March 23, 2020 – Shortly after completing their legal educations in 2018, University of Houston Law Center graduates Hannah Melcer and Timothy Sullivan established Melcer & Sullivan PLLC in Galveston. Given the island’s large retirement community and sustained vulnerability to severe tropical weather, the firm specializes in estate planning, probate law, contract drafting and residential construction. It also offers representation in guardianship cases.
However, starting a solo practice fresh out of law school is easier said than done, which is where the Career Development Office's UHLC Solo Incubator Program came into play.
“It costs a lot to start up a business, so it really helped us when we didn’t have the resources coming out of law school to get a firm set up and going,” Melcer said. “The program helped us pay the $300 fee to get the PLLC filed with the Secretary of State. It helped us pay for website design, business cards and first month’s rent for an office.”
"We had some trepidations, and the Solo Incubator Program gave us the push we needed," added Sullivan. "It helped in making the decision to start the firm. If you're a recent graduate wondering what to do, the Incubator Program is definitely something alumni should use as a resource."
Funding for the Law Center's Solo Incubator Program comes from the Dean's Society. The Dean's Society recognizes an exclusive group of alumni and friends committed to providing significant support to the Law Center annually. Members have access to special benefits in return, including invitations to special dinners, receptions, lectures and other events. Members are an essential force behind Dean Leonard M. Baynes' vision for the "Power of Legal Education," and are called upon for their insight and input to enhance the Law Center's academic and professional standing.
While in the early stages of running their own business, Melcer and Sullivan, who will marry in June, have enjoyed the flexibility of managing their own firm.
"Our professional interests align, which was a big help," Sullivan said. "Just having the ability to hang up your own shingles was an attractive opportunity as well." "It gives me more control over my schedule and taking the cases I wanted to take," Melcer added.
For Melcer, entrepreneurship was not a new concept.
"My father had his own dental practice. My grandfather had his own jewelry shop, so starting my own business wasn't something that was unheard of in the family."
Melcer said she has enjoyed representing clients in guardianship cases, while Sullivan prefers to work on estate planning and contract drafting.
“In guardianship, I believe you have the most ability to help someone achieve the best life possible for them, given their physical or mental limitations,” Melcer said. “I take it very seriously because you can take more rights away from a person in a guardianship than say someone convicted of murder and sent to prison. You can take away their right to vote, their right to marry, where they live, what medication they take. I am very careful about making sure that the client I am representing needs a guardianship, that it’s appropriate for them and making it as limited as possible.
"I would say that estate planning has been my thing more than the probate," Sullivan added. "If you can catch people at the estate planning phase, that's one of the less adversarial and contentious areas of law I've encountered thus far. It's just less stress.”
Among numerous previous clerkships and internships, Sullivan worked as a student attorney at the Immigration Clinic while attending the Law Center. After graduating, Sullivan worked in the Hurricane Harvey Consumer Assistance Program with Professor of Practice Ryan Marquez and Clinical Associate Professor Richard McElvaney, who recently retired.
“The whole process was a lot of work, but it was really good work,” Sullivan said. “We were helping people who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey and had property issues. The prevailing issue was residential construction, and people just not knowing certain things about chain of title, navigating the FEMA process or the residential construction liability efforts that place a bunch of limitations on property owners.
"There was a lot of client interaction and it helped me gain a lot of knowledge about the industry. These were very high stakes cases, but I loved the clinical and immigration work.”
"I cannot think highly enough of the clinics," added Melcer, who worked in the civil practice clinic. "They teach you the art of lawyering and how to do it. Whether it’s simple stuff like how to e-file something, or something bigger, like how to review your petition and make sure you have all elements of the code met, and general things that that you really don’t learn in a lecture class."
When reflecting on her time at the Law Center, Melcer recalls an Estate Administration course taught by adjunct professor Judge Georgia Akers that she has found useful in her day-to-day work.
"She was a great teacher," Melcer said. "Unlike most professors she had worked in the field she taught, which is always a real bonus. She had worked in the probate courts as an associate judge, so she had a good understanding of how the probate courts worked in Harris County and what you needed to know. Whenever I looked for professors from then on, I always looked for someone who worked in the field they were teaching, not just someone with an academic knowledge of it."