Feb. 21, 2018 — Prior to attending law school, Austin Echols did not consider himself to be much of a writer.
The second-year University of Houston Law Center student surprised himself by winning a writing competition sponsored by the Houston Bar Association's Appellate Section. Echols' motion centered on a dispute between a high school principal and a bulimic student.
Echols and Clinical Assistant Professor Whitney Heard were recently recognized during the section's February luncheon at the Coronado Club in downtown Houston, where he was awarded a $500 scholarship and Heard was commended for her work instructing him.
"I appreciate the recognition," Austin said. "Because I was a business major and in the Coast Guard before law school, I didn't have much writing experience. But I do enjoy it and always seek opportunities to improve upon my writing skills."
Echols is currently taking two writing classes and has submitted an article for publication in the Houston Law Review.
Heard said seeing students master the lawyering skills that she taught them is a professional joy for her.
"I am driven to prepare my students to succeed in law school and in practice," Heard said. "It is incredibly gratifying to have an organization like the HBA Appellate Section recognize that drive. Regardless of whether my students use those skills to earn an award, receive a scholarship, or secure employment, I take pride in their accomplishments."
When writing briefs or motions, Heard, who teaches Lawyering Skills & Strategies I and II, encourages her students to connect the facts and the law to create an argument that is clear, complete and convincing.
"Austin demonstrated that persuasive writing does not rely upon gimmicks, exaggerations, or manipulations," Heard said. "Rather, Austin thought long and hard about what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it.
"He presented his arguments in such a way as to emphasize the favorable facts and law and minimize the unfavorable facts and law. By embracing the persuasive writing techniques that we discussed in class, Austin was able to write the winning motion."
While taking Heard's course, Echols said taking advantage of the professor's feedback helped him win the competition.
"Professor Heard was very helpful," Austin said. "She's a great writing instructor who provides a lot of valuable insight. I sat down with her at the end of the semester and incorporated a lot of her suggestions."