Lessons I Learned in Law and Why Giving Back Matters

Franci Neely
3 min readJun 22, 2022


I spent over 20 years as a business litigator and was a partner at Susman Godfrey, LLP. One of the greatest lessons I learned is how to tap into my analytical skills and how to carefully choose the right facts to tell a story.

Growing up, I pictured myself going into the performing arts. I used to write plays and present them to the neighborhood children. I continued to perform in high school and college, but ultimately I decided to take a different path. I’m a proud graduate of the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and a founding member of the university’s Center for Women in Law.

Becoming a trial lawyer was a great fit because debate has always come naturally to me. I like seeing all sides of an issue. I began my career in 1978. It was a male-dominated field back then and continues to be today, but I definitely feel like I helped pave the way for other women in this industry. I always stayed true to myself. I think that’s critically important in law and essentially any industry. People always connect with the most authentic version of you.

While I was a partner at Susman Godfrey, LLP, I learned many things, including how to avoid procrastination and to produce quality work, and that done is better than perfect. I had an amazing career as an attorney, but now the most important people in my life call me “YaYa.” I have five grandchildren and nine godchildren. They all make me very proud. They’re so smart, whimsical, and playful.

I’ve had so many memorable moments with them, but one that immediately comes to mind is when I was at dinner with my granddaughter, who was barely 3 years old at the time. She was ready to leave the restaurant but we hadn’t even been served yet. She just sat in her high chair — you could watch her little mind whirling around. She saw the server go by and said, “Pardon me? Could we have our check, please?” It was a priceless moment.

Since I retired from my law career, I’ve really enjoyed traveling and giving back to the community and philanthropic causes close to my heart. I think giving back is essential, especially when you’ve been blessed in your own life. It’s important to share those blessings with others. There’s an infinite number of ways to give back, and if you can’t give of your treasure, you can always give of your time.

Over the years, I’ve been involved with many important causes, including the Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Moody Center for the Arts. I’ve been a supporter of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and served on the board of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. I also sit on the board of The Menil Collection, a Houston-based art museum. And I lend my support to the Hermann Park Conservancy, a citizens’ organization founded to nurture Hermann Park, a sprawling green space and cultural hub for locals and visitors alike. I provided a donation to fund a water-play area for children in this beloved park that not only means so much to me but to many other families in the Houston area.

Working with so many nonprofits over the years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons. When you’re on a board or a committee, pay attention to what others say and absorb all the different viewpoints. It’s going to give you a fresh perspective on everything. It’s important to invite and inspire others.