Admired and respected by her peers, Brenda Keen has been one of Houston's most successful independent matrimonial attorneys for more than 25 years. In many respects, Keen embodies the classic Houston success story: Through hard work and steadiness, and with no special connections, she displayed a unique resourcefulness from the start. She worked with some of the leading attorneys in the field before launching her own practice. In recent years, she was elected by her peers to receive the prestigious Gibson Award, and she was presented The Tom Garner Award from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She has served as president of two state family law professional associations, and was the first chair of the Collaborative Law Section of the Houston Bar Association. And for years she spearheaded the TBLS's Family Law Exam, giving her influence and stature that many of her peers have envied. Early in her career, she overcame the usual professional barriers women have long faced. But Keen, grounded and modest, is hardly impressed by any of that: "There are many woman professionals out there who took greater risks than I ever faced," she says. Peers say Keen maintains a practical approach, as her practice has evolved with the law, focusing increasingly on collaborative law and mediation -- alternatives to high-stakes, high-cost litigation.
Keen in many respects has a background privileged in its variety and unique challenges: Born in Arkansas, she grew up "everywhere the oil business took my dad." Her father worked for a geophysical company, and in the early years, the family moved several times a year from small town to small town in Texas and Oklahoma. After attending high school in New Orleans, she lived briefly with her family in England, and enrolled in college for a year in Germany. She continued her undergraduate education at the University of Houston. She declared initially as an education major, but realized sometime in her junior year that she had no education credits, but had enough hours in either English or history for her degree; she decided to apply to law school.
For 12 years, Keen was with Haynes & Fullenweider, a litigation boutique firm, small by Houston standards. During that time she worked with Donn Fullenweider on family law cases. Ultimately, Keen decided to launch her own practice -- a bold move for any attorney in a secure position with a leading firm.
Over the last decade Keen's practice has increasingly focused on alternatives to the traditional adversarial divorce process -- primarily the use of the collaborative process, in which both parties in divorce agree to resolve their disputes without going to court. While alternatives to litigation are now central to Keen's practice, she continues to litigate the most highly contested cases, particularly those involving the division of complex assets. "I don't think I will ever lose the courtroom bug, and sometimes litigation is the only alternative a client has." In fact, she's built a reputation as an effective, results-oriented advocate for her broad range of clients. "Houston today is one of the most diverse and dynamic cities anywhere, and my clients - and the problems they bring to me - reflect that diversity. I'm proud of that." Her practice, too, has a very stable support staff - zero turnover in nearly a decade - a huge plus for an independent professional, as well as a reflection of Keen's loyalty to her people. Her grown son, Duncan, is a mechanical engineer; she lives a short distance from her Bering Drive office.