Errol and Kim Phipps with their daughter Sara Phipps '20

Generation Next

Class of 1991 graduates Errol and Kim Phipps with their daughter Sara Phipps '20 at their home in Dallas. Photo by Hillsman Jackson

The Phipps Household Makes Law a Family Business
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rrol and Kim Phipps, Class of 1991, have enjoyed successful careers as lawyers. Errol has risen to vice president and as­sociate general counsel at AT&T, a top-10 company in the Fortune 500. Kim provides counsel for insurance giant Liberty Mutual, serving as a litigator.

But with the path they chose came an underlying question. Would they want their children to be attorneys?

They met their first year in law school — to be precise, a week before the school year began. Professors Alex Johnson and Mildred Robinson hosted a welcome session for black students.

The two 1Ls had no idea then that they would one day become a family, much less the first multigenerational black family with both parents to have attended UVA Law.

“The black students in our class were generally pretty close,” Errol said. “I hung out with a group of guys, and sometimes we hung out with Kim and a group of her friends. And so we kind of just slowly got to know each other that way.”

The Harvard-educated Kim Bailey and NYU-educated Errol saw each other at Black Law Students Association meetings, at recreational sporting events and on social outings.

They became an item and got married Aug. 18, 1990, right before starting their third year.

Now based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the couple look back with fondness at their law school years. If they have any regrets, they said, it’s that they weren’t involved in more extracurricular activities, such as moot court.

But whatever variety he might have denied himself at UVA, Errol has more than gotten during his 22-year career in telecommunications, he said. After four years as a litigator in private practice, he joined Southwestern Bell, which is now AT&T, in 1995 — initially as a litigator. Since then he has worked for the company in Washington, D.C., doing federal regulatory work; spent 11 years in Atlanta at AT&T Mobility supporting marketing, compliance and operations; and has supported product, network and sales organizations since moving back to Dallas in 2014.

“I feel like I’ve had at least five or six different careers, all within AT&T,” Errol said. “It never gets boring.”

Kim, too, has had a varied practice, in part because of Errol’s relocations. After UVA, she became a bankruptcy attorney at Locke Purnell Rain Harrell (now Locke Lord) in Dallas, which introduced her to litigation. She went on to work in-house for Zale Corp. and Mills Corp., focusing on contracts, before joining Troutman Sanders in D.C. and Atlanta, and starting her own firm representing white-collar clients in tax contro­versies and other disputes. After the move back to Texas, Kim worked as a contract attorney for several companies before joining Liberty Mutual.

“In a different way, AT&T has given me an opportunity to have a number of different careers,” she said.

Well-versed in both the rewards and challenges of prac­tice, Kim and Errol didn’t encourage their now-college-age daughters, Sydney and Sara Phipps, to be lawyers. Yet they didn’t discourage them, either.

“For both of them, we never took a position,” Errol said.

Sara, a Michigan grad, is now in her first year at UVA Law. Sydney, a senior at Penn State, has had law as her career aspiration since childhood.

Sara said, for a while, she was dead-set against being a lawyer.

“My sister has always wanted to be a lawyer since she was young, and I was going against that as hard as I could,” she said.

But a study-abroad class in Italy that explored how the law affects business practices changed her perspective.

“I think once I decided I was going to go to law school, UVA kind of naturally rose to the top, because of my parents,” Sara said. “They enjoyed their experience, and friends who I met who went to UVA also enjoyed their experience. A lot of people I talked to compared it to Ann Arbor, where I did my undergrad.”

Sara, who is in the student small-section "J" like her father was, is a member of BLSA, the Lone Star Lawyers club and the Virginia Law & Business Society. “So far, I’m loving it,” she said of her first year.

She is interested in practicing corporate law — possibly real estate or white-collar defense.

Now that lawyering appears to be the family business, Dad said he is not on the fence about where he hopes daughter Sydney, who will be taking a year’s break, attends.

“Once law school was on the table, UVA was certainly my No. 1 pick for where they would go,” he said.

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Eric Williamson
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