Alumni Spotlight: Bart Showalter '93

Practicing law isn’t rocket science. But Bart Showalter (J.D., ’93) is living proof that a career in one can lead to great success in the other.

Bart Showalter '93

Showalter, a Partner and Executive Committee member with Baker Botts L.L.P., is the former chair of the firm’s Intellectual Property Department, where, for 12 years, he supervised the firm’s 175 IP attorneys and professionals.

He came to the job—and to a career in law—in a somewhat roundabout way.

Showalter, who grew up in University Park near SMU, graduated from Highland Park High School before heading east to college at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering.

Upon graduation, he was hired in 1988 by LTV Aerospace and Defense Co.

“I got to work on some really cool projects,” he says. “That was the Reagan era, and we had a contract to do this super-advanced Star Wars defense work. I was working on a ‘kinetic energy interceptor’ missile program. Basically, it was a way to blow up incoming missile warheads before they could detonate on U.S. soil.”

From an aeronautical engineering standpoint, the work was highly complex and challenging—but from a human standpoint, it left something to be desired.

“I spent all day by myself in a cubicle,” he remembers. “I’d enter data into a computer terminal, which was hooked into a master computer somewhere else, then come in the next morning to see if my simulated missile took out the warhead. It was a pretty impersonal existence, really.”

“I decided to go to law school because I thought it would be a way to use the creative side of my brain, my communications skills, as well as my technical skills. MIT taught me to think like an engineer. But could I also learn to think like a lawyer?”

His enrollment in Dedman Law was a return, of sorts, to familial roots. Showalter’s father Larry, who died in 2017 at the age of 82, was a star on the 1956 SMU men’s basketball team, the only Mustangs team in history to advance to the NCAA’s Final Four. Larry met his wife Arden when both were freshmen at SMU, and Arden served as the school’s Career Center director for 20 years.

At MIT, Showalter cultivated an interest in writing. “They offered nine writing courses, and I took every one of them,” he says. “My engineering friends said, ‘Why in the world would you want to take classes where you have to write?’ But I found that writing was a way to express and develop my creative side, as well as my analytical, aeronautical engineering side.”

“And once I got to law school, I realized that if you have some specialized knowledge, a particular technical or legal expertise, and you can write, you’ll have a real advantage in the workplace. You’ll be able to communicate that specialized knowledge and put it to use in ways that others can’t.”

“To be able to translate between two worlds, the technical and the everyday, just gives you a huge advantage. It opens up for you a much broader range of possibilities.”

At SMU, he says, he discovered “this amazing new area of law called intellectual property,” where he could use what he’d learned about technology and apply it to what he was learning about law.

“IP had been a sort of a backwater practice,” he says. “There just weren’t a lot of legal practitioners out there who had the training to think like a lawyer and like an engineer and—at the same time—be able to communicate clearly about all the important issues emerging at the intersection of law and business and technology.”

SMU’s Tsai Center for Law, Science and Innovation, he says, is doing future lawyers and their clients a great service by training lawyers “to be able to function effectively at the intersection of law and technology, and the intersection of law and business.”

He adds: “It’s great to be training brilliant lawyers to know their way around a brief or a courtroom. But it’s even better if they also know their way around the client’s technology and balance sheet.”

Showalter, now 55, has a lifelong passion for teaching. A longtime adjunct professor at Dedman Law, he says he’s enjoyed sharing his experiences with students from kindergarten through graduate school.

An avid theatergoer, he’s a past board member of the Dallas Theater Center. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, a position he happened into not only because of his appreciation for Southwestern art, but also to help the O’Keefe Museum patent and commercialize a technology for shipping valuable artworks in a way that minimizes potentially harmful vibrations.

When he’s not at his Baker Botts office in Dallas, he enjoys telecommuting—and bass fishing—from a family lake house in East Texas. He’s accomplished at cooking Italian cuisine, “including epic pizzas from my wood-burning pizza oven,” and he’s a diehard Texas Rangers fan who claims a possible distant relationship to Buck Showalter, the team’s former manager. When he’s not in Texas, Showalter and his wife Elizabeth spend as much time as they can at their fly-fishing river retreat in Colorado.

Throughout a lengthy telephone interview, Showalter could not have been more patient and cordial. He did, however, subtly convey that just as soon as the interview was concluded, more rewarding pastimes awaited just outside his window.

“A big fish just jumped in my lake,” he said.