Bar Leaders Conference 2019

By Adam Faderewski, Patricia Busa McConnico, and Eric Quitugua

Some 300 local bar leaders traveled to Houston from across the state in mid-July to learn about leadership, access to justice opportunities, ways to engage members, resources to help grow their organizations, and more at the Bar Leaders Conference at the Westin Galleria. Hosted by the State Bar of Texas Local Bar Services Committee, the Texas Young Lawyers Association, and the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the annual conference offers education and networking for local bar executives, young lawyer affiliates, and other volunteer leaders through panel discussions, roundtable discussions, team building exercises, and award presentations. Outreach to local bars helps to fulfill one of the purposes outlined in the State Bar Act. The following are highlights from this year’s conference.

Photo by Eric Quitugua

Where You Start May Not Be Where You Finish
When the topic of bar leadership comes up, most people don’t think of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical Hamilton. But according to Elizabeth Derrico (above), the keynote speaker at the State Bar of Texas Bar Leaders Conference in Houston, there are many similarities. First and foremost, bar leaders need to be flexible and open to possibilities. Miranda was on vacation when he read Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton—an acclaimed biography of one of America’s Founding Fathers and the nation’s first secretary of the treasury—and decided to create a musical chronicling his life. Derrico, who is a principal in Elizabeth Derrico & Associates and assists organizations throughout the country with everything from strategic planning and board development to organizational assessments and executive searches, stressed that bar leaders need to think in new combinations, defer to the talents of others, and realize when they are wrong. And of course, they need to build and maintain relationships. She pointed to the connection Miranda had with legendary lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Derrico ended with this quote from Hamilton: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”


Professionalism and Civility
Members of the State Bar of Texas Professionalism Committee discussed why professionalism and civility in the legal profession are more important than ever right now. A young attorney often can learn about the importance of decorum and professionalism from an experienced mentor. The panelists provided resources for local bars to implement a mentorship program, directing attendees to the SBOT Mentoring Network at, and sponsor a Day of Civility, which is an opportunity to reaffirm the Texas Lawyer’s Creed.


Creating a Strategic Plan for Your Organization
Derrico, the principal in Elizabeth Derrico & Associates, said strategic plans give associations a chance to clarify, redirect, reset, affirm, commit, and reposition aims. She said bars should consider what they want their impact to be and what they want their members to say about their bar. Derrico said operational plans created through strategic planning are most effective when they are for the association itself, rather than a one-year plan put in place for a single person’s term.


Incubating Socially Conscious Law Practices
Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator Director Anne-Marie Rábago gave an overview of the status of justice incubators across the country, stating that the initial focus—teaching lawyers the business of running a law firm—has changed to providing access to justice to all Americans. She said only 1 in 5 low-income Americans and 2 in 5 modest-income Americans find help for their civil legal services. Learn more about TOJI on pages 701 and 702.


Access to Justice Update
Betty Balli Torres, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and Trish McAllister, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, gave attendees a primer on the state of access to justice in Texas. Some 8.67 million people are in need of and qualify for legal aid, McAllister said. She highlighted some areas to consider to increase services to the poor: upping funding to hire more lawyers for legal aid programs, utilizing more pro bono attorneys, and making it easier for courts to help people and for people to help themselves. McAllister and Torres gave an update on the 86th Legislature and said there were several bills benefiting those whom legal aid programs serve, such as HB 996, which addresses “zombie debt” by prohibiting debt buyers from suing to collect on time-barred debts, and SB 234, which expands the list of allowable documentation to break a lease to include a letter from a domestic violence advocate.


Helping Attorneys Before They Need Help From TLAP
Five panelists shared their stories of battling addiction and depression and the ways they’ve managed the stress of being attorneys. State Bar of Texas Past President Allan DuBois suggested getting out of the mindset that you’re defined as a lawyer. Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program Staff Attorney Erica Grigg said she connects with people outside of the legal realm because lawyers live in an “alternate universe.” She said it’s important to have an outside perspective of the world. TLAP Director Chris Ritter suggested learning how to process trauma and calendaring yourself at least one hour a day to focus on your wellness.


Tricks to Building Effective and Eye-Catching Social Media Posts
State Bar of Texas Pro Bono Programs Administrator Hannah Allison and Adam Faderewski, State Bar social media coordinator and Texas Bar Journal associate editor, showed how to make quick and compelling graphics for social media. Faderewski suggested using Canva, an online graphics program, to make images for social media and recommended creating templates to save time. Allison discussed tactics for Instagram posts, including making Boomerangs and using the Typorama app to make engaging text graphics to be added to photos or videos.


The G.O.A.L. of Law-Related Education
The State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education, or LRE, team discussed opportunities for attorneys to learn more about civic education and engagement. LRE Director Jan Miller and LRE Coordinator Dodie Kasper walked the crowd through the LRE website,, which is chock-full of TEKS-aligned resources for educators and students wanting to learn more about the law, including games such as Citizen Bee, Liam Learns, I was the first. Vote for Me!, Bee in a Box, and Justiceville. The most significant way for students to learn about civics is for attorneys to get in the classrooms and talk about their profession, provide materials, and discuss the importance of the rule of law.


ATJ Pro Bono Poverty Simulation
To get some outside perspective on the struggles faced by low-income clients, participants took part in a simulation of what it takes for some to even get through their day-to-day lives. Each was given a script identifying who they are and a list of errands they needed to run. Working with barriers such as an allotted amount of transportation passes or factors such as long lines, participants needed to navigate getting loans, paying bills, getting groceries, or—more dramatically—finding a shelter. No matter the task, when their scripts prompted, the participants would have to open from their packet an envelope that represented an unexpected life surprise. The name of the game for this experiment: realizing just how desperate the need for pro bono attorneys is.


Google Does Not Trust You; How Can You Make It?
MediaSmack President Amanda Snowden led a session showing organizations how to look more critically at their websites to see if Google should trust them. A firm’s website must focus on end-user experience and have a responsive website design, she said. To gain Google’s trust, Snowden suggested creating each page with unique content of about 750 words, responding to online reviews posted on other websites, and creating content for other websites to build backlinks to your website. The rewards are higher rankings in search results and more traffic to your site.


Show Up and Step Up
Members of Houston’s legal profession gathered to discuss diversity. Audrey Chang, of Greenberg Traurig, said attorneys should use their leverage to bring others—whether lawyers or clerks—into the fold. As an example of this, Chevazz Brown, of Jackson Walker, pointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where bankruptcy judges have recognized the need for diversity and have invited law students to events to get the word out to their schools as well as members of the profession. Moderator Juan Garcia offered a point to consider when recruiting people from different backgrounds: “There is a question of why they should join the firm or bar, etc.” Building on that, the session turned into a conversation among attendees.


Technology and Mental Health
Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program Director Chris Ritter primed his audience on the pitfalls of not limiting your screen time. Technology reminds people of the things they haven’t done, wastes time that could be spent on self-care or sleep, results in an addictive cycle of stimulation, and substitutes for actual social interaction, he said. The TLAP director offered four main pieces of advice to curb the ill effects of too much tech: 1) check email two to three times a day; 2) limit social media to 10 minutes per platform per day; 3) monitor use with apps such as Screen Time; and 4) use “do not disturb.”


Staying Relevant: Serving a Diverse Community
This session was a chance for local bar leaders to learn how they can put together projects that best serve their communities. Led by Texas Young Lawyers Association leadership, “Staying Relevant” showcased some of TYLA’s signature projects with some insight from directors on their goals and tips for making sure those projects reach the public. TYLA Vice President Donald Delgado discussed Slavery Out of the Shadows, the group’s Telly-winning documentary that details stories of victims caught in human trafficking in America and was designed to help educate the media, lawyers, district attorneys, and the public on signs of human trafficking. TYLA Immediate Past President Sally Pretorius talked about Proud to Be an American, which includes videos giving students K-12 an overview of basic civic duties such as voting, jury duty, or obeying laws. TYLA Secretary Michael Ritter gave advice on how to spread project ideas to other bars—simply visit with others to talk about your own ideas. “They do that and odds are someone will roll out a similar project.”TBJ


Texas Young Lawyers Association President Victor A. Flores (far left) and TYLA Immediate Past President Sally Pretorius (far right) present awards to members of the Austin Young Lawyers Association. Photo by Patricia Busa McConnico.

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