After five years at the helm of UTD’s Pre-Law Advising Center, Director Barbara Kirby will retire at the end of the semester.
Although she made a name for herself in corporate law, Kirby found her true calling in teaching and mentoring students.
“I have come to believe that we need good lawyers now more than we ever have,” Kirby said.
Before coming to UTD, Kirby was a political science student at EPPS and eventually received her J.D. from SMU. She then practiced for 20 years, spending most of that time as in-house counsel for Xerox.
Throughout her career, Kirby always felt the pull of higher education. In 2015 she received her Ph.D. in Political Science from UTD and found herself teaching and advising students at various law schools and pre-law departments, eventually returning to UTD in 2018.
In addition to her role as pre-law advisor, she took on the responsibilities of coaching Moot Court, where students act as lawyers arguing before an appellate judge. She also started the school’s first Mock Trial team.
The advocacy teams are what make UTD’s pre-law center so valuable, Kirby said. Over the years, Kirby enjoyed watching students change from their freshman year to graduation.
“That’s the thing I love the most,” Kirby said. “To see people go from pretty uninformed about their ideas to learning, thinking and developing a purpose.”
In her first year heading the department, there were about 36 UTD graduates going to law schools. Now there are over 100.
Kirby also started UTD’s Law Conference, connecting current students with distinguished alumni and industry professionals.
“This is it, this is your network,” Kirby said. “You can meet these lawyers, you have something in common with them, and they want to help you.”
Kirby said that advising, more than teaching, was the most fulfilling part of her job.
“When it comes time for the application cycle, I’m talking to them about which law schools to apply to, personal statements and resumes,” Kirby said. “You do really make one-on-one contact with students.”
One of those students was international political economy senior Kara Curtis, who first met Kirby as a freshman, then joined Moot Court soon after.
“Dr. Kirby was fundamental in shaping my desire to go into the legal field,” Curtis said. “[She] completely changed my trajectory as a young professional and probably my entire career.”
Curtis said Kirby was always involved with the advocacy teams, fighting for them at the administrative level and making sure they were recognized and appreciated. Before going into a courtroom at moot competitions, Curtis said Kirby would have all her students huddle around her and she’d say, “a positive winning force surrounds you.”
Curtis intends to take the LSAT in June and go to law school next fall.
“When I think of some of my greatest accomplishments,” Kirby said, “when I think of students I’ve advised, they’re not the ones who went to law school, but the ones I helped find a different path … what’s important is did we provide the information that helped people figure out their career path, whether it’s law school or not.”