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Meet Kenesha Starling ’20: From NASA to the Courthouse

Home Law School News Meet Kenesha Starling ’20: From NASA to the Courthouse

From age 3, native Houstonian Kenesha Starling ’20 knew she wanted to be a lawyer. “Even then, I really liked to argue… to get my point across,” Starling said.

Growing up watching TV shows like Perry Mason and Matlock fueled her desire for a future law career. But real-life opportunities first launched Starling in a different direction.

While studying business management and finance at Texas Southern University (TSU), Starling began an internship at NASA.

“I considered myself an unlikely choice, given the intense competition,” she said. “But I said, ‘yes’ when they offered!” The internship became full-time employment where Starling worked as a financial analyst and contract manager, using her skills to manage finances and contracts for various space programs like the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. 

Over her 18 years as a federal employee, Starling completed an MBA at the University of Houston Clear Lake and became a parent. She also realized her dream of becoming an attorney. 

“I was a contract management expert by day, and a law student by night,” she said.

As a working professional with a family to support, Starling represented the kind of student South Texas College of Law Houston was founded to serve. She took classes in the evenings, and with all her other responsibilities, did not sleep much. 

In her 3L year, Starling was encouraged by two of her mentors, Prof. Vanessa Browne-Barbour and Prof. Shelby Moore, to become involved with the South Texas Law Review. Although aware that no Black individual nor part-time student had ever been editor-in-chief of the prestigious publication, the top position was the only one for which Starling applied.

When chosen to serve, Starling added the role of editor-in-chief to her already busy life — law student, mother of a teen, and full-time employee at NASA. “I pushed myself,” she said.

Her unique approach to reading and studying made it possible to take on the challenges of the Law Review along with her studies.

“I discovered I could complete all the required reading before the halfway point of each semester, then I would have time to study, memorize rules, and actually learn concepts from that point on,” she said. 

Starling credits her professional experience at NASA with giving her a great awareness of the importance of managing workflows. Her photographic memory and a giant binder of handwritten notes and materials also helped her develop a deep understanding of her coursework. She did not rely on rote memorization or cramming for exams. 

Starling is dedicated to STCL Houston. She volunteers with the Career Resource Center, and happily mentors students as often as she can. “I came into a new version of myself at the law school. I was able to tap into things I never knew existed. I learned to compete with no one but who I was the day before. It set me up for things I never thought imaginable. It will always have a special place in my heart.” 

She also feels the relationships and connections she formed at South Texas contributed to her success. Prof. Moore and Prof. Browne-Barbour encouraged her to do things in a way that worked for her, and others, like Prof. Josh Blackman, provided safe spaces for conversations regarding important but difficult topics.

The judges she clerked and interned for gave her professional and personal insights on lawyering. “My mentors come from all walks of legal life,” Starling said. “Judge Charles Eskridge [U.S. District & Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas] taught me that although litigation is an adversarial process, we do not ourselves need to be adversarial. Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit] always reminds me of the importance of being true to myself. And Judge Marvin Isgur [U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas] reminds me it’s important to keep my core values, like being well-mannered and polite, while also being a confident and assertive professional.”

After spending a spring with Porter|Hedges as an associate and a summer at a different law firm, she chose to become a Porter|Hedges associate. “They completely supported my clerkship and me personally. They’re great, and I love it here.” 

Starling has represented clients in the courtrooms of Harris County, Dallas County, and Neches County, where she successfully argued a motion to transfer venue. Her practice includes appellate work, labor and employment law, business and commercial litigation, and bankruptcy adversary proceedings.

A day in the life of Kenesha Starling begins with “a plan that seldom comes to fruition,” she said. “I am busy with multiple cases, and never, ever have the same day twice. It is exciting and terrifying.”

She loves the varied cases because she doesn’t like to be bored. Starling believes interesting, quality work is more important than billable hours. “If you put your head down and color,” she said, “the billable hours will come.” She is dedicated to achieving excellent results for clients and building her reputation while adding value to the firm. 

Starling believes her legacy will be one of gratitude for those who came before her, and of paying it forward so that future students who are Black, female, or part-time with families to support will find it a bit easier to have a seat at the table.

Although she has accomplished quite a lot in her brief career as a student of law and an attorney, Starling resists the label of overachiever. “I would call it being ‘limitless.’ I accept challenges. I don’t know what my limit is yet. And I am unapologetically myself.” 

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