Recruited out of Harvard in 1982 by Vinson & Elkins, Gonzales went to work as a business transaction lawyer with the firm's business, real estate and energy group.
"He had a stellar record at Harvard," said V&E's managing partner, Joseph C. Dilg, who was head of the group when Gonzales was hired.
Before he became the lawyer advising but a single client -- the president of the United States -- Alberto R. Gonzales was named secretary of state in 1997 by then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, above. Later Bush appointed Gonzales to the Texas Supreme Court, White House counsel and now U.S. attorney general.
(Ralph Barrera -- Austin American-statesman Via AP)
Dilg said that Gonzales worked on several major merger and acquisition and real estate development transactions, including the Houston center project in which a 15-to-20-square-block area in the heart of downtown was redeveloped over several years into new high-rise office buildings and hotels.
Dilg described Gonzales as "extremely thoughtful and careful in his thought processes" and a lawyer who made "very careful and reasoned decisions."
Coming to Bush's Attention
By several accounts, Gonzales became known to the Bush family while he was at V&E. Gonzales served as special legal counsel to the Houston Host Committee for the 1990 Summit of Industrialized Nations, held at Rice University when George H.W. Bush was president. Dilg said that Bush subsequently offered Gonzales a job in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But Gonzales turned it down.
"He had a great career in front of him at V&E, and the timing was such that he had not been considered for partner here," Dilg said.
A year later, in 1991, Gonzales was admitted to the V&E partnership along with a Hispanic woman, the firm's first two Latino law partners.
In the next few years after that, Gonzales also made another key connection to the Bush family when he was serving on the board of the Texas Bar Association. He met Harriet Miers, formerly George W. Bush's personal lawyer and former president of the Texas Bar. (Miers is deputy chief of staff for Bush, who has named her White House counsel pending Gonzales's confirmation as attorney general.)
Gonzales's longtime friend Roland Garcia, who formerly worked at V&E and served on several boards with Gonzales, said Miers recommended Gonzales, active in Republican politics locally, to Bush when he was elected governor and was looking for a counsel. "He interviewed him, and they hit it off and they've been fast friends ever since," said Garcia, a lawyer and longtime Democratic activist in Houston. "Al was a Republican before it was popular for the Republicans to recruit Hispanics."
Bush offered Gonzales the job of general counsel to the governor and Gonzales did not hesitate, Dilg said. Dilg said that Gonzales already had a strong interest in community and public service, and that he saw joining the Bush administration in Austin "as a way to give back to the larger community."
"It takes a special type of person to forgo the income level he could have here for public service," Dilg said.
James Daniel Thompson III, a V&E partner who has been friends with Gonzales for 18 years and still plays golf with him when he returns to Houston, said "he kind of surprised all of us when he . . . resigned his partnership at the law firm to commit himself to public service."
"But I think Al had really sort of thought about it and deliberated over the decision . . . ," Thompson said. "He's got a very strong work ethic, and balance that with very good judgment and a pretty quiet demeanor. He's a person that is destined for success."