Welcome to the Town of Trial
Population: the five lawyers of the Simpson clan
Published in 2017 Texas Rising Stars magazine
on March 8, 2017
Updated on March 9, 2017
Among the five lawyers who make up the lawyering branch of the Simpson family tree—Mike; his three daughters, Michelle, Mackenzie and Maryssa; and his son-in-law, Andrew—you won’t find the same practice area twice. Ranging from criminal defense to civil litigation to insurance defense, the five of them, says Michelle Simpson Tuegel, “could form a super firm.”
As it turns out, lawyering wasn’t the family biz till Mike Simpson’s generation.
“My family’s profession is ranching,” he says. “My father and my grandfather both ranched. I was the first to get a college degree.”
Mike does have a ranch, but as a 9-to-5 it can’t compete with lawyering. “When I was young, in the ’60s, I was seeing all the different changes with people’s rights, and I wanted to be in a profession where social problems would be addressed,” says the plaintiff’s personal injury attorney. “What I saw during the civil rights movement was that lawyers were leading the change. Seeing that was inspiring.”
What his daughters saw was equally inspiring.
“Mackenzie, Maryssa and I watched our dad get up every morning and go do work that he loved,” says eldest daughter Michelle, who practices criminal defense. “He has a passion and an unending amount of energy for law. When you’re exposed to how lawyers are a voice for people and for change—and we saw that in big and small ways through our dad—it impacted all of us.”
Middle daughter Mackenzie S. Wallace even took to carrying a briefcase around the house and wrote in her third-grade diary that she wanted to be a lawyer. “I was playing lawyer and making Maryssa be my client,” says Mackenzie, now a business litigator. “I don’t think any of us grew up knowing, really, that we were little girls. Dad treated us outside of gender norms. We were challenged to crash through the glass ceiling.”
Two of the sisters were star athletes. Michelle enjoyed a career as a professional water-skier, once ranked third in the world and first in the U.S. in women’s slalom; Maryssa Simpson was an academic all-state basketball player before she headed to UT-Austin for law school.
While Dad was the inspiration, none of the daughters do his plaintiff’s-side work.
“When I was in middle school, I asked, ‘What if someday, Dad, I’m on the other side?’” Mackenzie remembers. “And he said, ‘We need good people on both sides.’ So it is kind of interesting that all of us do the opposite of what he does—other than Andrew.”
Andrew Tuegel, a plaintiff’s civil litigator who met wife Michelle at Baylor, didn’t grow up in a family of lawyers. “It didn’t really click for me that I wanted to be a lawyer until the first day of law school,” he says. “To become part of a family that’s full of lawyers has really been a great experience.”
Andrew laughs when he remembers his first Simpson holiday meal. “I kept waiting for my turn to talk, for somebody to say, ‘Andrew, what do you think about this?’ I learned pretty quickly that’s not the way this family works. If you have something to say, you need to just say it.”
“In our family, we don’t butt heads about the kinds of law we practice,” says Maryssa, an insurance-defense litigator. “We butt heads over tons of other things, but it seems like the law is the one area where we all help each other out.”
That means even the non-lawyers have their roles. “We call our mom the ‘honorary lawyer,’” Michelle says. “She was a dental hygienist by trade, but an extremely avid reader and writer. Of course, what lawyers do now, more than anything, is read and write. Our mom gave us that part of our practices.”
Mom also had a habit of taking the girls out of school early to watch Dad’s jury trials.
“The girls actually thought ‘trial’ was a town, because their mother would always say, ‘Your dad has gone to trial,’” Mike says. “As they got older and told us that, we just about died laughing.”
Being related to Mike Simpson has its benefits.
“Mike is one of the greatest trial lawyers in the state of Texas, hands down,” Andrew says. “I think you could get a rapid consensus of that from lawyers around the state. So in my practice, I will often get a Mike Simpson story about how he whipped them for a seven- or eight-figure verdict, and then, not having a Simpson last name, I get to drop in, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s my father-in-law. I’ll tell him you said ‘hello.’”
Michelle laughs. “Yeah, we’ve all definitely had that experience. I’ve had it—some other lawyer being on the phone or being in my office and, suddenly, they discover that I’m Mike Simpson’s daughter and they say, ‘Oh, I never want to go to Wise County again.’”