What Nikkee Wants, Nikkee Gets
Nikkee Espree — Mehaffy Weber
Published in 2008 Texas Rising Stars magazine
on March 17, 2008
Updated on June 11, 2009
When Nikkee Espree crossed the stage at the 1997 South Texas College of Law graduation, her classmates may have wondered if she had hired a cheering squad for the occasion. “There was a lot of hooting and hollering when I walked up to get that degree,” the Beaumont attorney recalls. Espree was the first person in her family to receive an advanced degree, and the 30-some relatives and friends who turned out for her graduation made their pride audible. Soon after she graduated, Espree started full-time at Mehaffy Weber, where she continued to give her family reason to cheer. Just a few months into her job at the firm, Espree was second chair at an insurance trial where she argued against attorneys twice her age with much more experience. The new lawyer still managed to win a verdict for the defense. In 2005, at the age of 33, Espree became the first minority woman shareholder at Mehaffy Weber.
Espree attributes much of her success to the unwavering moral support she’s received from her family, particularly her mother. Financially, however, the support was limited. “One of the reasons I applied to the University of Texas at Arlington for undergraduate school was because they didn’t charge an application fee,” she says. “Those fees were typically about $25 and I knew my mom couldn’t afford to shell out for me to apply to a lot of colleges.” Fortunately, Espree had no trouble getting accepted to her college of choice. The Marshall native ranked 12th in her high school class of 350, and tested out of many of her first-year college courses.
Even with such high ranks, Espree says that she came dangerously close to underestimating her potential: “When I told the school counselor I planned to go to college, she said, ‘Maybe you should start out at a junior college to adjust and then see whether you want to go on to a four-year school.'” When Espree told her mother about the meeting, the student was given a reality check. “My mom said, ‘Nikkee, you’re at the top of your class, why would you go to a junior college? You will be going to a four-year school. I don’t know how I’m going to do it financially, but that’s not your concern.'” Years earlier, Espree’s mother had overcome similar biases on her own way to higher education. She graduated at the top of the first integrated class at Marshall High School.
These days, as a successful attorney practicing in the areas of toxic tort, insurance defense and family law, Espree works to help young minority students realize their potential. She leads a number of youth groups at her church, providing information and support for college hopefuls and their families. And when the kids she encourages graduate from law school, you can be sure Espree will be in the audience with their families, shouting her lungs out.