Life (and Law) Begins at 40
Mary Alice McLarty took the long way to becoming a lawyer. But she’s made up for lost time.
Published in 2004 Texas Super Lawyers magazine
on September 22, 2004
Updated on October 5, 2015
It seems that Mary Alice McLarty was born to be a lawyer, but it took two decades for the Texas native to finally give the profession a try. Once she did, she hit the ground running. She’s never looked back.
McLarty, 58, first became interested in the law when, as a teenager, she attended a murder trial that shook her confidence in the criminal justice system. A white man convicted of shooting a black man in the back was sentenced to just two years in jail.
“I was deeply moved by that trial,” McLarty recalls now. “But it was 1963, and back then a girl didn’t spend all that much time thinking about becoming an attorney.”
Still, fate seemed to be moving McLarty in that direction. A few years later, she served as a juror and once again became captivated by the legal process. Then, in 1978, when she was a 32-year-old mother of three, McLarty ran for county treasurer of Randall County, Texas. She won, and earned herself the dubious distinction of being the only Democrat in a local election to win office in the county that year. From that point on, a career in politics seemed to be beckoning, but when her husband took a job in another county, McLarty resigned after just two years in office.
McLarty says she doesn’t regret her decision to leave politics and follow her family. “I was in politics for two years and I think that during that time I got my fill,” she says. “Now I think I’d rather know politicians than be one.”
With the move came the opportunity for McLarty to reinvent herself. Her husband’s job was in Lubbock, which had a law school. She took the LSAT and was accepted at Texas Tech School of Law. But as McLarty prepared to start school in the fall, her marriage crumbled. While she and her husband negotiated their divorce, McLarty assumed that she would have to once again put her legal career on hold. She didn’t know how she’d be able to go to law school and raise her three small children on a tiny monthly child support payment.
It was McLarty’s school-age son Brett who encouraged her to keep following her dreams. “I told him, ‘I can’t afford to do this,’” McLarty recalls. “‘There’s no way.’ He said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to go to law school. You can’t afford not to.’”
So McLarty stuck with her plans, taking an extra job and studying late into the night. She became a lawyer at age 37, launching what quickly became a distinguished career as a champion of the underdog, a personal injury attorney committed to helping the little guy stand up against insurance companies and megacorporations.
“I have a reputation as a cause carrier,” McLarty says. “But I’m 57 years old, for God’s sake. I’m not idealistic, but I do still have ideals,” she laughs. “There’s been a certain amount of social activism in my practice, and I find that very satisfying.”
While McLarty’s career has consumed much of her time during the last two decades, she says that she has always tried to strike a balance between home and office. “My kids are everything to me,” she says. Even now that she has remarried and her children are grown and scattered across the country, McLarty refuses to put that part of her life behind her.
“Being a mother is still very much a big part of who I am,” she says. “It’s central to my identity.”
On May 28, McLarty’s motherly resources were put to the test when her son, Brett Hines, a 13-year Army veteran turned private security bodyguard, was shot while guarding Afghan president Hamid Karzai. As soon as she heard the news, McLarty left her Dallas office to wait at Hines’ bedside with his wife and children.
After a week in the hospital, Hines recovered at home and is back on his feet, but a bullet is still lodged in his lower spine.
For years, McLarty ran a solo practice, but she recently joined with two Texas attorneys, Walt Roper and Bryan Pope, to form the Dallas-based personal injury firm McLarty Roper Pope. As founding partner of the firm, McLarty enjoys a certain amount of notoriety, which she relishes.
“They call me the Queen Mother,” she jokes, “which I don’t mind — as long as they don’t drop the queen part.”
During her 20-year career, McLarty has made a name for herself in Texas — and around the country — as an attorney whose soft-spoken Southern demeanor belies a true litagator’s heart. She wins cases for her clients, she says, because of her confidence in the core rightness of what she’s doing. Appearances don’t hurt, either.
“Because I’m small with a small voice, I’m very disarming,” she says. “People underestimate me and let their guard down when I’m questioning them under oath,” she laughs. “Then they give away the firm.”