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Spotlighting South Texas Law Alumnae Who Have Led the Way in Local, State Bar Associations

Home Law School News Spotlighting South Texas Law Alumnae Who Have Led the Way in Local, State Bar Associations

For the first time in history, in 2024, women hold the four top leadership roles of the State Bar of Texas — president of the State Bar, chair of the State Bar Board, president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, and chair of Texas Young Lawyers Association Board.

This fact was celebrated recently in the March President’s Page written by Cindy Tisdale, the ninth woman president of the State Bar of Texas, during Women’s History Month.

South Texas College of Law Houston alumna Lynne Liberato ’81, senior counsel at Haynes Boone, helped pave the way for women in Bar leadership, serving as the first woman president of the Houston Bar Association and third woman president of the State Bar of Texas in 2000-01. At the state level, she followed trailblazers Harriet Miers (1992-93) — the first woman president since the State Bar was started in 1939 — and M. Colleen McHugh in 1996-97.

South Texas Law alumnae currently serve or have served in a number of key positions with the Houston Bar Association (HBA), State Bar of Texas, and Houston Young Lawyers Association (HYLA). This series of stories in honor of Women’s History Month will feature four women who have blazed trails of their own, in a variety of ways: Lynne Liberato ’81, Amy Dunn Taylor ’82, Samantha Torres ’13 and Brittny Mandarino ’20.

Here is the first trailblazer.


Senior Counsel, Haynes Boone

When Lynne Liberato ’81 was running for president of the Houston Bar Association, she was a unicorn, an anomaly. Relatively few women served in the legal profession, and there were virtually none five years ahead of her. And no woman had ever even run for president of the Houston Bar.

“It was an opportunity and a problem,” said Liberato, who attended South Texas College of Law Houston as a part-time evening student while working for Shell Oil. “The opportunity was there were openings for women. The problem: it was very, very hard.”

Liberato said her busy life kept her from fully immersing herself at South Texas Law, but she did compete on Dean Gerald Treece’s very first moot court team. Once she embarked on her legal career, her work ethic and success as an attorney — and her engagement with the Bar and community organizations — helped her make many important connections.

In addition to her legal acumen, Liberato brought her skills as a journalist and photographer to her Bar committee and nonprofit board work. Inspired by Watergate news coverage, she had originally planned to be a journalist with a law degree.

“If you can write and take pictures, every volunteer organization needs your skills,” she said. “As a joiner, I was very excited to be involved in a lot of Bar activities, and at some point, I got pretty well known for doing that.”

She was editor of the Houston Lawyer magazine for several years and was involved in high-profile HBA committees like Continuing Legal Education. From her late 20s to mid-30s, she was chief staff attorney for the Houston First Court of Appeals, which gave her some flexibility to be more involved as a volunteer.

She worked for Chief Justice Frank Evans, who also was a leader in Bar activities. He encouraged her to get involved as well.

“Initially, it wasn’t my intention to be president of the Houston Bar,” Liberato said. “I just enjoyed Bar work, and I wanted to contribute and be a part of the profession. Also, it was an opportunity to join the fraternity.”

It was her male mentors — her “champions” — who pushed her toward the top HBA leadership position, quite a bit ahead of the time she would have been expected to take the helm. In addition to Chief Justice Evans, Liberato was  pushed by U.S. District  Judge David Hittner and one of her legal pals, the late Joel Androphy ’78, to run for the HBA board.

“I owe so much to these men,” Liberato said. “I was ambitious but also afraid. They had such faith in me, they helped me overcome my fears and caused me to stretch to run for president after only one term on the HBA Board.”

In the meantime, her career also took a different path as she joined Haynes and Boone and became a partner quickly. “Haynes and Boone has always been very supportive of me in my Bar and community work,” Liberato said. “Community service is integral to our firm culture.”

Though Liberato was on the board for the HBA, most people rose in the ranks at the time in an orderly progression. However, Liberato’s mentors encouraged her to run ahead of the traditional schedule – about nine years earlier than the expected pattern.

“It bothered me that there had never been a woman president, and there was not even a woman in line for years to come,” Liberato said. She had been on the board two years, and her champions pushed her to go for it.

She ran, and it was difficult. Very difficult. “My candidacy was met with a lot of disdain — and some very public push back — by Bar leaders who thought I was pushy and not waiting my turn,” Liberato said. “But what women and lawyers of color realize is that sometimes when we wait our turn, our turn never comes.”

When the election results were tallied, Liberato won the presidency by a landslide, with many Bar members sharing with her how much they appreciated all the hard work and dedication she had built into the HBA for years as a volunteer. She went on to become president of the State Bar of Texas in 2000-01.

Liberato wrote an article in 2018 for Texas A&M-Commerce’s alumni magazine titled “On the Heart of a Servant Leader.” She earned her master’s in journalism from this university. “We learned that practicing journalism called us to be public service champions,” she wrote. “A champion… knows that success means serving your profession, your community, and your world.”

As a practicing attorney for 44 years, Liberato has proven repeatedly she has the heart of a public service champion and the skills of an exceptional legal advocate.

She was the first South Texas Law alumna to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. She met with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office regarding judicial appointments, and lobbied Congress for funding of legal service for the poor. She represented the NFL when Houston hosted the Super Bowl. Her co-authored, award-winning article about summary judgments is considered the “bible” on the topic. The 2023 version, which was published in the South Texas Law Review, has been awarded the 2024 Texas Bar Foundation Law Review Article of the Year.

Liberato has won numerous awards, including the Jack Pope Professionalism Award, the Lifetime of Excellence Award from the Association of Civil and Trial Specialists, and the 2019 Gregory S. Coleman Outstanding Texas Appellate Lawyer Award. She is particularly proud of her work with the United Way, where she was the first practicing lawyer to head the community campaign, the chair of the Board, and was named Volunteer of Year.

In 1992, Liberato received the Distinguished Alumni Award from her law school alma mater. “South Texas fills a niche that allows non-traditional students like me to have the opportunity to practice law and bring  different viewpoints and judgment to the matters they handle as lawyers,” Liberato said. “The law school enhances our    legal system by fostering a more diverse representation of lawyers.”

Though the legal world has changed in many ways for the young women beginning legal careers today, Liberato still worries that women are not gaining senior partnership and other top positions at the same rate as men — despite their roughly equal numbers in law school.

She strongly believes that being involved in Bar and community activities helps build  a law career, with one important caveat. “Nothing has helped me as much as recognition that I was, and am, a really good lawyer. My advice to young women wanting to grow into leadership roles is to be a good lawyer first. If you’re not, nothing else you do will matter.”

Liberato recalls having incredible drive since she was a little girl. Reflecting on her successes in life, she said, “I’ve had lots of challenges in my professional life, but I’ve also had many opportunities — and I’ve taken advantage of nearly every single one. I saw blue sky, and I went for it.”

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