SHANNON T. VALE '77
Member, Pirkey Barber PLLC
BA 1977, Rice University
JD 1981, Southern Methodist University
Term as Past President ends: 2018
Shannon Vale currently served as Association of Rice Alumni president from 2016-2017 and is a member of Sid Rich. He earned his BA in History and German Studies from Rice in 1977 and his JD in 1981 from Southern Methodist University. After 12 years as a partner in a large intellectual property law boutique and in a global law firm, Shannon has spent the past 7 years as a partner in Pirkey Barber PLLC, one of the nation’s leading firms devoted entirely to the practice of trademark and copyright law. Shannon is passionate about music, the outdoors, his family and of course Rice. Beginning in the late 1980s, he took a six-year break from life in large law firms to manage the careers of major-label recording artists based in the US and UK. His community involvement has included service on the City of Austin Music Commission and as president of the Austin Intellectual Property Law Association and Austin Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts; he also spent several years as the leader of a Venture Crew, a scouting program that helps high school and college students experience high adventure and wilderness activities.
Shannon served as president of Austin Rice Alumni for four years, and is past president of the Rice Alliance for Technology & Entrepreneurship, Austin Chapter. He has interviewed prospective Rice students, represented Rice at college fairs, co-chaired the 35th Class Reunion Giving Committee and served as a founding member of Rice Attorneys in Austin. He and his wife Jane have hosted and co-hosted send-off parties for incoming students from Austin and they were charter members of the Austin Rice Parents Committee.
Shannon and Jane are the proud parents to two outstanding young men. Their oldest son Joshua graduated from Baylor University and works for that university’s Mayborn Museum. Their younger son Matthew (Martel ’14) just received his Masters in Systematic Theology from Notre Dame University; in 2015, Matthew married his wife Beata, a Fulbright Scholar from Salzburg, Austria and the niece of former Martel masters Beata Loch and Ted Temzelides.
What have you found to be most rewarding about serving on the ARA Board?
I must admit that being allowed to peek behind the curtain and learn more about the complex operation of a national research university of Rice’s caliber has been fascinating, to say the least. It's been a privilege to get to know so many of the leaders who guide our university and to engage with them to share the perspectives of our alumni and parents. However, at the end of the day, the most rewarding experiences during my tenure on the ARA Board have been those moments when we genuinely feel that in some modest way we have helped the university maintain its unique qualities in today’s extremely challenging environment or have had a positive impact on the lives of members of the Rice community.
What is your favorite “Only at Rice” memory or story?
As a new undergraduate, I took a course in Medieval Germanic Literature from the late Dr. Susan Clark, who was a gifted new professor in what was then known as the German department. Dr. Clark was as devoted to her students as she was to her formidable scholarship, and when I became inspired by some rather esoteric aspects of medieval Icelandic constitutional law (of all things) during our study of some of the great 13th century sagas, she inspired me to pursue that research and to make it the focus of my major paper for the course. She later told me she liked the paper so much that she wanted me to expand it and give a formal talk on my topic during a medieval symposium that Rice would be hosting in a few months. The other speakers at this symposium were all professors and Ph.D candidates from universities throughout the country who were experts in their fields (with the exception of one upperclassman from Rice), so I was fairly unnerved by the prospect of appearing on the program. However, supreme mentor that she was, Dr. Clark had faith in me and helped me rise to the challenge, which proved to be the most satisfying and exciting intellectual experience of my life up to that time.
My career as an intellectual property lawyer has benefitted greatly from the fact that I have given a relatively large number of talks at professional conferences over the years, a pattern that began within months after my graduation from law school. I have often felt that I might not have had the confidence to embrace the early invitations that launched me on my present path if Dr. Clark had not believed in me and convinced me that I could contribute to that otherwise distinguished symposium faculty despite my relative youth. I’m not sure that many elite universities hosting a serious scholarly symposium would have given a student as green as I was such a remarkable and life-changing opportunity. Appropriately, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life came many years later when I was a young lawyer in a large law firm and Dr. Clark asked me to submit a letter of support as she was being considered for tenure. Candidly, it was an utterly intimidating process, since the theme of my letter was that Dr. Clark had changed the trajectory of my life by, among other things, being one of the two Rice professors (along with my dear friend Terry Doody in the English department) who truly taught me how to write. She did in fact secure tenure that year, so I was relieved that her chances were not torpedoed by any shortcomings of a certain letter from a former student who brazenly claimed that she had helped mold him into a writer of some competence.
If you could give one piece of advice to Rice students, what would it be?
Well, being a lawyer, I naturally have three pieces of advice: (a) Treasure the unique social and academic adventure of being a student at Rice, but be encouraged by an awareness that life can be even more fulfilling and intellectually exciting after graduation. (b) Realize that the number of ways you can achieve a fascinating and satisfying life and career is truly phenomenal, and the options are much more diverse than you can possibly imagine; consequently, if you’re having a hard time picturing yourself in one of the careers or life choices you currently have in mind, take solace in the notion that you may find a wonderful niche that you don’t even know about yet — or that doesn’t even exist yet. (c) Relatively few accomplished people have what can fairly be described as a single career reflecting a linear or even a coherent path. Instead, many pursue a series of careers or episodes in which some segments seem rationally related and others not so much.
Over time, those elements can blend into a pattern that is truly unique to you and that bring you to a point you could not have plotted out as an undergraduate. I certainly would never have guessed that I could have found so much satisfaction in the field of international intellectual property law. When I was 22, I didn’t realize that my field was even a “thing.” So work diligently but don’t stress yourself out by falling into the oppressive trap of fearing that your first career after college or graduate school must bear the burden of satisfying you for an entire lifetime — chances are, you may find yourself doing something completely unexpected after a few years.