Young Lawyer Spotlight

Young Lawyer Spotlight

By:  Sally Pretorius

Since it is the season of giving thanks and family, I find no better time than now to share the story of a remarkable woman and her family that gave thanks to the backbone of their family in a very big way. I have known Britney Harrison Dieng for about four years. I met her when I first moved to Austin and became involved in the Austin Young Lawyers Association. I learned very quickly that she was a well-respected member of the legal community and worked very hard for that reputation. At first, we worked together on bar projects and then later I had the privilege of calling her my co-Associate. We were instant work “besties” and spent hours working on projects together, shared ups and downs over Starbucks breaks and weekend and late-night work sessions. It wasn’t until about six months after having worked together and three years of knowing each other that she shared something with me that would forever change how I viewed her (I think the fact that it took me 3 ½ years to learn this about her speaks volumes about her personality.). I would like to think that I taught Britney a little bit about practicing family law, and might be so bold as to say I mentored her, but little did I know that she would teach me more about the meaning of selflessness, dedication, and family than I could imagine.

So here we go. I remember Britney telling me that her dad was graduating from college and she was going to go see him. I was happy for him, but did not give it too much thought. The family pictures went up on Facebook and I remember thinking she had a cute family and how awesome it was that her dad went back to college later in life. Shortly after her father’s graduation, Britney and I were sitting in her office and we were talking about big expenditures. Britney told me that her biggest expenditure was paying her dad’s college expenses. WHAT?!?! After my intensive cross-examination of her and an interview with her and her father, here is what I learned.

Growing up, Britney’s father, Richard L. Harrison, always told her that he had wanted to be a teacher and that teaching was his true passion—he was even a member of the Future Teachers of America. Mr. Harrison first came to Austin in 1976 on a scholarship to the University of Texas and went to school for a year before he met his future wife, Jackie. He decided to leave college, get married, and start a family. But as parents do, he sacrificed his dreams to support his family and make sure their needs were met. He took a job at UPS, where he drove a truck and delivered packages for 30 years. He worked extremely hard delivering packages and working long hours. All the while, Mr. Harrison could not forget his passion and along the way he took classes at Austin Community College just to keep his brain going (he ended up accumulating 42 hours of college credit while holding down a full-time job). He would also tutor school kids in math and algebra.

When Britney was little she was always driven and liked to work hard. She first became interested in the law after taking a criminal law course at the University of North Texas. She always made straight A’s, and there was no doubt she would get into law school and be successful. The Harrison family, including Mr. Harrison, supported Britney through her legal education. Britney graduated cum laude from the University of Texas School of Law in 2010.

In April 2010, right before he retired, Mr. Harrison applied for re-admission to the University of Texas and shortly thereafter found out he was accepted. In the fall of 2010, Mr. Harrison went back to school with the plan of getting a part-time job and going to school at the same time. Britney told him not to get a job because she wanted him to enjoy the college process. She committed to him that she would pay all his school fees and tuition and told him: “You don’t have to work part time, because you have been working hard and supporting the family my entire life.” Upon graduation, she had two offers to two big firms and picked the firm that would let her start right away so that she could support her family in this endeavor.

Mr. Harrison went back to school and has admitted that it was tough. He didn’t know if he could finish because everything was on the computer and the new technology was killing him. He kept going and stayed motivated because he couldn’t let Britney and his family down—he just couldn’t stop. As a child, Britney remembers him working long hours and always coming home in the brown uniform and couldn’t help but be proud of her father when he came home with his backpack in normal street clothes. Of course, the entire Harrison family supported Mr. Harrison in his quest and stood behind him every step of the way. It was definitely a family affair.

Mr. Harrison graduated in December 2013, and the entire family was there to see him walk the stage. Now Mr. Harrison is certified to teach high school math and teaches (by choice) in a low-income neighborhood because he wants to help students who were like him and who share his love for math. While the hours are definitely longer and more intense, the impact is by far more rewarding. Britney and her family could not be more proud of their father, grandfather, and husband for following his dreams, and they continue to support his choice.

I could not be more proud of my friend and colleague.

Sally is a family law attorney practicing at KoonsFuller in Southlake, Texas and is on the TYLA Board of Directors.

Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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