Legally Speaking: Doogie Houser, J.D.

By John G. Browning | Aug 27, 2009

Television viewers fond of the "Doogie Howser" sitcom that launched the career of actor Neil Patrick Harris may never have gotten to meet a young medical prodigy in real life, but they just might encounter a legal wunderkind.

There have been several real-life instances of gifted youngsters who have chosen law as their career path. So, if you encounter someone in court who looks too young to shave, be nice – he might just be one of the lawyers.

First on our list of underage future barristers is Kate McLaughlin, a 19-year-old Californian. Kate skipped six grades as a child, and graduated from the University of California-San Diego at the tender age of 17.

For the past year, she's been working as a tutor and instructor at the Kaplan Co., a noted national test preparation firm. One day, Kate took a break from preparing others for tests and took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) herself; she wound up scoring a 174 of a possible 180.

Now Kate's off to Northwestern Law School this fall. Like any new student, she has some concerns. "I'm worried I'll hate law school because it will take up too much of my time on things I'm not interested in," she says.

And she has plenty of outside interests: a voracious reader since the age of 3, she loves science fiction writing, and maintains a blog known as

Kate also has her pet causes. She feels her law degree will help her fight for the social causes she supports, including international human rights and gay rights.

Kate is a little behind Nicole Matisse of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who entered Wayne State University Law School in Detroit in 2007. Nicole is bound to have spent more time in law school than she did in college. That's because, for her, college lasted one year.

While attending Lahser High School, Nicole earned enough credits to graduate by her junior year. But instead of leaving early, she got a head start on her college coursework, taking eight Advanced Placement (AP) exams and earning college credit for all of them.
She then took eight classes at a local community college during her senior year of high school.

Armed with 48 credits, she entered the University of Michigan as a junior, and proceeded to take on heavy course loads of 19 and 27 credits in her first two semesters. She knocked out her remaining 30 credits of the 124 needed to receive her bachelor's degree in psychology during the summer – before starting law school!

According to Donna Wessel Walker, assistant director of the University of Michigan honors program. "She's taking in one semester the course load that most people take in two. She is one determined young lady."

Determined, indeed. But Nicole was more than just another 4.0 GPA student. According to her mother, Nicole was reading 5th grade books in kindergarten, and knew her multiplication tables at age 3.

However, the hardworking student in a hurry found time for more than just studies. In high school, she was a member of the varsity tennis, soccer and track teams, and also showed her early interest in the law as captain of the mock trial team.

Nicole would like to become a successful trial lawyer, a wife and mother, and eventually a Supreme Court justice. With her record of accomplishments, I'm not betting against the whiz kid who entered law school at 19.

Perhaps the best known version of "Doogie Howser, Esquire" is right here in Texas. Former child prodigy Kiwi Alejandro Danao Camara (also known as K.A.D. Camara) is now 25 years old, and since 2008 has had his own small law firm in Houston.

Camara was born in the Philippines, and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the age of 11, he published a paper on alternative treatments for rheumatoid arthritis in the Hawaii Journal of Medicine.

The young genius skipped high school entirely, and entered college at age 14. Camara received a B.S. in computer science after only two years at Hawaii Pacific University, which also recognized him for outstanding academic achievement. In 2001, Camara entered Harvard Law School as the youngest person to matriculate there, where he received a John M. Olin Fellowship in Law and Economics.

After graduating magna cum laude in 2004, Camara clerked for Judge Harris Hartz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. The whiz kid went on to be a visiting scholar at Northwestern University Law School and Stanford Law School, and to see his work published in the Yale Law Journal, before settling down to work as a litigation associate at a firm in Houston.

However, Camara's path was dogged by controversy. As a Harvard Law student, racially offensive entries in the course outlines he wrote and posted to a popular student-run Web site ignited a campus-wide controversy and student protest.

When he spoke at Yale Law School in 2005, the controversy followed him and resulted in protests there as well as a faculty and student "walk out" of his talk.

Earlier this summer, Camara generated headlines for taking over the defense of a high-profile copyright infringement case filed by the Recording Industry Association of America against Jammie Thomas, who was accused of illegally downloading and distributing songs.

After a verdict against Ms. Thomas in a previous trial (not tried by Camara) was vacated, the young lawyer took over her second trial. Unfortunately, it ended disastrously, with an even larger verdict than before against the accused downloader.

Of course, these overachievers might just pale by comparison to Joao Victor Portellinha of Brazil. Last year, the then-8 year old took and passed the entrance exam to law school, prompting an outcry from Brazil's bar association about the low standards of some of that country's law schools.

The young boy was unfazed by the controversy, telling Globo TV "My dream is to be a federal judge. So I decided to take the test to see how I would do…it was easy."

Thanks, Joao, and Kiwi, Nicole, and Kate. I used to think I was smart.

John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at:

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