2010 Archives

Raising the Bar:
How Moms' Counsel Helped Form Future Lawyers

Excerpt

The following is from the May 3, 2010, edition of The Texas Lawyer. Mary Spector is director of the Consumer Law Project, co-director of the Civil Clinic and an associate professor in SMU's Dedman School of Law.

May 18, 2010

By John Council and Mary Alice Robbins
Texas Lawyer

Regardless of whether lawyers win a $100 million verdict, close a huge international deal or fight the good fight in the criminal justice system, there is one person most attorneys should thank for their legal accomplishments: mom. . .

Rose and Mary Spector

The handwriting on the back of the aging snapshot reads, "Mary, Rose and David Spector, May 30, 1965. Graduation from law school." It marks a significant moment for Mary: That's when she learned anything was possible.

Rose Spector with daughter Mary and son David on May 30, 1965, Rose's law school graduation day
Mary's mother, Rose Spector, received her law degree from St. Mary's University School of Law on that date. Not only was Rose one of only three women in her law school class that year, she had the second highest grade-point average and graduated magna cum laude.

At the time of her mom's graduation, Mary was in the second grade and had no idea what those Latin words meant, she says.

"But I thought it was very cool to have a mom that was that smart and could do all of those things," Mary says. "She was not only incredibly smart, but she was interested in the community around us and politics. She had incredible style; she did it her own way. And I wanted to be just like her when I grew up."

Forty-five years ago, few women in Texas worked outside of the home in professional jobs. Women who practiced law were an outright rarity, and that made an impression on young Mary.

"That really hit me. I think that I grew up with a mother who was a successful, accomplished professional at a time when other girls didn't have mothers that did that," Mary says. "It didn't occur to me that you couldn't do that."

In the 1960s, Rose's husband, Morris, was a doctor. Rose says she got the idea to go to law school after a female friend, whose husband also was a doctor, showed up on her doorstep with an armload of law books. At that time, Rose says law students were awarded books for high grades. And her friend, who had attended St. Mary's for a year, had quit because her husband objected to her being in law school.

"She says, 'I'm quitting. Here are the books I've earned. You ought to go to law school,' " Spector says. "I said, 'I don't know.' And that was it."

Morris encouraged Rose to go to law school and was supportive of her decision. After graduation, Rose worked for a civil law firm in San Antonio and later became a municipal judge in Olmos Park. That began a climb up the judicial ranks. She ran for a Bexar County Court-at-Law bench and won in 1974. In 1980, she won the 131st District Court bench in Bexar County.

In the 1980s, Mary lived in New York City and worked in the publishing industry. She says she had become disillusioned with her career choice, so she decided to follow her mom's lead by becoming a lawyer, entering Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in 1983. Weeks after starting law school, Mary says she began looking at her mom's achievements in a new light.

"It was my second week of classes, and I was just buried under mountains of reading — torts and contracts — and I didn't even know what a tort was. I remember calling her at the end of the second week and said, 'Mom, I have more respect for you now than I ever had,' " Mary says. "I had worked on her campaigns and had voted for her. I realized what a balancing act she had as a mother, a spouse and a law student. All I was doing was taking care of myself, and she was taking care of a whole family."

"That's when her accomplishments really hit home with me. Although I had always been proud of her and always had respect and always wanted to be like her when I grew up, she was more than I always thought," Mary says. "If I had not respected her before I sure did then."

But Rose wasn't finished with her accomplishments. She reached the pinnacle of her judicial career when she was elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1992, where she served until 1998. Rose now is of counsel at Austin's Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta. Mary is an associate professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, where she is co-director of the school's Civil Clinic.

Read the full story.

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