In Memoriam: A Tribute to Legal Trailblazer Carla Cox

December 2, 2019 | Spotlight

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of our friend and retired partner Carla J. Cox on November 29, 2019. Carla was a trusted and fearless lawyer on behalf of her clients, a leader at Jackson Walker, and a trailblazer for women in the legal profession.

“Carla was a larger-than-life personality who perfectly embodied integrity, professional success, and unyielding conviction. She was not only an excellent example of a lawyer who had achieved leadership, influence, and recognition, but was also a driving force for others to do the same,” said Wade Cooper, Jackson Walker managing partner. “She will be sorely missed.”

Austin partner Steve Moore added: “Carla was our very own Ann Richards—infused with a sense of humor. Good law firms always have a few steadfast partners who are unwaveringly democratic, loyal, and focused on what’s best for the next generation. Carla filled that role at Jackson Walker.”

A Trusted, Fearless Advocate for Clients

Prior to retiring after nearly 40 years of service, Carla was a healthcare regulatory lawyer who primarily represented long-term care providers – including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement communities, home health agencies, rehabilitation facilities, and ICF/MR facilities – in state and federal healthcare regulatory and enforcement matters. Carla was one of the leading lights of the administrative law bar as one of the first attorneys in Texas to become board certified in administrative law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS), and later as a member of the Administrative Law Examination Commission of the TBLS.

Upon obtaining her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law in 1976, Carla began her career in the Texas Attorney General’s Office, working in state and federal courts all over the state, as well as arguing over 30 cases in appellate courts, including the Texas Supreme Court. She later entered private practice, becoming a name partner of Martin, Cox, Greenberg & Jones before she and her partners voted to join Small, Craig & Werkenthin.

“During the nearly 30 years we practiced law together, it was a privilege to witness her impact as a lawyer and business leader. She was a dominant force in the legal profession and served her clients with intelligence and tenacity,” Austin Managing Partner Matt Dow said.

In honor of her professional achievements, Carla was selected as one of Austin Business Journal’s “Best of the Bar” for the healthcare practice area. In 2017, the Travis County Women Lawyers’ Association also presented her with the Pathfinder Award, which recognizes trailblazing local female attorneys who have significantly contributed to the legal profession.

A Leader at Jackson Walker and Beyond

When Small Craig merged with Jackson Walker in 1999, Carla became the first woman to serve on the Firm’s management committee. In addition, she served as the Austin practice group leader for the healthcare section and was a member of the compensation committee.

During her tenure on the management committee, Carla spearheaded the Firm’s alternative work schedule policy, which allows associates and senior counsel to work a reduced schedule while remaining on the partnership track.

“Carla started practicing law when there were not a large number of women in leadership roles within the profession, and she worked tirelessly to change that,” Dallas partner Retta Miller said. “She was a friend, mentor, and confidant in advancing my career, and I know she has done the same for many others.”

Carla’s commitment to elevating the legal profession, healthcare industry, and Austin community was demonstrated through her involvement in the Central Texas Ronald McDonald House, Women’s Giving Network, the University of Texas Center for Women in Law (CWIL), Chancellor’s Council of the University of Texas System, the Health Law and Administrative Law sections of the State Bar of Texas, the American Health Lawyers Association, the Austin Health lawyers Association, the Texas Healthcare Association, the Texas Association for Home Care & Hospice, and the Travis County Bar Association.

A Pioneer for Women in the Law

A friend of Carla’s once asked her, “Why do you care what happens to the women at your firm?” For a moment, Carla was dumbfounded before responding: “It never occurred to me that there was another option.”

Throughout her career, Carla advocated for women to advance into leadership positions within the Firm and legal community. Within the Firm, Carla served as a mentor to junior female attorneys, helping them navigate structural obstacles and remediate personal behaviors. As a leading member of the legal community, Carla was a Texas Law member of the Leaders Circle of the CWIL, which identifies and addresses the persistent issues facing individual women and the profession as a whole.

Outside of leadership roles within the legal profession, Carla was a dedicated mentor to a young woman she was paired with through an Adopt-a-School program. When her assigned student, Joan, had become homeless as a junior in high school, Carla took her in. Joan later completed her associate’s degree and had children of her own. When Joan again found herself homeless, Carla purchased a house for Joan and her children in a safe neighborhood with excellent schools.

Austin partner Susan Dillon Ayers noted: “Carla was a firebrand, rock star, tough-as-nails woman with a heart of gold. It is because of her tireless dedication to helping lift up other women that we have made such great advances in equality among the Travis County legal community.”