Executive Director’s Page
2018: A Look at Our Accomplishments and an Eye to the Future
As I wrap up my first year as State Bar executive director I’m proud to say 2018 was a year of growth, with the State Bar of Texas making strides in many areas of service to the public and its members. Primary areas of focus this past year have been:
Implementing legislative mandates following Sunset Review;
Expanding services and programs through the use of online and technological tools; and
Taking a top-to-bottom look at how to improve the transparency of State Bar governance practices.
Many improvements over the past year address the evolving expectations of the public and State Bar members in receiving services and information through internet-based self-help methods. Below is a summary of some of those accomplishments and a preview of the projects anticipated in this year as we continue on our path as a model state bar in the services and programs we offer.
The statutory changes arising from the Sunset process in the 2017 legislative session have been implemented. Most involved the disciplinary system and thus were implemented working with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel and the Commission for Lawyer Discipline. Changes included:
Referral of grievances to the Client-Attorney Assistance Program, the State Bar’s voluntary mediation and dispute resolution program, for earlier resolution of disputes;
Increased use of the Grievance Referral Program, a diversionary program within the discipline system designed to identify and assist lawyers who have impairment or performance issues;
Disciplinary sanction guidelines for grievance committees and district courts; and
Investigatory hearings to resolve grievances short of formal proceedings.
Other directives geared toward improved access and accountability included:
Hiring an ombudsman who reports directly to the Texas Supreme Court;
Detailed reporting on sanctions and barratry investigations; and
Mandatory reporting of certain criminal convictions and disciplinary judgments imposed in other jurisdictions.
Online payment of State Bar dues: As previewed for you in the November update, dues and fees for 2019-2020 will be accepted only online. In addition to accepting credit cards for payment, we will also accept payments via electronic funds transfer, or EFT, which is like an electronic check. A $5 processing fee applies to credit card payments to help cover the bar’s transaction fees. There will be no processing charge for paying by EFT. Members will pay on their My Bar Page on texasbar.com.
Online transcripts of CLEs: TexasBarCLE continued to build its library of interactive transcripts and closed captioning of online CLE courses. All CLE presentations are professionally transcribed and those transcripts are posted in the TexasBarCLE Online Classroom with each course. This makes course presentations accessible for individuals with hearing impairments and greatly enhances our online classroom. CLE customers have full-text, searchable access not only to course materials and papers, but also to an interactive transcript of speakers’ presentations that can be searched and downloaded as PDFs. The transcripts are time-linked to the course video, so attendees can click on a word in the transcript and immediately go to that portion of the video or click on a video and go to that specific location in the transcript.
Daily news briefings on areas of interest to bar members and the public: To keep up on the latest legal news from around the state, sign up for the State Bar of Texas’ Daily News Briefing. The Daily News Briefing is a compilation of the latest State Bar and Texas legal news stories culled from media across the state. It’s a free service, open to everyone. To subscribe, go to texasbar.com/dailynews.
Transparency has been a spotlight focus this year for enhancing public and bar member awareness.
Staff members have published a record number of documents and historical information regarding the State Bar on our website, texasbar.com. Uploaded information includes current and historical documents regarding governance matters such as finances, budget, strategic planning, performance measures, annual reports, and board policy manuals, to name just a few.
We also began posting board meeting materials in advance of public meetings for the public to better follow along and understand the meetings (texasbar.com/bodmaterials); added more self-service information to the State Bar Public Information webpage (texasbar.com/publicinformation); and designated and trained staff members to serve as formal liaisons within each division/department to respond to Texas Public Information Act requests.
We will continue to provide training and are in the process of reviewing each department’s records to find more opportunities for public access to information.
Later this month, the State Bar Board of Directors will receive and consider a new report by Weaver, an assurance, tax, and advisory firm that the board retained to review the State Bar’s transparency efforts. I will detail that report, its findings, and recommendations in my February column.
January 2019 begins the 86th Legislative Session. You can track legislative developments via our free Friday Update email newsletter. Sign up at texasbar.com/fridayupdate.
You are always invited to comment on board policies, procedures, and activities through the bar’s online customer service portal, texasbar.com/contactus, or call us at (800) 204-2222.
Executive Director, State Bar of Texas
Editor-in-Chief, Texas Bar Journal
@ApffelT on Twitter
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