Miriam Ackels sat in the bustling courtroom, watching the plaintiffs and defendants filter in and out. As a teenager, she had to put in 60 hours for her high school community service requirement, but the extra 40 hours she spent were volunteer. She liked being in the judicial playground, and it was those early days that she made a decision as finite as the judge striking a gavel: Miriam wanted to be a lawyer.
“That to me,” she says of the experience working in the district attorney’s office, “was a life-changing event.”
Larry Ackels, civil litigator and partner at Ackels and Ackels L.L.P., remembers the days when he tagged along with this father to watch him work as a judge.
“Some youngster was accused of speeding, and he (my father) was trying to give him some advice. He had more of a fatherly approach, and I liked that,” he says.
And for Mary Emma Karam – Of Counsel to Dallas firm Jackson Walter – deciding to become a lawyer happened the summer she filled in for her father’s secretary. The job was difficult, she recalls, and when her brothers made comments about her possible future as their secretary, Mary Emma knew her career path was not going to include being someone’s personal assistant.
“I remember thinking: What a hard job. That was the turning point for me. At that moment, I made up my mind and never looked back.”
Of the children – including Michael, George, Theresa and Cecilia – eight live within a five-mile radius of their parents here in our neighborhood.
And all seven lawyers attended SMU Law School. When the last sibling graduated in 1992, the university acknowledged the Ackels legacy by awarding Isabel a floral arrangement during the ceremony.
“I’ve never heard of that many people in the immediate family who are lawyers,” Larry says. “It could be some kind of a record.”
Together Is Better / As children of the Great Depression, Lawrence and Isabel understood the struggles inherent in raising a large family, but the couple was insistent that each child attend the same school and be offered the same educational opportunities. Lawrence worked arduously as a general practitioner, and Isabel took on the familial responsibilities.
“They were a good financial team,” Miriam says. “My mom cut corners and clipped coupons, and my dad worked a lot.”
Despite the stresses of raising 10 kids, strengthening family ties was rarely overshadowed by spending time at the office for Lawrence, and the focused father passed his priority list down to his children.
“My parents really stressed that you have to put God first and family second, and that those things are very important,” Mary Emma says.
In addition, she says her father was cognizant of being a role model to his children, even though his profession sometimes made it difficult.
“When I first clerked, I saw a lawyer cussing at another lawyer,” Mary Emma says. She also saw plenty of lawyers drink heavily.
“I remember thinking: ‘I don’t have to be that way. My father is not that way.’ He was very much a role model. He came home and played with his 10 kids. He put his time and energy into his family.”
Setting a standard / Her mother also was an inspiration to her children, Miriam says. Once the kids were adults, Isabel went to the University of Texas at Dallas to pursue an English degree. Watching their mother as she plunged through course after course helped the siblings stay focused on their own careers.
“She set standards for us, even as a mom,” Miriam says. “She was a great role model for us (by showing us that) no matter what you have on your plate, you have to focus on the important things.”
With 10 children following one another in work, as well as play, it would seem there could be room for insecurity and toe-stomping. But according to the siblings, feeling competitive was replaced with feeling challenged to do well.
“It was more of a standard then a race,” Miriam says. “Everyone had done well, and you wanted to do equally well. It made us strive harder to reach our goals.”
“Each one created for the next person a level of performance that basically became your goal.”
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