With a rare humility, professional rectitude and a broad record of accomplishment in the law, Houston's Alvin L Zimmerman is widely regarded today as one of leading family law attorneys and mediators in the state. Over five decades he has assumed so many roles in the profession - a founder of a major Houston firm, corporate counsel, district court judge of a family court and later a civil court - that his record stands out even among senior peers. Indeed, now in his early 70s, Zimmerman has contributed to and helped define the state's legal culture, especially that of family law, which has - better than many states - kept up with our society's breathtaking social change: Texas adapted collaborative and alternative dispute resolution to family law early on, and Zimmerman has been at the center of much of it. He's led organizations committed to effective legal processes and over the years he's appeared in countless lists of top lawyers. A decade ago he was the recipient of the Frank Evans Award for Outstanding Service and Leadership in the Field of ADR. For all of that Zimmerman retains a soft-spoken and self-effacing nature, with no trace of showmanship or bluster. He attributes all of it - his success and his rooted temperament - to his "very close-knit family - our parents instilled in us a sense of ethical values and moral behavior." His mother and father were proprietors of Mr. Z's in Houston, a destination for traditional mens and boyswear; two of the Zimmerman sons worked at the retail store growing up. Zimmerman's parents "insisted we pursue higher education, something they never had the opportunity for." At San Jacinto High School in Southwest Houston, Zimmerman, serious minded from the start, ran track and played basketball in after school activities, and went on to the University of Houston, virtually in the neighborhood. He considered medicine, focusing first on biology, chemistry and psychology, but after meeting his future wife in college, the long apprenticeships for an MD seemed impractical for a young married man. Thus he changed direction, completing undergraduate in three years and heading straight to UH Law Center. Right away Zimmerman stood out for his writing skills, naturally becoming a Law Review editor, and - while still a law student - earned a small salary as a writing and research instructor. "For me all of it was a fabulous experience - part of it was the confidence you gain from knowing you have an aptitude for what you're doing." He clerked for Federal Judge Joseph Ingraham, who became "an incredible mentor to me." He took a position with the Attorney General's office in Austin, serving on its opinion writing committee, but after just a few years he and his family moved back to Houston; "Our families were there, and we missed them." Remarkably he spent ten years, all of the '70s, as corporate counsel to Sterling Electronics Corp., founded in the 1930s, which went through cycles of acquisitions, growth and retrenchment as the technology landscape kept remaking itself. "They were amazing times, all kinds of legal work, all kinds of people." During that time in his career, Zimmerman says, it was others who created opportunities for him: "The company's chairman had confidence in me - as a young lawyer that meant the world to me." In 1980, Zimmerman, already recognized for his skills as an arbitrator, was appointed a municipal court judge by the Mayor of Houston. Thereafter he was appointed by the Governor of Texas to his two different judgeships and ran and won these benches in two county-wide elections. "After four years my ratings were among the top judges, but the prospect of fundraising every election cycle and having your career at the mercy of the political winds, really looked distasteful to me and my wife." Still, his supervision of many divorce cases gave him full view of family law. A key influence was fellow family court judge Ruby Sondock, the first woman to serve on the Texas Supreme Court, who helped convince Zimmerman he was well suited to that specialty. When he and a handful of colleagues launched their firm in the mid-1980s "we did everything to get started, estates and trusts, commercial litigation, you name it." But over the years, Zimmerman's expertise and background made him focus on family law: Today two-thirds of his practice is family law litigation - or serving as a neutral case evaluator and arbitrator. His cases are typically complex and high-stakes, but his record has made him uniquely qualified for all of it: "I've been fortunate. No school could have given me the experience I received." Today his firm, of which he is now chairman, has 26 lawyers. As a kind of unique reward, too, Zimmerman practices today with his sons, Brian and Gary, the latter focused entirely on family law. He takes no credit for his good circumstance: "You bet I'm proud, but the fact is they have a great mother." Today Zimmerman says he spends time "giving back to the profession any way I can" with instruction and involvement, and being with his family, including his two grandchildren. "Nowadays there's very little that I don't enjoy."