Areas of Focus:
Federal Civil & Criminal Litigation • Intersection of Immigration and Criminal Law • Federal and State Appeals • Post-Conviction Federal and State Habeas Relief • Sex Offense Defense and De-Registration • School & Juvenile Law
Phone: (512) 381-9955
Fax: (512) 381-9955
In 2003 Kristin Etter left the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Laredo, Texas and was looking to relocate to Austin. At the time, our practice consisted of David, Corinne, and our wonderful receptionist who had ten too many tattoos and one too many nose rings. Wide-eyed idealists that we were, our vision was to try and form a system of private public defenders in Texas as a stopgap measure to combat rising incarceration and execution rates. We had no idea what we were doing, we were always on the cusp of having to throw in the towel and get real jobs, and quite frankly, we were a hazard to ourselves and all of our clients who we represented.
When Corinne and I met Kristin for the first time, we envisioned a Cuban woman hardened by her indigent defense work in Laredo, Texas. We pictured somebody gritty and salty; somebody sturdy and intense. When it was time for our meeting, a woman walked in the room with effortless ease who looked like she was from Scandinavia and had just came from the corner office at Goldman Sachs.
This is the epitome of Kristin Etter.
An anomaly. Incongruous. And somebody that defies every stereotype or expectation of what it means to be a tough woman practicing in an often chauvinistic profession.
Back in 2003 we didn’t have much of a business plan or a budget, and we had no way of matching Kristin’s salary when she was a Federal Public Defender. We explained the idea behind our practice – using money earned from clients who have financial resources to finance our indigent defense for those who don’t – and invited her to join our fledgling endeavor. With very little idea of who we were or how we were going to pay her salary (which was less than she was already making), she accepted.
For years the three of us worked together in a windowless office in the basement of a building in East Austin. Kristin and Corinne became great friends; our caseloads started growing; and we started having the budget to hire more support staff. Today, our office has grown into a thriving practice with paralegals, social workers, investigators, and a revolving door of college, law student, and social work interns.
None of this would have been possible without Kristin.
Kristin Etter grew up in Helena, Montana. The oldest of three kids, by high school they moved to Kalispell near the Blackfeet Indian Reservation where her father worked as an Emergency Room doctor for indigent native peoples. A stubborn tomboy, Kristin loathed any clothing not made of camouflage, lived an adventurous life in high school, and had zero interest in the law.
Things changed by college. As an Albyn F. McCulloh scholar, she received a tuition waiver that covered half the costs of law school. On a whim, she spent a summer at the Federal Public Defender’s office even though never in a million years did she think she would practice criminal law. It turns out that she was hooked by the end of the summer. Most of her clients were from the tribes in Montana that are under federal criminal jurisdiction and her favorite cases involved her work on the reservation. After law school, she applied to all the Federal Public Defender Officers along the border because she had heard that these were the areas of greatest need.
While at the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Laredo, she quickly dealt with the stereotypes and the patronization when working with a culture and population not know for its deference to women. To say that she thrived would be an understatement; the more that federal agents and United States Attorneys underestimated her, the more trials she won.
When she left the Federal Public Defender’s office two years later, she knew that she would have to take the Texas bar. Given the volume of cases she had to handle and her absolute refusal to do anything less than the best for her indigent clients, she postponed studying until the week preceding the bar. Not knowing anybody in Austin, a friend of the family had offered his house out on 2222 as a good place to study and retreat before and during the bar exam. One attractive feature was the fact that it was located upon one of the highest peaks of Austin; the view was incredible.
The night before the bar exam in February 2003 Austin was hit with one of the worst ice storms ever. Kristin knew that it was going to be cold weather, but Texans’ view of the cold and those who are from Montana perceive severe weather a bit differently. Waking up at 5:00 a.m., she went outside to see that everything was iced over. Thankful that she was used to this weather, she turned on her car, scraped off her windshield, and started the drive downtown.
She made it a few blocks until she hit a patch of ice, crashed into a neighbor’s mailbox, and got out of the car to survey the damage. She left a note, put her car in reverse, and started again on her journey. Within the next five minutes she hit a parked car. She left another note. Panicked but still determined, she embarked upon the steep descent that offered such beautiful views of the city.
Having traveled about 1 mile in the course of an hour, she lost control of her car and she careened off the road into a ditch. Her leg bleeding, her jeans torn, and her car nearly totaled, she abandoned her car and started running down the hill on foot. As she made her way down the hill, she called half a dozen cab companies who all refused to drive in the weather. She made her way to a street where a truck was slowly traveling and she walked in front of her car with her hands up. She explained that the bar exam was starting in an hour and she needed to get downtown. He wasn’t going all the way downtown, but was headed in that direction and agreed to take her as far as he could.
He didn’t make it as his truck also ended up in an accident. Undeterred, Kristin thanked him and continued running down the road on foot. Shortly thereafter, she flagged down an 18 wheeler. She frantically pleaded with him to take her in that direction, and like every other vehicle before this one, he was able to get her to the outskirts of downtown until having mechanical problems.
The bar exam had started 15 minutes ago and she still had 10 miles to go. She ran on foot until she found a cab driver who originally refused to take her anywhere near downtown. She gave him a $100.00. One hour later, he was stuck in traffic about half a mile from Palmer Auditorium.
And so Kristin Etter ran the rest of the way. As she entered the arena, she was a sweaty, bloody, nervous, frantic, exhausted wreck. The proctors told her that they could not grant her any more time, but if she wanted to join the exam halfway through the morning session, she should do her best to catch up. More than two hours behind, she ran to the table and read and wrote as fast as she ever done in her entire life.
That night, she opted to get a hotel room near Congress and Riverside. The next day of the bar exam, other people came up to her and asked, “Are you that person that came into the room limping and all messed up two hours late?” She finished the exam the following day, dealt with her insurance company the next three months, and on May 5, 2003 became licensed to practice in the State of Texas.
This is the type of determination that Kristin brings to the practice of law. This is the type of determination that Kristin brings to everything she does. Grit. Drive. Persistence. The type of rugged individualism that formed America is what embodies Kristin's work ethic. Nothing is beneath her, and once she sets her mind to something, nothing will stop her.
When one of her clients was sentenced to prison after a very contentious trial, she fundamentally believed it was the wrong decision. Furthermore, the client was a teenager, and he was going to be sent to prison the next day at 10:00 a.m. Kristin stayed up the entire night drafting a Motion for Reconsideration and Motion for New Trial and arrived at the judge’s chambers when the courthouse doors opened at 8:00 a.m. She was told by his staff that he was busy and couldn’t see her. She was told by the Assistant District Attorney that the judge was in a terrible mood about this case and she should just drop it. She was told by the probation officer that prison was the best thing for him and that she would be doing him a disservice by trying to get the judge to reconsider. Furthermore, the probation officer taunted, it was too late anyway: the bus was leaving for prison at 10:00 a.m. and he was already on it.
Undeterred and unflappable, Kristin quietly waited in the back of the courtroom as the judge called the docket. When finished, he did not acknowledge her. She respectfully and politely asked him to consider a matter off docket. He declined. She returned to the gallery and continued to politely wait in his courtroom. A few minutes before 10:00 a.m., she respectfully asked to be heard again. The judge reluctantly agreed. Kristin presented her Motion for Reconsideration. And twenty minutes later her client was taken off the bus and released on probation.
Kristin is respected by both sides of the aisle as well as the judiciary that sits behind the altar. Her peers have voted her the most outstanding young lawyer in Austin, elected her to the Board of the Austin Young Lawyers Association (back when she was under 40), and have hired her to represent the 3,000+ criminal defense lawyers at the Texas Legislature as their counsel. Her opposing counsel have hired her to represent their sons and daughters when they find themselves on the opposite side of the law, and federal judges appoint her to the most complicated cases on the docket.
Kristin has developed a specialization of handling the intersection of federal criminal law and immigration consequences, and has spoken at national and statewide conferences. She is a gifted appellate lawyer winning both criminal and civil appeals. She is often hired by corporations served with a federal grand jury subpoena and has an active federal litigation docket, including civil rights suits after her successful exoneration of a man wrongfully accused of sexual assault.
Kristin previously served on the board of Jane’s Due Process, an organization that helps young women go to court and obtain a judicial bypass when the option of parental notification would result in a harm to their own safety.
When not in trial, she enjoys throwing footballs on the trampoline with her three young children.
- University of Montana (J.D., 2001)
- University of Montana (B.A. in Liberal Studies)
Professional Awards, Qualifications and Affiliations
- Board Certified – Criminal Law
- State Bar of Texas, Juvenile Law Section, District of Columbia
- Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
- Travis County Women Lawyers Association
- Austin Young Lawyers Association
- Young Woman’s Association
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Public Policy: Legislative Counsel, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, 2006-present
- Texas Monthly Rising Star, Criminal Law, 2010
- President’s Award of Merit, Austin Young Lawyers Association, 2009-2010
- Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Practitioner – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2008
- Texas Board of Legal Specializations, 2007
- Austin Independent School District Safety Task Force, 2003-2004
Publications and Presentations
- May 2010 – Reentry Issues, ARCH
- May 2010 – Nexus of Criminal and Immigration Law, Austin Immigration Lawyers Association
- May 2008 – Overview of Federal Criminal Law Issues, Dell Legal Department
- March 2008 – If I Get Pulled Over, Should I Take A Breath Test?, Fish & Richardson P.C.
- Feb. 2008 – What to Do When, Private Reception, Austin, TX.
- Feb. 2008 – How to Protect Yourself: Alcohol and Legal Rights and Responsibilities, Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority, University of Texas
- Jan.2008 – If I Get Pulled Over, Should I Take A Breath Test?, Austin Young Lawyers Association
- Sept.2007 – Legislative Update, Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
- Aug.2007 – Legislative Update, Municipal Judicial Conference
- July 2007 – Legislative Update, Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Monthly Meeting
- Nov.2007 – How to Protect Yourself: Alcohol and Legal Rights and Responsibilities, Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority, University of Texas
- Nov.2007 – Federal Sentencing Overview, Federal Bar Association
- Oct.2007 – How to Protect Yourself: Alcohol and Legal Rights and Responsibilities, Pi Beta Phi Sorority, University of Texas
- Oct.2007 – How to Protect Yourself: Alcohol and Legal Rights and Responsibilities, Chi Omega Sorority, University of Texas
- Nov.2006 – Federal Sentencing Overview, Federal Bar Association
- Sept.2003 – Immigration Consequences of Criminal Convictions, National Legal Aid and Defender Association Conference and the Defending Immigrants Partnership