Plans for a New Bar Year
A new bar year is underway, and the State Bar of Texas is redoubling
its efforts to help lawyers and all Texans as we work together to solve
challenges and ease burdens brought by the coronavirus pandemic and the
economic problems and civil unrest on display across our state.
Our leadership team is firmly committed to addressing the problems that lawyers and the public are facing in a world where so much has changed so rapidly. During my year as president, the State Bar will tackle a variety of issues, including the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis of lawyer suicides. Among other priorities, we are also taking steps to further improve member benefits, including tools for lawyer succession planning, even as we work toward calling the first election on disciplinary rule changes since 2011.
Continued COVID-19 Response
The State Bar continues to work with the Texas Supreme Court, Office of Court Administration, legal aid groups, local and specialty bars, and other stakeholders to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. This is an ongoing effort, so there will be more to report in the coming weeks and months.
Attorney Well-Being/Suicide Prevention
Lawyers are consistently at or near the top of the list of all professionals in suicide rates. Working through the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, we will seek to reduce the number of attorney suicides and increase the well-being and fitness of Texas lawyers and law students by educating them about the symptoms of depression and suicide and how to prevent or address these conditions.
Enhanced Member Benefits
The State Bar’s 2020-2021 budget focuses on investing in information technology infrastructure and improving services to members. The budget added resources to programs that provide concrete services to Texas lawyers—including member benefits, law practice management, and TLAP—without a dues increase and while maintaining the long-term goal of keeping three months of operating expenditures in reserves. Of course, the State Bar leadership continues to study the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on bar finances and will make adjustments as needed.
Succession Planning Initiative
For client protection and emergency management, the State Bar urges members to evaluate contingency plans and designate in advance a custodian attorney. As a member benefit, the bar recently launched a portal at texasbar.com/succession that makes it easy for Texas lawyers to designate custodians. We will continue to promote the portal and other succession planning resources in the upcoming year.
2021 Rules Vote
In 2017, the Legislature created the Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda to oversee the initial process for proposing a disciplinary rule change while maximizing public feedback. The committee’s recommendations go to the State Bar Board of Directors as part of a process that ultimately includes a rules vote by the membership and adoption or rejection by the Texas Supreme Court. The State Bar board continues to review possible changes to the disciplinary rules in advance of a potential vote by the membership in 2021. You will be hearing much more about this effort soon.
My priorities also include continuing to advocate for grievance reform as well as a statewide courthouse access badge for Texas lawyers. I have also called for moving the State Bar Ethics Helpline out of the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel so lawyers can be assured the helpline is independent from the grievance system. I’m pleased to say that Executive Director Trey Apffel and Chief Disciplinary Counsel Seana Willing have indicated they are working to make that change to the helpline.
I look forward to working with you over the next year. I welcome your ideas and comments on how the State Bar can best fulfill its mission.
State Bar of Texas
Larry McDougal can be reached by email at email@example.com.