law schools by points were:

  • University of Houston Law Center, 1st
  • Mercer University – Walter F. George School of Law, Tie for 2nd
  • SMU – Southern Methodist University – Dedman School of Law, Tie for 2nd
  • South Texas College of Law Houston, 4th
  • Fordham University School of Law, 5th
  • University of California Hastings College of the Law, 6th
  • Texas Tech University School of Law, 7th
  • Stetson University College of Law, 8th
  • Baylor University School of Law, 9th
  • Brooklyn Law School, Tie for 10th
  • Michigan State University College of Law, Tie for 10th

For more information, contact:
Pamela Gibbs-Smith
Director, Public Relations and Community Engagement
281.832.2178 (c) | 713.646.1799
pgibbs@stcl.edu

STCL HOUSTON AWARDED A 2022 HOUSTON METHODIST DEI GRANT TO SUPPORT ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

 

The Houston Methodist Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program has awarded STCL Houston’s expunction/nondisclosure program a 2022-2023 Social Equity Grant — the second year the program has been recognized with a generous grant from this fund.

The grant will support the efforts of the expunction/nondisclosure program in the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinic to help Black and Hispanic adults clear or seal criminal records — which assists them with obtaining employment, housing and economic stability.

 “The cases that come through this program involve people with compelling stories, seeking access to justice but lacking the funds to do so,” said Vinh Ho, managing attorney of the Civil Practice Clinics and Immigration Initiatives at STCL Houston. “Without legal aid and volunteer legal service programs, many would be denied the right to work, live and protect their families.”

This year’s grant will aid STCL Houston’s program with managing more than 50 cases it currently handles for disadvantaged persons of color who have been disproportionately affected by past criminal history.

With the grant funds received last year, Ho said, the law school was able to co-host two successful community outreach events where people reviewed their criminal history with attorneys; trained 34 attorneys and law students; created materials and a video for future training; screened more than 150 people for expunction/nondisclosure eligibility; filed 27 petitions for 17 different clients; had 13 granted expunction and/or nondisclosure of their criminal records; and are waiting on results on the rest. Additional cases are nearly ready to file.

To learn more about STCL Houston’s legal clinics, click here.

39 LEADING FIRMS AND COMPANIES PARTICIPATE IN ON-CAMPUS STUDENT INTERVIEWS

South Texas College of Law Houston’s Career Resource Center (CRC) hosted 39 employers last week to conduct on-campus student interviews and collect resumes.

Over a two-week application period, nearly 800 students applied to be considered for the 2023 summer associate and summer intern positions that, in many cases, lead to job offers when students near graduation.

Shantal Formia, J.D., interim senior director for the CRC, noted that the law school has not been able to host a fully in-person interview program since the Covid shutdown in spring 2020.

“We were thrilled to see the area filled, once again, with students in their best suits, waiting to talk with representatives of exceptional employers,” Formia said.

Fifty-six practitioners — many of whom are South Texas Law alumni — conducted 337 unique interviews this
week.

The CRC will hold the next round of on-campus student interviews in September. Interested firms can sign-up for the September sessions here.

Several employers had positive things to say about recruiting students from South Texas Law.

Ray Kutch ’09

Thompson Coe

“I know the caliber and determination of the students here. I know the value of the instruction and the professional preparation.” 

Assumpta Iheaso ’20

Thompson Coe

“The exceptional caliber of people that South Texas produces, especially with regard to advocacy. They make strong litigators, and that’s important to our goals.” 

Alyssa Henke 

Recruiter, Jackson Walker

“South Texas College of Law people are great, and they bring with them a willingness to help out. Also, they are a great cultural fit with our firm. Also, the staff and faculty here make connecting easy.” 

Participating firms

Andrews Myers, P.C.
BakerHostetler LLP
Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC
BDO USA, LLP
Bracewell LLP
Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP
Chamberlain Hrdlicka White Williams & Aughtry
Cokinos |Young
Crady Jewett McCulley & Houren LLP
Fee Smith & Sharp LLP
Foley & Lardner LLP
Foster LLP
Frost Brown Todd LLC
Germer PLLC
Gray Reed & McGraw LLP
Haynes and Boone, LLP
Hirsch & Westheimer, P.C.
Holland & Knight LLP
Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP
Husch Blackwell LLP
Jackson Walker LLP
Kane Russell Coleman & Logan PC
Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Locke Lord LLP
Lloyd Gosselink Rochelle & Townsend, P.C.
McGlinchey Stafford PLLC
MehaffyWeber PC
Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, P.C.
Norton Rose Fulbright
Patterson + Sheridan, LLP
Peckar & Abramson, P.C.
Phelps Dunbar, LLP
Polsinelli PC
Porter Hedges LLP
Seward & Kissle LLP
Shook Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.
Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox PLLC
Thompson Coe Cousins & Irons LLP
Vinson & Elkins LLP
Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease LLP

STCL HOUSTON ALUMNA POSITIVELY IMPACTS YOUTH, DIVERSE COMMUNITIES AS ATTORNEY, VOLUNTEER

 

“I am at my best when my hands and mind are busy and I am connected to something outside myself, working with others to solve problems,” said STCL Houston alumna Brittny Mandarino Curry ’20.

Her intention to make an impact on education reform figured prominently in her decision to become a lawyer. She works for the Harris County Public Defender’s Office in the juvenile division, representing the interests of justice-involved youth in matters of discipline, special education and educational access.

“Students frequently have difficulty navigating their re-entry to school after involvement with the juvenile justice system,” Curry said. “The stigma attached to justice involvement is pervasive in education, and it’s my job to help identify the students’ needs — on campus and off — and collaborate with the school district’s staff to see that the student receives the appropriate support during this transition to return to school.”

She gets tremendous satisfaction out of working with a team of former educators and passionate youth advocates at the Public Defender’s Office.

“My teen clients want and deserve to be heard,” she said. “As their attorney, I may be one of the very few adults in their lives to ask what they want and to advocate for the outcomes they desire. By making a case for their stated interest, I can help them develop a sense of agency and become empowered to make positive, productive decisions in the future.”

Curry’s desire to make an impact and inspire others drives her to be an active and passionate volunteer.  While at STCL Houston, she was involved with several student organizations, including the Women’s Law Society, The Black Law Students Association and AMICUS — the school’s affinity group for LGBTQ+ students. Curry also was an active leader with the South Texas Law Review and the Houston Young Lawyers Association.

Curry was recently elected the 2022-23 president-elect of the Houston Young Lawyers Association (HYLA). She has served as a board member and committee co-chair for HYLA’s Know Your Rights Committee, an initiative that focuses on promoting healthy interactions between youth and law enforcement in our communities.

“These programs, and those like it, are critical for increasing positive outcomes for youth in the Houston area,” Curry said. “We are all responsible for supporting this next generation, and what better way for our lawyers to be involved than in educating young people about their constitutional rights. It’s a rewarding experience and the kids are engaged.”

Curry also is a member of the Houston Bar Association’s Gender Fairness Committee, which is committed to promoting awareness of issues related to gender parity in the legal profession.

 “As a lawyer and female person of color, who also identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, my presence and representation is noticed, and I have the incredible opportunity to pull others in,” she said.

Curry uses the platform provided by the Gender Fairness Committee and the Houston Coalition for Diverse Bar Associations to encourage meaningful dialogues and conversations about diversity, equity and fairness in the workplace, and its impact is far reaching.

The Gender Fairness Committee published its most recent Gender Fairness Commitment Statement in 2021, welcoming more than 60 Houston law firms and government agencies who pledged support to advancing gender equity in their respective organizations.

“There’s room for so many more at the table,” Curry said. “I urge stakeholders to sign on and commit!”

As a member of the coalition, Curry supports its mission to advance diversity in the legal profession and to address common concerns and strategic goals of organizations like the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, the South Asian Bar Association and the Houston Lawyers Association —Houston’s African American bar association.

Interested in service opportunities that were not legal in nature, Curry discovered Covenant House Texas (CHT) and the Hollyfield Foundation. Curry and her wife, Nahdra, are active in Covenant House Texas’ Young Professionals group. They slept on a sidewalk recently as part of the organization’s annual “Sleep Out” fundraiser to bring attention to the experience of homeless individuals.

Curry hopes to continue volunteering to support CHT’s mission to shelter and support homeless, abused and abandoned youth in Houston and across Texas. “LGBTQ+ youth have an increased risk for homelessness and are especially vulnerable to trafficking and other harmful victimization, and we are committed to sharing our time and talents to this cause,” she said.

The Hollyfield Foundation also benefits from Curry’s involvement. This organization is a Houston-based endowment that funds nonprofits on the front lines who serve the LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS populations.

“We donate to historically underfunded initiatives, providing the financial means to help these organizations advance in their work,” Curry said. “It makes a real difference, and we see those dollars invested back into our community. Our impact is far-reaching, and I am blessed to be able to do this work.”

Curry is dedicated to doing things that bring her joy. This includes competitive bowling, cycling and enjoying Houston’s exciting food scene.

“If you’re on social media, please follow my friend and fellow STCL Houston alum John Nechman ’95 as he highlights Houston’s best undercover food finds,” Curry said.

She is also dedicated to personal growth as she continues to give of herself to make the world a more equitable place. “I am constantly evolving as an individual and as a leader, and I am excited for what’s in store!” she said. “What’s for certain is that I will continue to show up, be present and listen, and do what’s in my power to move the needle toward a more just and inclusive world.”

STCL Houston Alumnus Wins Nautilus Award for Book About Camp Logan Soldiers

Jaime Salazar, a 2015 alumnus of South Texas College of Law Houston (STCL Houston), recently won a 2022 Nautilus Award for his book “Mutiny of Rage,” based on the 1917 Camp Logan riots that occurred in Houston.

The Nautilus Award’s core mission is to celebrate and honor books that support positive social change and social justice, amid other goals. Salazar’s book, released by Prometheus Books in August 2021, includes a foreword by Geoffrey S. Corn, the Gary A. Kuiper Distinguished Professor of National Security Law at STCL Houston.

Salazar was a former student of Prof. Corn while in law school, and Prof. Corn has been actively involved in trying to restore honor to the Camp Logan soldiers.

“ ‘Mutiny of Rage’ does something few books have attempted before: it contributes to a present-day awareness of the tragic end that befell these soldiers,” wrote Prof. Corn, who also is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.

STCL Houston Professor Kenneth Williams also praised the book. “Salazar recreated an important yet overlooked moment in Texas and American history with a searing narrative about the Camp Logan race riots of 1917. Mutiny of Rage is at once gripping and vital in understanding the injustices that African Americans too often endure in the American criminal justice system.”

Prof. Corn notes that the end of the Camp Logan story has not been written. STCL Houston faculty and students, with a variety of external collaborators, continue working on a justice  initiative related to these soldiers.

“At the very least, we must understand these events and learn from this tragedy,” Prof. Corn said.

Salazar, who lives in Houston, is a lawyer, engineer, soldier and author. He wrote the 2005 memoir Legion of the Lost, which recounted his experiences joining and subsequently fleeing the French Foreign Legion. He also co-authored Escaping the Amazon. He currently practices immigration, patent and criminal law. When not practicing law, he is dedicated to his passion for writing narrative non-fiction and to physical activity. He competed in the 2020 Houston Marathon.

Life Experience Leads STCL Houston Managing Attorney to Serve Through Pro Bono Legal Clinics

Vinh Ho,  the managing attorney of the Civil Practice Clinics and Immigration Initiatives at South Texas College of Law Houston, has a personal understanding of the challenges faced by refugees and immigrants.

He and his family were refugees after the Vietnam War, fleeing by boat in the early 1980s. Rescued and placed in refugee camps in Indonesia, they eventually resettled in Houston.

“My passion for public interest work for immigrants and refugees stems from this background,” Ho said. “To pay it forward, I have done advocacy work at the local, state, federal and international levels, focusing on Southeast Asia — just as others have advocated for me and my family.”

Ho began his career as a public interest attorney, mostly representing immigrants and refugees — first at YMCA International Services, then at Boat People SOS. His duties and roles at BPSOS expanded and became increasingly managerial and administrative over time.

“I served as the executive director for a couple of years before deciding I missed the practice of law,” he said. His desire to return to legal pursuits brought him to STCL Houston, where he was able to develop and enhance a clinical program he thought was “ripe for expansion.”

Not long after arriving at South Texas in August 2014, Ho launched the Immigration Initiatives — a program that enveloped an existing Asylum/Human Trafficking Clinic and a newly created Immigration Clinic. He felt the Immigration Clinic was long overdue as a service, with the added benefit that students would find the subject matter appealing and could pursue it as a potential career path.

Under Ho’s management, the Civil Practice Clinics have doubled in size, including the addition of Veterans, Expunction/Nondisclosure, and Landlord/Tenant clinics. The pro bono work of the STCL Houston Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics is vitally important to the law students and the community.

“First-year and other doctrinal courses help students think like lawyers,” Ho said. “Clinics help students become lawyers, applying their knowledge to real issues, clients and cases. These cases involve people with compelling stories, seeking access to justice but lacking the funds to do so. Without legal aid and volunteer legal service programs, many would be denied the right to work, live and protect their families.”

Ho has taken the clinics directly to the people of Houston. “Instead of serving as a hub where applicants or clients come to receive services, we have worked hard to embed our teams in the community,” he said.

For example, during the latter part of 2020, Ho and the clinic students and staff partnered with government entities and community-based organizations to hold drive-thru clinics. They helped hundreds of individuals facing housing instability be able to stay in their homes.

“It’s fulfilling to see the students appreciate that this gives them the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves — to see they can effect change in the lives of families,” he said.

Last year, Ho co-taught the Immigration Clinic and the Asylum/Human Trafficking Clinic. His students were not just taking a class about procedure and paperwork. They were seeing things through the lens of Ho’s lived experience, which has come full circle as he helps others in similar circumstances. “The students’ perspective was equally changed by the clients’ stories, and they understood how complicated the whole situation is for immigrants or refugees,” he said.

According to Catherine Burnett, associate dean for experiential education and professor of law at STCL Houston, Ho’s work has both impact and reach.

“As managing attorney, Vinh has been a critical part of expanding our onsite clinics while staying true to our founding vision of excellence in service and education,” Prof. Burnett said. “His leadership ensures a high, demanding degree of professionalism in our legal practice. That’s essential for the school’s ‘public interest law firm.’  It impacts the services our clients receive and models best practices for our students.”

Ho feels strongly that telling his story can help fight existing cultural biases and attract more Asian Americans to a career in law.

“In many Asian communities, there are negative stereotypes about lawyers,” he said. “We take it for granted that the legal profession garners respect here in the U.S. If you grow up in a place where lawyers are not respected or trusted, you cannot see yourself in that profession. Hopefully, my story and the work I am doing will change the way the profession is seen by first- and second-generation Asian Americans who have no other point of reference.”

Burnett agrees that Vinh plays a key role as bridge builder, within the law school and the larger community. “He seeks out and creates collaborative opportunities and keeps us connected with the larger legal needs facing the communities we serve. We are lucky he is here.”

 

Bright Futures: South Texas Student Secures Army JAG Position

Heaven Smith will soon leave South Texas College of Law Houston with a J.D. degree and a commitment to serve in the U.S. Army. She will proudly join the ranks of South Texas graduates who have served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army — or JAG officers.

The American Bar Association notes that new lawyers are becoming JAG officers more frequently, working in all legal matters involving the military. The work mirrors almost every aspect of civilian law, and JAGs are selected for each of the five U.S. military branches: Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force.

Smith is from the small town of Lake, Mississippi. She earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2014, and her Master of Social Work at Jackson State University in 2017.

Heavily involved in the Black Law Students Association, Smith served first as the social media chair then as president this past year. She said her most notable accomplishment during her time at STCL Houston was chairing the most successful Black Law Students Association scholarship gala to-date. The event produced $10,000 funding for student scholarships, and Dean Helen Jenkins was honored that night with a lifetime achievement award.

Smith also served as a Langdell Scholar for Professor Shelby Moore’s Torts 1 Class. “It was an honor to be chosen after scoring the highest in the class. Now I get to help teach and review with students. I’m helping reinforce their knowledge,” Smith said. She noted that Professor Moore has been Smith’s own mentor since year one, encouraging her to be a better law student and a better attorney.

Smith’s proudest moment was helping her mentee, Callie, earn an A-plus in the class her first semester. “Callie’s very humble, dedicates herself and is such a hard worker,” Smith said. “Seeing her success made me happy and helped me to know that what I’m doing matters.”

Smith also serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board as a voice for the student body. The group takes issues to President and Dean Michael F. Barry then helps troubleshoot and find solutions.

Choosing a path
Smith says she went to a JAG interest meeting and saw Professor Matthew Festa there. “He  took me under his wing and answered all of my questions. He was integral to steering my path,” she said.

It had been Smith’s dream since high school to go into the military, but she decided to go to college rather than pursue active duty. Once at STCL Houston, she realized she could combine her law degree with military service and set her sights on becoming an Army JAG.

Both Professor Festa and Professor Daniel Correa were supportive of Smith, and Correa wrote her a letter of recommendation.

While Smith said all her classes were applicable to her future career — as JAGs handle everything from matters of national security to administrative law, fiscal law and contract law —her 2021 summer internship at the Aviation Center of Excellence in Fort Rucker, Ala., provided invaluable exposure to the legal field.

Learning the ropes
“The internship was mind-blowing, to see everything in action,” Smith said. While there, she participated in line-of-duty investigations of airplane and helicopter crashes, as well as administrative separations and punishments. “We negotiated a 150-page contract for light bulbs, if you can believe it. I also was given a special assignment from an attorney to construct an identity theft package to investigate a disputed incident.”

Smith even drafted opine statements about court martials in different stages, from recommendation up until the actual court date. Smith said her experience solidified her desire to become an Army JAG.

While she doesn’t know her assignment yet, Smith will report to Fort Benning for officer training after she gets her Bar results in October. After that, she’ll head to Charlottesville for JAG school in either March or August. She looks forward to serving alongside her husband, who is serving in the Army.

Smith encourages other students who are interested in a career as a JAG to network within the South Texas community.

“I found a great support system of both professors and other students who helped throughout the application process,” she said. “I can’t wait to get started!”

LEARNING FROM TRIALS AND ERRORS

Judge Donna Roth

Harris County District Court Judge Donna Roth is not just a South Texas College of Law Houston alumna — class of '87. She is also the mother of an STCL Houston graduate and a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors. She, and her daughter, regularly attend new student receptions. Additionally, Judge Roth volunteers her time to support Advocacy Program's moot court and mock trial teams.

Yet, giving our current students real-world experience as interns in her courtroom could be the most significant contribution to her alma mater. Since her election to the 295th District Court and assuming office in 2019, five STCL Houston students have completed an internship with Judge Roth.

During the 2021 summer, rising 3L Trevor Finster and incoming 1L Armon Mehrinfar each joined her staff. While she typically hires students who have completed their state procedure course, she met Armon when welcoming new students, resulting in a unique opportunity to intern before stepping foot in his first law school class. Trevor, who she hired through a more traditional process, will continue his work with her this fall.

While she doesn't hire STCL Houston students exclusively, she appreciates that the law school goes beyond GPAs and LSAT scores when recruiting new students. In a recent conversation, she shared her perspective on the profession regarding students and young attorneys.

On her priorities when hiring:
"I want someone who is really open to learning, someone who has research skills, someone who is going to be able to watch and learn."

On what she wants her interns to experience:
"How the court works, how hearings are won and lost, how to write a brief, because some of the best examples of how to write a brief are looking at a bad one. The importance of being nice to court staff."

On the value of working in a courtroom:
"The way we answered that all summer long was telling the interns, 'Did you see what he just did? That's what you're not supposed to do.' Some of them are just simple things like don't forget to stand when you address the court. Don't interrupt the judge. But one of the most important things you can gain by watching others is familiarity and comfort in the courtroom."

On preparing for a career in law:
"Find someone who you are comfortable with, that you can go to for questions and problems — a mentor who can listen to you and work out issues and problems with you. Also, if you want to be successful in this business, you have to want it. You have to really want to be a lawyer. People who think, 'Oh, I don't know what to do, so I'll go to law school, probably shouldn't go to law school.'"

INTRODUCING PROF. RYAN NELSON

 

A wide breadth of knowledge and an insightful approach to teaching: That’s what students can expect when Professor Ryan Nelson joins South Texas College of Law’s faculty this fall. Inside the lecture hall, he will teach Civil Procedure I and II. Outside, he will continue his scholarship in sexual orientation discrimination and promoting equality, especially within the workplace.

In fact, it was South Texas’ commitment to diversity that first drew him to Houston. After Nelson got the job offer from STCL Houston, the stars aligned quickly; Nelson’s husband received an offer at Texas Children’s Hospital, sealing the couple’s move from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast.

Despite his impressive experience, this fall will be the professor’s first opportunity to work with 1Ls. Nelson is eager to get started, seeing this as a chance to get in on the ground floor and mold educational paths from the very first day of law school. However, Nelson doesn’t expect to simply teach those first year students. Two of his favorite law school professors showed him “the importance of humility and recognizing that even they didn’t know everything.”

Instead of lecturing, he envisions his role as a discussion leader, first getting on his students’ level in order to leverage his experience and help guide them. He says, “Let’s figure out the law together. That’s an important part of my process in working with my students.” And Nelson can’t think of any better course than Civil Procedure to validate that process. He sees Civil Procedure I and II as practical, realistic courses that will help STCL Houston students in the real world after graduation, and notes that only the best lawyers know how to leverage civil procedure and maximize their ability to represent clients.

That sentiment ties directly into a second characteristic that attracted the professor to South Texas: the school’s commitment to creating practice-ready students. “It’s important to show students how to marry scholarship with practice, and that creativity isn't just a classroom tool. You can dream up new, exciting ways to leverage the law in order to support clients AND make positive change in the world,” he says.

Making positive change is something with which Nelson is quite familiar. He’s currently researching the moral hazards of Workplace Harassment Law, hoping to disincentivize would-be harassers and tear down company policies that protect and encourage abusers. The professor’s extracurricular activities also include work with the nonprofit organization One Fair Wage and the National LGBT Bar Association. Nelson’s collaboration with One Fair Wage first developed out of an article he was writing about restaurant worker wages. After connecting with president Saru Jayaraman, Nelson realized the potential of the pair teaming up to fight for fair wages for restaurant workers. Working alongside the National Legal Advocacy Network and Gerstein Harrow LLP, they filed a lawsuit against Darden Restaurants this past spring, hoping to combat inequitable take-home wages among restaurant employees, especially those caused by race-based tipping disparities.

As for The National LGBT Bar Association, Nelson praised the opportunities he and other attorneys have received in connecting with LGBT+ attorneys and allies, saying “They’ve helped more than any other organization to invigorate my thinking on LGBT+ issues.” That’s especially the case when it comes to distinguishing between fighting for formal equality and substantive equality for members of the LGBT+ community. Regarding formal equality, Nelson sees a lot of promise for equal treatment under the law in the future. Substantive equality, however, is an issue he believes is far from a lasting resolution. He points to gender biases in healthcare, as well as equitable employer policies that need to support LGBT+ couples with the same types of perks as heterosexual couples, as examples.

Prior to joining STCL Houston, Nelson’s resume includes a research fellowship with the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. He also has adjunct faculty experience at Boston University School of Law, New England Law Boston, and New York Law School.

30 YEARS OF LGBT ADVOCACY

Mitchell Katine with pride flags

When Mitchell Katine ’85 decided to attend law school, he did not have a particular career path in mind. Katine, the son of a court reporter, studied mass communication as an undergraduate and was more interested in knowledge than vocation.

“At that time, mine was not really a practical position,” he said. “I just enjoyed learning; studying law was fun and challenging, but I wasn’t sure I’d make a life out of it.”

Nevertheless, Katine’s passion for learning earned him impressive marks in law school. He graduated fourth in his class, a distinction that landed him job interviews with several major firms.

“I didn’t land any of those jobs, however,” Katine said. “I was too honest in my interviews. When they asked what kind of law I wanted to practice, I told them I genuinely had no idea!”

Katine did eventually land a job and he has since built a successful career in real estate law. However, he found his true calling in the cases he picked up as a volunteer.

In 1986, the HIV/AIDS epidemic reached the United States, leaving in its wake many sick, marginalized patients — most of them young, gay men like Katine himself. While he personally did not face a diagnosis, he witnessed many of his friends fall ill and take on the insurmountable task of planning their own funerals. It was a grim situation caused by a disease mysterious to both the medical community and the public at large. The epidemic also created an uncharted legal landscape.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not pass until 1992; until that point, HIV/AIDS patients had little protection from employment termination, eviction, health and life insurance revocation, or denial of medical treatment. Katine took on these cases, helping dozens of clients protect their families and live out their final days with dignity. He also educated the public through seminars and workshops, many of which he hosted at STCL Houston.

His dedication to this work earned Katine a reputation as a champion for marginalized individuals, and in 1998 when a civil rights case involving LGBT clients arose in Harris County, he received the call to represent them.

Responding to a reported disturbance at John Lawrence’s apartment, police allegedly witnessed Lawrence and Tyron Garner engaging in a private, consensual sexual act. They arrested the two men and charged them with violating a Texas law that forbade same sex persons to engage in intimate sexual conduct. Katine and Lambda Legal, a national legal organization dedicated to LGBT advocacy, took on the case. A five-year legal battle ensued, rising from the county criminal court up to the Supreme Court, which reached its decision in June 2003.

Katine was in his office at Williams Birnberg & Andersen, surrounded by news cameras, when his colleagues called from Washington, D.C. to deliver the verdict. The court had ruled in their favor, reversing its original 1986 opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick, and concluding that the Texas statute violated the due process clause. Since then, Lawrence v. Texas has set precedence for several civil rights cases; Justice Anthony Kennedy even referred to the case in his majority opinion on Obergefell v. Hodges, which established marriage rights for same-sex couples. In a full-circle moment, Katine and his husband Walter Avila were married four years later.

“It’s an honor to have played a role in such an impactful case as Lawrence v. Texas,” Katine said. “My work with HIV/AIDs patients was equally, if not more, rewarding because we were helping people for whom we often were the last hope. I have two kids now, and I’m most grateful to look back on some difficult times and be able to say honestly, ‘I did what I could when others couldn’t or wouldn’t.’”

Today, Katine is a partner at Katine Nechman McLaurin LLP, where he represents diverse clients in complex legal areas with a focus in real estate litigation, estate planning, and human resources matters. He and his law partner, John Nechman ‘95 continue to advocate for marginalized and underserved individuals through LGBT family law cases and a robust immigration law practice.

Organization Blog
Alumni Spotlight with Dave Polsinelli ’13

Q:  What brought you to law school?

A:  I went to college not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. And the luckiest thing that happened to me – one of the required courses for my finance degree was business law.  I cracked open the textbook for business law, and I realized that for the first time in three years I actually enjoyed reading a textbook. After that, I started looking into what I needed to do to apply to law school. 

 

Q: What brought you to South Texas?

A: While I was applying to school and taking the LSAT, I started thinking about where the best place would be to live. And for me, being a California native and going to college in Connecticut, I learned being in Connecticut that cold weather is not my thing! So I looked into options in Texas, and South Texas College of Law Houston looked like a very pragmatic school where a lot of successful lawyers and judges had gone. And I guess you could say the rest is history.

 

Q:  What was your most memorable time at South Texas?

A:  Absolutely, undoubtedly moot court.  I was in several tournaments and was lucky enough to win a national championship in the National Criminal Law Tournament in San Diego. Some of my best friends to this day were in moot court with me, and I think probably the most valuable skill that I apply to this day as a lawyer is what I learned during moot court, especially when it comes to seeing both sides of an issue.

 

Q: What's special about South Texas?

A: South Texas to me is a very practical school that has a focus on skills that will help you become a better lawyer. It certainly has great professors, nice facilities, great location, but the focus is always on what's it going to take to put this student in a position to succeed in a legal career.  What kind of skills do we want to provide to these these students so they can become better lawyers? You know, I can only attest to my experience in South Texas, but having conversations with people that went to different law schools, you know, oftentimes it's kind of a theoretical approach. You know, this is why laws exist and this is just kind of up and, you know, a bigger picture view, but without really understanding what then how do you take that approach and put it in a brief and convince the judge that your side is right? You know, that's the kind of thing the South Texas emphasizes.

 

Q: Do you feel a special camaraderie with other South Texas graduates?

A: Absolutely, especially if I was in school with them. Law school is a grind.  I don't know any other way to describe it. You create a bond with your classmates that you really can't replicate in any other experience, especially your first year when you're new to it and you're kind of getting your feet wet in terms of what it takes to succeed. But even for South Texas lawyers who I wasn't in school with, there’s obviously a bond there.

 

Q: Why is it important to stay connected with South Texas?

A:  One, South Texas helped me to get to where I am today. It’s just paying back for what the school helped me achieve. Two, I have a passion for helping people.  And so if I have the opportunity to help a current student or an incoming student with their law school career and their legal career, I want to take it and I want to help them achieve their full potential.

 

Q: Did any South Texas experience change your life?

A:  The experience in law school that changed my life was when I was auditioning for the varsity moot court team in the trophy room with Dean Treece, and he said “Oh Dave, you know, you're real good, and I got a spot for you on the team. And just make sure, you know, don't tell anybody, because I'm not releasing publicly yet. But, you know, you got a spot on the team.”  And I remember leaving the room and just glowing. I was... I felt like I was bouncing as I as I left the trophy room.  I just remember this feeling of confidence that he put in me.  I had no idea that I was good enough to be on the varsity moot court team. But that that day when Treece told me that I was changed my life.

 

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A:  I spend a lot of my spare time with my wife and our three-year-old chocolate lab named Cow. As boring as it sounds, one of my favorite things is just to lay on the couch with them and watch a movie or watch a show. But aside from that, I love to travel, and my wife and I try to travel as much as we can in different places around the world.

 

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to apply to law school?

A:  I would ask him or her “Why do you want to apply to law school?” That would be my first question. And if the answer tells me they're serious about it and they have an real interest in it, I would say go for it. But I would make sure that they understand that you can't go into law school half committed.  If you want to get the most out of law school, you need to fully commit to trying as hard as you can in all your courses. You want to expose yourself to as many extracurriculars and different kinds of courses as you can. 

 

Q: What do you want to do in the future?

A: I want to be someone who people consider a reasonable person, a fair adversary, a good teammate, and someone who practices law the right way.

 

Click Here to Watch the Interview


Thursday, October 26, 2023 2:08:00 PM

SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE OF LAW HOUSTON PRESIDENT AND DEAN WILL STEP DOWN NEXT SUMMER

 

Century-old South Texas College of Law Houston’s 11th President and Dean Michael F. Barry has announced he will not seek reappointment to his leadership role when his term ends next summer.

Barry said he and his wife Lee made the decision together “after much thought and prayer.”

“The decision on when to leave a leadership position is never easy, and this decision is bittersweet,” Barry said. “For many reasons, however, my sense is this is the proper time. The law school is living its mission of diversity, opportunity, excellence, and service; is fiscally sound; is well-positioned for the next 100 years; and has strong board, faculty / academic dean, and administrative leadership. It is well positioned for its next leader.”

Board Chair Genora Boykins said, “The board greatly appreciates all Dean Barry has accomplished for the law school since his arrival in 2019, and we look forward to working with him and the South Texas Law community to build on the successes achieved under his leadership.”

In recent years, the law school South Texas has launched a number of new initiatives and important improvements, including an ABA-approved online J.D. program, the Benny Agosto, Jr. Diversity Center, and a Legal Writing Center. Bar passage and career placement rates are at their highest in a decade, the advocacy program continues to be the envy of other law schools, and our Randall O. Sorrels clinical program has garnered two Texas Access to Justice Foundation awards in the last four years.

Boykins said the Board of Directors will establish a Search Committee to identify the law school’s next president and dean and to ensure a smooth leadership transition.


Friday, September 29, 2023 2:08:00 PM

SOLD-OUT SOUTH TEXAS LAW CENTENNIAL GALA RAISES NEARLY $750,000 FOR SCHOLARSHIPS

 

Close to 600 South Texas College of Law Houston alumni, faculty, staff, and supporters celebrated the law school’s 100th anniversary Saturday night. The sold-out Centennial Gala exceeded expectations, raising nearly $750,000 to support student scholarships. A highlight was a performance by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee the Spinners.

“We are thankful to the many generous contributors for their support of our students and our law school,” said President and Dean Michael F. Barry. “The sole focus of the gala is student scholarships, and this is our largest fundraiser. The annual gala is tremendously important to our ability to bring an exceptional legal education within reach for dedicated students eager to study law.”

Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz and Stogner was presenting sponsor for the gala. Two couples with strong ties to the law school — Karen and Roland Garcia ’86, and Jen and Brant Stogner, both class of ’06 — chaired the event. Roland Garcia is a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Brant Stogner is a partner at Abraham Watkins, and Jen Stogner is Of Counsel at Abraham Watkins and president of the STCL Houston Alumni Association Board of Directors.

The gala featured a film celebrating four second-year South Texas Law students: Davis Burns from Houston; Jaylan Sanders, originally from Macon, Ga.; Paola Vela from Mission, Texas; and Malik Wilson, part-time student from Houston.

Guests filled the lower and upper stories of the classic Corinthian. The special evening included a champagne toast to STCL Houston’s first 100 years — and to the next 100 years as well!

The Gala was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of September 24, 1923 — the official day classes began at South Texas 100 years ago.

Click here for more Centennial Reunion Week event photos.

Anyone wishing to donate to student scholarships at South Texas Law may do so at stcl.edu/give.


Monday, September 25, 2023 2:07:00 PM

STCL HOUSTON CELEBRATES J.D. GRADUATES AT SPRING 2023 COMMENCEMENT

 

 

 

South Texas College of Law Houston conferred Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) degrees to more than 240 graduates May 13 during the Spring 2023 Commencement ceremony at the George R. Brown Convention Center. STCL Houston, which is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, honored the graduates for their hard work, outstanding academic achievement, and their perseverance through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Congratulations on a job very well done,” said President and Dean Michael F. Barry. “As the graduates of 2023, you will forever be known as the ‘Centennial Class’ of South Texas College of Law Houston. I hope this distinction carries with it a special sense of pride for you — and a special sense of purpose. I am sure our founders would be proud of your persistence, commitment, and dedication, undeterred by the seemingly ever-changing landscape the global pandemic created. Because you persevered, I have the honor of proudly welcoming you today into the distinguished profession of law.”

 

Commencement speaker Nathan L. Hecht, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court and the longest-tenured Texas judge in active service, delivered a commencement speech that congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments – and challenged the newly minted attorneys to foster innovations that will make the justice system more accessible to Texas citizens.

Justice Hecht also reminded the graduates of their role in preserving the rule of law, engaging in civil discourse, and maintaining our democracy using the art of persuasion. “Law school has enveloped you in a culture of persuasion, has shown you the power of ideas and words, and has given you the tools to use them,” Hecht said. “Now it’s your turn to take on the changes that will keep our justice system not only the best in the world, but the best in the history of the world.”

 

 

Taylor Leger, valedictorian of the graduating class, was an active and successful member of the law school’s award-winning Advocacy program. A second-career student, Leger achieved the highest grade in many of her classes, securing a spot on the Dean’s Honor List each semester. She won the Best National Brief Award at the prestigious New York City Bar’s 72nd National Moot Court competition, and the Dean’s Outstanding Advocate Award.

Leger encouraged her fellow graduates to share their moment of triumph with all the people in their lives who were supportive of them throughout their law school experience. Her address included wishes for success and personal growth – particularly when that growth is the result of conflicts and difficulties.

 


Wednesday, May 31, 2023 1:08:00 PM