Podcast: Professor Ray Batla
Welcome to the Charleston School of Law Podcast Summer Series. Take us with you to the beach, on the deck, on the road and go behind-the-scenes of law school with faculty and alumni as they share their career experience and thoughts on the latest legal news.
Professor Ray Batla joined the Charleston School of Law faculty in 2015 as an adjunct professor, bringing a world of experience to the classroom.
Professor Batla has practiced law in some of the most intriguing locations around the world. He joins us for Episode No. 9 and shares how his professional experience shaped him personally and informs his teaching today.
Professor Batla earned his J. D. with honors from the University of Texas School of Law. and his B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.
He went on to practice law for 40+ years including time in Washington, D. C., London, Prague, Abu Dhabi. His legal work focused on corporate and securities in which he served as lead counsel to major oil and gas companies in successfully litigating billion-dollar liability claims.
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The following is an edited transcript of Episode No. 9 of the Charleston School of Law Podcast with guest Professor Ray Batla. Note: The transcript features highlights of the conversation. You can listen to the full interview above.
Charleston School of Law: I am looking at your resume and it says here that you earned your undergraduate degree in civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. How did you get from engineering to pursuing a law degree?
Professor Ray Batla: I grew up on a farm in rural Texas. I was the first in my family to go to high school, let alone college, so the process of awakening myself and realizing what my interest might be was a long, drawn-out affair. I learned more about the world around me more than just the farm in Texas.
Charleston Law: You didn’t speak English as a child. You spoke Czech, right?
Batla: That’s right. My parents spoke Czech exclusively. We were part of a Czech immigrant community in central Texas. And most of, most of our neighbors and friends spoke Czech and prior to acquiring a television in the 1950s, there was no English language in the house. I did not speak a word of English when I started school in the first grade.
Batla: My dad had a second-grade education, and my mother had a sixth-grade education. No one in my immediate family had gone to high school. No one went to college. I was slow to learn about the outside world.
Eventually I did well in math and science, and I looked upon something mathematical as maybe a pathway [and] ended up majoring in engineering … but I was ready for something broader than engineering … you’re basically dealing with formulas and numbers. I wanted something more than that by that. I was ready for that.
I turned down the free ride to a doctorate that NASA was offering.
Charleston Law: So, your parents had grade school educations and you turned down a free ride to earn your PhD and work for NASA. How did mom and dad feel about that?
Batla: They were appalled. They couldn’t understand it at all. They thought I was taking a huge risk … but I pulled it off and I did well in law school and was fortunate to be highly recruited by some of the major law firms.
Charleston Law: You don’t stay in Texas, you move and start looking outward across the country at that point, right?
Batla: Yes. I talked to a number of New York and Washington firms … I settled upon a midsize firm in Washington that had a business practice.
Charleston Law: One of your early cases in Washington was Watergate. What was that experience like for a young attorney?
Batla: That fascinating as a beginning lawyer to be working on matters that were capturing the national attention. I would be in the library researching legal issues during the day, but in the morning when I got up and looked at the Washington Post, Woodward and Bernstein had the next bombshell … It was quite a heady, exhilarating experience.
Charleston Law: You spent 40+ years practicing law around the world here in the states. How have they shaped your worldview and how you see the world?
Batla: One of the courses I teach is international business transaction and in that class I can talk about how an American company might evolve from just selling products internationally to international customers and onto joint ventures acquisitions in foreign country … All of that really shapes that dialogue in a very real and connected way. I can almost always find an experience in my personal history that would illustrate a point I’m trying to make in the course.
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