Melanie Gray ’81

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Written by: Ethan Leonard

Melanie Gray ’81 spent the majority of her four-decade career practicing complex commercial and bankruptcy litigation with Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Houston.  She retired from Winston & Strawn LLP in 2020, after serving as its Chair of Bankruptcy and Litigation Practice.  Of her long list of accomplishments, Melanie is most proud of her role as one of the lead lawyers handling Enron’s chapter 11 bankruptcy.  To this day, she remembers vividly being pulled out of a deposition in October of 2001 to answer a call from the company’s in-house counsel, beginning a four-year odyssey during which she helped shepherd Enron through what was, at the time, the largest bankruptcy ever filed.  
Her road to success began just north of Syracuse, in Parish, New York, the middle child of five.  Melanie’s desire to become a lawyer was sparked by Perry Mason and his ability to command the courtroom.  Knowing law school was in her future, she attended the State University at Albany and majored in Philosophy, believing it would prepare her well for the study of law. 
 During law school, Melanie believed she’d pursue a career in tax, inspired by Professor Martin Fried’s federal income tax class.  She considered tax law as “piecing together a puzzle comprised of the myriad sections of the Internal Revenue Code and its corresponding Regulations.”  Melanie earned membership on the Law Review, where she wrote her note on parental liability for tort claims committed by their children, which she admits wasn’t of publishable quality. 
Although she did not know much about Law Review before invited to join, she recognized that the opportunity to refine her research and writing skills, coupled with the doors it helped open, would be invaluable to her future career.  Her professors also left an indelible mark on her, especially her property professor, Ted Hagelin, and torts professor, Peter Bell.  Melanie advises current and future members to “appreciate the skills you will acquire if you truly invest in all the work Law Review requires.”  “Regardless of whether you’re published, you have the opportunity to be part of a new community,” which she felt shaped her time at the College.  
If she could go back and take one class over again, it would be Trial Advocacy.  Melanie chose to not participate in mock trial or moot court because she thought of herself as a future tax lawyer.  In retrospect, she wished she had spent more time developing her advocacy skills as they are integral to a successful bankruptcy practice.  “If you want to be in court and on your feet, bankruptcy gives you more opportunities than most,” she says.  This is precisely why she loved representing both debtors and creditors in court.  The practice also exposed her to different areas of law, such as employment and environmental law, and she especially appreciated learning from lawyers who were specialists in other areas.
After graduation, Melanie went to work for a Chicago law firm to pursue her tax practice.  She discovered, however, her personality was more suited to litigation.  Luckily, as a first-year associate, she was assigned to a large antitrust case, which ultimately resulted in her meeting her husband who was practicing in Houston and working on the case.  Hence, her move to Houston; they celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary earlier this year. 
Melanie’s track record over the years has garnered numerous recognitions, including being named as a Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas by Thomson Reuters, one of Texas’ Most Powerful Women by the Texas Diversity Council, and one of the nation’s Top 250 Women in Bankruptcy and Creditor/Debtor Rights, Insolvency & Reorganization Law by Best Lawyers.  Melanie was recently honored by Syracuse University with the Arents Award, the highest recognition bestowed on its alumni.
Just a few months into her retirement in 2020, the advent of COVID-19 shut down the world.  Although her retirement plans did not involve navigating a global pandemic, she became even more engaged with the law school and continued her non-profit board service, which has included Baylor College of Medicine, Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, and the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas.  Today, Melanie serves as the first woman to chair the College’s Board of Advisors, where she helps shape the law school experience for those following in her footsteps.