STATE BAR BOARD UPDATE

Directors: Online Portal to Make Custodian Designation Simple for Attorneys

By Lowell Brown

SBOT Board Update Main
State Bar of Texas President Randy Sorrels (right) presents Keri D. Brown with a resolution for exceptional service to the legal profession and community.


When a lawyer suddenly dies or is incapacitated without a succession plan, the results can be chaotic for clients, colleagues, and family members.

In the interest of emergency preparedness, the State Bar of Texas urges all lawyers to designate one or more custodian-attorneys who could wind down their practices if the need arose, consistent with Part XIII of the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. Starting this spring, an online portal will make the designation process much easier.

The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors voted January 24 to approve the creation of the portal, which will allow Texas lawyers to designate custodian-attorneys electronically through their “My Bar Page” at texasbar.com. The portal will officially launch on April 1.

In Recess Minor
State Bar of Texas President Randy Sorrels (right) presents Tobias A. “Toby” Cole with a resolution for exceptional service to the legal profession and community.


“There is not any easier process anywhere in the country,” said Immediate Past Board Chair Laura Gibson, who co-chairs the board’s succession planning work group.

Through the portal, Texas lawyers will be able to search for and select attorneys to designate as custodians. Those selected will receive an email notification and can either accept or decline the designation. If an attorney accepts the designation, his or her name will appear as the requesting attorney’s designated custodian on “My Bar Page” and in State Bar records.

The portal is part of the State Bar’s renewed focus on attorney succession planning, which includes the board’s work group, a succession-planning guide, and other resources available at texasbar.com/succession. The work group is developing educational materials to help publicize these resources and encourage attorneys to use them, Gibson said.

 

Proposed rule changes. The board continues to review possible changes to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct in advance of a potential rules vote by the membership in late 2020 or early 2021. The board approved proposed changes to Rule 6.05 related to conflicts of interest exceptions for nonprofit and limited pro bono legal work, while rejecting proposed amendments to Rule 1.01 regarding competent and diligent representation. Also, directors referred proposed changes to the attorney advertising rules (Part VII) back to committee for further study of the existing prohibition on trade names.

 

Ombudsman report. The board received an update from Stephanie Lowe, ombudsman for the attorney discipline system, on her office’s first annual report, which is available at texasbar.com/annualreports. The 85th Texas Legislature created the office as an independent monitor of the discipline system and a source of information for the public.

 

Finance and budget. The State Bar received an unmodified, or “clean,” opinion for its 2018-2019 fiscal year financial audit. The board voted unanimously to approve the proposed 2020-2021 fiscal year budget for publication in this issue of the Texas Bar Journal. A public hearing on the budget will be held at 9 a.m. April 7 at the Texas Law Center in Austin, followed by a board vote on April 17 to submit the proposed budget to the Texas Supreme Court for review and final approval.

In Recess Minor
State Bar of Texas President Randy Sorrels (right) presents Houston Bar Association Associate Executive Director Tara Shockley with a resolution for exceptional service to the legal profession and community.


Member benefits. A new member discount on gym memberships with 24 Hour Fitness was announced. Also, directors approved renewal of the State Bar’s contract with Member Benefits, which administers the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange, for a 10-year term. Go to texasbar.com/benefits for information on State Bar member benefits.

 

Board chair election. Directors heard comments from the three candidates for 2020-2021 chair of the board: Charlie Ginn, of McKinney; Wendy-Adele Humphrey, of Lubbock; and Carmen Roe, of Houston. The board will vote by written ballot to elect a new chair at its April 17 meeting in Bryan.

 

Mandatory bar challenges. Executive Director Trey Apffel updated the board on litigation challenging the mandatory bar structure. The trend reflected in court rulings so far is that the law allowing mandatory bars is settled and can only be changed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Apffel said. Plaintiffs in North Dakota and Wisconsin have filed petitions asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider their cases. At the time of the board meeting, other lawsuits were pending in Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas. Go to texasbar.com/mcdonaldvsorrels to read the court filings.

 

New award. Directors agreed to create the Janna Clarke Award for Promoting Excellence in Local Bar Associations to recognize outstanding work at the State Bar level that facilitates leadership among local bars and collaboration between the State Bar and local bars. The award bears the name of the late Janna Ward Clarke, a Fort Worth attorney and former chair of the State Bar of Texas Local Bar Services Committee.

 

Recognitions. With the board holding its quarterly meeting in Houston, President Randy Sorrels presented resolutions to local attorneys Keri D. Brown and Tobias A. “Toby” Cole and Houston Bar Association Associate Executive Director Tara Shockley for exceptional service to the legal profession and community. Apffel presented a Staff Excellence Award to Austra Runnels, office manager of the Houston division of the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.TBJ

 

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