Nicole Mitchell (JD '06) recently was appointed to the position of U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Texas in Tyler. Mitchell replaces retiring U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith K. Guthrie. Rocket Docket talked with Mitchell about her new job and her experiences at Baylor Law School.
RD: How did your appointment come about?
Mitchell: The position was posted nationally. An external committee of lawyers and non-lawyers was appointed to do the initial screening of applicants. I had an interview with this committee, and ultimately the committee put forth six candidates to the district judges for their consideration. The district judges interviewed the six of us and made their selection. There were over 55 applicants for the position. The term is an eight-year appointment with a potential for reappointment. I will stay as long as the district judges will have me!
RD: What type of docket will you be overseeing?
Mitchell: My docket will comprise both civil and criminal cases. A portion of the cases filed in the Tyler division will be referred to me to handle through pre-trial or through trial if all parties consent. The Eastern District of Texas has one of the most active intellectual property dockets (mostly patent cases) in the country, so I will handle a large number of those types of cases.
RD: Describe your career leading up to your appointment?
Mitchell: I often say that I took the scenic route to a legal career. Before law school, I enrolled in a master's program at Texas A&M University, called SAAHE (Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education). When I finished my master's, Baylor University was embarking on a great time of change and growth. It was May 2001, and Baylor had just launched its Vision 2012 statement. As part of that vision, I was hired as Baylor's first coordinator of New Student Programs. I revamped many of Baylor's programs geared toward incoming students. It was a wonderful job, and I loved it. But after a few years, it was time for me to make a decision. A master's degree could only take me so far in that field, so I needed to decide whether I was going to start a Ph.D. program and work toward becoming a dean of students or vice president for student activities, or whether I wanted to go in another direction entirely.
I had always felt this pull toward the law. If you had asked me growing up what I was going to be when I grew up, I would have told you 'a lawyer.' Somewhere along the way, I abandoned that idea, but never completely. So, since I had come to this place of decision, I decided to take the LSAT and see which door God opened for me. The rest is history. Though I was working at Baylor at the time, I was not necessarily set on going to Baylor for law school, until I took the tour. I looked into several schools, but the intimate class size at Baylor, coupled with its rigorous Practice Court program, was very attractive to me.
I enrolled in Baylor Law School and never looked back. The school was a perfect fit for me. I have been driven all of my life. Many times that made me a bit of an outcast, but at Baylor Law I found people who were equally driven and who were ready to challenge me to be my best.
After Baylor, I secured a job with the law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski (now Norton Rose Fulbright) in Houston. Before I started at Fulbright, I worked for one year as a law clerk to Chief Judge Leonard Davis in Tyler. It was a fantastic job. After my year was over, I went to Houston to join the healthcare litigation section of Fulbright. That section was a great combination for me of my love for the law and medicine. It was wonderful work. After a few years at Fulbright, though, I missed the court. Chief Judge Davis had an opening for a permanent law clerk, and thankfully, he hired me. I served as his chief staff attorney for several years until I threw my hat in the ring for the magistrate judge position.
RD: How did your education at Baylor Law prepare you for this phase of your career?
Mitchell: Baylor Law taught me so much, but what I am most thankful for are the values the law school reinforced in me; the values of hard work, preparation, and compassion for those who need my help. I take those with me on the bench. I hope attorneys and their clients will find me prepared, fair, decisive, and compassionate.
RD: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Mitchell: In addition to spending time with my husband and four boys, I love to read, to run, and I head down to Port O'Connor to fish whenever I can.