Keeping Up with Jones

How a major in Spanish led Erin Jones to a career handling multimillion-dollar bankruptcy suits

Published in 2016 Texas Rising Stars — April 2016

Erin Jones’ career path has been marked by a series of assumptions. And, despite what the adage says about what happens when you assume, they helped shape her into a top-notch corporate bankruptcy litigator.

Jones’ first assumption—that she’d do something involving Spanish—came as an undergrad at The University of Texas at Austin, where she earned degrees in both Spanish and Latin American studies, with an emphasis on economics. When she was a junior, she had an internship translating documents for a state agency. “The more I got into it,” she says, “the more I saw connections with the courtroom, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s a cool job. I might like to do that.’”

When she entered the University of Houston Law Center, Jones assumed she would go into international law. She pursued classes in that area, including some at Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City. But it set her on a new course.

“I decided to take tax and loved it, which everybody thought was super weird,” she says. “I enjoyed the fact that it was based on a code, there were regulations, and you could look for an answer. I think it served my Type A personality really well.”

Since she was terrified of public speaking, Jones next assumed she’d “end up sitting at a desk.” But she decided to take trial advocacy classes—“to see what the other half is going to do”—and actually found that she was good at it. She clerked at the San Antonio firm Cox & Smith and, in August 2001, graduated and started working for its corporate department.

“A couple of weeks after 9/11, I turned in my first really big assignment, and a day later, one of the partners said, ‘Hey, can I see you in my office?’ And he starts off with this whole thing of, ‘Well, you know, the economy’s bad,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, he’s gonna fire me,’” Jones recalls. “But what he was trying to tell me was that the economy is bad, so the bankruptcy department at the firm is really busy.”

Jones transferred to the group with the caveat that, if she wasn’t happy after six months, she could go back.

“I worked for Deborah Williamson, and she was just fantastic—an incredible mentor,” she says. A few months later, as Jones’ six-month stint neared an end, “I said, ‘Well, no offense, but I’m having a great time in bankruptcy and I don’t think I want to come back [to corporate].’”

Once again, she assumed she’d found her place. But then Keith Morris, her husband and now law partner, got an opportunity in Houston. At the time, she was representing a trustee for Agribiotech in Las Vegas, helping with a massive suit against Bank of America to avoid its lien on company assets. It was a co-venture with Diamond McCarthy, a Houston firm. Diamond hired Jones, and she conveniently continued working on the same case.

Another big case came while she was still at Diamond. “I represented the state of Montana in the ASARCO bankruptcy case, which is the case with the most environmental liabilities ever in the history of bankruptcy,” she says. “It was a copper refining and smelting company, so they had done a lot of mining in Montana and had a lot of state Superfund sites.”

Jones helped the state recover roughly $250 million for the cleanup, and it led then-attorney general, now-Gov. Steve Bullock to hand her another case. She’s currently wrapping up one that began in 2009 involving Royce Homes, a homebuilding company that fell in the subprime crisis.

“We settled with most defendants for about a $10 million settlement, and then we had one remaining defendant and tried it to a nearly $19 million verdict,” she says, adding that the ultimate judgment was about $12 million, not including attorney fees. “That case went on for five years, and it was a good one. We’re in appeals now.”

Now a partner at Ostrom Morris, a firm she started in 2009 with her husband, Jones is a corporate bankruptcy attorney working mostly with estate representatives to recover assets for creditors.

Though Jones’ path had many twists and turns, she’s not complaining.

“I have the flexibility now to be a mom and do mom things for my three kids … but also do my job,” she says. “I get to live two lives: I get to do mom stuff and I get to do trial work. It’s the best of both worlds.”

As for those Spanish skills? They’ve come in handy in the courtroom: “I know if the translator is accurately translating what the witness is saying.”

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