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Alumnus Evan Howze ’13 Shares Insights After Returning to Campus to Argue Appeal

Home Law School News Alumnus Evan Howze ’13 Shares Insights After Returning to Campus to Argue Appeal

For just over a decade, Evan Howze ’13 has sat on the judges’ bench in the T. Gerald Treece Courtroom at South Texas College of Law Houston, coaching student advocates as they prepare for national competitions.

On Feb. 6, for the first time since he advocated as a student in 2012, Howze stood at the podium in the Treece Courtroom, facing the judges’ bench. This time, he argued a case before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which was hearing arguments for two days on the South Texas Law campus. Students had the opportunity to watch him in action.

“Standing in that courtroom, I recalled all the important advice Dean Treece shared and all the encouragement he gave me,” Howze said. “I was using skills he taught me; I use important skills he taught me every day in my work.”

Howze is an assistant federal public defender in the appellate division of the Office of the Federal Public Defender, Southern District of Texas. He also has coached moot court competition teams for South Texas Law for a decade.

Those worlds collided  when Howze returned to campus on February 6th. In the law school’s inaugural Champions Chat hosted by the student Board of Advocates, Howze was interviewed by 3L Madelyn Chidester — a two-time national moot court champion who Howze co-coached when she and her team won the law school’s 140th national advocacy victory. A decade earlier, in October 2012, Howze himself had helped secure the advocacy program’s 112th title. 

The chat gave Chidester and other advocates the opportunity to debrief Howze on the day’s experience arguing before the Fifth Circuit on his home turf, and to ask questions about his day-to-day appellate work, how law school prepared him to handle appeals, and how he first knew what type of law he wanted to practice. The last topic, predictably, led back to his time as a student advocate.

“I was in my first moot court tournament in law school, and the world just melted away — it was just a conversation between me and the judges ,” Howze said. “After that, I told everyone who would listen that I wanted to be an appellate lawyer.”

His 2L summer, he had the opportunity to serve as a legal intern in the Appellate and Felony Trial Divisions of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. Working there sparked an interest in serving as a voice for those who could not speak for themselves.

Howze gained more appellate experience as a 3L serving as a law clerk with Stevenson & Murray’s in-house appellate specialist. After a brief stint as an associate with Kirkendall Dwyer LLP, he took an entry-level position as a research and writing specialist in the Appellate Division of the Office of the Federal Public Defender, Southern District of Texas. In the first year alone, he helped brief 40 or so pending Fifth Circuit cases.

In 2017, Howze was promoted to his current position as assistant federal public defender. His cases involve appeals for criminal defendants, and he generally carries between 20 and 30 open Fifth Circuit appeals at any given time. The Feb. 6 argument at South Texas marked his 21st appearance in the Fifth Circuit.

On this occasion, the panel consisted of Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, Don Willett, and Stuart Kyle Duncan. During the Champions Chat, the students noted that Howze seemed remarkably comfortable in front of the judges — so much so that he had successfully broken the tension with several moments of levity that the panel clearly appreciated. 

“It helps that I have been in front of those judges on several occasions, and you learn to read the room,” Howze said. “I know what to expect from them, and they know what to expect from me. They know I’ll take up all the time and ask for more. They know if I say it’s in the record, it is. They appreciate an advocate who’s trained like we are… who knows our task is to help them figure out what the law is.”

True to form, Howze made use of the full allotment of time to make his client’s case for a new trial. And he emphasized that the key to making that time count is preparation.  

“I was having a good time engaging with the panel, and I was confident in my knowledge of the case law and record because I over-prepare every time,” Howze said. “I prepare the same as the students prepare for a moot court competition: research, read, arrange, think, practice, change, do it again. No one is ever perfectly prepared, but you need to know all the cases you are referencing and all the cases your opponent or the judges will reference — down to the footnotes.”

But Howze was quick to stress that, when the goal is to persuade real judges to upset the status quo and alter what happened below in a way that benefits the client, brevity and precision are of the utmost importance. The goal as an advocate, he said, is “to remind the judges of the key points that support your argument — not share the whole story of the case. You have a limited amount of time to be persuasive, and you need to make sure the judges remember the two or three points that make your strongest case for overturning the earlier decision.”

While happy to share his perspective on the privilege of arguing a real case and controversy in Treece courtroom, Howze was quick to turn the focus back on the program he credits with having given him the tools to stand up and put his client’s best case forward.

“I am just one of many former advocates that continues to devote long hours on nights and weekends to paying forward what this fantastic program gave to me, and doing my best to prepare South Texas students to become competent and compassionate lawyers,“ he said. 

Justice Alhmoud — a 3L, Chidester’s roommate, and fellow competitor — made clear that the students Howze has coached appreciate his efforts and insight: “Evan is one of the most highly requested coaches by the advocates; he’s amazing. He gives us his time, and he shares his experience. He develops champions.” 

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