Mary Beth Harrell has been a lawyer since just 1998, but no matter how long she has been practicing law, her attention to her clients’ needs has the criminal defense attorney winning award after award.
The latest achievement for the Gatesville resident with offices in Gatesville and Killeen comes from the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys, a national, impartial third-party attorney rating organization, which named Harrell as one of the 10 best criminal defense attorneys in the state of Texas.
“It kind of surprised me, because I didn’t ask for it — they just notified me of it,” Harrell said. “They told me it was based on client satisfaction, and I’m sure that was based on the testimonials on the Avvo website, so you never know who’s paying attention.”
Avvo is a legal website used to find lawyers for any type of case, ranging from family law to criminal cases, according to www.avvo.com.
In order to be selected for the honor of 10 Best by the institute, a lawyer must be formally nominated by the board, a client or a fellow attorney; have attained the highest degree of professional achievement in his or her field of law; and have an impeccable client satisfaction rating, according to aiocla.org.
The former military spouse didn’t start her career as a lawyer, but the desire to become a criminal defense attorney began when she was 9. She spent many years as an “Army wife,” working jobs in public relations or marketing, before following her dream to get her law degree.
“I know it’s a cliche, but sometime between when I was 9 and 11, I watched ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ with Gregory Peck and I always knew I wanted to be the defender of the underdog,” she said. “It didn’t start out that way, but I have no regrets.”
The experience of being a part of a military family really helped her with her law practice, however, as many of her clients are either active-duty military, veterans or retirees, she said.
“I understand the language, the lifestyle, the pressures, the stress and the chain of command — understanding that is kind of important,” Harrell said. “That helps me better represent my military or former military clients.”
That knowledge helps her get those clients assistance they may need in many areas, whether it is family counseling, post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury treatment through either active-duty military programs or Veterans Affairs, she said.
“At some point, the criminal case will be over. But that individual still has to get on with their life,” Harrell said. “It could be a good intervention for them. Let’s get them help for that and then take care of the criminal case or find some resolution that doesn’t involve a criminal conviction. We choose to deal with those other, outside issues because you can’t just handle the criminal case alone. You have to treat the whole person and not just that one incident that occurred.”
Taking care of her clients is what makes the job worthwhile, Harrell said.
“Helping someone avoid any kind of criminal conviction on their record is huge,” she said. “There’s always collateral damage — if you take a conviction for assault and battery, injury of a family member, you can never legally own, transport or purchase a firearm. If you take a DWI conviction, you’re going to lose your license, (and) owe the state of Texas literally thousands of dollars.
“It’s getting the right resolution for your client and sparing them additional consequences. The prosecutor is always supposed to seek justice, but I think defense attorneys are looking for justice for your client,” she added. “If you can get justice for your client, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
While Harrell is in practice by herself, she said she would be nowhere without her team: paralegal Teresa Stubblefield and legal assistant Elsie Farias.
“Being a solo practitioner, sometimes my clients know Teresa or Elsie better than they know me because they speak to them all the time,” she said. “They develop close, supportive relationships with the clients. Without even having to talk to me, they can hook up the clients with whatever help they need. I can’t claim to be a success on my own — my staff is critical. It takes a team to provide good service for a client.”
Harrell recently moved into a new office at 4201 W. Stan Schlueter Loop in Killeen. She can be reached at 254-680-4655 or via email at [email protected].