Alumni Judges Make a Case for Pre-Law Program

Lindsey Rames BA’05 was a senior when she walked into the courtroom of Mary Murphy BA’79, a then-trial judge who welcomed student interns from her alma mater into her courtroom and one step closer to their dreams of becoming lawyers.

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It’s been five years since then, and the two women recently reunited for Rames’ swearing in—the ceremony that signifies a new attorney is licensed to practice law—by her mentor.

As a justice over Texas’ 5th District Court of Appeals, Murphy oversees the state’s largest appellate district and is just one of several alumni reaching out to help UT Dallas pre-law students. In fact, there are a growing number of alumni who have achieved success as judges and reconnected with UT Dallas to impart their wisdom to younger students.

Rey Chavez BA’90, presiding judge over Dallas County truancy court, is glad to be getting more involved. He reminisced with 25 other alumni and friends of the UT Dallas Pre-Law Program at a recent networking event.

“There was no messing around when it came to professors like Greg Thielemann and Anthony Champagne,” Chavez said. “There was no fluff in general; everybody was serious about doing well, graduating and making something of themselves. It prepared you for the seriousness of law school.”

“Everybody was serious about doing well, graduating and making something of themselves. It prepared you for the seriousness of law school.”

Judge Rey Chavez,
BA ’90

Like Chavez, several of his colleagues have reconnected with the University.

State District Judge Cynthia Wheless BA’88 takes on interns, and King Fifer BA’88, county-court-at-law judge in Dallas County, serves on the University’s Pre-Law Advisory Council. The 15-member group supports the pre-law program. Appointees represent some of the leading private law firms in Texas, components of the judiciary and various public sector positions.

For the 150 students in the pre-law program, there are LSAT prep classes, career advising, Mock Trial, work with the Innocence Project of Texas, and Breakfast with Champions, where small groups of students meet with alumni about law school and the legal profession.

As the pre-law program has grown stronger, its results have, too. UT Dallas pre-law students are regularly accepted to the top 10 law schools in the nation.

Judge Mary Murphy and Lindsey Rames

Judge Mary Murphy and Lindsey Rames

Rames is evidence of the program’s impact. “Working for Justice Murphy helped me with the basics like seeing the inside workings of a courtroom and how to approach the bench correctly,” Rames said. But the experience was deeper than that and inspired Rames, she explained. “Justice Murphy was the most impartial, thoughtful and equitable judge I’ve seen — and I’ve clerked with a number of law firms and met a lot of judges.”

As an undergrad in the 1970s, Murphy was knee-deep in the classics as an English major who also worked nights as a paralegal. After transferring to UT Dallas, “I was inspired and challenged with different types of classes,” said Murphy, a 2006 recipient of the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award and a member of the pre-law council.

Newly-elected Oklahoma District Judge Ken Adair BA’91 is on Champagne’s wish list of speakers to visit University classes. Adair was second chair in the Oklahoma murder case captured in John Grisham’s book Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. Champagne’s wish may come true if Adair’s feelings about the University are an indicator. “I cannot overstate the importance of the pre-law studies program at UT Dallas and how it prepared me for a successful stint as a University of Oklahoma law student, and then as a law practitioner,” Adair said.

As Champagne continues to stir the pot, turning up former students and current success stories, he’s reflective. “I think our judges are an indicator of the success of our students, in terms of legal careers. As we see from our alumni who are judges, they’ve had very successful judicial careers. I am so pleased that UT Dallas helped in giving them their start in that direction.”

Dr. Anthony Champagne (far left) visits with pre-law alumni, including Judge Rey Chavez BA’90 (far right), at a recent event.

Attorney Ken Adair BA ’91 worked on the murder trial that was the subject of John Grisham’s Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].