2023-2024 Board of Directors


Liz Nielsen has guided hundreds of families through the estate planning process, serving as their trusted advisor to bring peace of mind to their lives. As a wife, mother, and business owner, she understands how overwhelming an estate plan can feel. As an attorney, she knows just how important it is to have that plan in place. Liz is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She practices exclusively in the areas of estate planning, special needs planning, and estate administration. She received her Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, in Psychology and Religion with a concentration in Human Rights from Barnard College of Columbia University and her J.D. with honors from The University of Texas School of Law. Liz and her family enjoy going on walks around their Northwest Austin neighborhood, traveling around the world, spending time with friends and family, and watching sports, including the Texas Longhorns, Iowa Hawkeyes, and Chicago Cubs.



Gabrielle Smith is an attorney at Lloyd Gosselink Rochelle & Townsend, P.C. She represents clients in litigation matters in state and federal courts, often involving issues of administrative and environmental law. She provides guidance to clients as they navigate through the steps of the process at both the trial and appellate levels. Gabrielle earned her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law and her B.B.A. from Texas A&M University. She is admitted to practice in the State of Texas, as well as United States District Court for the Western, Northern, Southern, and Eastern Districts of Texas.

Prior to joining Lloyd Gosselink, Gabrielle practiced in Dallas, Texas. Most immediately before moving to Austin, she represented federal government employees in their discrimination complaints and appeals of adverse personnel actions before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Merit Systems Protection Board. Gabrielle has also represented Texas public school districts in the areas of employment law, student discipline, and school board governance. While in Dallas, Gabrielle was involved in the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and served as Co-Chair for the Law Student Assistance Committee.

Immediate Past President/TCWLF Liaison

Jennifer Hopgood is an assistant county attorney at the Travis County Attorney’s Office in the Land Use Division. She also worked at the Texas Attorney General’s Office as an assistant attorney general in public financing and Medicaid fraud litigation and served as a staff attorney for the Honorable Bob Pemberton at the Third Court of Appeals. Prior to her legal career, Jennifer taught for eleven years in the Eanes school district, primarily teaching sixth grade English.

Jennifer received her B.A. in Japanese studies from the University of California, Berkeley and her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center. She also serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Austin Bar’s monthly magazine Austin Lawyer.


Jennifer Ward is Principal Attorney at Law Office of Jennifer D. Ward in Austin, Texas. Her practice focuses on employment law and general counsel services for individuals, small businesses, and non-profits. She handles a range of legal issues from business formation to workplace disputes. She is licensed to practice in the State of Texas, the State of California, the U.S. Western District of Texas, the U.S. Southern District of Texas, the U.S. Eastern District of California, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. She also represents clients in administrative proceedings.

Jennifer graduated from University of California, Davis School at Law with a Certificate in Public Interest Law. She participated in Moot Court and Appellate Advocacy, served as Research Assistant to Professor Lisa Pruitt, and was active in numerous organizations. Prior to attending law school, Jennifer pursued a career in the Arts with the goal of becoming a music professor. She graduated cum laude from Rice University with a double major in piano performance and music history. She earned a Master’s of Music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in piano performance. She also founded a piano studio, working as an independent music teacher for a number of years.

Jennifer continues to enjoy the Arts. She spends time cooking, traveling, or exploring Austin whenever she can. Jennifer is looking forward to giving back to the legal community through her work with TCWLA.



April Lucas is a civil litigation partner at McGinnis, Lochridge, & Kilgore, LLP. She has practiced at McGinnis Lochridge since 2005, after working as briefing attorney to Justice David Puryear at the Third Court of Appeals in Austin, Texas. April’s civil litigation practice includes commercial, contract, and business disputes, trust and family disputes and probate suits, oil and gas, and occasional personal injury or wrongful death matters. A large portion of her practice is dedicated to fiduciary litigation, including defending attorneys against legal malpractice claims.

April practices in federal and state courts throughout Texas and the Fifth Circuit and often handles clients’ disputes through arbitration and mediation. She also enjoys appellate work and has handled briefing, argument, emergency motions, and mandamus matters in a variety of appellate courts.

April is a 2004 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, a member of the Order of the Coif, and a proud member of the fighting Texas Aggie Class of 2001. Although a devoted Aggie (and former resident of Lechner, Keathley, Hart, and Santa Chiara), she fails to follow collegiate sports closely and will be unable to keep up if you attempt to engage her in football banter. She grew up in the beautiful Texas Hill Country.

April enjoys her family, horse, and dog. She also used to read a fair bit, before the law came along.


Events Co-Chair

Coming soon.

Website Co-Chair

Leslie Dippel is the Director of Civil Litigation of the Travis County Attorney’s Office. Prior to joining the County Attorney’s office, Leslie was a trial lawyer with the Office of the Attorney General of Texas and a briefing attorney for United States Magistrate Judges Stephen H. Capelle and Andrew W. Austin. Immediately prior to joining the Travis County team, Leslie was in private practice with Brown McCarroll, L.L.P (now Husch Blackwell, L.L.P.) in Austin. For the majority of her legal career, Leslie’s practice has emphasized labor and employment law.

Leslie graduated cum laude from Southwest Texas State University in 1992 with a BA in Political Science and from the University of Houston Law Center in 1996. Leslie is an active member of the Austin community. She serves on the board of directors of the State Bar of Texas and is a past President of the Austin Bar Association. She is an alumni and past member of the board of directors of Leadership Austin, her children’s school’s PTA boards, and the Bowie High School soccer team booster club. Leslie is a frequent speaker on employment law and government related topics for the State Bar of Texas, the Texas District and County Attorney’s Association, and the labor and employment section of the Austin Bar Association. Leslie and her husband are native Austinites and live in south Austin with their three children. Any spare time away from the courtroom is spent on soccer fields across the great State of Texas.

Bar Outreach Liaison

Licensed in 2001, Mary Ann Espiritu has been a criminal defense attorney for the last 14 years and is currently a partner at Roadman & Espiritu, Attorneys at Law. She was previously a sole practitioner at The Law Office of Mary Ann Espiritu for 10 years and an associate attorney at Chris Dorbandt & Associates, PLLC for 4 years. Prior to entering criminal defense work, Mary Ann was a staff attorney at the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Mary Ann received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin and her J.D. from the University of Toledo College of Law. Mary Ann is very active in community and political causes, specifically those that involve marginalized communities as well as the recovery community.

Membership Co-Chair

Megan Honey Johnson has been the Staff Attorney for Judge Tim Sulak in the 353rd District Court since October 2012. Prior to public service, she practiced litigation and intellectual property law for seven years at Jackson Walker, LLP, representing clients in cases of all types of litigation including large, complex litigation and small contract or property disputes, and in various trademark and copyright matters. She attended undergraduate at Southwestern University and law school at Wake Forest University.

Megan serves on the Austin Bar Association Board of Directors, the Austin Bar Association Bench Bar Committee, and as an Austin Bar Association mentor. She is also member of the Civil Litigation Section and Austin Young Lawyers Association (AYLA) and is a graduate of the Austin Bar Association/AYLA 2017 Leadership Academy Class. Megan is a Barrister in the Barbara Jordan Inn of Court, a member of the League of Women Voters Austin Area, and a member of Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association (MAMAs).

Megan enjoys hanging with her husband, Jeff, her three children, and all of their animals. She also loves cooking, travelling to new places, and exploring all that Austin has to offer.

CLE Co-Chair

Kimberly Kauffman practices employment law at Littler Mendelson. Kim represents clients from a variety of industries both in litigation and in matters before administrative agencies. She also assists clients with drafting handbooks and agreements and advises clients on how to navigate employee-related issues. Kim previously served as an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General of Texas in the Law Enforcement Defense Division, where she represented state employees in litigation matters involving civil rights.

In her free time, Kim enjoys exploring Austin with her husband and their dog Milo.

www.littler.com [littler.com]

Publicity Co-Chair

Melissa Lorber is a founding partner on Enoch Kever PLLC, where her practice focuses on representing businesses in litigation at both the trial and appellate levels, in state and federal courts. She regularly represents clients before the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Courts of Appeals, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and she has handled appellate matters before the United States Supreme Court. Melissa is Board Certified in Civil Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She earned her J.D. with Honors from the University of Texas School of Law (2001), an M.B.A. in Strategic Management from the University of Houston–Victoria (2019), and B.A. in Journalism and Political Science from the University of Arizona (1996).

In addition to serving on the Travis County Women Lawyers’ Association Board of Directors, Melissa serves as Immediate Past Chair of the Austin Bar Association Civil Appellate Section and as a member of the Calvert Inn of Court. She has been a volunteer advocate for CASA of Travis County for more than 15 years and also serves on the Grants Leadership Team for Impact Austin, a women’s collective giving organization. Melissa has a son who is a junior at the University of North Texas, a daughter who is a freshman at the University of Texas, and a daughter who is a sixth grader at Kealing Middle School.


AYLA Liaison and Community Outreach Chair

Coming soon

Membership Co-Chair

Jeana Patel is a Director of Legal Recruitment at Special Counsel. Originally from California, Jeana is licensed in both California and Texas and practiced primarily family law and business litigation in both Southern California and Austin before joining Special Counsel as a legal recruiter. She recruits and places candidates to fill temporary, temporary to hire, and direct hire attorneys, paralegals, and other legal professional positions for a variety of law firms and corporate clients in the Greater Austin area. Jeana also frequently works with law firms and corporations to ensure their staffing, recruiting, and employment needs are met.

Jeana obtained her undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego and her JD from California Western School of Law. Jeana is also a member of the Austin Young Lawyers Association and the Austin Bar Association, and served as a member of the AYLA 2017 Leadership Academy Class. In addition to serving on the Travis County Women Lawyer’s Association Board of Directors, Jeana also serves on the South Asian Bar Association Board of Directors. In her free time Jeana enjoys traveling and trying new restaurants around Austin.


Jane Atwood is a former Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General of Texas where she represented various state agencies in state and federal court litigation for over 20 years. In that role she managed the enforcement section of the Environmental Protection Division.

Jane obtained her law degree for the University of Texas School of Law and has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University. She is currently enjoying a sabbatical from her law practice and acting as chief transportation officer for her her 13-year-old daughter.

Mentoring Program Co-Chair

Neha Paymaster is an associate attorney at Eccles & McIntosh PC. Her practice is focused on Estate Planning, Probate, Trusts and Guardianship. As an associate, Neha assists in drafting Wills, Trusts, Disability Documents, Premarital Agreements and Family Settlement Agreements. She aids clients through the probate process and helps them navigate their role as the personal representative of an estate. Neha works with clients to determine when a guardianship is necessary and how to fulfill the duties of a guardian of the estate or person. She also serves as an Attorney ad Litem on Heirship and Guardianship cases in Travis County.

Neha obtained her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and her JD from Baylor Law School. She serves on board of the Estate Planning & Probate Section of the Austin Bar Association and is a committee member of the Travis County Women Lawyers’ Association Mentor/Mentee Program. Neha is a member of the Junior League of Austin and enjoys traveling to see family, exploring new places, cooking, crafting, reading and spending time with her husband and handsome German Shepherd, Koda.


Events Co-Chair


Cassandra S. Pillonel is the Attorney Development and Recruiting Manager at McGinnis Lochridge. In her role as Attorney Development Manager, Cassandra creates and implements programs to hire, onboard, train, coach and mentor associate attorneys at all stages from new hire to partner. She also worked at a personal injury firm as Director of Attorneys and Staff and at an international domestic litigation firm where she was a Regional Managing Attorney and a litigator. Prior to her legal career, Cassandra worked on a Ph.D. in Literature.

Cassandra received her B.A. summa cum laude in Literature from UT Dallas, as well as her M.A. from that same university the following year. She received her J.D. from SMU Law in 2011, where she served as an officer for 2 consecutive years in Women in Law, the largest student organization on campus. In her free time, Cassandra loves reading, travel, wine tasting, French cooking and taking walks with her husband and her foster fail, Remy.


Scholarship Co-Chair

Velva Price is the first African-American District Clerk of Travis County, Texas and began her first term in January 2015.  She was reelected and began to serve her second term on Jan. 1, 2019.  She was elected as Secretary of the County and District Clerks Association of Texas in June 2021.

Velva graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1986 and worked for corporations, government and private practice. Velva was the first African-American woman elected as President of the Austin Bar Association. She also served as President of the Austin Black Lawyers Association, Travis County Women Lawyers Association, and Chair of the Travis County Civil Service Commission for Sheriff Office Employees.  The Travis County District Clerk oversees over 120 employees and has oversight for all district court proceedings on cases heard in the 12 Civil, 9 Criminal, 1 Criminal Magistrate, and 4 Associate Courts.  Additionally, her office is responsible for all levels of county and City of Austin jury empaneling and passports.

Scholarship Co-Chair

Amie Rodnick graduated from UT law and has been licensed since 1979. She has been in private practice since 1984, specializing in using alternative dispute resolution techniques in her family law practice, such as mediation and collaborative law.  She is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization,  a Distinguished Credentialed Mediator by the TMCA and a senior fellow in the Texas College of Collaborative Law. She has served on the TCWLA Scholarship Fund since its inception in 1983 and currently serves as president. She is a former chair of the Family law Section of the Austin Bar Association and currently serves on several local and national nonprofit boards.


Website Co-Chair

Emily Franco practices estate planning and probate law at McGinnis Lochridge. She advises families, professionals, and businesses in the areas of asset protection, estate and tax planning, business planning, estate administration and probate. Emily received her J.D. from The University of Texas School of Law, and earned a B.A. in psychology cum laude from Rice University.

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors for TCWLA, Emily also serves on the Board for the Estate Planning Council of Central Texas and volunteers as a mentor with Seedling Mentor Program.  Prior to her career as an attorney, Emily was a middle school English teacher in the Rio Grande Valley.


Mentoring Program Co-Chair

Sherine Elizabeth Thomas is the Executive County Attorney at the Travis County’s Attorney’s Office. Although Sherine litigates cases filed against and on behalf of Travis County, its elected officials and employees in state and federal court at both the trial court and the appellate levels, she also oversees and coordinates with all six civil litigation and transactional divisions of the County Attorney’s Office. She assists in developing and managing policy and the budget for the office. In her appellate practice, Sherine has presented oral argument to various state and federal courts of appeals, including the Supreme Court of Texas and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Her practice areas have included employment law, civil rights, personal injury and condemnation, elections, and land use.

When Hamilton Pool was polluted by developers, Sherine took the lead for Travis County in negotiating a collective settlement totaling $3.5 million dollars with almost $2.1 dollars going to Travis County. Not only is this the highest settlement amount received by Travis County for an environmental case of this kind, this settlement allowed for an unprecedented cleanup of the creek and Hamilton Pool. Most recently, Sherine was recognized as the 2016 Civil Practitioner of the Year by the Texas District and County Attorney’s Association and with Government Services Award by Travis County Women Lawyers Association.

She is special instructor for The University of Texas Law School’s Trial Advocacy Program. She is on the board of several professional organizations and community non-profits, with an emphasis on women’s issues.