Defense attorney Sean Hightower received high praise this year when he was named as a Rising Star by the Thomson Reuter’s company’s SuperLawyer.com organization.

Hightower became the fourth criminal attorney in Nacogdoches and the first since 2012 to be named to the list, which takes into account a wide range of factors in who is awarded the distinction.

Each attorney named a Super Lawyer is nominated anonymously and judged on 12 criteria, including their experience, special certifications and licenses, the outcomes of their court cases, professional activity, community service and experience.

Whoever nominated Hightower as a Super Lawyer Rising Star pitted his accomplishments as a 31-year-old attorney against those from a sprawling region that includes Houston.

The designation as a Super Lawyers Rising Star, which is specifically for attorneys 40 years old or younger who’ve been practicing for fewer than 10 years. The list “recognizes no more than 2.5% of attorneys in each state,” according to the organization.

The Super Lawyer award recognizes no more than 5% of the attorneys in a state.

“It takes a lot of name recognition,” Hightower said. “I’ve only been doing this for five years.”

Hightower graduated from the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in 2013 — the same year that school was acquired by Texas A&M — and he began practicing law in 2014 alongside Tim James, who himself was named a Super Lawyer in 2012.

Hightower said he believes working with James has played a role in his own success.

“I had a head start working here,” he said.

A large part of Hightower’s work is handling driving while intoxicated cases, and as such he’s participated in a number of additional training courses and licenses.

He’s written a number of scholarly articles and led trainings for other defense attorneys as well, all of which was taken into consideration, as was his work as a member of the county hospital board and with the Nacogdoches Parks Advocacy League.

As part of their practice, he and James have both attended and hosted legal conferences.

“I’ve given probably 20 lectures for the Texas Defense Lawyers Association,” Hightower said.

In five years practicing law, he estimates he’s worked on something like 500 cases, including four homicide cases.

“I was pretty excited,” he said. “It helps validate that I’m doing a good job.”

The distinction of being added to the list also prompted another consideration for Hightower, who is one of a dozen attorneys from his law school selected as a candidate to be sworn in at the U.S. Supreme Court in May.

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