I have a very eclectic group of good friends. I take pride in those friendships, and whenever I receive compliments on those amazing friends, I can’t help but agree! You would think that I made each and every one of those friends take a StrengthsFinder Quiz. Each one is so different from the next, and they all bring unique strengths to the table.
But it’s quite simple. I have one standard question. This is a question that I grew up asking on the Border, and I still ask it to this day. It’s helped weed out the unhealthy friendships that might have crept in, and it has brought some unlikely friendships to the forefront.
If I had one phone call to make, could I call this person?
Ann Lopez is a woman I wouldn’t hesitate to call if I needed to. I first met Ann through her husband Simon. Simon and I had worked together for quite some time. In some ways we have very similar personalities. We pretty much get along with everyone, but it takes a very long time to get to know us. Through the years, he would talk about Ann. I knew their story. I went to high school with kids that had that same story, but they became statistics with very different outcomes.
I know just how hard it is to make it where Simon and Ann have made it. It takes a level of love, respect, and commitment that’s unbreakable. I knew I liked Ann before I even met her, and through the years, I have grown to love them both like family.
In fact, our familial bond was tested last year, when we found out that our dear Kelly was dying. They were present, every step of the way.
Ann never asked where she was needed, she just appeared. She never asked what needed to be done, she just did it. She’s a straight shooter. I know that I can come to Ann with anything and she’s going to give an honest answer, mixed with a little humor and a warm, confident hug.
I know that if I chose Ann to be that one phone call, she’d be there to answer and never hang up. She’d even make that thirty-three-mile drive to Dallas, in less than fifteen minutes in her sexy new ride.
So, I couldn’t have been more excited when she joined Team MB this year! Please welcome Ann Lopez as our April Woman of the Month and enjoy the first part of Courtney’s interview with one of my longtime true-blue friends.
MB: We’ll start at the beginning. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
AL: I was born in Ft. Worth. Raised in Ft. Worth. I haven’t left Ft. Worth. I travel, obviously. And commute all over tarnation for work, but I grew up right down the street. I grew up in the TCU area. I went to private school through seventh grade. Ended up in public school in eighth grade. Graduated from public school in high school. Then I went to TCU, so that’s right in town, right down the street. From TCU, I worked, and after that went to law school. I really haven’t left Ft. Worth.
MB: Did you ever want to leave? Were you ever tempted? Or did you always know—this is where I want to be.
AL: The only aspiration I had—of course I was much younger, and it was only until I got pregnant with Cyrus—I wanted to go to A&M and be a vet. That changed somewhere in there, but that was the farthest I had ever thought about moving away. It’s not a fear of moving away. It’s just the opportunity didn’t present itself, and I’m fine with being close to home. My family’s here, not that we get together a whole heck of a lot, but it’s nice to know that if you need somebody and you need something, then everybody’s local and easy to get in touch with. When you have kiddos and they’re younger, the family really was the core—my side and Simon’s side.
I mean, just thinking of how much they helped us with Cyrus.
MB: You’re a lawyer. That’s not easy no matter what the situation is.
AL: I have aspirations now for Simon to get booked on some giant, fantastic job that we have to move to. Maybe somewhere in New York or abroad for a couple months. I live vicariously through that thought. Like, someday somebody will say, “Simon, we want you to work for us, but you have to come and stay here.” And then I’ll just get to follow.
MB: I used to, in my early twenties, be like, “I don’t want to be in Texas my whole life!” Yet here I am. Still in Texas. I’ve lived here my whole life. But that mentality has changed. Now I’m like, “Well, I love my family. And I love my friends who are here. And I travel.” So I don’t know if I feel as strongly about that anymore. It’s weird to realize that and be okay with it. Hearing you talk about being in Ft. Worth your whole life makes me feel better about it somehow.
AL: There’s a comfort in having a home base, I think. I know people who’ve lived all over the place, and they seem to like that. I like to travel all over the place and still come home. I don’t mind extended stays either, but at some point, it’s nice to come back to what’s familiar.
MB: When you were young, what did your family look like?
AL: I have a blended family, so I have one full-blooded sister. She’s eighteen months younger. We couldn’t be more different. There’s been a lot of ups and downs with that, but now as adults it’s a good relationship.
The two of us are our mom’s only children, but my dad has five children total. My dad and mom divorced when I was very young—a toddler. They were married for quite some time and had my sister and me toward the end of their marriage. I want to say they were married nine years before they had me. Something like that. And then, my dad married my stepmom and they had two kids. So I have a younger sister and the youngest is a little brother. Well, they’re not so little anymore.
I see them when they come into town. They both live out of town now, but I was there in the house as they were growing up. My dad had your standard “every other weekend and Wednesday night” visits. We were all in the house and basically grew up together until I was about sixteen or so when I stopped going to my dad’s for a while. It’s kind of your stereotypical blended family. I mean, I think it’s stereotypical.
MB: Is there a stereotype?
AL: Well, you know… I grew up pitting parent against parent because one parent’s rules were different than the other parent’s rules. I totally did that.
And when you’re sixteen when one parent’s going, “These kids aren’t really the kids you should be hanging out with,” and the other parent doesn’t know and says, “You can hang out with all your friends. Yeah sure!” I mean…
And then with the dynamic of moving from a private school to public school, that was interesting.
MB: Ooh, I’d love to hear about that!
AL: I like to say I have a “mutt” background in Ft. Worth because of the difference between the private school and the public school. My mom dated this guy for a good number of years when my sister and I were younger. His family were members of one of the country clubs, so my sister and I would be at the country club. We’d swim on the swim team, and we were up at the pool every day in the summer. Taking golf lessons and doing things like that. You get to meet those persons who are part of those crowds. Then it just got to a point where my mom couldn’t afford the price of that school anymore. It’s costly, so we switched to public school.
Of course, when I got to public school, all the rumors were flying that I was a snotty private school kid. It was in eighth grade. Girls can be mean. And boys can be mean, but girls are mean to girls when you’re that age. It just took a while to get over that perception.
Going through eighth grade and high school in public school was such an awakening on the dynamics of my city. I went from a predominantly White school to a pretty fair mixture of Latino, Black, and White. I always tell people that if you could meld the private school education with the public school experience, you would have the perfect environment of people being ready 1) to go to college and 2) to deal with the world.
MB: It’s a whole new world.
AL: Yeah, having that dynamic of public versus private school in your background, I find that in my career and in my adult life people are sometimes shocked by who I know or who I have some sort of connection with. My go-to answer is always, “I have a mutt background.” I’ve always been in Ft. Worth but it’s been this mix. If I do say so myself, I think it’s the perfect environment for growing up. My sister, if you ask her the same questions about the public versus the private school, she would probably have some totally different answer. But for me! It’s kind of like the perfect exposure.
MB: That happens to me and my sister. We’re pretty close, but the same thing happens. We’ll talk about experiences that we both shared growing up, but we view them in two totally different ways. It’s almost like, “How can you feel this way about it? How can you not feel how I feel?”
AL: We talk about that a lot. It’s amazing how we can be so close in age and experience basically the same things, and we take something totally different away from it.
MB: Sister relationships!
AL: Gotta love it!
MB: So did you go to college right after high school or later?
AL: I went to college right after high school. I had Cyrus literally the day after my last final in the fall semester of my senior year in high school. I couldn’t even fit in the desks in school anymore. My last exam was my calculus exam, and the school, even though they knew my due date was smack in the middle of finals would only allow me to move my finals up by one day. I was trying to move them up a week, and the school board would not let me do it. My mom always said that Cyrus was just waiting for me to take my last exam.
I went directly into undergrad from high school at TCU, so Cyrus was roughly eight months old.
MB: So wait…can we rewind a bit? I’d love to know more about the story of Cyrus and how you managed to have a baby while in high school and then start college on time. That’s quite a feat!
AL: Yeah, I graduated high school on time. I had teachers and principals telling me that I wasn’t going to do that because I was pregnant. Then I had the school try to tell me that I had to go to the alternative school permanently because I was pregnant, and I told them no. I was the only pregnant girl who was in AP honors courses, and they were trying to get me out of the main school and make me go to the alternative school. I was just like, “No, you’re not going to do that. I refuse. I won’t do it.” That was all without getting my mom involved.
I told them to send me to the alternative school for as long as they needed to send me. They wouldn’t let me come back for six weeks after I had Cyrus because they said I was a liability, which meant I had to go to the alternative school to make up my absences. For every one day I went to the alternative school, they counted me present for three days in regular school. I don’t know how that makes sense.
So anyway, I graduated high school and two weeks later, Simon and I got married. We planned our ceremony in two days. At the time, he was working for TCU and I got accepted, but my parents couldn’t pay the tuition. It was either take out a bunch of loans, which I wasn’t going to do, or…
Simon had become friends with one of the deans, and she said, “Do you guys plan on getting married?”
Simon said, “Yeah, but she wants to go to college. That’s what’s important. We’ll get married later. It’s not a big deal.”
She said, “You realize she can get spousal tuition if you get married now?”
We basically had a deadline to get married by. It sounds awful when we talk about it, but we were going to be married. We lived together. We had a baby. And they were like, “You could get this if you get married by June 24th!” So we got married.
MB: How was it, going to college with a new baby at home? How did you manage?
AL: It took me five years to graduate from TCU with my bachelor’s. There were times I had to take Cyrus to class with me. It was very rare. Simon and I would alternate our schedules. He would alternate his work schedule and I would alternate my class schedule where we basically just switched off. We tag-teamed each other. When he’d be coming in the door to watch Cyrus in the afternoon, I’d be walking out to go to class.
MB: And what did you do after you graduated? Did you go straight to law school?
AL: So when I graduated from TCU, I went to work full time as a paralegal. I graduated in 2003, worked as a paralegal, and started law school in 2008. There was a pretty good chunk of time in there where I was working full time. I wasn’t unhappy at the firm I was at. I really enjoyed it. Part of being a paralegal there is I would watch some of the younger associates come in over the summer. Not even associates, sorry. Some of the clerks, which means they’re still law students. They come in and clerk over the summer. It’s basically an internship. None of them had ever worked in a law office before, and I was kind of teaching them what they were supposed to do.
I just finally was like, “Why am I teaching these guys how to do their jobs when at some point some other paralegal could be teaching me how to have a law office job and I could be making a bunch more money?”
Then I thought, “I could go to law school. I could go to law school local! I’m not uprooting anybody. We don’t have to move.” So I decided to take the LSAT to see if I could even get in.
I took it and I was like, “Well, that’s not a fabulous grade… but let me send some applications and let me see if I can get in.” Turns out I got into Texas Wesleyan, which is now Texas A&M in downtown Ft. Worth. I quit my job to go back to school full time. Simon and I both agreed that if I was going to do this, I didn’t want to work full time and have it take me five years to do it. I knew that if I hustled and I quit, I could get it done in three. In reality, I actually got it done in two and a half.
MB: What was Simon doing at that point?
AL: Simon was working full time for Dillard’s. He was doing photography. He was ready to go out on his own and freelance, and then I said I wanted to go back to school. We both agreed that, while there was a giant potential for him to be successful as a freelancer, there’s also a good potential for failure. We needed the steady income, so he stayed at Dillard’s for quite some time. Then finally he went out on his own once I was coming out of law school so we could balance that steady stream of income.
MB: Freelancing can be up and down, especially right when you start. You don’t always have a lot of clients, and it can be tricky at the beginning.
AL: Yep. Absolutely. So that’s what he was doing, and basically, I studied. That’s all I did. People started asking him about me. He would go to happy hours and birthday parties of people in the industry—the models and photographers and what have you—and I wasn’t going. I was home on Friday night. I was home on Saturday night. I stayed home and I studied and I read. I swear, if I wasn’t at the school, I’d go to the gym for about an hour and a half every day. Then I’d come home, fix dinner, pick Cyrus up from school, and study until midnight. That’s all I did. People were saying to Simon, “We don’t think you’re really married. Do you really have a wife?”
MB: Did you always want to go to law school? Or was it because of your work as a paralegal?
AL: Both? I mean, I had thought about going to law school, but a lot of it was ego. It was something where I’d think to myself, “I’m pretty sure I want to do this.” Then ego kicked in because a lot of people, when I told them I wanted to do this, thought I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t get it done. That was a big driver. That was really what tipped me to take the LSAT—a conversation with a member of my family.
I was just like, “Oh hell no. I can do this. I’m taking this test.” Really what it was…it was a shit-or-get-off-the-pot moment. You either try to do this and do it or stop talking about it. It was decision time.
MB: That’s totally a motivator!
AL: And I’m happy I did it. I don’t regret doing it. That conversation wasn’t the majority of my decision to go, just because somebody said I couldn’t do it. It was just the catalyst. It tipped the scale where I said to myself, “You keep talking about this. Figure out how to do it and get it done.”
MB: So are you still practicing now?
AL: Yes! Private practice in Bedford.
MB: What type of law do you specialize in?
AL: It’s estate planning and probate, so wills and trusts and asset protection, wealth transfers. It ties in a lot with the federal estate tax, so part of it can get a little geeky and a little numbers driven, tax code research, and things like that. I draft the wills, the trusts, and sophisticated estate planning instruments. Then I work with clients to implement those to get it all officially set up. A lot of times it’s either creditor protection or we’re protecting for the future—marriage or divorce, segregating assets for those types of protections. Or we’re trying to move wealth down to other generations. A lot of that. Super geeky stuff.
But I do the probate side as well, which means I go to court but generally for uncontested probates, which are pretty standard hearings. One day I could be in Bedford at my main office. The next day I could be in Bedford then have to be in Dallas, or I could be all the way up in Bridgeport, which is west of Decatur. I’ve been all the way out to Tyler just for hearings, so I kind of go all over the place sometimes, but my main hub is in Bedford.
MB: That’s so interesting, and I don’t know that much about your particular area of practice. I know I’ll have to think about those things one day, but I just tell myself it’s far off in my future.
AL: And I would tell you that everybody needs a will. If you’re at least eighteen, you need a will. Maybe a will, maybe not a will, but at least power of attorney. When my kiddo went off to college, I told him, “You’re signing a will. And you’re signing attorney documents.” He said, “Oh yeah? Who am I leaving my stuff to?” I said, “That’s for you to tell me, and I’ll put it in the document.
MB: All those law shows make you think lawyers know everything about everything.
AL: I remember one time my mom called and asked me a question, and I was like, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Her response was, “Well, didn’t you go to law school?” I just said, “Would you like to come down to the law library with me? I will be happy to show you the books that are on the shelves? Then you can tell me if you think I know all the law.”
I’m not a savant. I don’t know it all. That’s why a lot of people focus. You have a practice area. Then you can be really good at what you know and good enough in the other areas. And you have contacts who work in those other areas, and you refer people over there.
I’m not a litigator. I don’t think I would be good at that. That’s not my cup of tea. My brain doesn’t function that way.
MB: It’s amazing, the people who are so quick on their feet, so eloquent. Their thoughts come out of their mouth so beautifully, and I’m like, “How do you do that!” I have to sit down and be very quiet and think about things.
AL: Yeah. I work through everything. I’m the person who gets in an argument with my husband, and ten minutes later after I’ve stormed out of the room, I think, “Oh my gosh! That’s what I should’ve said!”
And I tell myself, “It’s too late now. You can’t go in there and say that.” Although sometimes I’m guilty of doing that. I storm in there ten minutes later and say something, and he’s like, “I thought we were done.”
You would not want me to be that person who’s standing in front of the judge. I can’t think quick on my feet like that and come up with the right words. I admire the people who can, but that’s not me.
MB: Same for me. Taking this back a bit, since I saw how difficult it was for a friend of mine to get through law school, and for you, you had a kiddo and were working with a single income, what advice do you have for other women who are interested in becoming a lawyer or who are worried about those kinds of things—all those difficulties?
AL: Number one, I’ve had a great support system—my husband. If I had been a single mom, could I have gotten it done? Yes. It would’ve been harder obviously. There’s always those stressors. Money’s always a stressor. I’m still paying my law school loans off. But there’s that driving factor when you set your mind to something. Generally, unless you’re reaching for the sky, people can get it done. You can find a way to get it done.
What I find interesting is that now a lot of people drop everything for their kids. I admire that and it’s absolutely beautiful, but I’ve seen some of those persons who lose themselves by doing that. You still have you. If there’s something you have a passion for and drive for and you want to try to do it, figure out how to get it done.
I would also say that to any single guy or a single dad. I don’t know that it was any harder for me as a woman going through law school, but for my family situation—down to one income and raising a kiddo. But, Cyrus was older and that kind of helped. Because he was in school all day long, and I was in school all day long. When he came home and had to do homework, I came home and did homework. I needed to eat dinner. He needed to eat dinner. It just made sense.
It’s amazing that if you have the drive to do it, you figure out how to get it done and things still move smoothly. Like, Sunday afternoon from about 11:00 to 4:00, I wouldn’t study. I’d be like, “Let’s just go outside. Let’s just do something.” Simon would cook almost all the meals while I was in law school. He did a lot of that. Without him, that wouldn’t have happened. I don’t know that I would’ve done it without him in the picture.
I don’t really have a magic answer. If you have a dream, pursue it. Be logical about it. Go do the homework to figure out what it’s going to take. Figure out if it’s something you think you can handle. Don’t bite off more than you can chew because that’s frustrating to get in the middle of it and then have to quit because you can’t afford it anymore or what have you.
MB: When I was really young—kindergarten through fourth grade—my mom went to college and she had three kids. We always had a really strict bedtime, and I didn’t know until I was much older that the reason we weren’t allowed to stay up late at all was because she didn’t do any studying until we were in bed. Evenings were our time to hang out, but once we were in bed, she’d do all her schoolwork. I went to college and I was eighteen, and I was like, “Ugh, this is so hard!” And when my mom told me that, I was like, “Wow, she really wanted to go to school.”
AL: That’s so admirable. Being a mom and focusing on the mom duties while also saying, “I need to do something for me.” One of the most amazing things about me going to law school is that Cyrus was old enough to see me go through that. He knows the work that had to be put in to do it. He saw his mom and his dad working. I went back to school, and Simon didn’t go back to school, but Cyrus watched Simon work really hard when he first started doing freelancing. He’s been right there watching people work for what they want.
Check back next week for Part II of our interview with Ann Lopez!