July 19, 2021 - Patricia Hunt Holmes, a 1983 graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, has concluded her legal career, but is continuing one of her favorite aspects of it: writing.
The attorney-turned-author recently published her second book, “Crude Ambition,” in June. A legal thriller, the novel details the journeys of two young women attorneys and their plight for justice. Holmes said she largely drew inspiration from her personal experiences carving a path for herself in the legal field, a predominantly male space when she entered it in the 1970s.
Holmes first joined Vinson & Elkins, LLP in 1976 as a legal assistant. She had recently moved to Houston from Tennessee, where she taught Russian culture at the University of Tennessee.
After working at the firm for four years and kick starting its legal assistant program, Holmes decided to pursue a legal education at the Law Center.
“I’m grateful to the Law Center for being there,” Holmes said. “I couldn’t have gone anywhere else, frankly. I had a husband and two toddler little girls. It was a great place to go to law school – the teachers were good, the training was good.”
Holmes returned to Vinson & Elkins after graduating with her J.D. in 1983, and eight years later, became a partner at the firm. She was one of two women and 16 men to do so at the time.
Holmes recounted instances in her first year at the Firm where some clients opted to call her male colleagues rather than her to answer questions she had asked them, and even a time when she, the only woman at a fellowship luncheon in a prestigious private business club had been made to leave because women weren’t allowed.
Despite some of the challenges she faced throughout her career, Holmes said she’s “not bitter about how it was.”
“I certainly didn’t intend the book to be anti-law firm because I had a fabulous career. I loved it, and I loved my clients,” Holmes said. “I think you just have to accept things the way they are, learn the rules, and work with them. And it’s not always fair, but if you want to get ahead when you are the newcomer, you might have to work a little harder and longer to do what you want to do.”
Holmes credits her mentor at Vinson & Elkins for advising her, guiding her, and seeing to it that she received work. “I can’t overemphasize how important it is to find a mentor,” she said.
Holmes built a career as a public finance attorney representing nonprofit organizations like the YMCA, United Way, nonprofit hospitals and member-owned cooperative utilities. She described her clients as “mission driven,” offering her a sense of fulfillment as they worked together.
Holmes said that public finance law, “gives you the opportunity to write a lot and to write persuasively.” Holmes said she wrote a lot of securities offerings, which included writing the equivalent of an official statement or prospectus and the story of the company.
“I was writing the whole time I was working as a lawyer, and it was, in a way, creative writing, but it was tied to fact and tied to the law,” she said.
Holmes’ passions for writing and community impact collided somewhat unexpectedly following her retirement from Vinson & Elkins in 2012. While taking a fiction writing class at Inprint Houston, a literary arts nonprofit, Holmes said she started writing a short story that later became the basis of her first novel, “Searching for Pilar.”
The book was born from a headline Holmes had read about a Mexican woman who was abducted by human traffickers. It eventually led her to become passionate about creating awareness about human trafficking in the Houston area.
“That stuck with me,” Holmes said. “There are so many organizations focusing on it, people training and people rehabilitating. I’m not an activist, I say I’m just a writer. I see my contribution as bringing attention to this terrible crime which is so prevalent in Houston.”
In all, Holmes said both her background as a historian and her legal training has given her the tools to think both inductively and deductively, skills that have proven useful as she dives into the lives of her characters.
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