May 23, 2023 — Environmental lawyer and University of Houston Law Center alumnus Jeff Mundy ’88, was named as one of the Top 100 in 2023 by the National Trial Lawyers, marking his third year among the ranks. His passion for environmental conservation has propelled him to the forefront of environmental and conservation efforts in Texas.
The National Trial Lawyers is an invitation-only organization composed of high-caliber civil plaintiff and criminal defense attorneys from around the country. “Being asked to join was a pleasant and unexpected surprise” for Mundy, founder of The Mundy Firm PLLC in Austin, Texas.
A staunch advocate for environmental conservation, Mundy focuses on land, wildlife and water protection, and personal injury. Today, his work is mostly in South Texas and the Hill Country, where Mundy said that “rural landowners are bearing the burdens of infrastructure growth to supply urban needs.”
Mundy has seen “historic ranches being broken up and sold off in pieces, losing the history of our state, as well beautiful ranches being cut up for pipeline and utility line rights-of-way, which destroys and fragments important habitats for wildlife.”
“Over and over, I meet ranching families that are incredible stewards of their lands and fight valiantly to protect the wildlife,” Mundy said. “Today, we have public policy that is driven by urban needs and voices, while the impacts to our rural families, lands, and wildlife have little to no voice or even consideration in policy decisions.”
The passion driving Mundy’s work was almost inevitable for the native Texan. Growing up, Mundy spent time hunting and fishing with his father nearly every weekend. As a Boy Scout, he camped along the Blanco River, filling buckets and canteens with pure river water to drink.
“I was able to see so many wonderful areas of Texas, which I now see being polluted, destroyed, and vanishing in front of my eyes,” Mundy said.
Spending a month in the wilderness of Wyoming in 1980 at the National Outdoor Leadership School “really galvanized” Mundy to become an advocate for the environment.
A “true turning point” in Mundy’s practice occurred in 2011, when Houston’s Jim Blackburn asked Mundy for help in trying The Aransas Project v. Bryan Shaw, etc., an Endangered Species Act case involving the deaths of Whooping Cranes on the Texas coast. In 2010, The Aransas Project accused the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality of violating the Endangered Species Act “because it didn’t allow enough fresh water from the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers to flow into the Aransas Refuge, resulting in the deaths of 23 cranes.”
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is home to the world’s only wild Whooping Crane flock. The initial victory in that case (later reversed by the Fifth Circuit) was the impetus for Mundy to combine his trial skills with “an ability to help endangered species and the habitat and water upon which they – and we – depend for survival.”
Mundy recommends that aspiring trial lawyers “get themselves into a courtroom,” even if it means helping in a trial for no charge. For example, with the Whooping Crane trial, Mundy said he went in “with no expectation of any compensation other than the satisfaction of helping Jim and the Whooping Cranes.” He didn’t expect this opportunity would become an inflection point in his legal career.
Mundy credits UH Law Center Professor Byron McCoy, founder of the Law Center’s Trial Advocacy Institute (now known as the Blakely Advocacy Institute), for ultimately preparing him for trial practice. McCoy worked closely with a group of students from his trial advocacy class each year, teaching them evidence and procedure “for hour upon hour each week in a practice courtroom.” In addition to teaching students the “nuts and bolts” of trial, McCoy brought in well-known attorneys like Cathy “Cat” Bennett, a pioneer in jury selection, and UHLC alumnus Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.
“The skills and lessons Byron and Cat taught have served me well,” Mundy said.
Mundy also advises aspiring trial lawyers “to spend time in courtrooms to watch and learn from the best trial lawyers.”
He also said, don’t be afraid. “I see many lawyers who are afraid to go to trial because they are afraid they might lose a case. If you really try cases for a living, you are going to lose some cases that you should win and you will win some cases you thought you were going to lose,” Mundy said. “When a lawyer says they have never lost a case, they have either not tried very many cases, they have not tried very hard cases, or they are just telling a lie.”
When asked for parting thoughts to young lawyers, he offered: “Making money is important, but don’t be so consumed by making a living that you miss making a life. Remain true to yourself, to your values, and the things that are important to you.”
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