A Serendipitous Connection

On Nov. 4, 2023, Texas Law’s South Lawn was filled with live music, burnt orange balloons, and the smell of barbecue for the 25th annual Texas Law Tailgate Extravaganza. As The University of Texas at Austin’s football team prepared to take on Kansas State, law school alumni, professors, and staff enjoyed an afternoon of festivities and catching up with old friends.

Omar Ochoa '11 and Leah Wise at the 2023 Texas Law Tailgate Extravaganza.
Omar Ochoa ’11 and Leah Wise at the 2023 Texas Law Tailgate Extravaganza

Amidst the activities, Omar Ochoa ’11 and his wife Leah Wise were embarking on a crucial mission: to find a cup of coffee. Both successful attorneys from the Rio Grande Valley, Ochoa—who also holds bachelor’s degrees in economics and business and a master’s in professional accounting from UT—and Wise—who earned a bachelor’s in political communication from UT—had traveled to Austin for the annual event and were looking for some caffeine before the big game’s 11 a.m. kickoff.

Ochoa and Wise’s coffee quest led them to the law school’s atrium, where they were approached by a young woman. She introduced herself as Alexis Saenz ’23 and explained that she was a current Texas Law student who would be graduating that December. Saenz expressed that she was highly interested in becoming an attorney in the Valley, and she asked the two lawyers if they could offer advice and references.

By January, that chance encounter in the atrium had turned into a full-time position for Saenz at Ochoa’s law firm in McAllen.

The Search

Headshot of Alexis Saenz '23.
Alexis Saenz ’23

Saenz’s journey to the alumni tailgate began months earlier as she was preparing for her graduation from Texas Law. Born and raised in the Valley, Saenz knew she wanted to move back home to address the region’s need for lawyers—especially Latina lawyers. Only 5% of lawyers in the U.S. are Hispanic, and very few of them are women.

“There aren’t a lot of female lawyers practicing” in the Valley, says Saenz. “I thought it was really important to give back to my community and serve the people who have served me my entire lifetime.”

Saenz further refined her career goals when she enrolled in Taking Depositions and Handling Expert Witnesses, an experiential course offered at Texas Law. Depositions—sworn out-of-court testimonies from witnesses—are a crucial element of civil litigation cases, in which attorneys work to resolve civil disputes such as property damage or personal injury. Through the experiential course, Saenz took depositions from resident physicians at Dell Children’s Medical Center at Ascension Seton and discovered a passion for civil litigation.

Despite knowing that was the area in which she wanted to pursue a career, Saenz was unsure where to begin her job search. To start, she reached out to the school’s Career Services team, who helped her explore the Valley’s legal community. It was through these conversations that Saenz learned of the Omar Ochoa Law Firm in McAllen, which specializes in civil litigation and trial law.

Armed with those resources and advice, Saenz attended the tailgate in November to make connections with the law school’s extensive community of alumni. She instantly recognized Ochoa when she saw him walk by on his search for coffee, and took the opportunity to introduce herself. Ochoa asked about her favorite classes and experiences in law school, and Saenz volunteered her interest in civil litigation.

Though their initial conversation was brief, Ochoa was impressed by Saenz’s confidence and immediately saw her potential to be a successful lawyer. A week later, Saenz sent Ochoa a copy of her résumé and indicated her interest in working for his firm. The two scheduled a series of subsequent coffee meetings to evaluate whether Ochoa’s firm was truly a good match with Saenz’s career goals.

During these discussions, they bonded over a shared passion for advocacy in the Valley.

“The need for good-quality legal services in this area is huge,” says Ochoa. When recruiting lawyers, he looks for “someone who wants to give back to the area, and that’s a passion of theirs as much as practicing the law is.”

While Ochoa wasn’t actively recruiting new hires, he admired Saenz’s drive and passion. Both agreed that the firm would be a good match for Saenz’s experience and career goals, and Saenz began her position as associate attorney in January 2024.

Members of Omar Ochoa Law Firm.
Members of Omar Ochoa Law Firm

Just a few short months into her time at Omar Ochoa Law Firm, Saenz has already made an impact. From going to court on behalf of clients, to negotiating with insurance adjusters, to research and writing, to motion work, she has quickly gained a breadth of experience.

“I extremely enjoy the client interactions every day,” says Saenz. “They’re going through something that’s life-changing for them, and I’m just so happy that I can be there to help them in that time of need.”

“Her desire to be great is clear,” says Ochoa. “You can hear it when you talk to her. Her ability to pick things up quickly and her ability to take the lead on tasks is amazing.”

Generations of Connections

In a meaningful sense, Ochoa’s connection with Saenz gave him an opportunity he’d long wanted: to pay forward his own experiences as a student. In fact, it was Texas Law’s formidable alumni network that drew Ochoa to the school 15 years ago. Having already earned three degrees from UT, he was considering exploring beyond Austin for law school. But after seeking advice from several Texas Law alums, Ochoa was encouraged to stay on The Forty Acres.

Veronica Gonzales ’91, a former member of the Texas House of Representatives and current senior vice president for Governmental and Community Relations at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, was particularly convincing. Ochoa first met Gonzales during his undergraduate studies when, as UT student body president, he visited the Texas Capitol to advocate for student issues. Later, when deciding whether to attend Texas Law, Ochoa sought Gonzales’ advice. “She just stressed how strong the alumni network was,” says Ochoa. “That she stayed in close contact with her law school friends and she runs into people all the time. And that if I wanted to practice in Texas, this would be the best network to be a part of.”

Years later, Ochoa is a strong contributor to the very alumni network that brought him to Texas Law. From serving on the Alumni Association Executive Committee to supporting the Chicano/Hispanic/Latino Law Students Association and the Pipeline Program, he has continued to stay highly involved with the law school and its students.

“In my family, I was the first person to go to law school,” says Ochoa. “I know the value of tapping into people who know more than you do and trying to grow your skills personally and professionally through that kind of mentorship. Having been a huge beneficiary of that, I know how important it is for me to do the same.”

Tailgate Talent

Eduardo Rodriguez '68 is honored with a birthday celebration at the 2023 Texas Law Tailgate Extravaganza
Eduardo Rodriguez ’68 is honored with a birthday celebration at the 2023 Texas Law Tailgate Extravaganza

Ochoa was far from the only prominent lawyer from the Valley at the Tailgate that day. In fact, the entire tailgate extravaganza is a Valley production: Eduardo Rodriguez ’68 and his son Michael Rodriguez ’94 are the pitmasters and hosts for the event ever since the inaugural tailgate in 1998. Alumni travel from far and wide to taste the Rodriguez family’s legendary barbecue.

The senior Rodriguez, a partner of Atlas Hall Rodriguez in Brownsville, has been a trial lawyer for over 50 years and has remained a strong supporter of Texas Law as a member of the Alumni Association Executive Committee and the Law School Foundation. He even has a plaque on the South Lawn dedicated to his legacy as a distinguished alumnus and the tailgate founder.

You could say that Saenz’s young legal career started with a cup of coffee. In reality, though, it was decades of Valley connections aligning to bring Saenz to Ochoa’s firm, beginning with Gonzales convincing Ochoa to attend Texas Law and Ochoa coming with Wise to the Rodriguez tailgate celebration that drew the alumni community together and led to a chance encounter. Now, Saenz is paving the way for future generations of lawyers by contributing to the Valley’s vibrant and storied legal community and hoping to pay it all forward herself one day.

Omar Ochoa '11 and Leah Wise at the 2023 Texas Law Tailgate Extravaganza“Omar loves Texas Law and he supports everything that it does,” says Saenz. “That was one of the things that we bonded on…we’ve had some of the same professors and have walked through the same halls, and it’s always nice to talk about those things.”

Ochoa and Saenz both agree that Texas Law students should take advantage of the school’s numerous networking opportunities.

“I really highly encourage other law students to take her example of not being afraid to reach out and to try to make connections,” says Ochoa. “It may not always result in a job offer, but you will always have something to gain by trying to learn from other people.”