This Father's Day is special for UNT Dallas College of Law Alumni dad and daughter

Friday, June 14, 2024

John and Zoe Kiraly graduated five years apart, and share a special bond

UNT Dallas College of Law 2024 graduate Zoe Kiraly and her father, John, a 2019 graduate, share a special relationship. More than parent and child, they both earned their law degrees from UNT Dallas – and only five years apart.

When Zoe crossed the commencement stage on May 18, 2024, her dad was waiting to present her stole, an honored tradition usually reserved for faculty members or administrators. The emotional moment caught the audience off guard and grabbed the attention of graduates and guests, alike.

John and Zoe Kiraly on Stage Together

John and Zoe Kiraly on Stage Together During the 2024 College of Law Commencement Ceremony

Several years earlier, John inspired his daughter to follow in his footsteps, though not intentionally. “I didn’t think law school was an option until Dad went,” Zoe Kiraly said.

Zoe originally planned on attending medical school, which was her first attempt to emulate her father through education. However, during her undergraduate degree in biology, she discovered she couldn’t handle the sight of blood required to become a doctor.

John Kiraly served in the U.S. Army for 23 years, as a combat medic and member of the Medical Service Corps. He was deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.

John Kiraly U.S. Army in 2015
John Kiraly while serving in the U.S. Army, from which he retired in 2015

When he retired from West Point in 2015, John decided to become a lawyer, which he had long planned. “I saw my mom and dad go through the will, trust, and estate planning process,” he said. “That’s what inspired me to go to law school.”

John is now a civilian attorney in the U.S. Army JAG Corps, representing injured soldiers fighting for VA benefits and other healthcare, medical, and retirement benefits, and severance.

Zoe wants to practice intellectual property law. She is preparing for the Texas bar exam, which will be given next month. She has applied to clerk for a U.S. Patent Office trademark judge in Virginia. “I’m studying and waiting,” Zoe said.

Her eventual goal is to handle patent litigation in Dallas. While in law school, Zoe and her classmates formed the Intellectual Property Society, a campus group for like-minded students with similar legal interests.

John and Zoe Kiraly Sharing a Daddy-Daughter Moment
John and Zoe Kiraly sharing a daddy-daughter moment during her childhood

UNT Dallas was the only law school to which Zoe applied. For her dad, it was a different story. John applied to 10 and was only accepted by UNT Dallas. “Sometimes things choose you,” he said wryly with a smile.

Each had similar challenges during their three years at the College of Law. “Science and law are completely different ways of thinking,” Zoe said. “The biggest challenge is the reading, it’s intense. And time management.” For John, “The hardest part was learning to be a student again, at 47,” he said. “And the voluminous reading.”


Brian Owsley, UNT Dallas College of Law Associate Professor
Brian Owsley, UNT Dallas College of Law Associate Professor

They chose the same instructor as their favorite, Associate Professor Brian Owsley. “His method and approach teach you what’s expected in the courtroom: prepare, react, results,” John said. “He’s a great mentor,” Zoe added.

Owsley met John in his first-year criminal law class. He learned about Zoe when reviewing her application for the law school’s admissions committee. “The apple does not fall far from the tree,” Owsley said. “Both John and Zoe were the type of students that make teaching enjoyable and worthwhile. I fully expect that in the future, they will continue to make us all proud.”

Ernie Higginbotham, Longtime Leader of the UNT Dallas College of Law Judge Louis A. Bedford Jr. Mentorship Program
Ernie Higginbotham, longtime leader of the UNT Dallas College of Law Judge Louis A. Bedford Jr. Mentorship Program

In addition to the special bond with his daughter, John shared a different bond – a military bond – with Ernie Higginbotham, the longtime leader of the UNT Dallas College of Law Judge Louis A. Bedford Jr. Mentorship Program. “He’s a pillar in the Dallas legal community,” John said.

Higginbotham served in Vietnam and Cambodia and was awarded two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, and an Army Commendation Medal for bravery. He recently announced his retirement. “If it wasn’t for Ernie, I wouldn’t have volunteered to mentor.”

The mentoring by alumni and students – giving back to future College of Law graduates and the community UNT Dallas serves – is a key component of the school’s mission. Zoe plans to work pro bono helping people with their patent, copyright, trademark and other IP applications. John will continue mentoring students and most recently taught as an adjunct professor in the Spring 2024 semester. “It’s important to have that link,” he said.


 Zoe Kiraly Holds Her Law School Diploma Alongside Her Father
Zoe Kiraly holds her Law School Diploma alongside her father John following the UNT Dallas College of Law Commencement on May 18, 2024

It’s the multi-generational and multi-disciplinary passion that unites UNT Dallas College of Law students, alumni, faculty and staff. It also connects them with the legal profession, locally and beyond.

On September 21, 2024, the law school will observe its tenth anniversary with a special gala commemorating the first class that entered in 2014 and all the progress since. John and Zoe plan to be there. They will have a lot to celebrate: their love of each other and the law and their passion for putting into practice everything they have learned to help others.


From UNT Dallas – College of Law News