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An Unexpected Path to the Appellate Bench | Justice Rebeca Huddle

People take many paths into the practice of law. These varied experiences provide important perspectives that enrich and improve the legal industry. This week, Todd Smith and Jody Sanders talk with Texas Supreme Court Justice Rebeca Huddle about her path to legal practice and, ultimately, a place on Texas’s highest civil court. Justice Huddle discusses her experience as a teacher, in private practice with a large firm, as a Justice on Houston’s First Court of Appeals, and at the Texas Supreme Court. She also discusses the importance of mentoring young attorneys.

Listen to the podcast here:

An Unexpected Path to the Appellate Bench | Justice Rebeca Huddle

We are extremely fortunate. Our guest is Justice Rebeca Huddle of the Texas Supreme Court. Justice Huddle, thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here. Thanks to both of you for inviting me.

We are thrilled to have you here. I imagine the majority of our listeners know who you are, but for those that don’t know and those that maybe don’t know much about you, can you tell us a little bit about your background and maybe your path to law?

I grew up in El Paso, the other side of the state from where I practiced law. I grew up in a big family as the youngest of five kids. Our dad died when I was five. I was pretty young. Growing up, much of my life and worldview is shaped by my mom who was a single mom faced with that challenge. I like to tell people that she’s my hero. We lived in El Paso my whole life until I went off to college.

One of the things that I thought was interesting was you didn’t go straight to law school. You took a year off and taught Spanish after college. How was that experience?

It was really interesting. I love being a teacher. For many years, I thought that’s what I might do and that might be my forever job. I was not one of these people who knew from the age of seven that they wanted to be a lawyer. I loved the experience. It’s a pretty good precursor to being a trial lawyer. There are lots of similarities between the two jobs. You can analogize your students to jurors in a few different ways. They’re not all interested in what you’re talking about.

Some have more ability to understand what you’re talking about than others. You’re trying to take concepts that are new to them and get them to understand, trust you and embrace you as you go. There was some aspect of it that’s more like herding cats than you do as a trial lawyer. You don’t have to break up arguments or anything like that. In lots of respects, it’s a good exercise for someone who ends up trying cases.

You think about what it takes to educate a juror about your case, I suppose. You can see how the skillset of teaching students, what they should know and what you think they should know, and how would that translate well into the courtroom. That’s very interesting.

I enjoyed the job very much. I made lots of great friends and my co-teachers. Probably the most memorable experience was in the Bay Area. The day that sticks out in my head the most is the day that I was standing in front of the class and we had an earthquake. The classroom just slid as I stood up in front of it. That was only one of many reasons I ended up wanting to come back home.

What made you decide to go to law school? Did you have that thought in your head when you started teaching or did you come to that on your own as you were going through it?

I knew it by then. By the time I was wrapping up undergrad, I started working on the LSATs and applying to a law school. That was likely where I would– but I thought it was pretty valuable to have a job to get up and dressed for every day of the year like a grownup before I went on to law school. I find it was valuable for me too. Having spent many a year interviewing law students for law firm jobs and court jobs, it helps to grow and develop you at that point in your life when you’re in your early twenties or something. It’s a good education to have a full-time job.

It doesn’t sound like you had a big gap in between undergrad and law school. Did you manage to translate that into being so disciplined in law school that you treated it like a job and focused mostly during ordinary working hours and that sort of thing?

Teaching can be a pretty good precursor to being a trial lawyer. There are lots of similarities between the two jobs. Click To Tweet

I don’t know that I did that. It was only a one-year teaching gig. What I do remember about law school is that I really didn’t love studying at home. It wasn’t so much that I was disappointed about when I did the work and I certainly didn’t work 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in law school. I did tend to go to the good old Tarlton Law Library at UT because it’s where I would focus. It may be also that my apartments in law school was not so great. I like being in the law library a little better.

From law school, you went into practice at Baker Botts. Did you go straight to Baker Botts?

Yes, I went straight there. Those were the days where you split. All the law firms allowed you to split and so I did that. I split at Baker Botts and V&E. I ended up feeling like Baker Botts was a good fit for me, and that ended up being true. I started there and it was not like I went in thinking, “Big law is where I want to end up.” It was more of that’s who came to OCI at UT so those are the interviews I had. When I got the job, I moved to Houston and started at the Baker Botts office, not knowing that there are very many people here, a few were law school friends that came here for the job and did not have a significant connection to Houston. It worked out though.

Did you start doing litigation and appellate? Did you specialize in one or the other, or did you do a little bit of everything?

For many years, I thought of myself as purely a trial lawyer. That always involves some appellate-like work, dispositive motions, interlocutory appeals, and that kind of stuff that I would handle. This was a time where, at least in the firm I was practicing in, there was not a well-developed specialized group for appellate work. There were a few people who tended to do more of that. It was very common for trial lawyers to handle their own appeals. I did some of that but mostly I thought of myself as a trial lawyer. I had a pretty broad practice.

I worked on some gigantic cases as a young lawyer, many middle of the road like a typical breach of contract and commercial cases. What was a standout and what I think helped in my development as a lawyer was I kept this docket of car wreck cases, like a little insurance defense docket. If you impressed one of the older partners, they would find a way to get you to some of this work. That is how I ended up first being in a position of having to figure out a strategy and get in front of a jury.

It’s unusual to say but being at Baker Botts, I cut my teeth trying cases on car wreck cases. Some of them were $5,000 at issue, and I got to go and try them. That was really valuable and I know it’s so hard now and getting harder to get that experience. I was lucky, I call that one of the luckiest things that happened to me growing up as a lawyer.

That was pretty common among some of the larger firms in Texas at the time because I remember this may have been winding down by the time I got to my original firm Fulbright and Jaworski. That was always the lore. You would show up on a Monday morning, pick up the file, go down to the courthouse and try the case. It would have been an amazing way to get trial experience. I don’t know how much strategy you could implement if you’re picking up the file on the morning of trial but what a neat experience. I assume that’s gone away with insurance companies taking most of their work to outside or to dedicated captive counsel.

There has been some still left at my firm in particular, but it’s definitely less than there was 20 or 30 years ago, for sure.

It’s something that has been an issue for so long. How do you get young attorneys the trial experience? Even middle of the road and older attorneys now, there are plenty of people that have been practicing 20 and 30 years that have not had the opportunities to have a lot of Civil Jury trials because there aren’t that many anymore.

person sitting at desk writing in notebook and looking at phone

Appellate Bench: There are plenty of people practicing for 20 and 30 years who have not had the opportunities to have a lot of civil jury trials because there just aren’t that many anymore.

It’s a challenge and I’m not quite sure anyone has figured out how to solve the problem. It’s encouraging to see lots of courts and individual judges incentivizing the older generations to push those kinds of opportunities for all advocacy, even if it’s a motion for summary judgment. I love seeing when judges encourage that and say, “If you let the associate argue this, you will get a hearing.” That’s terrific.

When did you start thinking about going onto the bench? Was that something you’d always wanted to do?

It was not initially but my experience there was lucky and unusual. What I had was a situation where some of the people who were my peers as young lawyers ended up going on the bench themselves. Jeff Brown, for example, was formerly in the Supreme Court and now in the Federal District Court in Galveston. We used to work on some of these insurance defense cases together when we were young lawyers. He got on the bench very early. I saw that, and him being my friend, I got to see through him and through conversation what the job and life were like. I saw that he loved it.

It’s the same thing with Judge Elrod who was a few years ahead of me. She’s someone who had been walking around the law firm and I got to know that way. I had a few close contacts like that who I knew were enjoying it. That’s how I decided I might give it a shot. That’s a whole other story unto itself. To answer the question about how I thought about going on the bench again, I only thought of being a trial judge. At the time I applied to be appointed to some District Courts in Harris County and didn’t get them.

You mentioned there’s a whole other story. Let’s not leave that uncovered, unless we need to. If you want to move on, that’s fine. This is what we want.

That was the beginning of the story. That’s how I came to start applying. What I was suggesting was I was only applying to be a District Court judge. That’s what I knew and that’s where I saw myself. I applied a few times, a couple of times got interviews and was told, “Thanks for playing. It’s not going to be you.” About the third time that happened, I said to my husband, “This is fun and all. This is a great job and I’d love to do it but there’s only so much of this that I can take.” Each time, I’d get excited, invest a lot of time trying to get ready, get hopes up, and then be told, “No, it’s not you.”

For the third time, I was told, “Sorry, you’re not getting this District Court bench, but have you considered the appellate court?” That is the story of how I got on the appellate bench. The truth of it was that until that conversation, I hadn’t thought of seeking a spot on an appellate bench. That’s how that happened. That was 2011 when I went on the Court of Appeals, the first here in Houston.

A couple of things that would come out of that is one, don’t give up after the first or two tries. We’ve heard other judges on the show talk about putting your name in circulation. Even if you don’t get it, down the road, something like what happened to you might happen. Get your name in circulation among the people who would be in a position to help you get one of those positions.

The second thought coming out of it is it’s helpful. We like to think as appellate lawyers that it’s helpful to have appellate justices with appellate experience and that’s generally true. There’s also a lot of value in judges with real trial experience on the appellate bench because there needs to be a mix. You were able to offer that despite your initial desire to be on the trial bench. You brought your litigation experience to the Court of Appeals in Houston.

I think that’s right. Lots of folks would agree that it’s good and important to have people with various different kinds of experiences when you were working in groups to decide cases. There’s not always going to be an expert on every case that comes up. In general, when we were on the Court of Appeals, it’s good to have some appellate pros, criminal pros, and folks who had offered evidence and cross-examined a witness when you have a case where that’s relevant. It’s helpful and I’m glad that we have that variety. That’s been true both at the Court of Appeals and on the Supreme Court. There is a whole spectrum of folks and experiences who all have specialized experience and understanding different parts of all the many various issues we address.

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Was there anything about being on the appellate court that surprised you coming from trial practice and some appellate background?

What surprised me is probably what every judge says surprises them is the amount of work that is running through the courts day in and day out. I won’t project this on to anyone else but as a practicing lawyer, I tended to think that being a judge is pretty easy. In my own head, judges were having a cocktail at 5:00 p.m. That was wrong thinking.

Had you had any experience with political campaigning or any part of it before you went on the bench?

I’d seen people I was fairly close to run campaigns. I supported various traditional candidates but not really. That was a big learning experience and a steep learning curve is figuring out how to do that. I thought that the first Court of Appeals District, which is a 10 County Districts here was pretty big until 2020 when I realized that I was now dealing with 254 counties.

I can’t even imagine, especially coming into that in the middle of a pandemic on top of everything else, which we’ll talk about. I can’t imagine going from Houston, then going to 10 counties and to the whole state. I bet you realized how massive Texas is.

It’s massive and it makes you sit and think about its 30 million people, 254 counties and how can you use your time and resources strategically when you’re only one person and there’s not a ton of money in judicial races.

That’s why the campaign people get paid the big bucks. It helps you strategize on this very sort of thing. It has to be a much different animal to think about running a District Court campaign, take that and amplify it by the Court of Appeals District in several dozens of counties and most of our districts, then take that again and multiply it by 254 counties. I assume you’ve got population centers within those 254 counties so you know where you’re going to spend most of your time. I don’t envy you in that task. I guess what I’m saying is I bet you’re grateful for Southwest Airlines.

We can’t ask her to endorse a particular brand.

What I endorse is my own car and putting a lot of miles on it.

I’m always surprised to hear that candidates for statewide races use their own cars more than you think because you equate the time value of money and you’re supposed to get to your job. This is the thing too for people who don’t have any experience with this. You’re appointed to a new job on a new court in a new city, and yet you have the privilege to run to try to keep that job the very next general election, never having run a statewide campaign before. This is an immense amount of time investment, money investment and stress. There’s no doubt about it. Are you surviving?

trees in a forest

Appellate Bench: You need to approach every case with a forest view and not a tree view. That is something you have to learn to do pretty fast in the court of appeals.

 I’m definitely surviving. The first year of anything, I tell people that it’s going to be hard, there’s so much to figure out, but you get there day by day. The learning curve is pretty steep in terms of running a campaign but the work at the court is work that we’ve been doing and been training to do for a couple of decades sometime on the bench.

There are lots of things that are different about working on this court versus the Court of Appeals for sure but that at least was not new. To your point, there were some challenges, especially taking that in mid-pandemic. On this court where we’re nine working on every case together, the interpersonal dynamic is especially important to understand where your colleagues are on a case, to vet those ideas and have a full-throttled conversation.

It helps to know the people and that’s a lot easier to do if you are in person and have an opportunity to sit there eyeball-to-eyeball and talk about stuff. Thankfully, we are off of Zoom, and that has gotten better. We went back to in-person conferences and we’re now in in-person everything to include argument as of the beginning of this term. It’s much improved from the perspective of someone who’s new to the job, new to the institution and new to some of the people. It’s so much better to be able to sit next to someone and talk about it.

How’s the transition from being on a court, where whatever case came in the door, you had to make a decision on it to one where you have discretionary review? How has that been?

I hadn’t ever thought about how much time we would spend on deciding what to decide. It is quite a lot. It’s nice to have a discretionary review. It means every case is interesting and there are effectively no repeats. On the Court of Appeals, especially on the criminal side, there are lots of issues that tend to come up. That doesn’t happen here. It is a new challenge in every single case. That’s one of the great things about it.

How was it adapting to a court that had criminal jurisdiction coming from a pretty strict District Civil background?

That’s a whole new world. That’s true of the criminal docket. The criminal docket was about 50% of what we did at the Court of Appeals, but there’s also other stuff that I’d put in that bucket that was brand new to me like Family Law. There’s a lot of Family Law at the Court of Appeals and I’ve never thought about so much of that important work.

For sure that was a learning process. I’ve never thought about an effective assistant counsel, which is a prevalent issue at the Court of Appeals. I learned a ton on the Substantive Law, how to be a judge at the Court of Appeals, and how to decide a case as a group. That’s important too, how do you work to get to a majority?

That is a bigger challenge here on the Supreme Court. When you’re a panel of three sitting here talking about something, it’s not all that hard to get one of you to go with me on a certain path to a decision. It’s a whole different ballgame when you’ve got a big conference table, and then nine all-smart and all well-prepared thoughtful people with strong views of how something ought to go.

To close the loop a little. We jumped from the Court of Appeals to Supreme Court maybe because of the way that we’ve asked the questions. You had a stopover back at your previous firm in between the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. How did you find going back into private practice off the Court of Appeals? What had changed over the time that you had sat as a Justice on the First Court of Appeals?

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Not all that much had changed. The practice hadn’t changed. I went back in 2017, so this was pre-pandemic. Things were not all that different. Lots of folks who’d been my mentors growing up as a lawyer had retired by then. I’d say that was about the biggest change. In terms of me going back, being a judge does change by a lot how you look at cases. The best way to describe that is to say that you approach every case with a forest view and not a tree view.

That is something you have to learn to do and learn to do pretty fast on the Court of Appeals. Given the volume, you’ve got to be able to zoom out and zoom in, but also then to really zoom out. It taught me about being efficient and getting to the point. Some of the things that I was able to bring back to practice that I hadn’t known firsthand is how much judges do mean it when they say, “Less is more.”

It is easy to forget from the practitioner side because you live with a case, you get to know the record better than pretty much anybody, and you get so down in the weeds on all of those things. You forget the context of, “When I argue this case at the Court of Appeals, I will have spent 20, 30, 40 hours getting ready for oral argument and the justices have five other cases that day that they have had to get prepared for. It’s super important to me, not that it’s not important to them, but it’s one stack in a very large stack of papers.”

The moral of that story is it’s much better to have 40-page brief than it is to have a 60-page brief.

Also, not a dozen issues but rather a couple or maybe three as a rule of thumb.

I’m going to throw an unfair question your way because I always love to hear people’s perspectives on this. If you’re in Houston and you have an issue that the First and Fourteenth Courts have decided differently, what do you do in the Trial Court with that?

I look to see what everyone else has said about it or make an argument that one of the two approaches is far superior than the other.

That’s a tricky one for sure. Maybe Justice Huddle would invoke judicial privilege here, “As a Justice of the Supreme Court, I can’t comment.”

It’s one of those unique little geographical things that I’ve always found fascinating. You have two courts deciding the same issues of law in the same jurisdiction, and they don’t always agree on things. It’s a funny little wrinkle.

For those of us who have a single Appellate Court jurisdiction, if we bank on the fact and if I find that a case out of the Third Court of Appeals, I can wave that in front of the trial judge and say, “Judge, this is the law.” Not having that necessarily in Harris County and the surrounding counties, what we could say, Jody, is it increases opportunities for advocacy among the folks who need to be able to do that to the court. It’s such a unique situation and a little mind-boggling to the rest of us but I know the Harris County lawyers are used to it.

hands holding letter blocks spelling "GIVE"

Appellate Bench: This was an opportunity to serve and give back and do something for our community.

I’d like to think that it’s not that frequent that happens. Has that happened in your practice?

It happened a couple of times. When I was in law school, I clerked on a State District bench in Houston. It happened a couple of times there where an issue would come up where you had two different decisions and the judges essentially had to pick one hope it got docketed in the right court when it went up on appeal.

I’ve had a situation where a trial judge in Houston said, “That’s the First Court of Appeals.” It didn’t carry as much weight only having a case from one of the courts as opposed to being here. This is not an unfair question but I want to get back to what you were saying about your early experiences applying for an appointment to the bench.

You had some time back in private practice and you rose to be managing partner of the Houston office of Baker Botts. This was a pretty good gig you had by all accounts. I assume that you sought an appointment to the Supreme Court of Texas. If that assumption is correct, then I guess it turned out okay for you this time.

It’s turned out okay but I’ll tell you the story of how this appointment happened. It was COVID, fall of last year. Out of all things, no one was in the office at that point, it was no man’s land. I was in the office one evening because I was the Partner-In-Charge, we call it the PIC. As the PIC of the Houston office, I had a presentation to give to management in the next two days.

I was there, it was a Tuesday night, and it was dinner time. It was 7:00 p.m. or something. It was odd that I would have been there and there was no one else in the office. My landline rang, I said, “Who in the world is calling me here?” No one is in the office and it was someone calling from the Governor’s office asking if I knew about the vacancy and would I be interested in considering the Supreme Court. That is how that happened. I was not looking to leave the firm. I had a pretty good gig.

I’d settled back in there, had the trust of my partners, and was working with many old friends that I’d known in my whole career. It was a surprise to me and not something that I’d planned for. One of the things I thought about at my husband’s suggestion was, “On your deathbed, Rebeca, will you be glad that you jumped on this opportunity or not?” The answer to that was absolutely yes.

We started off talking at the beginning about growing up. That was a big part of the decision for me. I got to go to the schools I did, undergrad in law school on scholarships, that was due to the generosity of other people. I felt like I had a duty, an opportunity to serve, give back and do something for our community. I wanted to jump on that.

Honestly, in my experience, there are folks who actively seek those appointments in the rare instances when they come up. What an honor for you to be contacted by the Governor’s office. That did turn out pretty well for you, even though you had a pretty good gig. What an interesting and wonderful story as far as how you got to the Supreme Court.

Now you’re in the throes of campaigning at the tail end of a pandemic. Getting appointed in a pandemic had to be a challenge in and of itself. You were running the Baker Botts Houston office as the PIC. The next thing you know is you’re going to retake the bench, this time on the Supreme Court, also during a pandemic. How was that?

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It’s nuts as you can imagine. For the most part, the court was working all remotely. It was a situation where if I wanted to go to the courthouse and pick up my computer initially, get a badge to get in the front door, all of that had to be set up because most people were not working from there. As everyone has experienced, it’s not real convenient to try to do business as normal during a pandemic. We got it all done because of committed staff at the Supreme Court. They all are working round-the-clock and weekends to try to make sure everything is going as it should.

Through lots of effort, we all made the best of it. They got me set up to work remotely. Mostly, it was a question of digging in, doing the reading and getting up to speed, which is hard regardless of whether there’s a global pandemic. Thankfully, some of the things are the same. The database at the Supreme Court is the same as that used in the Court of Appeals to obtain the document management system. I wasn’t learning everything from scratch. That is my point. There was a lot to learn but some things I had a head start on.

Having done in-person oral arguments on the Court of Appeals, how was it transitioning to virtual oral arguments as a justice on the Supreme Court?

The biggest starkest difference is the number of arguments that happen in a compressed period of time. At the Court of Appeals, we argued every week but a much smaller number of cases got argued in a week. It might be 2 or 3 in a week, but now we argue nine in a setting, three each day, three back-to-back days. That is a big change and requires a whole different strategy and process for getting prepared. Doing it on Zoom is initially awkward. We all experienced Zoom awkwardness. Thanks to Blake, the clerk, and lots of preparation, and all of the advocates coming in early to do the work, to get ready to go through the practice and procedures. It was incredibly smooth overall.

Are you happy to be back in-person though?

Nothing beats sitting down with a colleague across the table from each other and having a conversation about the case. Nothing beats that.

Especially at the Texas Supreme Court, you were talking about the size of this state. It clicked with me how important it is for the Supreme Court to get it right because the impact of your decisions goes so many different places and affects so many different people. I bet it is nice to have that in-person face-to-face conference time.

It’s also fun. We don’t always see everything the same way but the Chief sets the tone for the fact that we’re going to have a respectful conversation regardless of how we see the case. It’s always true and respectful even if we have polar opposite views of an issue. That makes good sense because once we get past that case where we might disagree, we’ve got 100 other more cases to talk about, sometimes in that very same conference the very same day. You’ve just got to figure out how you’re going to hammer through all of that together.

I know oral argument days can be long, but I know conference days can be long too and maybe even longer. Those agendas are long, you’ve got a lot to get through and you’re not conferencing as often as you’re having oral arguments. We get the privilege of taking a peek at the court’s calendar online and we know when conferences are going on. It’s always with interest that we watch those next sets of orders after the conference

I take it that you’re probably splitting time between Houston and Austin, which is not unusual for a justice from another city to not necessarily pick everything up and come to Austin. Fortunately, through technology, you have the ability to be virtually there even when you’re in Houston. What does a typical day look like during a conference week?

image of a blurry clock

Appellate Bench: The philosophy is you have to give the new judge a little time to figure out the law work before you pile assignments onto them.

I’m glad you put it as you did because other than conference or argument week, there is no typical day. I do have a set schedule in those weeks. We have a celebratory conference coming up because we’re going to have the court photo taken with the new Justice, Evan Young. That’s fun and we’re glad to have him aboard, and eager for him to come on and get to work.

Conference can be a grueling day. We kick it off at 9:00 a.m., work to a good stopping point, have a short lunch break, come back and continue with the law work that might go on depending on what the agenda looks like. It might go on through mid-afternoon or late afternoon. We take up the administrative part of the conference, which may be another couple of hours depending on what the agenda looks like. It is a long day and that’s just the day where we’re there talking about it. Getting ready for conferences is also a big chunk of work and a long multi-day process.

A lot of lawyers don’t think about the administrative load that the Texas Supreme Court carries. It’s good that you had mentioned that administrative conference requires that same time. It may not be the bulk of your time on a conference day but at any time, there are a number of significant administrative issues pending before the court.

Think about it, we’re up to 40-something emergency orders. There had to be some level of conferencing on the day-to-day operation of the legal system in Texas. To that point, when we’ve had Supreme Court justices on before, we wanted to make sure to give them a chance to talk about their liaison assignments. What assignments do you have in that capacity?

Both are pretty new. The Chief redistributes assignments at the beginning of the term. Being a new judge, the philosophy is you’ve got to give the new judge a little time and figure out the law work before you pile assignments onto them. At least that’s what happened in my case. Starting this term, I’m the deputy liaison to two commissions that I’m excited about. One is the Children’s Commission and the other is the Commission on Mental Health.

Those are two important bodies doing great work on very serious problems and the intersection of those social issues with the judicial system. Those are staffed by a wonderful staff. I get to share the work on the Children’s Commission with Justice Lehrmann. On the Mental Health Commission, I share the duties with Justice Bland. We’re off to a great start. To your point, I was not aware of how much time and work all of these other non-law or not related to case assignments are out there. It’s a significant part of any judge’s time.

I feel like that must be one of the harder parts of the job, to educate the public on that. So few people know what the Texas Supreme Court does in general. On top of that, you are in a granite box down there by the Capitol and nobody sees what goes on a day-to-day or realizes all that goes into keeping the Texas court system running every day.

The good thing about it is that there are so many members of the bar staff on these important organizations that are doing the day-to-day work. We’re appreciative of that. There’s a Supreme Court Advisory Commission, Rules Committee, and all these groups of people working hard to give input and ideas about all the varied things that the Supreme Court oversees. It’s a team effort for sure but you’re right, most people don’t understand the breadth of what all is going on and what we look at month-to-month.

One topic that I know you’re passionate about that I wanted to give you a chance to talk about was mentoring in the law.

I love meeting and talking to young lawyers. One of the things I love in practice as I got more senior was helping. This may be because I am at my very core a teacher that I like being in that role. One of my favorite parts of being in practice was hiring new associates, bringing them into the fold, especially women, getting them to feel like they had a place there. They could do this hard work in some respects in some corners of the world.

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I wanted to play that role for especially young women lawyers because as I came on and grew up as a lawyer, there were not all that many women lawyers in senior roles at firms. The ones who were there did that for me. It’s about paying it forward. The business of practicing law is hard baseline, it’s hard for everybody.

I think that something we all do. We’re all grateful that people did it for us, so it’s about helping the next crop of young lawyers as they come up through the ranks. I enjoyed that. One of the perks of growing up as a lawyer is teaching the next generation. The same thing is true at both courts. I’ve enjoyed being in a position to help introduce young lawyers to the practice in the profession.

I bet it’s fun to be able to pick a couple of law clerks every year to bring along in that process too.

It’s really fun. We’ve got a wide variety and a wide cast of characters. As far as I’m concerned, I like strong writers. I also like to look for interesting people in the stack of resumes that come through. The joy of the job is getting to pick the next year’s crop of eager clerks and welcome them to the profession. It’s a joy.

What’s the timeline for you making your hiring decisions for people that might want to do a Supreme Court clerkship?

It is ongoing. I would not think to myself if I’m interested that it’s too late. It happens all the time that someone’s clerk got married and decided to move somewhere else. They’re looking for someone to start next fall but that’s only two months away. There are lots of unexpected things that happen. I would send it in no matter what time it is. Earlier is better if you’re a 1L or 2L, I’d do it as early as you can because some judges hire four years in advance. It also happens especially with new judges, if they haven’t done the hiring even for next fall. I’d encourage people to apply regardless of when they first started thinking about it.

Experienced lawyers too for staff attorney positions. We got word that Justice Young is looking for a staff attorney. For those who are interested in working for the Texas Supreme Court, you don’t have to be on the cusp of coming out of law school. There are great jobs and they are working directly with the justices. That’s something else to keep in mind. It’s a great way to get if you don’t already have experience on the appellate side. I imagine that’s something that the court looks for, but if you don’t have a ton and want to get more, it would be a great opportunity for somebody.

I would hop on it because those don’t come open all that often. It’s an amazing thing to observe. It’s true that folks who get those jobs don’t tend to leave them because it’s a good job and interesting with a bunch of great people. Get that word out. It’s a great job.

Justice Huddle, you’ve been so gracious with your time and we appreciate the chance to visit with you. We are coming to the end. We’re not quite there but we’re a little past where we might ordinarily go. We’ve enjoyed hearing from you and hearing your stories and experiences. We want to give you the chance that we give every other guest, which is the opportunity to wrap up with a tip or a war story that you’d offer to our readers.

I’m going to go and hit you with something basic that I think is easy to forget in the world we live in today, especially in law practice where we have deadlines, high stakes and stress. This is what I tell younger people too. What’s going to matter most at the end of the day is how you treated people. I remind people even when you lose or something goes wrong, pick yourself up and try to be kind to people.

person with letters floating in the air, near mouth

Appellate Bench: It’s encouraging to see lots of courts incentivizing the older generations to push down opportunities for oral advocacy, even if it’s just a motion for summary judgment.

That’s great advice both in-person and in the way you write to the courts about parties and opposing counsel, and everything else. I’m sure you have seen quite a few of those briefs that don’t take that into consideration.

Having been on this side of the bench, lawyers hear that and I heard that as a lawyer. I thought that’s a cliché that every judge says, “Don’t attack the other side unnecessarily or overly harshly.” It’s more than a cliché. There are a lot of cases running through every judge’s desk every year and it’s an annoying distraction that 99 times out of 100 is not at all necessary. Probably, it’s not going to go over well. I’d leave those out at the risk of sounding cliché.

Not at all. I’ve seen it enough in my own practice where it needs to be said again and again. I’m glad that you do reiterate that.

Thank you again, Justice Huddle, for being with us.

I’ve been pleased to visit with you. Thanks for having me on. I’ll look forward to listening to our episode and your other episodes. Thank you.

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About Justice Rebeca Huddle:

Justice Rebeca Aizpuru Huddle was appointed to the Supreme Court of Texas by Governor Greg Abbott in October 2020. She is a native of El Paso, where she grew up and attended Stephen F. Austin High School.  Justice Huddle earned her undergraduate degree in political science at Stanford University and taught Spanish for a year before returning to Texas to attend law school.  She earned her law degree at the University of Texas School of Law, where she was the recipient of three endowed presidential scholarships and graduated with honors.

Before entering public service, Justice Huddle practiced law at Baker Botts L.L.P., where she handled litigation matters ranging from individual personal injury cases to complex commercial and shareholder disputes and appeals.  She was admitted to the firm’s partnership in 2008.  In 2011, Justice Huddle was appointed by then Governor Rick Perry to serve as a justice on the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas.  She was then elected to that office in 2012.   During her tenure at the First Court of Appeals, Justice Huddle authored over 400 reasoned majority opinions and worked with her colleagues to dispose of many hundreds more appeals.  Justice Huddle returned to Baker Botts as a partner in 2017, to resume her practice in commercial litigation and appeals.  She served as the Partner-in-Charge of the firm’s Houston office beginning in 2018.

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