Texas Young Lawyers Association Election 2020
The Texas Bar Journal asked 2020-2021 Texas Young Lawyers Association president-elect candidates Donald Delgado (left) and Jeanine Novosad Rispoli (right) to share their perspectives on issues facing young lawyers in the state. For biographical information on the candidates, go to texasbar.com/elections or see p. 164 of the March issue. NOTE: Because of uncertainty regarding the ability of the State Bar’s election vendor to receive and process paper ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic, voting will be online only. The deadline to cast online ballots is extended by one month. Vote online from April 1 to May 29.
Why do you want to serve as president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association?
Delgado: Servant leadership is one of the principles by which I try to live my life. I believe that a great leader is one who leverages authority for the benefit of those around them and their organization. I want to serve as president of TYLA so I can leverage that position to be an advocate for our nearly 27,000 members. Since 2016, I have served on the TYLA Board of Directors and I have seen firsthand the great work that our members across the state are doing for our communities and for our profession; I want to highlight and continue supporting our members’ great work with resources that will help them be successful. I also want to serve as president to ensure that TYLA members’ needs and expectations are being met and that they are receiving some sort of tangible benefit from their TYLA membership.
I see serving as president as an opportunity to give back to a profession that has given me so much, to serve Texans in need, and to serve alongside some of the most talented and smartest lawyers in the country.
Rispoli: There are many reasons why I want to serve as the president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association—far too many to list here. TYLA builds friendships and professional relationships with lawyers around the state, and I love meeting young lawyers. I have been grateful for TYLA’s role in my life and want to share TYLA with all the young lawyers of Texas.
But the heart of the matter is that the primary reason I want to serve in TYLA is the same reason I became a lawyer in the first place. It was through the work of lawyers that I found my adoptive family. Growing up I always knew that I wanted to be a lawyer so that I could give hope to people—just like those who gave hope to me. That is why I want to serve. TYLA is the organization that can be used in the same way—lawyers giving people hope through the clients and communities they serve. If I am elected president-elect of TYLA, I will focus upon making life better for you, the legal profession, and the public, because “Better Together” is not just a catchphrase for me.
What are the three most important issues facing young lawyers in Texas and what role should TYLA play in addressing them?
Delgado: Young lawyers are facing increasing demands on their lives. We expect ourselves to be the perfect employee, boss, parent, spouse, volunteer, board member, etc. This leads to stress, anxiety, and compassion fatigue. Thankfully, TYLA has developed, and is currently developing, resources to help deal with these everyday stressors.
Another problem facing younger lawyers is developing the practical legal and business skills needed to be successful. Some of the TYLA local affiliates have developed workshops and boot camps to help fill this gap. Another great resource is TYLA’s Young Gunners podcast that offers practical advice for young lawyers.
Lastly, student debt is crippling many young lawyers and can lead to anxiety, depression, and substance use. Empowering law students with information regarding student loan debt is important. For young lawyers, one of the ways that I believe TYLA could help is by developing an educational web series to help with money management skills.
Rispoli: Burnout and wellness. Young lawyers can be overwhelmed by student loan debt, an unrelenting workload, or the struggle to keep up. Many feel that they are on their own. I have been fortunate to have friends who walked beside me—sometimes literally with our dogs—and their support and advice helped me overcome and succeed. It’s important for TYLA to develop and improve resources to support young lawyers.
Fulfillment. I am reenergized when I volunteer in a clinic, but that isn’t realistic for all young lawyers. TYLA can offer volunteering opportunities that offer fulfillment without just adding to workload and stress.
Leadership training and opportunities. “Baby lawyers” aren’t often given the chance to lead or learn new professional skills, yet they are expected to develop their skills and resume. TYLA can make the existing training resources easier to use and develop leadership opportunities that fit into a young lawyer’s life.
You have served the profession in a number of capacities at a number of levels. Which of these experiences has best prepared you to lead TYLA?
Delgado: I was elected to TYLA’s board of directors in 2016, and during my term, I have held various leadership positions such as project lead, committee chair, executive committee adviser, and now as vice president. When I first joined the organization I thought I was a good leader and I knew what a good leader was; however, as I gained more responsibility within the board, my leadership skills evolved with each task that I was given. The most important thing I have learned is that doing all of the work for a particular task is not good leadership. I have learned that a good leader helps develop new leaders. One way to do this is to empower the members of the team to have meaningful decision-making responsibilities early and often to help them gain confidence in themselves and in their fellow team members.
Rispoli: My experiences on state and local committees and the leadership training I’ve participated in have prepared me to lead TYLA. I have learned to creatively problem solve and think outside the box. This year I co-chaired the Texas Courts for Texas Veterans project, which is dear to me because of my grandfather’s military service. We were passionate about the project’s purpose and ambitious with our goals, but we needed to be strategic about our resources and utilize the interests and skill sets of our committee members. Using skills I learned in nonprofit strategic planning, I developed partnerships with the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and Baylor Law School. These partnerships enabled us to secure high-profile speakers and complete several videos instead of just one—without spending any of the allocated budget. I am proud of the work our committee members put into this project and grateful for the partnerships that increased the project’s impact.
If a college student sought your advice on whether to pursue a legal career, how would you answer?
Delgado: Lawyers help people when they’re faced with a problem they cannot handle on their own. Helping people is one of the common traits you’ll find across the board for most lawyers. At some level, at some point, that’s what brought us to this profession. Some of our TYLA members may not necessarily represent individuals, but behind every institutional client are people and families that can be adversely affected if something goes wrong. So if you have a passion for helping people and enjoy the process of finding the solutions to their problems, then you should look into the legal field.
Rispoli: It’s not as simple as saying, “You should/shouldn’t do this.” It’s about finding what’s right for each person. That’s why I encourage all prospective law students to shadow an attorney. I worked for lawyers in high school and college, and those jobs taught me invaluable lessons about the reality of a law career. I have an intern, Kate, through the same college program that provided an internship to me. We talk about how empowering and fulfilling a law degree can be. I’m candid about how this career has sleepless nights but also makes a difference. I recently took Kate to our local veterans clinic. She was moved to tears by the stories she heard but later shared how happy she was that these programs help people who are struggling. I’m sure that experience hooked her on a law career, and I know her heart for others will serve our profession well.
How do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
Delgado: It is a work in progress. Before we had children, there was no balance; it was lopsided toward work. Even though I’m lucky to be at a firm that promotes and believes in a healthy work-life balance, I still found it hard to practice. However, my oldest daughter was born with a heart defect that required open-heart surgery, and going through that with her really put things into perspective. Since then, I’ve worked hard to recognize the tension between work and family life and to achieve a healthy balance.
I pride myself in waking up early with the kids and spending time with them before I go to work and then coming home early enough to play and read with them before putting them to bed. I try to never have my phone on me when I’m spending time with them. This helps me to compartmentalize work and family time.
Rispoli: I have accepted that I cannot do and be all things all at once. If I start to doubt that fact, I’m probably spending too much time on social media! My husband and I are both passionate about our careers and community service so we can empathize with each other and remind ourselves to be present. We work as a team to find long-term balance and harmony. When I take time to be active and outside and to connect with my friends and family, I find a new perspective and energy that makes me a better lawyer, friend, and spouse. My Labrador, Khaleesi, reminds me regularly that happiness can be found outside with a friend—even if that friend is on the phone. Walking phone dates connect me to faraway friends and family. It’s a great way to catch up, and Khaleesi doesn’t seem to mind!TBJ