Annual Meeting 2019

In Servitude

State Bar of Texas President Randoll O. Sorrels envisions a State Bar “of the lawyer, by the lawyer, and for the lawyers of Texas.”

Randoll Sorrels Standing at Podium Speaking to Audience
Randoll O. Sorrels

After being sworn in by U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, State Bar of Texas President Randall O. Sorrels pushed back against past rhetoric he called “anti-bar” and “anti-lawyer.” Sorrels told the attendees of the General Session Luncheon that his platform was one of focusing the bar on serving lawyers and championing the work of the bar’s board of directors, its committees and sections, and programs like the Texas Young Lawyers Association and Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program. “Our volunteers and our professionals are the best in the business and always looking to improve our profession,” he said. “Our focal point instead will be on their successes and rejecting those that seek to minimize their accomplishments.”

The first theme of his speech touched on diversity, a concept he says will improve the profession. Sorrels, managing partner in Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz in Houston, attributed his law firm’s success to the mixed backgrounds of his team of lawyers. “I believe diversity strengthens our profession and all of us. I believe diversity improves outcomes ... . So I’m going to emphasize diversity certainly during this next year.”

Sorrels said every organization is constantly evolving through evaluations and re-evaluations and the State Bar of Texas is no different. Pointing to Executive Director Trey Apffel and President-elect Larry McDougal, he said the three of them share the same vision to improve the bar. “We want a State Bar that makes our lives easier, not harder. We want a State Bar that will listen to our concerns and help solve our problems, not create our problems. And we want lawyers of the State Bar to know we are your teammate, not your opponent. The leadership is committed to getting this done, and I am personally committed to getting this done. We want to be a State Bar of the lawyer, by the lawyer, and for the lawyers of Texas.”

Sorrels rolled out plans for key programs he will work on during his year as president: a statewide courthouse access badge to allow background-checked lawyers to bypass security; a website allowing people to find contract lawyers or contract legal work for free; family leave continuance that allows expecting parents by birth or adoption to get automatic continuance; a statewide vacation letter lawyers can file instead of having to file in nearby counties; small flat fees earned to go straight into general operating accounts instead of first having to go into an IOLTA account; and e-filing consistency across Texas.

“Every team is better if all of the teammates are working together toward a common goal. We have great teammates in our committees, our sections, our divisions, our young lawyers, our not-so-young lawyers, our volunteers, and staff,” Sorrels said. “We’re going to work together as a team, and I’m proud to be part of the team and proud to be part of the greatest profession.”


Collage of Pictures from Annual Meeting
THE SCENE From left to top right: Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht with special guest Roosticus; podcast recording; the Cast of Night Court singing the National Anthem; Presidents’ Party.

By Justine Carreon, Adam Faderewski, Patricia Busta McConnico, Eric Quitugua, and Amy Starnes. Photographs by Lowell Brown, Adam Faderewski, Patricia Busa McConnico, Eric Quitugua, and Marc Swendner.

A Letter of Truth

Will Haygood Standing at Podium Speaking to Audience
Will Haygood

“I’m looking through a box that I had randomly picked from a shelf, and I came across a letter. I read that letter, and I couldn’t move,” Wil Haygood said. “That letter proved to me why the literary gods had chosen me to write this book.” Haygood, a journalist and bestselling author, was referring to his biography of Thurgood Marshall, the first black man to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. In Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America, Haygood relays the story of President Lyndon Johnson’s determination to get Marshall on the country’s highest court. Barbara Ross, a woman from Texarkana, Arkansas, wrote a letter to her senator, John McClellan, urging him to support Marshall’s nomination to the court. She never received a response from McClellan, who was on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time and opposed Marshall’s nomination, Haygood told the crowd at the Bench Bar Breakfast. But Haygood tracked down Ross, who at 19 wrote to McClellan: “Color doesn’t make the person, senator. It is character that makes the man. If he doesn’t get the nomination, there will be others who will seek after the same opportunity. There will be hundreds, senator, and you can’t fight them all. Somebody will get it. One of these days the president of the United States will be a negro.” Haygood said he apologized to Ross for never getting a response and told her that the letter would get its full weight in his book. “I found this letter for a reason,” he told her. One of President Barack Obama’s last acts in office, Haygood said, was to read Ross’ letter to his dinner guests. “The law is a majestic tool. It will save this nation if it is continued to be protected and used in the most righteous of manners. Nelson Mandela, who I watched walk out of prison, told me that,” Haygood said. “He read Thurgood Marshall and the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. when he was locked away on Robben Island. Thank you for doing what you do . . . and thank you for sending Lyndon Johnson from Texas to Washington, D.C.”

Speaking before Haygood, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht gave a brief report on the state of the judiciary in Texas, touching on HB 2384, which becomes effective September 1, 2019, and increases judicial compensation based on longevity; the training of many new judges who were elected in November; support for access to justice from the Legislature, which this session appropriated $20 million for the biennium; continuing work from the Judicial Commission on Mental Health formed with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; electronic filing in Texas, which is required in all counties for civil cases and will soon be required in all counties for criminal cases; and a statewide case management system that received funding during this legislative session.

Adaptable Lawyer Talks: Lawyers Reinventing Themselves

In the second year of Adaptable Lawyer Talks, a session based on the TED Talks format, three lawyers discussed how they reinvented themselves. Sammetria Goodson, an art and business major, left a lucrative job in sales to go to law school. Her first job after graduating was working for a trial judge. But she soon began to look at her past and what interested her and realized she could create her own practice. She now focuses on copyright law and how it applies to fashion and artificial intelligence. “Enhance the blank canvas,” Goodson said. “Approach it and you will be astounded by the many decisions you need to make before you make that first stroke.” Contract attorney and legal consultant Teri Danish realized one day at work that she had had enough. Her father had recently died, friends had been diagnosed with cancer, and she needed to do something else with her life, something fulfilling. Fortunately, she was in a financial position where she could take some time to figure out what she wanted to do. She knew her passion was running and decided to become an online fitness coach so that she could work from anywhere. “I was scared, but I was more scared of not doing it,” said Danish, who still does contract work for her old firm. “My life motto now is ‘Why not?’” Shruti Krishnan was a scientist before becoming an attorney. She started out in health care law, but she quickly realized that she was more suited to an information technology practice.

Cybersecurity Defenses

Law firms are privy to certain client information such as Social Security numbers and banking information, which can be a hacker’s gold mine, said Ronald Chichester. In a session sponsored by the Business Law and Corporate Counsel sections, he discussed how cyberattacks are affecting law firms at any given time. Chichester advised attendees not to use Windows 10, which he said is easily hackable. “If the software is low in cost, you are signing away some private information to the internet world,” Chichester said. Always read the end-user license agreements to any product so all information is protected including the clients’, he said. This will prevent attorneys from being sued for unwanted information becoming public without the client’s permission, Chichester said. Another thing to watch out for is your smart speaker. Amazon Alexa and Google Home are always listening to your conversations. He said attorneys should be cautious when discussing confidential information because a hacker can easily gain access to these types of devices. All files should be backed up so that they are still accessible in the event of a cyberattack, Chichester said. If an email or web page looks odd, he recommended not clicking through it—either report it to the information technology department or just simply hit delete.

Our Common Bonds

Dan Rather at a Podium Speaking to Audience
Dan Rather

“I like to think of those of us in the press and those of you in the law as kindred spirits in a national enterprise,” longtime CBS news anchor and journalist Dan Rather told the crowd assembled for the Bar Leaders Recognition Luncheon. “Our roles are to speak with, insofar as humanly possible, clarity, eschewed bias, to make our conclusions based on facts and evidence before us, and to give equal weight to the voices of the powerless as to the powerful.” To give an equal voice to the powerless and powerful, we need to listen. “We all hear a great deal, but not everyone listens carefully,” he said. “It’s good to listen; to listen to people who even have directly opposed political or ideological views to your own.” Discussions between peoples of all walks of life and political beliefs have formed the basis of American society, Rather said. “There was a time when American democracy was built around person-to-person interactions,” he said. “We need to figure out how to harness our technologies to highlight our commonalities and create spaces where we can meet one another.” Society can be built on common, neighborly bonds, and the ideal that we are all Americans, Rather said. There are problems we, as a nation, can solve, he said. “There are many divides in this country that do not exist around politics. How do we handle our homeless problem? We all know we have one. How do we handle the opiate crisis? Or urban growth? Or investment in public transportation? Or farm subsidies?” He called for unity among Americans. “Democratic citizenship cannot be a passive endeavor. We cannot just say ‘most people are good, so things will eventually work out’ or that our government will ‘take care of itself.’” Rather said the country needs not only the commitment of judges and officers of the court to the rule of law, but also their help in encouraging others to actively support and share that commitment. “The importance of adherence to the law at any level of power and the value of a free press to hold power in check—these truths need to be told, taught, and spread,” he said. “You need to tell it and live it,” Rather said. “In that role I suggest that you must not waver, hesitate, or cower. You cannot—must not—be intimidated or get distracted because your role as revered attorneys, judges, and bar representatives, and your commitment to truth, justice, and the American way are essential, noble work.”

To see a list of local bar association award winners, go to texasbar.com/annualmeetingawards.

Rethinking the First Amendment in the Age of Twitter

David McCraw, vice president of and deputy general counsel to The New York Times Company, talked about how technology, social media, and the use of machines in journalism are altering libel and copyright law as well as application of the First Amendment. He walked attendees of the “Free Press Free-for-All” panel through a number of real cases—some involving the Times—that highlight the contradiction between today’s social media landscape and established caselaw. For example, if a machine cobbled together a story from a set of data, could that machine act with malice or negligence—a key test of proving libel? In the social media world of troll accounts and fiery news comment sections, who is the “reasonable reader”? If a media company embeds one of your Instagram posts, which includes a fantastic photo you took, on its site with a news story, did the company really copy your photo and thus owe you compensation?

Update on Affirmative Action

The University of Texas, which has faced multiple suits for the use of affirmative action in its admission practices, will continue to be a target for lawsuits, said Mathiew Le, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the University of Texas School of Law, during a Diversity Forum discussion titled “Update on Affirmative Action and Current Impacts in Texas.” He stressed the benefits of a diverse learning environment and said it is crucial to prepare students for the workforce and to create competent lawyers capable of serving a diverse public. The session, which was moderated by State Bar of Texas Past President Lisa Tatum, also included panelists Angelica Hernandez, a former State Bar of Texas director and a partner in Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, and State Rep. Jessica Farrar, of Houston. Farrar remarked, “... the goal should be having a great workforce and giving all kids an opportunity if they are willing to work for it.”

Views From the Bench

We all make mistakes. At a session titled “A View From the Bench: Simple Things Everyone Does Wrong,” Judge Roy Ferguson, of the 394th Judicial District Court in Fort Davis, shared a few tips designed to help attorneys avoid common errors in the courtroom. He talked about nunc pro tunc and default judgments and stressed that for a proper nunc pro tunc to happen, there must be clear and convincing evidence that a clerical error was made. Examples of common clerical errors include a typo in a party’s name in the judgment, an error in the date the judgment was signed, and a mathematical error in the amount of damages. Attorneys must make sure to have clerks mark “restricted delivery” on the certified mail green card, and the recipient must provide proof that he or she is the named addressee or an authorized agent before being permitted to sign, Ferguson said. All documents must be complete, precise, legible, and accurate, he stressed. If not, they will be invalid.

50-YEAR LAWYERS

Dan Rather at a Podium Speaking to Audience

The State Bar of Texas recognized 655 lawyers for their 50 years of membership, with 90 of those honorees attending a celebratory reception that provided them with an opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends.

Get Paid! Have a Life

Panelists Dana Palmer and Judge Audrey Moorehead said attorneys must focus on making money before they can focus on helping their clients because at the end of the day, a broke attorney isn’t good for anyone. They stressed the importance of law practice management. The top claims filed against attorneys with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel in 2016-2017 were related to communication, integrity, neglect, confidentiality, declining/terminating cases, safeguarding property, and fees, Palmer said. The business of a law firm is selling legal services, he said. Everything else about the firm simply supports the legal services that are delivered to the client. When entering fee negotiations, attorneys should set an annual rate review for long-term clients, create an evergreen clause, file a credit card from the client that can be charged when moneys are owed, and avoid setting a flat fee. Most importantly, an attorney must know when to stop representing a client. When there is no more money in your IOLTA, you have to stop.

Recognizing and Overcoming Implicit Bias

Implicit bias, which runs deep in all aspects of the law, can arise from cultural norms such as race, ethnicity, and religious values, said panelist Mindy Gulati, of Fundamental Advisory, at a session titled “Implicit Bias: Building Awareness and Overcoming Obstacles.” One way to battle implicit bias, Gulati said, is to be sure you know exactly what your client is telling you and not to fill in the facts when the client isn’t specific or communicating well. Filling in the blanks can be dangerous, she said. Getting the whole story from clients who don’t speak the same language as coun-sel can be difficult, Gulati said, as interpreters may not be relating the attorney’s whole message to the client and the client may not have his or her story properly told by the interpreter. She suggested questioning interpreters to make sure everything is getting across to the client and that everything being said is relayed in both directions. Attorneys strive to be the best counsel they can for their clients, Gulati said, and being the best means knowing your implicit bias and how to put it aside.

Criminal Counterfeiting

The biggest change in criminal counterfeiting has been the shift from the initial reluctance of consumers to use credit cards online to the current atmosphere where billions of dollars of transactions are made each year online, said Sanjiv Sarwate, of Dell, at a session titled “Criminal Counterfeiting” sponsored by the Intellectual Property Law Section. With such a shift from brick-and-mortar retail stores to online marketplaces, there has been an upsurge of people participating in e-commerce—a lot doing so as a secondary job. Sarwate said 80% of counterfeit merchandise originates from China and covers the gamut from clothing to pharmaceuticals. Panelist Charles Martin Hosch, of Hosch & Morris, talked about what hasn’t changed—consumers wanting to find the best deal possible. This desire can lead people to happily overlook imperfections in a product if it’s credible enough to get by for their circumstances, Hosch said. The source of counterfeit products has become harder to locate as third parties selling on Amazon, or other sites, may believe they are buying a legitimate product only to learn it’s a counterfeit when the government shows up.

Opportunity in the Accelerating Pace of Innovation

Dan Rather at a Podium Speaking to Audience

“Real estate doesn’t come to mind when you think of innovation,” Keller Williams Realty President Josh Team (above right) told Rocky Dhir during a recording of the State Bar of Texas Podcast in front of a live audience. But real estate giant Keller Williams began asking how the company could reinvent itself. “I’m a firm believer that data is the fuel of new experiences,” said Team, who wrote code for companies when he was a teenager. Team said that the cycles of innovation are getting compressed and large companies are struggling to keep up—and that includes law firms. A month is a long time if you are looking quarter to quarter, Team explained. Speed and strategic thinking are key, he said. “Whoever uses the data to be smarter wins.”

Texas Bar Foundation

Texas Bar Foundation Award Winners

Award winners were recognized during the Texas Bar Foundation’s 2019 Annual Dinner on June 14. From left: Talmage Boston, Tommy Fibich, Claude E. Ducloux, Gerry Goldstein, Thomas L. Ausley, Lynne Liberato, Judge Jim Parsons, Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn, Roland K. Johnson, Tom Henson, Lonny D. Morrison, David J. Beck, and Alex B. Roberts. To see a list of award winners, go to texasbar.com/annualmeetingawards.

Open Government Law

“The most dangerous type of fake news or false information is when it’s coming from the government itself,” said Ted Boutrous, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

A panel of experts that included Boutrous, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas Executive Director Kelley Shannon, The Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey, and Southern Methodist University journalism professor Mark Vamos and was moderated by Tom Leatherbury, a partner in Vinson & Elkins, discussed the proliferation of misinformation hiding among legitimate news stories, how at times government officials have been responsible for perpetuating falsehoods, and the roles the business of journalism and the general news consumer play in the problem.

“Many, many times the antidote to fake news … is the documentation, the government records,” Shannon said. There’s always been an attempt to “spin” the facts by one side or another, she said, but journalists and government watchers are now seeing “just a real disregard of the facts at the very foundation.” The panelists discussed several recent events as examples.

Ramsey noted a key problem moving forward is that the general public may not be able to, or may not care to, discern what is misinformation from actual news. View a video of the discussion at facebook.com/statebaroftexas.

Updates to the Texas Citizens Participation Act in Employment

Panelists Corey E. Devine, of Muskat, Mahony & Devine, and David C. Holmes, of the Law Offices of David C. Holmes, highlighted some of the changes in HB 2730, which addresses the Texas Citizens Participation Act, or TCPA. According to Holmes, the most significant change is the material expansion of types of cases exempted from TCPA’s reach, including employment cases involving theft or trade secrets/corporate opportunities and disputes about non-disparagement and non-compete agreements. Other changes deal with when TCPA applies to a case, right of free speech, right of association, burdens of proof, and fees and sanctions. New language in the amendment narrowed the applicability and changed the definition of “legal action” to exclude procedural actions/motions that do not amend or add claims; alternative dispute resolution proceedings; and post-judgment enforcement actions. The definition of “matter of public concern” in the right of free speech portion was redefined, and a new right added to the act regards “legal action” arising from a person’s gathering, receiving, posting, or processing information for communication to the public for the creation, dissemination, exhibition, or advertisement of a dramatic, literary, musical, political, journalistic, or otherwise artistic work. The new exemptions only apply to cases filed on September 1, 2019, or later.

Legislative Update: Trends in Open Government

Panelists focused on legislative trends in open government law concluded the 86th Texas Legislature made strides in closing loopholes and correcting problems related to the Texas Public Information Act. But the panelists also were quick to point out that the success of the changes may depend on how they are interpreted or policed going forward.

The panel included State Rep. Todd Hunter, a lawyer from Corpus Christi; Justin Gordon, open records chief of the Office of the Texas Attorney Gen-eral; Lauren McGaughy, Texas politics and policy reporter for The Dallas Morning News; Wesley Lewis, associate of Haynes and Boone’s Austin office; and moderator Rudy England, chair of the State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee.

The panelists noted the passage of certain bills such as SB 943, which directly addressed a loophole created by the Texas Supreme Court ruling in Boeing v. Paxton; SB 1640, which restored a “walking quorum” provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act after an appeals court ruling in February declared it unconstitutionally vague; and SB 944, which closed a “custodian” loophole that ideally makes it easer to access public records held on a government official’s private cellphone or email account.

McGaughy was still skeptical: “It’s a huge loophole, and I am concerned that even with this law that it’s not going to be followed.”

AI in Practice

The basis of the legal profession is ambiguity, and the question is how can we get artificial intelligence to handle ambiguity, said panelist Ronald Chichester in a session titled “AI in Practice, Law Firm Cybersecurity, and the Shifting Regulatory Landscape.” Human lawyers ethically can only bill one client at a time, but AI can service multiple clients simultaneously, he noted. In fact, he said AI can communicate and train one another, but it doesn’t work well with ambiguity—and that is key.

How Technology Impacts Lawyers’ Mental Health and What to Do About It

“Smartphones may be the biggest problem for lawyers,” said Chris Ritter, the director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, at an Early Morning Ethics session focused on the impact technology has on lawyers’ mental health. On average, we are checking our phones 150 times a day, he said. “We spend all day in stress.” Whether we are responding to emails and sending text messages or scrolling social media and counting friends, we are bombarded with technology, Ritter said. “It’s dangerous.” In fact, we are spending 10 hours a day on screens, he said. “And it is causing anxiety.” So how do we break the cycle? How can we manage technology? According to Diana Reinhart, a lawyer who now works as a counselor, instead of responding to technology, you have to be in charge of it. She provided a few strategies to effectively get proactive: 1) Set limits—check email two to three times a day, limit social media to 10 minutes per platform per day, monitor your use with the Screen Time app or similar application; 2) Disconnect—turn off technology completely for certain amounts of time by using Do Not Disturb, turning off notifications, not charging your phone beside your bed, and not taking your technology with you on vacation; 3) Manage the apps—delete the apps you are spending too much time on; 4) Unfollow the unhealthy—instead of being inundated with negative messages from people, unfollow them; and 5) Plug into self-care—calendar three things a week for self-care such as practicing mindfulness, practicing gratitude, helping others, practicing self-compassion, and developing a sense of humor.

After Masterpiece Cakeshop

In this session sponsored by the LGBT Law Section, panelist Jody Scheske reviewed the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights, providing a primer on what the decision means and how it’s being used. Scheske said Masterpiece was viewed by LGBTQ equality advocates as an opportunity for a broad-based ruling in their favor, while religious advocates were hoping that former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy would make an exception to the rules for them. The Supreme Court decision was 7-2 in favor of the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Scheske noted three main points raised by Kennedy in his decision, with concurrences from Justices Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch. The first was that courts/agencies must take the assertion of sincerely held religious belief at face value and not judge or characterize or demean it. Secondly, Scheske said that the justices wrote, “[W]hile those religious and philosophical objections are protected, it is a general rule that such objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.” The third issue was whether the wedding cake was a type of speech. The Supreme Court didn’t give much attention to this argument, Scheske said, because the initial conversation between the baker and the couple, which lasted around 20 seconds, resulted in no discussion about what the cake would portray. Upcoming cases of importance to the ruling include Klein d/b/a Sweet Cakes by Melissa v. Ore. Bureau of Labor and Industry and Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey.

Water World

“If you learn anything today, it is ‘groundwater.’ One word. Groundwater is water sent through a grinder,” League City attorney Greg Ellis joked as he kicked off the panel titled “What Every Lawyer Should Know About Water Law.” Humor aside, Ellis and Emily Rogers, of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta, walked attorneys through the basics of groundwater and surface water law in Texas. Rogers, who said the oldest water right in Texas dates back to 1731 in the San Antonio area, explained that some of the most common legal missteps include failing to record ownership of water rights, failing to file a change of ownership application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, not properly reserving a water right, and improperly severing or failing to sever a water right from the land.

Texas Young Lawyers Association

Victor Flores
Victor Flores

TYLA’s new leadership took the helm on June 14 at the JW Marriott in Austin. President Victor A. Flores acknowledged the support from his family, friends, and mentors and challenged attendees to understand why they are playing a role in the legal profession and to pull up the people around them. “Together we have the capacity to help many others,” he said. To see a list of award winners, go to texasbar.com/annualmeetingawards.

Moving the Needle

Texas Bar Foundation Award Winners

In a session titled “Moving the Needle: Examining the Progress Made in Diversifying the Legal Profession,” panelist Toni Nguyen, right, senior counsel to Holland & Knight in Austin, said she was called a “token minority” early in her career. Nguyen sees firms like her own working hard on diversity efforts but said it’s not enough just to have a diverse staff of attorneys. Diversity needs to extend into firm leadership roles, she noted. Panelist Britney Harrison, left, of Goranson-Bain Ausley, who is the first black woman to be elected president-elect of the Texas Young Lawyers Association and will take office as president in 2020, spoke about getting diverse young lawyers involved in leading the profession, emphasizing TYLA’s efforts to serve both fellow attorneys and the public. Panelist Beau Miller, judge of the 190th Civil Court in Houston, said the Harris County Young Lawyers in the Courtroom Program—which gives incentives to counsel who allow younger lawyers to present before the courts—gives young, often diverse attorneys needed experience.

Safeguarding the Rule of Law in an Age of Disinformation

Asha Rangappa
Asha Rangappa

Disinformation is one of the greatest threats to democracy that Americans face today and has the potential to inflict long-term damage to democratic institutions, said General Session Luncheon keynote speaker Asha Rangappa, senior lecturer at Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, a CNN contributor, and former FBI agent. Using various tactics ranging from hacking voter systems to illegal campaign contributions, Russian agents—specifically from an internet-focused propaganda department—made efforts to subvert the democratic process during the 2016 presidential election, she said. For three years, Rangappa worked on counterintelligence investigations at the FBI and observed disinformation on social media platforms through memes and deep fakes and even in the form of fake protests and counterprotests. The goal, she said, is to create chaos and agitate the status quo—something the KGB attempted during the Cold War. With public trust in the rule of law and the idea any individual can have his or her voice heard and treated equally in a court of law at stake, lawyers are the first and last lines of defense, Rangappa said. She pointed to the kinds of organizations that can create an idea of shared civic values and mobilize people above tribal ties: local, state, and national bar associations and lawyers in general. “Members of the legal profession are ideally suited to be educators and disseminators of civic values,” she said. Additionally, lawyers generally are more willing to push aside emotion to uphold the law. “Russia’s attack on our democracy is an invitation for us to examine our relationship with fellow citizens and how technology has affected the way we engage with them online and in real life,” Rangappa said. “We still have time to promote and connect over our democratic principles, including the rule of law, and to generate a long-term immunity against efforts to fragment our democratic social fabric from within.”

What Kanye Can Teach Us About Litigation

What can the mercurial musician and artist Kanye West teach attorneys about litigation? Brent Turman, a senior associate of Bell Nunnally & Martin, and Elliot Mayén, lead producer at DHD Films, said he could teach attorneys quite a bit—good and bad. The panelists put together a list of concepts attorneys can learn from Kanye: understand that due diligence is important; find your voice; put in hard work; listen; use the right strategy; don’t take everything so personally; pay attention to details; get a reaction strategically; push the envelope; realize that mental health is important; and sometimes you need to play chess not checkers. So what’s the takeaway for litigators? Knowing one’s audience is effective in the courtroom—judges know the law if you’re citing it so make it easier for juries to understand what you’re saying. Turman said Kanye has often been criticized for not being able to take a joke. Attorneys can learn from Kanye’s mistake by not taking everything so personally. In the past year, Kanye has been featured more often in the press for his antics and breakdowns than for his art. When things get overwhelming, attorneys need to focus on their well-being, Turman said. If they need extra help, he said, they can reach out to the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program.

Ethics in Aviation

Mark Shaw, of Southwest Airlines; Brad Ferrell, of NetJets; Eric Levenhagen, of Sun Country Airlines; and Bruce Marshall, of AIC Title Service, discussed ethics in their work environments during the State Bar of Texas Aviation Law Section’s panel titled “Ethics in Aviation: The GC’s Perspective.” Shaw described the culture at Southwest Airlines as fun but said all employees are encouraged to do the right thing and follow the golden rule so the work environment can flow smoothly. Ferrell said the culture at NetJets emphasizes safety and service. NetJets’ code of ethics is accountability, trust, and transparency, he said. No matter what job you have, you make sure you help keep the company honest, Ferrell said. Sun Country Airlines had a “get it done” approach, which led to problems, Levenhagen said. Employees were getting things done quickly but were not thinking about how it was getting done. This approach, he said, slowly changed to “get it done and do it the right way.”

Technology in the Courtroom

“You can’t be a caveman lawyer anymore,” said John Browning, a panelist in the session titled “Ethical Issues with Technology in the Courtroom.” Lawyers are now being charged with the duty of being tech competent, Browning said. Lawyers have a duty to make reasonable use of relevant technology, he added. But what are some of the risks of using social media in the courtroom? Panelist Emily A. Miskel, a judge in the 470th District Court in McKinney, said to watch your hashtags and be mindful of confidentiality. Browning said an attorney could get into ethical hot water if he or she divulges confidential information about a client. All the same rules about communication apply to social media, he said. What if an attorney wants to research a juror online? Miskel said that some courts are releasing the list of jurors earlier to level the playing field between big firms, which can assign multiple people to research, and solos, who are tight on resources. According to Browning, the American Bar Association, or ABA, said there is nothing wrong with looking at what is publicly viewable as long as you don’t take the next step of sending a friend request on Facebook or LinkedIn.

State Bar Board Update

By Lowell Brown

Work Group to Help Develop Succession-Planning Resources
The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors voted June 12 to create a work group on succession planning, saying an aging lawyer population made the issue ripe for action.

The work group will recommend resources and programs to the board to help attorneys protect their businesses, families, and clients in the event of their death or inability to practice law, State Bar President Randy Sorrels said.

“When lawyers become incapacitated or they die, there are colleagues, staff, friends, and family who are often left with no understanding of what to do with all these files,” Sorrels told the board. “There’s no direction for them. There are ethical issues that arise. Clients aren’t protected. In summary, it becomes a mess. So our aim this year is to ease that burden.”

The board’s Insurance/Member Benefits Subcommittee made succession-planning resources a priority under the leadership of 2018-2019 State Bar Board Chair Laura Gibson and subcommittee chair Gregory W. Sampson. For that reason, Gibson and Sampson will serve as co-chairs of the work group in 2019-2020, Sorrels said.

In related action, the board approved the creation of the James E. Brill Award for Excellence in Succession Planning to honor individuals or organizations for outstanding contributions to the field. James E. “Jimmy” Brill, of Houston, was named the award’s first recipient for his pioneering work in succession planning.

The median age of the State Bar’s 103,342 active members is 49, one year older than a decade ago. During the same period, the number of active State Bar members over 65 increased from 7,969 (10% of total membership) to 17,937 (17% of total membership).1

Leadership Changes
Richmond criminal defense lawyer Larry P. McDougal Sr. was sworn in as State Bar president-elect on June 13. Jerry C. Alexander, of Dallas, succeeded Gibson as chair of the board of directors. Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann administered the oath of office to new officers and directors.

Asha Rangappa
SWEARING IN Larry P. McDougal Sr., of Richmond, takes the oath of office as 2019-2020 State Bar president-elect.

Asha Rangappa
TAKING THE OATH Jerry C. Alexander, of Dallas, is sworn in as 2019-2020 chair of the board of directors by Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann.

Awards
2018-2019 State Bar President Joe K. Longley presented presidential citations to the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, or ProBAR, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid for their efforts to increase access to justice in immigration and asylum cases. Longley also presented citations to three State Bar directors for exceptional work: public member Estrella Escobar, of El Paso, and district directors Sampson, of Dallas, and Dinesh H. Singhal, of Houston.

Gibson, the outgoing board chair, presented the Public Member Award to Escobar and the Outstanding Third-Year Director Award to Angelica Hernandez, of Houston.

State Bar Executive Director Trey Apffel honored legal secretary Linzy Hill with the Staff Excellence Award for her work to improve the Grievance Referral Program. The program, which is part of the attorney discipline system, allows lawyers who are accused of minor misconduct and otherwise meet the program’s eligibility standards to complete a remedial or rehabilitation program in exchange for the dismissal of the complaint against them.

Go to texasbar.com/board to watch videos of the meetings. TBJ

Note
1. State Bar of Texas Membership: Attorney Statistical Pro-file (2018-2019), available at texasbar.com/research.

 

In other action, the board:

  • Approved appointments to the board’s Social Media Engagement Team, which will work to increase communication with members;

  • Heard a report from outside counsel on the McDonald v. Longley litigation, which challenges the mandatory bar in Texas. (Note: The style of this case officially changed to McDonald v. Sorrels in July.) Go to texasbar.com/mcdonaldvsorrels to read filings in the case; and

  • Approved policy manual changes to:

    • require directors to use State Bar email accounts to facilitate records retention,

    • place limits on international travel for State Bar business based on U.S. Department of State travel advisories,

    • update procedures for submitting resolutions to the Annual Meeting Resolution Committee, and

    • prevent a board member from participating in deliberations if the member is an adverse party to the State Bar in the matter being discussed.

Details of the policy manual changes can be found at texasbar.com/policymanualchanges.

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