In 1992, a jury awarded Stella Liebeck $2.9 million dollars. It's an infamous case. She sued for damages associated with spilling a scalding cup of coffee onto her lap. Each year the Stella Liebeck Awards ranks the top 10 "most ridiculous" legal claims. The list is entertaining if not depressing. It ranges from someone suing a theme park for not warning them of lightning strikes, to a dog sitter being sued for losing a dog even when the dog was recovered. Despite the parade of outrageous cases and the exploitation of TV trials, the legal profession has a few shining examples of leadership so that we can say with Shakespeare, "The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept."
Several who are "awakening" the world of law are OBU graduates. Pre-Law is a strong program at OBU, and many students who choose this path go on to great accomplishments. Law is more than about its suits; it's about its responsibility for morality that mazes through a game of chess to become a guide of significant value. Three graduates tell a portion of their story below of how their lives are making a difference.
A Moral Compass
"Providential or otherwise, graduating from OBU remains one of the best decisions of my life," says W. Kyle Tresch, '86, graduate of Washington and Lee University School of Law and now senior counsel at CITGO Petroleum Corporation based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Through his experiences on the summer paint crew, late-night Taco Bells runs, afternoon naps, and campus concerts, Kyle built relationships at OBU. "I remember Laura Crouch and Shirley Jones teaching me how to write. I remember Dale Soden and Jim Farthing teaching me how to think critically. I remember Joe Hall teaching me about a diverse world outside of the one in which I was so comfortable. I remember Bob Agee showing us all how to lead with integrity and vision. And, I remember leaving OBU a more complete person than when I first got there."
Prior to his role at CITGO, Kyle served as shareholder/director with Oklahoma's largest law firm, Crowe & Dunlevy. "I have a concentration in treasury and finance, which also involves Securities and Exchange Commission compliance as well as multiple corporate governance issues," he says. "I have the opportunity in my position to work closely with senior management and the decision-making processes of a multi-billion dollar corporation."
Kyle counts his faith as central to his work as a lawyer. "The Bible warns that we cannot serve both God and money," he says. "Whether you consider Enron, the Baptist Foundation of Arizona or your personal income tax return, there are money-driven pressures and demands that constantly push to blur the lines between what is right and what is wrong. As Christians we're certainly not immune from those temptations. However, as Christians we are equipped with our faith and the accompanying promptings of the Holy Spirit to provide a moral compass when the distinctions between right and wrong become less clear. It's the nature of our job as lawyers to provide advice and guidance to clients who rely on our judgment in making decisions. Sometimes that means telling a client something they don't want to hear and sometimes that means saying things you don't want to say. It's not always easy and, being human, I've certainly made my share of mistakes in judgment. Nonetheless, I am able as a Christian to put faith in the prayer that our Father lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. I depend on this to help me face the challenges of being an attorney."
He and his wife Lisa Jackson, '87, met at OBU. They have three children: Colin, 13; Erin, 12; and Alison, 3.
A Chess Game
"Litigation is often analogized to a chess game," says Rob Duran, '98. "To play the game effectively, you have to think three moves ahead. In order to accurately think ahead, you need a keen understanding of logic. For me, OBU greatly enhanced that understanding."
"I remember being very busy and constantly seeking new ideas while at OBU," says Rob. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School and now works as an associate with the law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P. in Houston, Texas, the largest Texas-based law firm. "I underwent significant philosophical, political, and religious changes during my OBU years, and I am grateful for the fertile environment which allowed those new ideas to blossom."
Rob serves as a commercial litigator, which means his day is absorbed with securities litigation, securities arbitration, international arbitration, and complex commercial litigation. "Commercial litigation, especially as practiced in large markets, can be a dirty business. As a defense attorney you often see clients at their worst, largely due to the stress of being sued. Clients generally want you to 'take on' their problems and divine creative solutions. These facts, combined with the zeal to win at all costs and the money at stake, often create ethical dilemmas. I am fortunate that the attorneys I work with practice law in an honorable manner. Ethics undergird everything that I do as an attorney. My church and my spirituality are defining characteristics in my life. In fact, my faith is often the key factor that gets me through particularly difficult or stressful times at work. On good days, I'd like to think that I make some positive impact on the world with the work I do, or at least with the manner in which I conduct myself.
"For my career, the two most important skills that I developed at OBU are superior writing and critical thinking. Writing is paramount in the law and OBU's rigorous writing program prepared me well for that challenge. Additionally, the critical thinking skills that I honed in college are indispensable to my practice. Understanding and being able to construct allusions to history, art, philosophy, and the social sciences are great aids in presenting the image of an educated person and communicating effectively. Likewise, my background in finance is well-suited for my specialization in securities and commercial law."
Rob is married to Kellie Sperry, a 1999 OBU graduate. Kellie currently works as a recruiter for an oil and gas recruiting firm in Houston.
A Significant Guide
When Sonny Miller began looking for a law school, he received the pleasant surprise of not only acceptance into the University of Iowa College of Law with its top-25 ranking, but also the news that the school awarded him their top scholarship. "I was surprised and relieved to learn that OBU had not only prepared me for the challenges of law school, but also had prepared me to excel." Sonny graduated as the top student in his law school class.
He first heard about OBU through his youth pastor and garnered more interest when he stepped foot on campus and learned about the national recognition for top academics. He is currently a senior associate in the wealth preservation practice group with the law firm of Winstead, Sechrest & Minick, P.C. in Dallas, Texas. "OBU provided me with keen analytical skills," he says. "After college, you learn that the real lesson was not necessarily the subject matter before you, but rather the ability to think critically and process information. I am also thankful that OBU taught me to include my faith in that analysis, providing a firm ethical and moral foundation beneath my feet. The quality faculty cared about me both as a student and as a person. They taught me more than their designated subject matter, and challenged me to discover deeper truths about myself and the world around me. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue that discovery process within the context of a Christian educational institution."
Sonny assists people with the preparation of wills and trusts and other related estate planning documents to provide for their families in the event of their death, with an emphasis on high net worth individuals and tax planning issues. He also helps families navigate through the estate administration process after the death of a loved one. "There have definitely been occasions where I was able to encourage a client or co-worker in his or her faith or to think about planning for the soul as well as for finances," he says. "I believe that our faith is also expressed in our workplace by our work ethic. As a Christian, I believe it is important to do the best at whatever task God has put before us. Unless we are consistent and hard-working, I don't think that others who work around us will respect our beliefs or be drawn to Christ by our example."
Married for eight and a half years, he and his wife, Amy, are parents to their son, 3-year-old Parker.