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Student Spotlight

From rabbi to law student: UHLC 3L Segal shares unique career path to law

Feb. 20, 2024 – UHLC 3L David Segal decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and enroll at the University of Houston Law Center. Segal, whose diverse career includes serving as a rabbi and engaging in community organizing, found the missing piece of the puzzle in law school.

He shares his experience at UHLC and working for the Texas Civil Rights Project. The next chapter of his unique legal path will be clerking with the Honorable Judge Yvonne Ho.

Name: David Segal Hometown: Houston, Texas Year: University of Houston Law Center 3L

Name: David Segal Hometown: Houston, Texas Year: University of Houston Law Center 3L

What made you decide to be a lawyer?

I decided to be a lawyer only very recently. It was sort of a combination of something I had seen for myself a long time ago. After college, I worked in Washington for a Jewish advocacy organization on public policy. I knew that would be something I wanted to do long-term, so I decided to go to a rabbinical seminary and become a rabbi to combine my interest in faith with public life. I did that for five years. Then I served the congregation in Colorado for seven years, came back to Houston with my wife and kids, settled near my family, and did community organizing. I realized then that the last complementary step of what I wanted to do would be served by going to law school, combining my interest in faith and public life, and having the tools to know how to enter that world of public interest, law, and impact litigation.

What made you choose Houston law?

There are a few reasons for choosing UH Law School. First, full disclosure: my dad went here; he was in the class of 1971, and then he had a long career as a tax lawyer at Fulbright here in Houston. I think that was the reason I didn't want to be a lawyer for a long time! My parents always encouraged me, but it took me a while to come back around to it as the right path for me. I found myself at a point in my life where my wife was working at a job here, the kids were well situated, and my family was here, which was a really good support network. I started to look around and think, ‘Well, if I'm going to do law school, it needs to be now.’ I saw UHLC as a great option in Houston because it has great professors and a diverse student body who would be interesting people to learn alongside and from. Even though I am doing the full-time program, knowing that it is well known for its part-time program, I reasoned that it would be supportive of someone like me who was coming in later in life with children, looking for some more flexibility in some ways. I found that to be true, and it's been great.

How do you feel now that you are near the end of your law school journey?

I'm glad I took this step. I agonized a lot before deciding to go back to school again at this point in my life, but I'm really glad I did it. I had a family friend who I was leaning on for advice as I was deciding whether to apply. She's also a UH law alum. I said to her, ‘You know, by the time I finish, I'll be 43. What does that mean for my career?’ And she said, ‘You're going to be 43 whether you go to law school or not.’ That was kind of a lightbulb moment—maybe the final push I needed to hear to feel like this was right for me. It's not the typical way everyone walks this path, but it works for me. It turns out that UH has been a great place to do that. I'm really, really happy with how it turned out.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of law school?

It's hard to pin down just one of the most rewarding aspects of law school. I've been impressed with the quality of professors and their teaching. I haven't had anyone I wasn't excited to learn from and challenged by, which is great to be able to say. I’ve also had great classmates to connect with. Being older than the average by a bit, I’ve wondered how that would be socially. I knew I would not be going out to happy hours all the time because I have kids, but I felt like I clicked with friends here whom I learned with, discussed issues with, and enjoyed being in class with. It comes down to the professors and students.

What do you like the most about the University of Houston Law Center in particular?

One thing I like the most about the UH Law Center in particular is the new building. I started law school halfway through COVID. So, I was part remote and partly in-person in the old building. It's not even fair to compare them; the new building is wonderful. It has changed the learning environment. I mean, there's just no overstating it. It's great to be in a space that reflects the excellence of the education that I'm getting here. I also think the top-quality professors and learning that I've been able to have here have been great.

What would you tell an Incoming/Prospective student? Advice?

My advice to incoming students is to trust yourself; you're accepted for a reason. During the 1L year, especially in the fall, there's a lot of self-doubt, second-guessing, and comparing yourself to your classmates. Take a breath. Remember the reasons you went to law school and try to stay focused on them. If you don't know exactly, then be open to discovering them. Listen a lot to mentors, both students and teachers. Particularly what second- and third-year students are telling you. Also, specifically about what your professors tell you because so much about law school class is particular to your professor; what they want, what they expect, what they're teaching, really pay attention to that.

In what ways did participating in the Texas Civil Rights Project help you in your legal education?

So, the summer after my second year, I did a clerkship with the Texas Civil Rights Project, and it was hugely helpful for me in whatever direction I went with my career. Initially, it's a public interest and impact litigation nonprofit, which is one of the things I want to do in my career. It was a great place to do that in Texas. I was with their voting rights team, so I got to work on a really interesting and complicated case on redistricting. I also worked on a couple of cases that were ongoing about voting laws in Texas. The second part of it was useful in terms of litigation practice. I was thrown into a crash course on writing pretrial motions, where I had the first crack at researching and drafting work for review by my supervising lawyer. Part of that was also litigation strategy, managing multiple plaintiff groups, multiple legal teams, and how you think about strategy. One thing that was useful for me with my interest in public interest was that when you're in impact litigation, you’re trying to win on an issue, but you also can't ever lose sight of your actual client, who is a person with a name, and what their interests are. Holding both of these in mind as a lawyer can be complicated. Seeing that firsthand was helpful because I sort of learned about it in the classroom, but then actually getting to do it was really powerful.

What are you looking forward to while clerking for The Honorable Judge Yvonne Ho?

I'm super excited to be clerking next year with Judge Yvonne Ho, who is also a UH alum. When I first met her, I was interning with Judge Lee Rosenthal here in the Southern District two summers ago. The courthouse puts on a speaker series of different judges coming in and telling their stories and their views on law for the interns and clerks in the summer. Judge Ho was one of the speakers who was interviewed in front of the assembly because she had started recently as a magistrate. She started telling her story about having this other career that she was pursuing. She was a concert pianist at the time and realized she didn't want to be doing that long-term anymore. She was living in Houston and began soul-searching. She soon realized she wanted to go to law school and that UH was a great option here in the city. She did it as a parent, as I am doing. After another career, she loved it and went to work for a couple of different law firms after graduating. I think her longest position was when she was an appellate practitioner at Bracewell, directly before she went to pursue this magistrate position. There are two things I'm most excited about working with her. One, she is known as an expert in legal writing. She's passionate about it. I look forward to learning from her the practice of legal research and writing, which is my main goal in the clerkship. Second, she's known as a committed mentor. That's exciting for me coming straight out of law school to step into a place where I have access to a committed mentor like that who can show me the way into legal practice.

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