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Dean Brad Toben is rightfully proud as he sits in his office at Baylor University’s shiny, new $33 million Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center, a facility Toben helped create. Toben, one of Waco’s most prominent legal citizens, counts some of Texas’ most successful lawyers as friends. Those friends, in turn, helped him build the law school’s new facilities — including $10 million from the Umphreys, $5 million from John Eddie and Sheridan Williams, and $5 million from Harold and Carole Ann Nix. The new law center officially opened in 2001. Although he could brag about his accomplishments, the dean likes to talk about someone other than himself. He says his wife, Beth, is the Toben with the more interesting legal job in Waco. “The environment in which I work is of great civility and is populated by bright minds,” he says, referring to Baylor Law School’s 440 students. “And her world is rough-and-tumble and is populated by perverts, pedophiles and all sorts of distasteful characters.” Beth, 45, is a career felony prosecutor with the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office who puts people who sexually abuse children behind bars. For two who hold law degrees, their jobs could not be more different. “We talk about work a lot,” says Brad, 48. “But candidly, we talk more about Beth’s work because it’s much more compelling.” The couple’s polar-opposite career paths have come together in a way that may influence future lawyers who pass from the halls of the Baylor Law School into the courthouses of Texas. Beth, a graduate of the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, moved to Waco with Brad after he accepted a teaching job at Baylor Law School in 1983. She spent a year at Baylor taking courses to prepare for the Texas bar exam. After passing the bar, Beth says she almost didn’t practice law. But with her husband’s encouragement, she ultimately found her niche — prosecuting perpetrators of horrendous crimes against children. Using his wife as an example, one of Brad’s missions at Baylor now is helping law students find jobs aimed more at public service than making a lot of money. “That’s one of the things I respect about Brad,” Beth says. “He’s finding scholarships for people who want to be public servants.” “He doesn’t want students to find themselves tied down four to five years out and miserable,” Beth says. Brad, who took over as dean in 1991, has seen too many students graduate with massive debt from law school loans, which can total $80,000 or more. He says many new graduates feel they have little choice but to pursue high-paying careers with big firms to pay off those loans rather than to achieve job satisfaction. It’s a reality that law school debt often makes lower-paying public service jobs — in district attorneys’ offices, for example — a financial impossibility, he says. So Brad says his focus as dean has changed. “For a number of years, the focus has been on building the law center. Now it’s endowment money for public service.” Brad says he has started building the school’s scholarship funds. He hopes every Baylor law student will be able to take advantage of a scholarship — especially those who want to go into public service. Currently, 65 percent to 70 percent of Baylor Law’s entering fall class is on scholarship, Brad says. He hopes that if students have less debt after finishing law school they may follow their hearts and take a job in the public sector even though it pays less. “We’d like to come to the point to where we could offer a substantial scholarship to every student that we admit,” Brad says, including students who want to pursue public service jobs. “That’s a goal.” Beth helps students at Baylor find their way as well. She occasionally teaches a course about state prosecution and how it works. But several students have gone a step further and watched Beth do her job in person as interns at the DA’s office. John Segrest, McLennan County district attorney, says his office uses several Baylor law students every year as interns and likes to think that the students who observe the dean’s wife in action are influenced by what they see. “You don’t know how many people want to be PI or big-firm lawyers,” Segrest says. “But they come over here and see the work that goes on here, and more than one has seen the value of this job. And they see her and think, ‘This is really something that I can do,’ ” Segrest says. That’s something Brad wants Baylor law students to know first-hand — there’s more to practicing law than making a boatload of money. “I think students who come to the law school get too focused on the financial pressures,” Toben says. “I tell Beth’s story so often when I talk to students who wonder if they really want to practice law.” WACO BOUND The Tobens met at Indiana in the early 1980s when Beth was a law student and Brad was a young professor teaching his first course. Beth says she didn’t like Brad that much, even though her roommate thought they’d be a good match. Beth was even a bit rude to Brad: As a student in his business associations class, she pulled gum out of her mouth and perching it on her finger with a bubble still intact while answering a question, she says. One day at the end of the semester, she apologized for her behavior. And she found Brad to be understanding and attentive. “I told my mom that he was the first man who was more interested in something else other than himself,” Beth recalls. They married several months later while she was a second-year law student and they planned on staying in Indiana and raising children. But 10 months after the wedding, Brad was offered a teaching position at Baylor, where he had earned his law degree. Like many Baylor law graduates, Brad’s loyalty to his law school made him want to return. Soon they were on their way to Waco, a town Beth — a native Hoosier — never had heard of. “Our one-year anniversary was [spent] in a U-Haul,” Beth says. “We stayed at the Sandman Motel [in Waco]. I cried and cried and said, ‘Can’t we stay at the Ramada?’ ” Brad refused because he didn’t want to take advantage of Baylor’s hospitality; the school paid for their move to Texas, she says. Beth passed the Texas bar exam and got a job as a briefing attorney for the 10th Court of Appeals in Waco, a job she says definitely didn’t suit her. She didn’t like school, so the studious nature of appellate work wasn’t for her, she says. “I nearly had a nervous breakdown,” Beth says. “I was ready to leave the practice of law.” Brad encouraged her to stick with it and try a different path. She found work in Waco practicing with solo Jim Barlow, a retired judge, and discovered that litigation was much more to her liking. Barlow is now deceased. In 1989 she accepted a position as a prosecutor at the DA’s office and found that helping victims through emotionally devastating child abuse cases was where she excelled. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Beth says. Three years after Beth started at the DA’s office, Brad became Baylor’s law dean. Toben is only the ninth dean of the law school since 1920. HELPING OUT Though Beth and Brad’s jobs are different, they both feel the need to help people, says Mark Parker, a McLennan County assistant DA who tries child abuse cases with Beth. Brad helps law students struggling to pay for law school, and Beth helps child-abuse victims. “They have similar aspects,” Parker says. “He’s helping young students to become lawyers, and she’s helping young attorneys to become prosecutors.” One Baylor law student they both helped is Charrisa Sloan, who occasionally wandered into Brad’s office and discussed her life. She eventually interned at the DA’s office with Beth. “The Tobens have always had an influence in my life post-law school. They’re the kind of people you want and get advice from,” says Sloan, who interned under Beth in 1998. Her first week at the DA’s office, she watched Beth try a case and knew she wanted to become a prosecutor. After graduating in 1999, Sloan worked as a Dallas County prosecutor for two years and later got a job with the McLennan County DA’s Office to work with her mentor. “Beth just makes her job look so enjoyable,” Sloan says. “I guess there’s other things that I could do, but this is my dream job, and I’m glad I’m doing it.” Another Baylor law grad who went into public service after interning with Beth is Sarah Wells, an attorney in the financial litigation division at the Texas Office of the Attorney General. Beth “had a lot to do with me going into public service, and I’ve been here for almost three years,” Wells says. Wells� who graduated in 2000, says she always stops by and talks with Brad when passing through Waco. She’d like to help him with his scholarship program, as would other Baylor law grads who’ve gone into public service. “Sadly, it’s not coming from us because we don’t have that kind of money,” Wells says. “But I’ll try to spread the word.” Steve Harrison, a partner in Waco’s Campbell Cherry Harrison Davis Dove, says Brad has a knack for helping people find their places in the world. “He’s really good at finding people a calling that’s larger than themselves and showing them how they can do that,” Harrison says. He’s sure that Brad’s mission to raise money for scholarships will be as successful as the law school construction project. “People ought to grab a hold of their wallets,” Harrison says. Brad and Beth serve as ambassadors to the Waco legal community, says Darrell Keith, a Fort Worth medical-malpractice lawyer and a Baylor law graduate. He says he has donated money to fund scholarships and a professorship endowment to the school. “They’re very unassuming and dedicated to their children, their community and Brad helping the law school,” Keith says. “They take their cases, their family, their church and the law school seriously, but they don’t take each other that seriously.” The Tobens have two children, ages 8 and 14, and a big stake in their community. They don’t expect to rent another U-Haul anytime soon. Says Brad, “We couldn’t imagine living any place else.”

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