How to become a lawyer

Lawyer was the bridge

Robert Gulley returned to San Antonio after 44 years to accept a job with the expectation he would fail.
His task was to get a 26-member committee representing industry, environmental groups, farmers and cities to agree on how to share the Edwards Aquifer.
The stakeholders had fought each other in federal court and argued before the state Legislature for two decades. Hanging in the balance was the water supply for 2 million people, the chemical industry on the coast and farmers across four counties, along with the existence of endangered species.
In 2007 the committee had four years to find a compromise. If they failed, the aquifer would come under state or federal control.
“Politically, nobody gave this a snowball's chance,” said Joy Nicholopoulos, who helped start the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program and since has become the deputy regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Region.
As if to underscore the gloomy prediction, the group at first went by the acronym RIP.
But in 2007 at age 62, Gulley was looking for a challenge. He had a doctorate in anatomy, a 25-year legal career, and loved solving problems others thought impossible.
Over the course of four years of hard work, Gulley went from running 20 miles a week to using a cane and leg brace to walk.
Multiple sclerosis that was dormant in his body for decades resurfaced as the stress and strain from weeks of 12- to 16-hour workdays with no breaks took its toll.
But the result was the region's first plan that will ensure water for people and the endangered species in the aquifer's springs during a repeat of the worst drought on record.
After years of meetings, sometimes several a month, the EARIP held its last regular one Thursday.
“Without Dr. Gulley, I do not believe we would have been able to accomplish this monumental task,” state Sen. Glenn Hagar said. “The San Antonio region and the entire state of Texas owe him a huge debt of gratitude.”
With the agreement now under review by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Gulley's job is done. He created the opportunity for the stakeholders to work together, and their future success at managing the aquifer will depend on them being able to continue to do so.
“The plan is not going to work because we have a 70-page funding and management agreement. It's going to work because people learned to work with each other,” Gulley said at the party in November on the rooftop of the Texas Rivers Center overlooking Spring Lake in San Marcos to celebrate him and the agreement.

Too good
When the RIP hiring committee went looking for a leader, no one believed Gulley would take the job.
“Why would a high-powered lawyer from Washington, D.C., want to come to San Antonio and mess around with the aquifer?” said Weir Labatt, a member of the Texas Water Development Board and the EARIP steering committee. “People thought he was too good to be true.”
Gulley blames his curiosity and lack of motivation to earn a paycheck for his wide-ranging résumé. At 35, he left his position as a senior staff fellow at the National Institutes of Health to get a law degree at the University of Texas at Austin because he was intrigued by the mix of patent law and medical research.
By the time he graduated with honors in 1984, that field of law had lost its allure and he pursued environmental law, eventually working for some of the largest law firms in the country.
But he wanted to work for the government and took a 50 percent pay cut in 2001 to be at the U.S. Justice Department.
By fall 2007 he wanted to come home. His twin brother was dying of cancer and his wife and daughter needed to get out of the hectic life in Washington.
There also was his mother in-law.
Gulley graduated from Jefferson High School in 1964 and married his high school sweetheart, Carol Cockrell, the daughter of former Mayor Lila Cockrell.