Sam Houston 2016-08-24 19:47:44
We Are Firsts ONE of the Texas Young Lawyers Association’s signature projects for the 2016-2017 bar year is I Was the First. You Can Be a Lawyer Too!, a “pipeline” program that will feature a diverse group of first-generation lawyers who have made significant contributions to Texas and the nation. By highlighting these firsts, we hope to show young people that a legal career is possible irrespective of a person’s sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socioeconomic status. We are working with Law-Related Education Department Director Jan Miller and her staff at the State Bar to identify the individuals who will be featured in the project. But, for purposes of this column, I thought it would be great to recognize the three TYLA directors who chair our Law-Related Education Committee, which is spearheading the project. As it turns out, the three chairs, Raymond Baeza of El Paso, Sara Giddings of San Angelo, and Jenny Smith of Austin, are all firsts. They are amazing people with distinct stories. And because they are overseeing this initiative, I wanted to learn more about their paths to the legal profession. Some people always knew they wanted to be a lawyer. That is true for Jenny, even though she had no lawyers in her family. Sara, too, had somewhat of an innate desire to pursue law: She drew up her first contract in third grade, and in the eighth grade, she informed her parents that she was going to go to law school. Raymond’s story demonstrates why projects that educate young people about the law and legal careers are such important recruitment tools. He decided to pursue law school after participating in the Teen Court of Lea County, New Mexico, a volunteer program that allowed high school students to represent other students who had committed misdemeanor offenses. That opportunity to be a legal advocate inspired him to become a lawyer. A desire to serve others also pulled Jenny in the direction of the law. After she graduated from college, Jenny worked for a council of local governments, reviewing and distributing grant applications for communities. She identified one submission that met the requirements and would have served additional unmet needs of the particular community. Unfortunately, the grant had to be denied based upon what she viewed as a misinterpretation of the law. At that moment, Jenny realized that she wanted to go to law school “to make a difference” and “to be able to argue the interpretation of laws” so that she would not have to accept “a simple bureaucratic simplification” in the future. All three attorneys received unconditional support from their families, which Sara says was important because she and her relatives didn’t realize how much law school entailed. All three acknowledged that a legal career comes with challenges. Raymond noted the “very real issues that lawyers face because of stress and workload, like alcoholism, addiction, and mental health issues.” Jenny also stressed that “the profession can consume you if you let it” and that she has had to “learn to set aside personal time and cherish it.” Sara discussed having to overcome “the perceptions associated with being a younger female practicing law.” Notwithstanding these challenges, all three said they would still choose the practice of law if they had to do it all over again. In line with TYLA’s public service goals, Raymond said that he wouldn’t change his path because he has been able to help so many people. SAM HOUSTON President, Texas Young Lawyers Association
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