HCU Alumna Janet McQuaid’s confidence, persistence, and reliability for delivering timely results have been the hallmarks of her success in a legal career spanning 30 years. She earned an M.B.A. from Houston Christian University in 1989 before earning her juris doctor degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1992. Her extensive expertise in environmental law landed her on the list of “The Best Lawyers in the U.S.,” in 2007-2024 and the list of “Super Lawyers,” 2007-2009, 2017. She now brings that expertise to her newest role as partner at Pittsburgh-based Frost Brown Todd law firm. In this special HCU alumni spotlight, we take a look at the passion and purpose that have guided her journey and the wisdom she shares with the next generation.
You began your career as a chemical engineer. What inspired you to pursue a career in the legal field?
In my chemical engineering position, my responsibilities included implementing environmental regulations in refining and oil and gas exploration and production operations and, later, for royalty and tax audits and litigation. I worked closely with my employer’s lawyers to understand the laws and regulations. I enjoyed working with the lawyers and decided I wanted to go to law school.
Describe your passion for your current field.
Contrary to public perception, practicing law is a helping profession. I enjoy solving my clients’ problems and alleviating their worries through careful attention to their legal matters.
Describe your sense of fulfillment in becoming a partner at Frost Brown Todd law firm.
I was an older-than-average law student, having started at law school in 1989 after having worked as an engineer for eleven years. My late start in the legal profession means that I am an older-than-average lawyer, having now practiced law for over thirty years. I am not ready to retire, however, and I feel honored and grateful to be joining Frost Brown Todd at this relatively late stage of my career.
What are your top goals as a new partner?
My goals are to continue to provide timely and competent legal advice to my existing clients and to help Frost Brown Todd grow its environmental practice, especially in Texas (where I lived and practiced law for over twenty years) and Pennsylvania (where I have lived and practiced since 2011).
What led you to pursue an M.B.A. from Houston Baptist University?
After starting different M.B.A programs in Texas and California and having to leave the programs due to being relocated for work, Houston Baptist University’s Executive M.B.A. program was appealing because of the efficiency of the program. HBU’s program was a two-year program, which meant that I was able to complete the program efficiently, before being transferred again for work.
How did attending HBU (now HCU) provide a foundation for your success?
I was interested in business principles, particularly accounting, financial and economic subjects. I believe understanding business principles is important in any commercial or legal setting. As an engineer, I better understood how to evaluate commercial opportunities and capital projects. As a lawyer, I better understand my clients’ objectives and challenges. To my surprise, I have found my two semesters of statistics classes, which were excellent at HBU, to be particularly useful in practicing environmental law. For example, in the “note” (a student-authored article) I wrote for the Texas Law Review during law school, I relied heavily on statistical analysis, much of which I learned at HBU.
Is there a motivational quote that you strive to live by?
It is important for me to keep an open mind and question myself. I often think of a partial quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Self Reliance:
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”
The rest of the paragraph goes:
“With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
What would you describe as your greatest achievement to date?
Caring for my father at home at the end of his life.
What words of wisdom would you share with students on the keys to success in the workforce?
It is just as hard to give critical feedback as it is to receive it. Listen to criticism calmly and do not be defensive. Listening constructively will help both you and the person giving you feedback, and it will encourage more feedback, which is a good thing.
Looking back on your career, what is the most important lesson you have learned?
Work hard, yes, but carve out time for leisure (especially exercise). This is a marathon, not a sprint.