Attorney at Law Magazine Nashville Publisher Amy Dreiling sat down with Alberto R. Gonzales to discuss his change in career.
AALM: How did you transition from your career as an attorney to your career as a judge? What prompted the change?
GONZALES: At the time, I was an attorney at a law firm and I went to work for Governor-Elect George W. Bush as his general counsel in the office of the governor. Eventually, Bush appointed me the Texas secretary of state and after that, the governor asked me to go on the bench as a state Supreme Court justice. I was ready to assume a more responsible role, one that allowed me to shape the jurisprudence of Texas.
AALM: What drew you to step back from the bench and take a position at a law school?
GONZALES: Following my service on the bench, I worked in D.C. as counsel to the president and then as U.S. attorney general. As a young lawyer, I taught at the University of Houston Law School and I enjoyed the interaction with students. I want to share my lessons of public service and the law with students to help prepare the next generation of leaders.
AALM: What drew you to your law school over the other options available to you?
GONZALES: I was attracted by the idea of being on the ground floor of a new endeavor and Belmont University School of Law is a new endeavor and on the cutting of legal education. Our second graduating class led the state in bar passage with 94 percent success rate. Additionally, we have the good fortune of being in Nashville, a vibrant community.
AALM: What do you hope to accomplish overall in this role? How will you know if you’ve succeeded?
GONZALES: We hope to train well qualified lawyers who are practice ready and understand and embrace the values of professionalism and ethics. I believe we have already succeeded as evidenced by our bar passage rate and employment rate.
AALM: What do you see as the biggest challenge for your students as they enter the legal community?
GONZALES: The legal profession is changing to be more like a business with a greater emphasis on the bottom line. When I was a young lawyer, the firm I joined was willing to take the time and expense to train me to be a good lawyer. Today’s graduates are expected to step in and immediately be prepared to service their clients. This change has produced challenges for law graduates to find employment. I believe law schools have a responsibility to recognize these changes and better prepare our students to be practice-ready upon graduation.
AALM: How are you involved with the local community?
GONZALES: I believe anyone with good fortune to earn a law degree has a responsibility to give back to the community and provide services to those in need. In the past, I have served on many boards and commissions. Currently, I serve on the board of directors of the United Way, the Community Foundation, the Jason Foundation and the NCAA Division 1 Committee on Infractions.
AALM: Name one memorable experience as a lawyer?
GONZALES: I stood on the Oval Office porch on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001 and watched as Marine One brought President George W. Bush home to the White House. We went back to his private study behind the Oval Office and with other aides began developing the strategy on the War on Terror, and preparing his remarks to the nation that evening. It is an experience as a lawyer and as an American I will never forget.