With a gentleman's bearing and a steady confidence borne of nearly 50 years of trial successes, Donn Fullenweider has long been one of Texas's - and the nation's - most respected matrimonial attorneys. Indeed, Fullenweider is close to being an institution of Texas divorce law; he's certainly one of the field's most positive examples of success. Poised and wise, he has led professional organizations statewide and nationally, serving as a dignified ambassador to a profession not known for rampant humility. His success, peers universally say, stems in large part to accolades, trial victories and good press that somehow never went to his head. "He's stayed a lawyer's lawyer," says one rival. "Like a star quarterback, he knew the only success that mattered was on the field." Almost from the start Fullenweider handled many of the highest profile, highest stakes Texas divorce cases of his generation: In the 60s he represented the actress Hedy Lamarr after she divorced her fifth husband. In the 1970s, he represented John Hill, the notorious plastic surgeon chronicled in the book Blood and Money. Since then he's been the guiding, grounding presence in hundreds of divorce cases. Growing up in Chicago, Fullenweider was a teen-age lifeguard at Oak Street Beach, but moved to Houston late in high school when his father took a new job. The young Fullenweider embraced his new home from the start: "Houston has no barriers. I always felt that if you worked hard, were fairly intelligent, and developed a good reputation, you can accomplish anything here. Who your grandfather was didn't matter one bit." At UH he contemplated journalism ("I was on the debate team, president of my fraternity - I was 'multitasking' before people used the word"), but a series of psychological tests pointed him to law school. "Suddenly I got the highest grades of my life." He passed the bar at age 23, and, after several years with well renowned litigator Fred Parks ("a unique and dynamic trial lawyer"), he teamed with Richard "Racehorse' Haynes, the criminal-defense attorney. For 24 years the trial practices at Fullenweider & Haynes dovetailed smartly, one reputation reinforcing the other. By the 80s Fullenweider was truly at the top of his profession, Houston's go-to attorney for cases likely headed to trial. His competitive focus in the courtroom is well known and well documented. Along the way Fullenweider helped create the modern profession of divorce law, designing the Texas Bar's certification standards for lawyers in the field, among other contributions.
Twenty years ago Fullenweider launched his own firm ("It was just time"), which thrives even as he grows more selective of his cases. Today Fullenweider - never a glad-hander or entertainer - offers a smile that's at once gentle and knowing, comfortable with his experience. His expansive penthouse office on San Felipe is replete with oil paintings by both his wife Wendy and him - paintings a bit like Fullenweider himself, all creative, none conspicuously self-made. Fullenweider's son Keith is a partner at Vinson & Elkins, already a successful mergers-and-acquisitions attorney. The senior Fullenweider's three grandchildren live nearby. He stills skis at Jackson Hole, and races sailboats in Maine, but he says he has no plans to slow down his practice. "I've always said I feel at home in the courtroom. Why would I ever stop? I love it - and always will."