State Bar of Texas Election 2019
The Texas Bar Journal asked 2019-2020 president-elect candidates Jeanne Cezanne “Cezy” Collins (left) and Larry P. McDougal Sr. (right) to share their perspectives on issues facing the bar. Vote online or by paper ballot from April 1 to April 30. The deadline to cast ballots is 5 p.m. CDT April 30.
Why do you want to serve as president of the State Bar of Texas?
Collins: I want to engage our members to take ownership in the bar. Ours is the best in the nation. Yet, only about 31 percent of us vote. We can do better. When we understand the bar as a service, not just an obligation, more will engage. Seeking lawyers’ perspectives, listening carefully, and better aligning benefits to address their needs will yield a stronger bar.
What lawyers need and want from the bar varies. As a legal aid lawyer and an assistant county attorney, I learned about the financial needs and pressures of government lawyers and public realities. As a litigation partner in an established firm, I experienced the pressures of private practice. Being general counsel affirms for me the importance of transparency and the difficulty of running a law office.
Leadership in state, local, and national voluntary bar associations and the State Bar of Texas showed me the value that a strong, active group affords it members and the public. Well thought out programs contribute significantly to lawyers’ successes and our profession’s future.
I want to use my experience and understanding to develop a bar with engaged and participating members offering better and more relevant service for all Texas lawyers.
McDougal: I want to be the president who listens to all lawyers. I enjoy talking with other lawyers about their experiences and concerns. I believe the bar should be a service to the lawyers of Texas and not an obstacle. I believe that by serving as president of the State Bar of Texas, I can be an advocate and voice for lawyers throughout Texas.
In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing the legal profession and what role do you believe the State Bar should play in addressing them?
Collins: Foremost among them are the demands of the practice, disparagement of and threats to the rule of law, and the challenges of technology and its encroachment on the way we practice.
The bar needs to support lawyers struggling with addiction, mental health, or compassion fatigue through added resources to our valuable Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program.
The rule of law and the role of lawyers and judges in safeguarding it are bedrocks of our democracy. Each of us, no matter our practice, has a role in safeguarding democratic freedoms. The bar must actively promote awareness and educate the public on the rule of law for all.
Constant technological advances challenge our practice and our professional responsibilities. The bar needs to offer technology consulting services, increased resources in law practice management, and free ethics CLE to help us keep abreast of the challenges and opportunities they present.
McDougal: Lack of civility and lack of professionalism to fellow attorneys. Many times, lawyers have used the grievance system to complain against one another. We have lost our sense of community in the constant competition against each other to prove who is best. Judges must stop lashing out at lawyers in front of their clients and colleagues. We must open the dialogue about this. The bar must lead by example and re-establish civility and professionalism in our profession. I can’t wait to make this a reality for all Texas attorneys.
In light of recent challenges to unified bars across the U.S. and now in Texas, what is your position on maintaining a unified State Bar of Texas?
Collins: A unified bar is essential. It affords important benefits, including our right to self-govern, to vote on rules of professional conduct, and more benefits to more lawyers at lower cost. It underwrites our future by making valuable training, support, and leadership development available to all young lawyers.
Importantly, collective membership in a strong professional community makes each member stronger. We are unique among professions, for only ours is linked to the law and the judiciary, fundamentals of our democracy, as well as to our livelihoods.
Although our unified bar has been questioned over the years, and its status may be ultimately decided by the courts, Texas lawyers have consistently reaffirmed its value. As Past President James B. Sales insisted, more than a voluntary bar, a unified bar “possesses the stature and authority to serve and protect the public interest, to serve all the membership, and to advance the administration of justice.”
McDougal: I am pro-bar. We need to keep the bar in Texas as is.
You have served the profession in a number of capacities. Which of these experiences has best prepared you to lead the State Bar of Texas?
Collins: The variety of my experience in serving on the board of directors, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the Texas Minority Counsel Program, the Texas Bar Foundation, and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals has provided valuable insight into the working of the bar. Working with voluntary bar associations at the local, state, and national level has provided different knowledge and insight as to the needs of lawyers. Practicing in the public interest sector, as an assistant county attorney, as a partner in a law firm, and now as a government in-house counsel broadens my perspective of the profession. I believe it is the totality of these experiences that will help me best lead the bar.
McDougal: Presenting CLEs across the state, I have had the opportunity to meet with and listen to lawyers who voice to me their concerns. I have heard their problems and I am ready to tackle them.
Being on the board of directors, I have seen firsthand how the Texas Bar operates. I have served on several committees and understand the inner workings of the bar.
Serving as chair on the Discipline and Client Attorney Assistance Program Committee, sitting on the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Ethics Committee, I deal with lawyers directly when they have problems.
Acting as the chair for the District 5 Grievance Committee Panel, I have seen how lawyers are abused by the system, and how the system deals with lawyers in trouble. And it needs to be fixed. Now I want to fix it.
All four of these roles have led to my decision to run for president-elect of the State Bar of Texas.
What can the State Bar and individual lawyers do to ensure access to justice for Texans, one of the State Bar’s core missions?
Collins: Past President Frank Stevenson spearheaded the creation of the award-winning Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator. TOJI bridges the justice gap by providing opportunity to young lawyers to build a practice and serve the underrepresented by requiring participating attorneys to provide 100 hours of pro bono legal services over 18 months while receiving professional training and development coaching. The intent of the program is to establish a model and curriculum for similar incubator projects throughout Texas. In just two years it became the largest incubator in the country. Now it is time take the next step and expand TOJI outside of Austin to other parts of Texas in ways most meaningful for those communities. Considering that most lawyers in Texas are solo and small firm practitioners, expansion of TOJI would not only benefit young lawyers in these sectors, but will train them to provide pro bono legal services throughout their careers.
McDougal: I am opposed to mandatory pro bono work by lawyers. Many lawyers perform numerous hours of pro bono work of their choosing. This issue has been addressed by the bar, committees, and commissions for the past decade. They have done about all they can do without imposing mandatory pro bono or taxing the lawyers to financially support it.
What should the bar do to guide and prepare the next generation of lawyers?
Collins: To put it succinctly, we must invest in our future. The Texas Young Lawyers Association is our future. Ongoing support for continuing programs like LeadershipSBOT to help develop future leaders is essential. TOJI is proving to help young lawyers build a practice and instill the value of pro bono efforts; it should be expanded to reach more of them. We need to improve our efforts to educate new lawyers and law students on the importance of the bar, voting in bar elections, and self-governance. We must develop new approaches for meaningful discussions with law students about practice choices and the role of the bar so that they understand why and how to be involved. Affordable CLE programs geared to new practitioners, including free ethics CLE are needed, as are efforts to educate new practitioners on technology resources and law office practice management.
McDougal: I look to the Texas Young Lawyers Association and to local young lawyers groups. They are currently doing excellent jobs, and we should not interfere with them. The bar currently financially supports TYLA and that support should continue. It is also an honor of mine to mentor several young attorneys across the state. Mentoring the upcoming generation is something that all of us should do on our own time, hopefully without a bar committee telling us to do so.
What should the bar focus on to ensure it is relevant and meaningful to members?
Collins: Better communication is always a part of the answer and always a challenge. Communication is a two-way street, requiring active talkers and listeners who aim to share information, ideas, and desires.
The bar needs effective outreach to individual lawyers, and local, minority, and women bar associations, as well as the many sections, to gain their perspectives on their needs and how they want to serve them in meaningful ways. The bar could enlist its own members to help do several things: communicate the available membership benefits and their value, learn our members’ perspectives on the bar’s relevance to them, and reinforce that the bar is a service and not just an obligation.
McDougal:The bar needs to listen to the lawyers of Texas and address the issues that are so important to the lawyers of Texas. Issues like statewide access badges, major grievance reform, and making the Ethics Helpline confidential and properly staffed. We need to address the cost and access to TexasBarCLE and make them more accessible to Texas attorneys who need them.
We need to promote the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program and keep it properly funded and staffed. Mental health, aging attorneys, and suicide prevention are life or death matters that we all have an investment in solving. We have to stay on top of this. I would like to allow TLAP CLEs to count toward our ethics requirement.
How important are your community activities to balancing your life as a lawyer? Which has affected you the most?
Collins: Being active and engaged in my community has always been important to me. Mentoring students, helping “aged-out” foster youths, sitting on the El Paso County Civil Service Commission, and serving on different organizational boards have enabled me to use my legal education and experience to benefit others. Serving on the board and then as president of the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center probably has affected me the most simply because it constantly educated me about the atrocities of the past and the ways to combat prejudice and intolerance now and in the future. About a year after the original museum was destroyed by a fire, I joined the board. Through the perseverance of dedicated volunteers, staff, and community members, the museum rebuilt to what it is today: one of only 13 free-standing Holocaust museums in the nation and the only one that is fully bilingual.
McDougal: I began serving the community as a police officer and recently retired my commission in June 2018. I have also served as a firefighter. I have a better perspective of what my clients might be facing and how the system affects them. My biggest influence from my community activism comes from being involved within the legal community in some form or fashion. By volunteering my time to mentor lawyers and serving members of the bar in several capacities, I have seen the difference a few hours out of my time can make for one person.
Describe your most satisfying legal experience.
Collins: Two of many stand out. First, helping an “aged-out” foster care youth on a path to success through the El Paso Women’s Bar Association’s Project FUTURE. The program provided a six-week internship in law-related environments for former foster care youths. I coordinated reviewing their eligibility for and then obtaining expunctions of arrest records or orders of non-disclosure so that they could more easily enter the work force. One of my first clients of the program interned with and later was employed by the El Paso County Attorney’s Office and works there to this day. Second is my work for nearly 15 years on the El Paso Women’s Bar Association’s Positive Role Model Program, which teaches fifth-graders about the importance of staying in school by bringing them to the courthouse once a month for presentations from a wide variety of practitioners about the legal system and profession.
McDougal: Last year, my wife and I were having dinner and the waitress asked me my name. I told her. She then thanked me. She told me that about six years ago, I represented her on felony charges. I got her criminal cases dismissed, and she was graduating from the University of Houston in a few months. She told me that without my help, none of that would have been possible. Moments like that make all we do worthwhile.
What can the State Bar do to promote diversity within the legal profession?
Collins: The bar needs to continue programs that support diversity and inclusion such as the Texas Minority Counsel Program, the Texas Minority Attorney Program, LeadershipSBOT, among others. However, even with all of these initiatives and programs, the bar remains significantly homogeneous, although the numbers are getting better especially at the TYLA level. However, to make true institutional change is difficult and complex. The bar needs to have meaningful discussions with law schools about making law school affordable to all types of law students, especially those from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. It needs to encourage diversity in hiring practices and reward retention. The bar should collaborate with those leading the charge for diversity such as the American Bar Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Center and various national bars to eliminate bias and enhance diversity and inclusion throughout the legal profession.
McDougal: If a specific group feels left out, they will not follow any leader. Then, all of us lose. We must do our best to ensure our board of directors and committees are as diverse as our membership. Everyone has a voice, a story, and a history—and a right to be heard about all three. I will work tirelessly to ensure that everyone is represented in the unfolding mission of the State Bar.
What is your favorite book, TV, or film representation of a lawyer? Why?
Collins: Texas Tornado, the true story of a pioneering lawyer who was a crusader for women’s rights, role model, and mentor is a favorite.
Louise Ballerstedt Raggio became a Texas lawyer while raising three children and began practicing before women could serve on juries. She became a prominent family law attorney leading the charge to pass the Marital Property Act of 1967 to remove “disabilities of coverture” that denied married women many of the same rights as men. With her leadership, the Family Law Section created the first complete family code in the U.S., which was later reproduced in many other states.
I experienced her kindness when she called to thank me for writing a review of her book. Despite a serious health struggle, Ms. Raggio was thinking of others, and encouraging a fellow lawyer. This exemplified to me how lawyers need to encourage and support one another.
McDougal: My Cousin Vinny. This movie is played over and over in CLEs. While it is a comedy that spoofs our legal profession, it also portrays what it is like to be a trial attorney. It gets perfectly the stress that lawyers endure while in trial.TBJ