Carrollton-based juvenile attorney Andy C. Olivo characterizes his law career as having come “full circle.” As a boy, Olivo got an early taste of courthouses in El Paso, where he witnessed litigation that decided the fate of his ailing mother, no longer able to care for him. He was moved to an El Paso orphanage and later to Father Flanagan Boys Home in Boys Town, Nebraska, where he spent formative years bonding with other boys his age. Through the hardship of his mother’s passing, and the value of negotiation, teamwork, trust, and solidarity he learned while at “Boys Town,” Olivo found his calling to eventually become a juvenile law attorney. Now in his 50th year as a lawyer, Olivo spoke to the Texas Bar Journal about his career and the inspiring origins of his path in the law.
What was your original inspiration to study law?
Realizing that an attorney has many opportunities to help people and make a difference in our communities.
Was there ever a moment before or during law school at University of Houston Law Center where you had second thoughts on your career choice? If you hadn’t been a lawyer, what would have been your profession?
Not really. My main concern was paying for the courses and passing my classes. I went to college as pre-med student but after a year and half of working at a clinic and spending time in a hospital, it became apparent to me that I had a real problem with needles and blood and that I should do something else involving people. In college, I had joined ROTC and some of my Army instructors indicated that I should become a JAG officer if I was admitted to law school. I took the law school examinations and passed and was admitted into law school. The U.S. Army then admitted me into the JAG Corps upon graduation.
Describe the feeling you had when you learned you passed the 1973 Texas Bar Exam.
Happy, of course, and I felt extremely honored and privileged to become a lawyer. My wife, Lynn, and I went out and celebrated at Pancho’s Mexican restaurant.
In your view or experience, how has practicing law changed over the course of your long career? What are some of the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make as a practitioner?
Yes, the practice has changed in many ways. In 1973 when I started to practice, most of the lawyers and judges were men. Now there are more female lawyers, and it appears that about half of the judges are now female. This means that the practice is now more civilized, and lawyers are not just gladiators. Most lawyers now talk to each other instead of grunting and insulting each other. Female judges also will not stand for nonsense and abuses—I think citizens appreciate this more diverse and friendlier legal environment.
Another major adjustment is the advent of computers into practice. Now older lawyers must learn about computers and communicating by email with clients and new lawyers. It seems like younger lawyers are afraid of telephones and face-to-face meetings. Now, Teams and Zoom hearings are used by many lawyers and judges and I worry that the practice of law has become cold and impersonal. Many new or younger lawyers have problems finding the courthouse and sometimes do not actually meet a client, face-to-face, until the courthouse steps.
What has it been like to be able to practice law with your son, Andrew Carlton Olivo?
A real blessing! When my son was a small child, he could talk all day and we just looked at him and laughed. Now he is physically bigger than I am, smarter, makes sense, and he knows about computers. He is excellent at research and can make a one-page document into 10 pages. He is a wizard on computers and can build them and fix any problems. He will grow into a tremendous lawyer, judge, or something else that will make all of us very proud.
You were raised in orphanages in El Paso and Nebraska. What was that experience like for you, and how did it influence you to practice juvenile law early in your career?
Growing up at Father Flanagan Boys Home, known as “Boys Town,” colored my entire life. But for Boys Town, I probably would not be a lawyer today. Growing up with about 1,000 boys or brothers showed me that we all have different problems and we all must deal with each other to survive. One learns that you cannot fight everyone, but you must negotiate to get things done and survive. One quickly learns that there are bigger, stronger, and smarter kids, but working together, we can get things done like a great football team. One learns about the importance of religion, education, and family. Many of these boys, now men, are my family. Before going to Boys Town in Nebraska, I remember that the first time I was in a court was in El Paso. I recall two female caseworkers taking me to the El Paso County Courthouse and then walking up the steps of the courthouse and walking down some dimly lit narrow corridor to the courtroom. It was an old courtroom, but it had some style and character. When our case was called, we approached the judge and stood before a large desk. Of course, I could not see the judge, but I could hear some sounds coming from the bench that was hiding the judge. What was said, I do not know, but soon we were off and back down the narrow corridor and out to a car. Since I was around 8 years old, I did not understand what was happening, but I knew that I was there since my mother was very sick and the state had to do something with me. Eventually, my mother died, and I went from an orphanage in El Paso to Boys Town in Nebraska. So, in a real sense, I have come full circle from a child in a courtroom to an adult representing children and parents in courts. I have been practicing for over 50 years but have been around the courts for most of my life or approximately 68 years.
Becoming a 50-year lawyer is quite a feat. What has kept you going so strong over the years? What inspires you to remain so dedicated to your career?
I enjoy talking to people and listening to their stories. Many people just want to talk to someone, and lawyers give them that opportunity.
Outside of the law, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy watching and attending college football games, and I hope the Dallas Cowboys win the Super Bowl. I stay involved with my family, my community, and always vote.
Photo courtesy of Andy Olivo.