Texas Law Honors Dads on Father’s Day

For the majority of our students, their decision to embark on the three-year law school journey has had a personal impact, but for those who are parents, it is a decision that affects the whole family. At this year’s Sunflower Ceremony, some of our graduates displayed that family commitment as they walked the stage with their children in their arms or by their side! For Father’s Day 2022, we honor dads everywhere and the law students who fill those shoes, including the following recently graduated and current Texas Law students.

Justin Davenport (3L)

Children: daughter (6), son (4), and baby girl (7 months)

What inspired you to pursue a law degree?
I was a teacher for 11 years before coming to law school. After the birth of my first child, I realized I was “coasting” through much of my twenties. While I enjoyed teaching, it was no longer my passion. I knew I wanted to work towards fighting climate change and being a part of the clean energy transition. Given my skill set (I don’t have a hard science background), law school was the best path for that. I also wanted to inspire my kids to pursue their goals, even if those goals seem daunting.

How has being a dad impacted your law school experience?
Being a father in law school has taken my time management to a whole new level. I can only work during certain times of the day or night, so when something needs to get done, it really needs to get done. Never in my life has this been more apparent. In some ways, being a dad has made the law school experience less stressful. Law school has nothing on colicky babies or taking care of a sick kid. Spending what little free time I have with my family is the most important thing for me, and I don’t have time to be in my head about writing the perfect paper or giving the perfect answer in class. I think that this perspective has really helped me relax and enjoy law school.

What advice would you provide to parents who are in or are considering law school?
It’s easy to feel guilty as a parent in law school. I think most parents are concerned that they won’t be there for their children. It’s true that you may not be able to attend every function or join every society, but you can still be an active parent and student. In many ways, having the life experience of raising children, and possibly that of a previous career, is an advantage when you are in school. You can manage stress better, you don’t fear deadlines, and you’re less concerned about making a fool of yourself (being a dad is basically being a walking embarrassment for your kids at all times). Treat school like a nine-to-five job. Study in every hour that fills that time, and you’ll still get to have dinner with your family and play with your kids on the weekends.

Gardner Lange and daughterGardner Lange ’22

Child: Stella (8 months)

What inspired you to pursue a law degree?
During my undergraduate career, I discovered an opportunity to serve as a Spanish language interpreter for pro bono clinics organized by the University of Utah’s Law School. It was tremendously fulfilling to see clients walk out the door with their heads held high because of the guidance and advice they received from the law students and attorneys at the clinic. I learned first-hand that the law can be leveraged to provide hope and opportunity to the vulnerable. I realized that if I could add a legal education to my Spanish skills, I could provide services of substantial value to immigrant communities, which are often among the most vulnerable in society.

How has being a dad impacted your law school experience?
Being a dad made it a lot harder to find time to study and sleep, but it was also a source of joy and inspiration. When school got stressful, spending time with Stella helped me put things in perspective. I got to spend afternoons with Stella because my wife teaches after-school violin lessons (Student Affairs helped me plan ahead to register for only morning classes), and I cherished those afternoons with my little baby, knowing that I might not have flexibility to spend those hours with her once I start practicing.

What advice would you provide to parents who are in or are considering law school?
They say that raising a child takes a village, but it takes a special village to raise a child when one parent is in law school. Remember to ask your support system for help – you’re not meant to do it alone. Also, remember that many professors, administrators, and internship supervisors are parents themselves. They know what it’s like, and they will cut you some slack.

Gardner was the recipient of the 2022 G. Rollie White Trust Fellowship in Public Interest Law; he will work with RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) in Austin with the development of screenings and systems to expand access to federal courts for migrant children in Texas.

Mike Mariani and kidsMark Mariani ’22

Children: Scott (6), Jack (4), and Jude (1)

What inspired you to pursue a law degree?
I studied the liberal arts in undergrad and grad school, but wanted an active, as opposed to an academic, vocation. The law is the most logical fulfillment of my gifts, training, and professional aspirations.

How has being a dad impacted your law school experience?
I always felt (relatively) balanced. Instead of devoting all of my time to the law school, I got to coach my boys’ sports teams, invest at their school, and nourish my most important relationship with my wife. In this sense, law school was incredibly life-giving.

What advice would you provide to parents who are in or are considering law school?
Before law school, I asked myself what I’d regret more: shirking my duties to my wife and boys for maximum success, or investing into my family and letting the chips fall where they may. I’ve striven for the latter (you’ll have to ask my wife how well I did), and I don’t regret it.

Seth Smitherman and sonSeth Smitherman ’22

Child: Reagan Thomas Smitherman (who turned 1 on May 22)
(The name is no accident. There are plenty of Thomases for him to look up to: Clarence Thomas, Thomas Aquinas, Sir Thomas More, and Thomas Becket, to name a few).

What inspired you to pursue a law degree?
Fittingly, my own father. He graduated from Texas Law in 1989, and now he’s a solo practitioner in College Station, Texas. As far as I was concerned, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Though he didn’t originally want me to go to law school (in fact, his now-infamous two pieces of advice have always been “don’t go to law school” and “don’t buy a boat,” which I am 1 for 2 on), we now all clearly see that I am my father’s son, and that I was probably destined to walk this path from Day One!

How has being a dad impacted your law school experience?
Before Reagan was born, I was really nervous about two possibilities: (1) that my duties as a student would prevent me from being the father that Reagan deserved and (2) that my duties as a new father would lessen my motivation to be the very best student I could be. Thankfully, I was wrong on both fronts. I’ve found that Reagan has provided a constant source of motivation for me to be the very best I can be on both fronts. I want him to grow up with a role model of what it looks like to be both a successful lawyer and an attentive father. Starting my role as a father while I was a 3L – when I was comparatively less busy than I’d been in past academic years and (less busy) than I’ll be as a law clerk in the years to come – was a fantastic decision that I’d recommend to any married couple deciding whether or not to have kids during law school.

What advice would you provide to parents who are in or are considering law school?
The main thing I would say to parents (especially young parents) is that you should absolutely feel like you belong in law school. Even if most of your classmates are at a different stage of their lives than you are, you can do this! And though your children are certainly a commitment of time, energy, and money that your peers will not have to juggle, they give you constant love and affirmation, an opportunity for a balanced life, and a source of external purpose that your peers might not have, either. You are motivated enough and talented enough to do this, and your kids are not a burden standing in your way – they are and always will be your biggest asset.