Hannah Kiddoo 2014-04-28 07:20:00
Passing Down Legal Knowledge, Encouragement, and Books A weathered handbook sits on Elizabeth “Lizzie” Fletcher’s desk in the Houston law firm of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing. Dating back to 1911, the book offers perspective into the practice of law in the early 20th century. But for Lizzie, it is also a connection to her family’s past. Lizzie’s father, William “Bill” Pannill, gave her the book in 2006 when she graduated from William & Mary Law School. It was passed down to Bill by his father, Hastings Pannill, who had received it from his father, Judge Will Pannill. As a fourth-generation Texas lawyer, Lizzie’s office has other reminders of family—a leather sofa she would nap on when visiting her father’s office as a child and a photograph of a judge’s chair that had hung where he worked. “You can’t come here without having a sense of all the great things I’ve gotten from my dad,” said Lizzie. But mostly, there are books. According to Bill, the most important ones a lawyer should have are the King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare. Of course, form books and law books don’t hurt, either. The Pannills are ardent readers. Bill says that Will became the family’s first lawyer by studying law books at night after working at the post office in Chatfield, a tiny town in northeastern Navarro County. Will’s father, who had emigrated from Virginia to Texas as a teenager during the Civil War, was unable to afford the costs to send his son to law school. Still, Will eventually became chief justice of 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland. Will married Mattie Cherry, who he always described as “the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.” Seven children later, he moved his family to Fort Worth after resigning from the appellate court. Bill explained that throughout the 1930s, Will took part in private practice and represented oil companies, ultimately as counsel to the Ohio Oil Company in Houston. A family man, Will hired his sons, Hastings and William C., as well as his son-in-law Judge John L. Camp, to join him at the Ohio. He died in 1948, when his grandson Bill was just eight years old. After serving as a staff lawyer with the Ohio for a few years in Houston and Marshall, Ill., Will’s son Hastings entered the U. S. Navy in 1943 and served on the Pacific coast as a gunnery officer aboard an oil tanker. Military moves bounced the family from Coronado and Long Beach, Calif., back to Houston at the end of World War II. Bill noted that in 1946, Hastings became a civilian lawyer with the firm of Price, Smallwood & Wheat and later joined the Amerada Petroleum Company in Midland, followed by the firm of Stubbenman, McRae & Sealy in 1949, remaining there until 1975. In the 1960s, he argued a redistricting case in the U.S. Supreme Court, which Bill traveled to Washington, D.C., to watch. Hastings practiced in Houston and Huntsville until 1993 and died in 2000. Bill recalls spending time in the law offices of both his father and ‘Papa’ as a child, finding mischief among the office supplies and hearing countless stories of law school antics and terrific trials. But by the time he was ready to choose a career of his own, Bill was not interested in anything law-related. “I was determined not to be a lawyer because everybody in the family was a lawyer. There were lawyers everywhere,” said Bill, noting that there now have been 10 Texas lawyers descended from Will and Will’s younger brother Carter, and there are also lawyers on his mother’s side of the family. “I just thought, that’s too many lawyers.” Instead, Bill went into journalism, working a few years in the news industry before entering law school in 1968. He expected to stay only a year, figuring it would at least allow him to be better at reporting on the courts. Soon enough, he realized he actually liked it. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law in 1970, he joined Vinson, Elkins, Searls, & Connally before leaving to establish his own practice. Bill now handles some appellate work and spends time on pro bono cases. Lizzie says she found herself in a similar situation years later, not fully satisfied with her marketing career in New York but unsure of what she wanted to do next. She knew that she enjoyed history and public policy—and it was her father who encouraged her to give law a chance. “My dad always told me I would make a good lawyer,” said Lizzie. “I think because I used to argue with him a lot and occasionally win, and he found that charming.” “I was the first to recognize it,” said Bill. “She would come in the door, and sometimes she would sit her bag down and sometimes she wouldn’t, but she would argue with me for about an hour on whatever topic happened to be crossing her mind. I said, ‘Lizzie, you’ve definitely got the legal gene. You should be a lawyer.’” It was seeing her father practice that made Lizzie take the plunge. “He was so satisfied with his profession. He loved what he did. He got excited about it,” said Lizzie. “That was very inspiring to me.” Lizzie notes that her father has helped her prepare for some big cases. “I will frequently ask my dad questions to this day,” she said. “Last summer I did my first oral argument in the court of appeals on a case that I had tried, and my dad helped me get ready.” As for the future of the Pannills in law? Lizzie says her 11-year-old niece Anna visits Ahmad Zavitsanos Anaipakos Alavi & Mensing to sell Girl Scout cookies and has stated that she wants to be a lawyer when she gets older. “No pressure,” said Lizzie. “She can do whatever she wants, but she’s expressed a lot of interest.” No doubt, she’d have her family’s support—and maybe a few hand-me-down books, too.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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