Gibbs & Bruns LLP associate Caitlin Halpern was named a 2021 “40 Under 40” honoree by the Houston Business Journal. This prestigious award recognizes young leaders throughout the greater Houston area.
A Harvard Law School cum laude graduate, Caitlin came to Gibbs & Bruns in 2019 after beginning her career with Appellate Advocates in New York. It didn’t take Caitlin long to make an impression on her clients and fellow colleagues both inside the firm as well as throughout the city of Houston itself.
Despite the demands a young litigator faces regarding time and dedicated client and practice-focus, Caitlin has stayed true to her keen pursuit of community service and pro bono efforts. And she’s done so at an incredibly admirable level. Not only is Caitlin the firm’s young lawyer pro bono liaison, she is actively handling multiple pro bono parole representation matters and coordinating additional multiple parole representations by her fellow Gibbs & Bruns lawyers.
In 2019, Caitlin and her partner Stephen started a debate class at the Harris County jail, the second-largest jail in the country. Previously, Caitlin lived and worked in New York City, where she taught a weekly debate class on Rikers Island. The Rikers Debate Project nonprofit has been featured in sources including the New York Times and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. With enthusiastic support from Harris County Jail (HCJ) staff, the group began meeting twice a week to teach public speaking, critical thinking, and current events. HCJ has strong vocational programming, but this effort is the first of its kind and enhances educational offerings beyond basic literacy and GED programs. Caitlin updated the Rikers Debate Project’s curriculum to focus on practical skills like evaluating evidence and working in teams. Each class involves a lesson and touches on current events such as the border wall and the rights of incarnated people to vote.
Over the past four (short) years, the Rikers Debate Project’s efforts were instituted in Connecticut, New Jersey, the DC/Baltimore metro area, and New Orleans. Caitlin brought the effort to Houston, where more than 20 volunteers have been trained and cleared to teach in the jail.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, HCJ in-person classes were suspended in March; however, Caitlin and her team quickly transitioned to a correspondence course format. For the past 10 months, the group has served over 200 students in nearly a dozen states via U.S. mail. Students involved in the program frequently report on conditions within their respective facilities, and their voices have been featured in major media outlets including the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Observer, The Marshall Project, and ProPublica.
In addition to the correspondence course for currently incarcerated people, the Rikers Debate Project started a debate program via Zoom for formerly incarcerated people, which includes practice sessions twice a week and demonstration debate events every month or two. University event co-hosts have included Yale, Princeton, and NYU, and events with Stanford and Johns Hopkins are in the works. The Zoom debate program was recently featured on an episode of the New Yorker Radio Hour that was broadcast on NPR.
Caitlin now serves as Executive Director of the Rikers Debate Project’s national organization. She and her partner Stephen hope to resume in-person classes at HCJ later this year and plan to start a class for incarcerated women at HCJ as well.
More about the HBJ’s “40 Under 40” honorees:
Among the honorees are several founders, CEOs and other leaders of both for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations. The list includes the city of Houston’s first Black poet laureate, a young restaurateur who battled cancer mid-pandemic, an educator who kicked off a charter school as Covid-19 hit, and a co-founder of a new women-focused coworking space, just to name a few. More than half of the honorees are founders, co-founders, owners or CEOs of their respective businesses or organizations.
All of the 40 Under 40 honorees will be celebrated during a live broadcast on June 17 and in a special section of the June 18 weekly edition of the Houston Business Journal.
Once again this year, HBJ received hundreds of nominations and applications for the 40 Under 40 awards. To be considered, nominees had to reside in the 10-county Houston area and be under 40 years of age as of Dec. 31, 2020. A panel of judges from across industries scored the nominees on leadership, overcoming challenges and community involvement.