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52-year Attorney, Alumna Shares Advice, Wisdom During Black History Month Presentation

Home Law School News 52-year Attorney, Alumna Shares Advice, Wisdom During Black History Month Presentation

Gladys Goffney ’71 — South Texas Law alumna and active family law attorney at age 92 — engaged in a delightful, insightful dialog with Black Law Students Association President Malik Wilson during a recent Black History Month “legends” event.

President and Dean Michael F. Barry set the stage, asking the crowd to “cast your mind back to 1966” – inviting attendees to think how different society and law school would have been 58 years ago. Into that environment came a trailblazer, the second Black woman at attend classes at South Texas: Gladys Goffney.”

When Goffney began at South Texas, she was married with four children ages 7 to 12 and she worked full time as a medical technologist.

“I studied biology and chemistry as an undergraduate, planning to become a doctor, and I earned my master’s degree, too,” Goffney said. “But at that time in Texas, Black women couldn’t attend medical school. So I looked for another profession that would help me provide well for my family and achieve my ambitions. In September 1966, I saw a classified ad for this downtown law school. On my way to work, I knocked on the door, walked in, and asked about classes. I didn’t know any legal lingo, but the class on Real Property sounded good to me. I registered, and the rest is history.”

Goffney graduated in 1971, passed the bar in 1972, and was honored by the State Bar of Texas in 2022 for 50 years of work as an attorney. “I am not supposed to have favorites, but I have carved out a special place for Gladys,” Barry said. “She’s a treasure.”

Because law firms were not hiring Black women when she became a licensed attorney, Goffney made her own way. She had business cards printed, and she began visiting the courthouse and handing cards to the judges, letting them know she would be grateful for opportunities to represent clients. While she said she did have to work harder to be accepted sometimes, she would use humor, shared connections, and personal storytelling to build relationships with individuals who, in turn, helped her build her business.

And of course, she built on a foundation of success for her clients… which led to client satisfaction, more business, and more success.

Though Goffney had not intentionally taken the family law and juvenile law route, cases involving child custody, wills, divorces, and other family issues quickly became Goffney’s forte. As she served families at the courthouse, clients spread the word about her good work in the community, and her individual practice grew. For more than five decades, Goffney has run her own practice — and her work continues today.

She had several points of advice for today’s law students.

One was to find good mentors. “If you have no relatives in the law, reach out to professors, to other attorneys they recommend, and to alumni. I met a woman at South Texas who graduated before me and had gotten into the court system. She learned where to get appointments in family law, and she introduced me to other lawyers — who promptly gave me their worse cases! But they were willing to help. There was no technology, so I used the library and resources from the Bar. And I learned by watching other great lawyers act as great lawyers.”

Goffney also encouraged students and recent graduates to reach out and join in. She once saw a sign for a friendly softball game occurring in Memorial Park among other family lawyers. She joined in, skinned knees and all, and made new friends. “By the end, we were sharing photos of our kids, talking about our ambitions and goals…. You can’t just stand back and wait for people to notice you; reach out and get to know people. Those relationships are key to your success.”

She also noted that students must figure out their own way to have life balance. For Goffney, she did all her studying at the dining room table, alongside her children. “We sometimes had to tell each other that we could get through this!” she recalled.

Most important of all, Goffney emphasized, is to have discipline and to work hard. “Always do your very best. Every case is your only case. Everything is separate. Everything is important. And you must be ready to sacrifice yourself in everything you do,” Goffney said.

Wilson and the students wondered whether Goffney saw herself blazing a new trail when she was getting started. “I didn’t see myself as a trailblazer at all. I was just trying to accomplish a goal. I realize now that some people may have been impressed — but my children weren’t impressed when they were growing up. They had to sit there and study with me, and we all struggled and achieved together.”

Goffney’s discipline and hard work seemed to pass on to her children: two became doctors and two became lawyers.

She believes today’s students have open doors before them. “Today, you can go to the moon. The opportunities are there if you make up your mind to succeed and you work hard for your goals. You can have as many opportunities in life as you want — even change careers mid-stream and still have a long, satisfying career. Don’t let anything stop you!”

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