Michelle Haws and Clinton J. Kuykendall.
Michelle Haws and Clinton J. Kuykendall. ()

Clinton J. Kuykendall, a graduate of Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, said he “did well” when he took the Missouri bar exam in 2015. But he did even better when he took the Texas bar exam in February, tying for the top score with Michelle Haws, a graduate of South Texas College of Law Houston.

According to Susan Henricks, executive director of the Texas Board of Law Examiners, 1,253 individuals took the exam in February. The top score that could have been made was 1,000 and exam takers had to score at least 675 to pass, Henricks said. Kuykendall and Haws each scored 842.

Henricks said ties such as this have happened before in Texas. The last time it happened was on the July 2010 Texas bar exam, when two graduates of the University of Texas School of Law— Kathleen “Kate” McCabe and Eric Greig —tied for the high score.

Both Kuykendall and Haws grew up in the Houston area. Kuykendall is from Channelview, and Haws lived in Sugar Land.

Kuykendall said the Texas bar exam was the more difficult of the two tests he has taken.

“There’s so much Texas specific on it,” Kuykendall said, noting that he had to learn all about oil and gas law and Texas civil procedure, among other topics, before he took the exam. “I didn’t have to know anything about Missouri law” before taking the test in that state, he said.

Kuykendall said he had to prepare for the Texas bar exam while carrying a full load as an associate in the banking and finance practice at Husch Blackwell in Kansas City, Missouri. He said he often got up at 5 a.m. and studied for an hour and a half to two hours before going to work.

“Every moment that I could I was studying,” Kuykendall said.

Haws started work May 1 as an associate with Strasburger & Price in Houston after serving as a summer associate with the firm in 2016. Her practice focuses on providing solutions to complex commercial litigation matters for clients in a variety of different industries.

“My goal is building a good foundation of skills, experience,” she said.

Haws said she decided to study law while a media management major at the University of Miami, where she graduated in 2011.

“I discovered how legal fit into the business side of things,” she said.

But Haws said she took a couple of years off from law school when her paternal grandmother became terminally ill and she went home to help her parents. During this period, Haws worked as a quality coordinator for Solvay Chemical, a chemical manufacturing company in Deer Park, and then as a recruiter for Onward Search.

But she said, “I knew what I wanted to be. Being an attorney was the right path.”

Haws started studying for the bar exam in December 2016 two days after her graduation from STCL. She said that she focused on staying calm.

“When you start studying, you find out how much you don’t know,” she said, adding that she studied for the exam as much as she could. “I was very fortunate that I could study full time. I didn’t have to work.”

When asked how much she studied, Haws said, “The short answer would be a lot of hours.”

Haws said It helped that her mother frequently sent her cookies and brownies. It was worth studying, she said, if she could treat herself to a cookie afterwards.

Kuykendall said his interest in becoming a lawyer started while he was in high school. He recalled admiring the work done by a family friend, Keon Arjmandi, now an immigration lawyer in the Dallas area.

“I always planned to be a lawyer,” Kuykendall said. “I had no idea what type of lawyer. … I knew I didn’t want to go into litigation. I didn’t want to go into a courtroom.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of St. Thomas in 2011 and decided to become a lawyer in the finance field after serving an internship in the Irving office of GE Capital Corp.

Kuykendall, who joined Husch Blackwell in September 2015, said his last day with the firm will be Friday. He will join Jackson Walker on May 14 as an associate in the firm’s finance practice in Dallas.

The biggest thing he has done while at Husch Blackwell, Kuykendall said, is to serve as lead associate on the Vista Ridge water supply project, a 142-mile long water pipeline that will serve the City of San Antonio Water System. The project has included helping the client, Garney Companies Inc., obtain just under $1 billion in financing to build the pipeline.

“I thought it was interesting that I had to go all the way to Kansas City to work on a Texas project,” Kuykendall said.