Lawyer argues case before Supreme Court

When William Allensworth returned from service in Vietnam, he arrived in California with a year's worth of pay burning a hole in his pocket and no idea what he was going to do.

"It was great," he said with a chuckle.

Before long, Allensworth, a 1968 graduate of Austin College, was following in his father's footsteps. He received his juris doctorate from Texas Tech University in 1974 and began practicing law for Haynes and Boone LLC. In 1988 Allensworth moved to West Lake Hills to run the Austin office of Haynes and Boone before starting his own practice in 1994.

Now in his 40th year practicing law, Allensworth said he has reached the pinnacle of his career, arguing before the Supreme Court on Oct. 9.

"It was a little bit of happenstance and luck," Allensworth said of his case making it to the highest court in the nation.

Allensworth, a construction lawyer, said it is rare for someone in his area—and his age, 66—to present a case before the Supreme Court. He said the court only hears about 75 cases a year.

Leading up to the trial, Allensworth said he had to prepare a brief for the court, which weighed on him during the summer leading up to the trial.

"It's not unlike defending a dissertation," Allensworth said. "You know [the justices] are going to ask you a bunch of questions about it. You just try to steer them to the point you are trying to make."

Allensworth said he had plenty of practice before the trial. To prepare for the questions he might be asked by the Supreme Court justices, Allensworth, who is an adjunct professor at The University of Texas School of Law, performed a mock trial with UT law students. A week before the trial, he participated in another mock trial, this time at the University of Georgetown with former Supreme Court law clerks.

Even with all the preparation, Allensworth said he was nervous to argue before the Supreme Court.

"You wonder how much you are going to overthink things or if you are going to get frozen up and humiliated," he said.

Despite the stressful situation, Allensworth said he felt he performed well.

"It may not have been the most effective argument at the Supreme Court level, but I think they liked it," he said. "It's a surreal experience. You are face-to-face with the justices, and then you are interviewed on the steps of the Supreme Court."

The case will resolve a split among the nation's circuit courts and will set a precedent for forum-selection clauses in the construction industry.

"It is something all people in the construction business will be following closely," Allensworth said.

After arguing before the Supreme Court, a stressful experience, Allensworth said he went out for lunch and ordered a drink. He said he enjoyed the experience and views it as a once-in-a-lifetime event.

"If I ever make it back [to the Supreme Court], it would be like hitting the double zero green on a roulette wheel twice," he said.

Favorite Chief Justice

Allensworth said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to argue before the Supreme Court, and the justices made him feel very welcome through the entire process. But if he had to choose a favorite, he would pick Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

"That's a pretty smart guy," he said. "He had a very inviting face. You just wanted to talk to him, but overall it couldn't have been a more pleasant experience."

Along with Roberts, the court consists of Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel Anthony Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Community service

In addition to 40 years of serving Texas as a lawyer, Allensworth has dedicated a large part of his life to his community in other ways.

Allensworth was a board member for St. Andrew's Episcopal School from 1991–94, serving as the chairman of the board in his last year.

Allensworth ran for a position on the Eanes ISD school board but did not win the seat.

He also served as a volunteer firefighter for the Westlake Volunteer Fire Department from 1990–93 and was the department's commissioner from 1993–96.

Allensworth is now a board member for the Heritage Society of Austin, which he began in 1999 and served as treasurer for in 2001.