Victoria S. Feather, Baylor Law J.D. '17 Research Assistant
Recently, Stephen Rispoli and I escorted eleven first-year Baylor Law students to Austin, Texas, to spend a day at the Texas State Capitol observing the 86th Legislature in session. This trip was made possible due to the generosity of Baylor Lawyer and legendary Texas lobbyist, Joe B. Allen (or, as his friends call him, simply “Joe B.”).
The purpose of the trip was to expose law students to potential leadership positions through public service. As they learned during the trip, leadership occurs at all levels in the Texas Legislature – from the Members themselves to each of their staff members. Each person plays a critical role in our state’s government and many of the students’ eyes were opened to the possibility of using their law degree in this public sector.
The students began the day by observing both the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate in session. While in the House gallery, as they observed members debate and discuss the Education bill on the House floor, students acquired a greater understanding of the legislative process and the role that public finance laws play in matters affecting public education. Students also had the opportunity to engage in discussions with various Senators and Representatives.
One of our current students, Sarah Beth Toben, J.D. ’20, is interning for Senator Kirk Watson this session. Sarah Beth said that she has realized how important “service” is to leadership from her experience with Senator Watson. “It is one thing to be an elected official, but it shows true leadership to day in and day out serve your constituents. That is what I have learned through working with Senator Watson. His constituents love him and it is because he takes the time to listen to them and tries his best ensure that their voices are heard.”
To round out their view of life at (or near) the Texas Capitol, they also met with lawyers from the Texas Attorney General’s office to learn about the various matters that the AG’s office oversees and how lawyers are involved behind the scenes in many facets of Texas life.
After the trip, students were asked to write a short paragraph about what they learned and their thoughts from the legislative adventure. Here are a few excerpts:
- Overall, I loved the trip. I consider myself very well informed when it comes to politics, but I learned more than I ever had before about the hands-on activities of the House and Senate. Everyone we met was kind and patient in discussing their work and experiences with us.
- I consider it an absolute privilege that I was able to attend such a historic process, the effects of which will echo into the future for literally generations to come. I have become interested in the future the legislature has created for this next generation of children who will benefit from it.
- I personally loved the trip to Austin, and I learned a lot about how Texas politics works. I was able to take part in many great exchanges of differing policy and political ideas.
- This entire process that I was able to witness was illuminating and inspiring.
- Without this trip, I may have found it easy to sit idly by behind monolithic political tenants. Now, however, I see the people behind the curtain: people driven to benefit their community both now, and later. The legislature appears to be the stewards of the future. Without strong leadership, the stewards can let infinite ruin blaze across Texas. With strong leadership, the stewards can let the fruits of prosperity blossom.
We greatly appreciate Joe B. for sharing his vast knowledge of Texas history, politics, and the legislature with our students. But more importantly, he shared his story – initially getting involved in the Legislature to change a minor provision on behalf of a local government client, to finding he liked the work, to ending up working on (and positively influencing) most of the local government legislation for several decades. Having this guide to the famous halls of the Texas Capitol was a memorable experience for the students. They got to hear first-hand stories of how a law degree served Joe B., and Texas, well. (To learn more about Joe B., please read this great story from the Houston Press: https://www.houstonpress.com/news/its-joe-bs-world-6567749. He has also been using his skills and connections to help Houston recover after Harvey. He recently received the Wild Life Award by Houston Wilderness: https://www.baylor.edu/law/news.php?action=story&story=208868.)
We believe that this trip was highly beneficial to our students. Subsequent conversations with some of them indicate that they may be re-thinking their career trajectories based on that trip. Even for those that don’t, I suspect that this trip broadened their horizons, showed them the power of a law degree, and how it can be wielded to help others.
If you’re interested in learning more about the trip or would like to discuss the logistics of organizing it, we would be happy to visit with you or send you the schedule from our day at the Capitol.