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Tom Leatherbury to receive 2018 DBF Fellows Justinian Award

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

By T. Mark Kelly and Renate Wagner
Tom Leatherbury: Gentleman Lawyer With An Eye on Developing Lawyers of the Future

“You are only as successful...” Ask Tom Leatherbury, 2018 Fellows Justinian Award Recipient, to complete that statement, and he will respond: “as the next generation of excellent lawyers that you mentor.”

At Vinson & Elkins, and nationally, Tom is known for his commitment to mentoring and training the next generation of lawyers and leaders. For the past 25 years as a V&E partner, Tom has served in instrumental leadership roles. Currently Chair of Talent Management, he guides all aspects of recruitment, retention, development, and promotion. Tom is also an active member of V&E’s Diversity & Inclusion Executive Committee and Pro Bono Committee.

At the helm of V&E’s Talent Management team, and working closely with other firm leaders, Tom immerses himself in not only the overarching strategy for developing lawyers, but also the day- to-day programs that will make our lawyers better and our profession more inclusive.

“In this current landscape (legal and otherwise), many organizations talk about the need for cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce. Tom has taken direct action to accomplish these goals, engaging in individual mentoring and assuming a leadership role in Vinson & Elkins’ diversity initiatives,” wrote a colleague to the Dallas Bar Foundation. “I’m always proud of giving junior lawyers opportunities and watching them knock it out of the park,” said Tom in a recent published interview.

A current protégé of Tom’s commented on the impression Tom has made upon him. “Since I joined the firm, Tom has been an amazing hands-on mentor. He makes a point to invite associates to events and introduces us to judges, local office-holders, and other attorneys. Working with him is a pleasure because he evaluates assignments in a way that makes you feel good about learning instead of bad about not already knowing. He also has been supportive of my efforts with Lambda Legal, helping me leverage firm resources as well as making personal contributions,” shared Kent Piacenti, V&E Senior Associate.

In his practice, Tom handles high-profile, complex litigation and serves as co-leader of V&E’s Appellate Practice Group. Tom has worked on approximately 150 state and federal appeals for some of the biggest companies across a broad spectrum of industries. Tom has been recognized in a number of respected industry publications, including Chambers USA, as a leading First Amendment and Appellate lawyer, and he was one of 14 lawyers to receive Texas Lawyer’s Distinguished Leader Award in 2017.

Among his peers, Tom is a highly regarded and consummate professional, setting the example of an enthusiastic, dedicated, and quick-witted lawyer who serves his clients zealously. “Tom is the embodiment of the best connotations of the term “gentleman lawyer,” shared another colleague. “Tom’s principles, ethics, and advocacy have elevated my own performance of my duties to my clients, the court, and my fellow lawyers. He is a model for those who seek to strengthen collegiality in our adversarial profession.”

“Tom is one of the most respected First Amendment lawyers in America and what he does matters,” wrote the Honorable Royal Furgeson, Dean of UNT Dallas College of Law. “His work with Texas Appleseed will be felt for years to come and there is unanimous agreement in the profession that he is one of the most respected lawyers anywhere.”

Married to Patricia Villareal (a nationally recognized securities/corporate governance lawyer, retired Jones Day partner, and now of PatVillarealLaw, PLLC) for 35 years, Tom and Pat raised two sons, Sean and Colin (now 34 and 31), who were both graduated from Yale College. Sean went on to obtain his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford and is Assistant Professor of Art History at Bowling Green State University. He is married to Steve Welsh and lives in Detroit. Colin is a senior manager in Sales Finance at Twitter in San Francisco.

Tom serves as board chair of the National Association of Law Placement Foundation and the Yale Alumni Fund, and board member of Business Council for the Arts. Tom also commits hundreds of pro bono and volunteer hours annually to Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and North Texas Public Broadcasting, among others. “I never forget that being a lawyer gives you the opportunity and even the obligation to help people and to change lives,” said Tom.

“Tom serves his clients brilliantly and his causes sacrificially. By both his head and his heart, Tom embodies the values we honor with this award,” said Frank Stevenson, partner at Locke Lord, who has known Tom since the fourth grade in Fort Worth. As the Immediate Past President of the State Bar of Texas, Frank hired Tom to defend a lawsuit so that the SBOT Board could continue to represent the Bar’s diverse membership. “It was personally crucial to him that the leadership of his state bar reflect the people he and all Texas lawyers swore to serve. Tom undertook that case because of his values, and he won it because of his skill.”

Prior to joining V&E in 1992, Tom was a shareholder at Locke Purnell Rain Harrell (now Locke Lord). He clerked for the late Honorable Robert M. Hill, U.S. District Judge, Northern District of Texas, and is a double graduate of Yale University.

By T. Mark Kelly and Renate Wagner

Mark Kelly is Chairman at Vinson & Elkins LLP and has known Tom since 1981. Ren Wagner is Director of Talent Communications at V&E.

This article appeared in the February 2018 edition of Headnotes published by the Dallas Bar Association.


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