Four years ago Ellen Elkins Grimes would never have imagined herself sitting at a downtown businessmen's luncheon club talking over her latest case with other lawyers. But, at 39, Ellen is a new member of the Houston legal community.
Year after year as a part-time French teacher, she had told her female students that if they wanted to be well paid for working hard -- if they wanted to be paid commensurate with their work -- they were better off entering the "traditional male profession."
All the while, she was doing some hard thinking about herself. Law had always fascinated Mrs. Grimes, a Dallas native, whose husband, Pearson, is a trial lawyer with one of the major Houston firms.
Ellen, the mother of two, got a book of practice law exams and timed herself with the stove timer. "If I do badly I'm not going any further," she said to herself. But she didn't do badly and soon entered law school at the University of Houston. This meant full-time studies on top of her full-time job as mother to son Pearson, now 12, and Julie, now 6.
"The problem was competing with young males who were single and who devoted themselves totally to law school or those who had a wife taking care of the family," Mrs. Grimes recalls.
The Grimeses divided up chores so that she could pursue her career. Mr. Grimes gave her constant encouragement. "I couldn't have done it without his attitude," his wife says. "He's happy with his practice, and he thought it was the thing for me. When I wanted to quit, he was like a parent and insisted I continue. It was hard on him, as he took responsibilities at home and continued his demanding practice."
Last spring, Mrs. Grimes graduated from the University of Houston Law School and joined a Houston law firm, Scott, Douglass, Keeton, where she has been involved in consumer and business cases.
The drama and excitement in the court room are luring her to the role of trial lawyer, even though her initiation was abrupt. She was sitting second chair in a trial behind her boss. Unexpectedly, the competing lawyer put her boss, the lawyer trying the case, on the stand as his witness.
Ellen recalls: "I had to cross-examine my boss. I'd never participated in a trial before. I didn't have time to get nervous. Arguments started coming into my mind from law school. I argued so vehemently the judge had to tell me to lower my voice."
By day Ellen Elkins Grimes is a lawyer, but she is still very much a mother, although the conflict is not having enough time with the children. "The children are young," she says. "I'm excited about my career, so it's a constant balance keeping competitive spirit under control."
To make more time for the children, the Grimeses limit their social life. When they do go out, they like to include the children.
The Grimeses try to ride to and from work so that they can be together more often. However, the irony of it is that sometimes they're working on opposite sides of the same case.Then neither one can mention anything about the case.