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Government The practice: Friends become law partners in all-female firm

The practice: Friends become law partners in all-female firm

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Hoppes & Cutrer LLC

959 W. Glade Road

Hurst 76054

817-283-3999

www.hoppescutrer.com

Lisa Hoppes and Anita Cutrer met nearly 25 years as ago as each was trying to get a foothold in what was then largely a man’s world.

It wasn’t that either was trying to shatter a glass ceiling or make a statement about women’s rights. Both simply seized on the same opportunity to gain clients and build their separate fledgling law practices.

Back in the early 1990s, both women were newbie attorneys and newcomers to Fort Worth, who arrived under different circumstances. But both would show up at Tarrant County’s criminal courthouse most days in the hopes of winning court appointments to defend people charged with crimes.

“We were both just trying to make a living,” Hoppes recalled. “We kept seeing each other in court and then we started going to lunch together and spending afternoons watching trials.”

“It was kind of a fluke,” Cutrer said.

From this serendipitous meeting, the two women quickly became best friends and – eventually – law partners.

In 1999, they opened a law firm that now specializes in family law. Their firm, Hoppes & Cutrer LLC, was apparently the first all-female firm in Tarrant County and remained that way for many years, the women said.

A native of Norway, Cutrer, 52, had moved to Fort Worth from Houston with her now ex-husband, who took a job in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office. Cutrer’s plan was to hang out her own shingle as a sole practitioner in general law.

Hoppes, 50, started her legal career in oil and gas. A native of the Midwest, she moved to Louisiana with her family as a teenager. She had an internship during law school with an energy company and agreed to work for the company after graduating. She figured that she would be placed near the Louisiana coast but instead ended up in Midland.

Not long after arriving in Midland, the energy industry headed into a downturn and Hoppes lost her job. As part of her severance, the company offered to help her relocate somewhere else and she choose Fort Worth because she had passed the Texas Bar and had friends there.

Practicing criminal law wasn’t on either woman’s radar mainly because there were few women in the specialty.

But the women befriended several male colleagues, including George Gallagher, now a state district judge, who provided advice, guidance and office space for each of them separately within their law office suite. Others include Tom Hill, Gary Medlin, and Allan K. Butcher, the women said.

Hoppes, who thought she would find her way back to practicing business law or oil and gas, recalls being excited about the challenge of criminal defense – despite some unexpected hurdles. Once she recalled, she went to the jail to meet with a client only to be turned away by a jailer because she was wearing a skirt.

“It was a skirt suit and perfectly appropriate for work,” she recalled. “But I was told no skirts allowed.”

So Hoppes had to go back to the judge and have him arrange to let her see her client.

The two women continued in solo practice for a while, each earning a reputation for success that brought them more clients.

But as time passed and circumstances changed, they decided it would be best to form a law firm. It was around the time that Cutrer was expecting her first child and wanted to take maternity leave. Hoppes was willing to help out by helping with Cutrer’s cases but both realized that an informal arrangement would be messier from a business standpoint.

Their decision to form a law firm was derided by some male attorneys.

“That will never work, we were told,” Cutrer said. “Women can’t get along with each other.”

But the two were not deterred. As their practice was shifting from criminal to family law, they partnered with Janet Denton, another woman attorney, whose practice in family law was well established.

For Cutrer, the move into family law practice had strong practical considerations.

“I had a child and criminal defense was very time-consuming with research, preparing for trial and waiting out juries,” she said. “Family law was a better fit.”

Although Hoppes is unmarried and has no children, she continued practicing criminal law a bit longer and served as the first female president of the Tarrant County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. After her term ended, she shifted into family law practice.

With their focus on family law, the women moved their firm from Fort Worth to the Mid-Cities area to be closer to prospective clients undergoing divorces and facing child custody battles. They also work with clients interested in adoption.

“We saw a big underserved opportunity in the Northeast Tarrant area,” Hoppes said. “Our clients don’t want to have to drive to downtown Fort Worth.”

Denton left the firm several years ago to concentrate in the emerging area of collaborative law.

Cutrer and Hoppes practice collaborative law as part of their family practice specialty. This area law focuses on goals-oriented results in divorce and custody agreements.

Cutrer and Hoppes took on another attorney, Whitney Vaughan, who handles the firm’s cases with Child Protective Services and court placement of children.

Along with paralegal Jean Roberts and executive administrator Leslie Hudler, Hoppes & Cutrer LLC is an all-female law firm.

Both Cutrer and Hoppes have been named Texas Super Lawyers and both have been involved in professional and civic organizations, including legal education and leading family law seminars.

An animal lover, Hoppes is involved with the charity Don’t Forget to Feed Me and is a past president of the board. Cutrer, the mother of two sons, is active in the Tarrant County Bar Association, the Tarrant County Women’s Bar Association and other local bar associations.

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