Sherry D. Tavel, Attorney
Evidence reveals success of alumnae attorneys
By Janice Fisher
It was evident from the day they met that Sherry Tavel, '84 BS, and Mary Callier, '88 BS, had more in common than the fact they were both attorneys. "I was attending a Pasadena Bar Association meeting," says Tavel, recalling the day three years ago when she met Callier. "She came up to me, and said, 'Hi, I'm Mary Callier, I'm married to Phillip. I've been wanting to meet you, because I want your life. Just trade with me - that's all I want!' Callier explains, "My husband was a student in the business law class Sherry taught at San Jacinto College. He had been telling me about Sherry and how much alike our personalities were. So I decided I would meet her. She had her own law firm, and I was with a big firm and ready to get out on my own."
Today, Callier and Tavel share office space in a Deer Park neighborhood at the corner of Center Street and East Forest. A large wrought-iron alligator sports the sign "Lady Litigator" along a wall in their patriotic red, white and blue reception area. They have enjoyed a close working relationship for over two years.
Both born and raised in the Houston area, the legal studies alumnae attended UHCL at different times, yet shared similar academic experiences. They had almost identical grade point averages and both were selected for "Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges." Callier was active in Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership honor society.
Tavel was one of two graduates to receive the first legal studies degree at UHCL. She organized the Legal Studies Association in 1983 with the help of James Benson, associate professor of legal studies.
In 1989, Callier was instrumental in organizing the first UHCL Law Day event which featured Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, the prominent criminal defense lawyer; Johnny Holmes, district attorney for Harris County; and Robert Hinojosa, a former judge in family law in the 308th District Court and now in private practice. "We had so many talented people come that day, and they were all debating some issue. Richard Alderman, University of Houston law professor, moved his television show to the university for the day, and he answered questions from the audience. Three law schools were invited to talk about their schools. It was a very impressive event."
Reminiscing about their studies at UHCL, Tavel and Callier remember Benson as a mentor, one who inspired them to achieve their goals. "He gave me confidence in myself to make me feel like I was smart enough to go on and finish school," says Tavel. "When he nominated me for 'Who's Who,' and I was selected, it was just the boost I needed. I knew I could succeed. I give a lot of credit for that to Dr. Benson."
Callier adds, "He was always encouraging, saying, 'You can do it!' Law school is extremely difficult. When I went in at my age, I was used to a little respect, and they just blew that right out the window. The best piece of advice Dr. Benson gave me was, 'Be tough skinned. Don't let the law professors get to you in law school.'"
Tavel began her career as a legal receptionist and was later promoted to legal secretary. After receiving a legal studies degree at UHCL, she became a legal assistant at Vinson & Elkins law firm. She graduated from South Texas College of Law in 1987, and opened her office in Deer Park in 1989, where she practices family, real estate and bankruptcy law. Tavel is board certified in residential real estate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Callier and her husband owned an auto parts store for several years. After opening patio furniture stores in the Houston area and in the Texas Hill Country, her lifelong interest in law surfaced. She already had two years of college and made a decision in her late 40s to get a legal studies degree.
While on a waiting list to enroll at South Texas College of Law, Callier received a call from Oklahoma City University Law School inviting her for a weekend visit. "I was very impressed with the school, so I got everything packed and I left my home and family. We had a major, grand send-off, and if I had come back wagging my tail between my legs, I'd have been disgraced forever. That's why I had to make it, I had to 'do good.' Three years later, in 1992, I came back." She returned with the distinction of earning the highest grades in two of her classes, land use and trial presentation. Callier practices family, real estate, wills and probate law.
Callier and Tavel, members of the Association of Women Attorneys, are certified to practice law in federal court and they each hold officer positions in the Pasadena Bar Association. Tavel says, "Being an attorney is like putting puzzles together and working things out. I like negotiating, and I like having my own hours and being my own boss. Despite the fact that there are a lot of lawyer jokes, I like the respect in the community. When we went to the exhibit hall at the State Bar convention, people, thinking we were legal assistants, would ask, 'And what lawyer do you work for?' Excuse me, I am the lawyer."
Callier whole heartedly agrees, "When you say, 'I'm an attorney,' they're like, 'An attorney!' I like the independence of it. I like making my own decisions, and being in charge of a situation."
The likeness between the two doesn't stop there. Both have raised a family. Callier has a son, and Tavel has a son and daughter. Callier is a real estate agent, and Tavel is a real estate broker. Callier's paralegal assistant, Nicolette Eckhart, is presently enrolled in UHCL's legal studies program. Tavel's paralegal assistant, Angela Eggers, is a 1992 UHCL legal studies graduate who worked for three years at Baker & Botts prior to joining Tavel's firm.
The verdict is clear - lives sometimes travel along parallel paths and never cross, yet, for attorneys Callier and Tavel, it appears predestined that they should meet. "Our personalities are so similar," says Callier, "and we get along very well. It's been a really good two years, and we become better friends as time goes on."