State Bar Director Spotlight

Derek Cook

Interview by Eric Quitugua

Photo courtesy of Derek Cook

Position: Shareholder/Litigator at Lynch, Chappell & Alsup in Midland
Board Member: District 16

Growing up, for some reason, I was always attracted to lawyers on TV shows I watched with my parents and grandparents, like Matlock.
When my parents divorced, I realized how much lawyers could impact people’s lives, both positively or negatively depending on the circumstances. I wanted to be someone who could influence constructive change on my community. So, I decided to become a lawyer.

I had always wanted to try a civil jury trial as the first chair attorney.

Last year, I had the opportunity after a judge partially reversed a wholly dispositive summary judgment ruling received the previous week. Because of that ruling, I’d done no trial preparation. After the denial of my continuance request, I had to conduct and prepare for trial on the fly. I credit the directed verdict my client received to the excellent trial advovacy training I received while in practice court at Baylor Law School.

I always attach the Texas Lawyer’s Creed to my engagement letter

and make sure the potential new client understands I will abide by it throughout the matter, including freely giving discovery and other extensions upon another attorney’s request.

I would say the most important thing is to maintain self-awareness of your personal wellness during those high-stress years of education and practice.

I admit that I did not do those things and fell into bad habits that I’ve openly discussed at various bar functions, including drinking alcoholically. I’m fortunate to be in recovery today and strive to use my platform as a bar director to let Texas attorneys know there is help available through the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program and other resources.

My partner, mentor, and former State Bar of Texas president Harper Estes asked me if I’d be interested in running for the position of director.

I’d previously served on the board of the Midland County Bar Association and saw this as an opportunity to continue maintaining the legacy of service on which our firm prides itself.

I view lawyer wellness as one of the most critical issues facing Texas attorneys, and as someone in recovery, I know firsthand the personal and secondhand effects not taking care of yourself properly can have.

I hope to use my position to bring about awareness to issues like alcoholism, addiction, attorney suicide, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that affect our constituents. My primary aim is to help minimize the stigma attached to these issues to encourage attorneys to reach out to others for assistance.

At a recent bar meeting focused on President Larry McDougal’s social media posts, I shared my story of recovery with the board and the many people who streamed the meeting.

I was overwhelmed by the positive response I received. That response reinforced to me that what I discussed was important to many Texas lawyers, and I have since joined the Justice in Leadership Workgroup formed during that meeting to help address attorney wellness and stigmatization of mental health issues within the bar.

Empathy is a prerequisite to being a bar director.
One must have the ability to listen to, understand, and perhaps share the feelings of another attorney or member of the public who has traveled a different path than the director. Putting aside your own feelings, if only for a second, to try and understand another’s point of view, in my opinion, enables the director to better serve their diverse constituency.

Before joining the board, I was largely unaware of the numerous member benefits available to members.

I served on the Member Benefits Committee last year and saw firsthand the hard work done by board members and staff—led by Cory Squires—to give members the best return on their bar dues in the form of insurance, discounts, and related benefits.

Being informed and willing to be involved and of service are the best ways to maximize your bar membership.
When I speak at local bar events, I joke that I was elected after a hard-fought campaign against “Write-In.” If you do not like the direction the bar is headed or disagree with certain policies, you can download a form, round up signatures, and join the fray to make this bar the best it can be.

The top issue facing Texas attorneys today is ensuring they and the public know the bar is focused on making the bar as inclusive and diverse as possible.
Every person has the right to feel and be equal to their peers, particularly in the eyes of the bar. While it may be impossible to wholly achieve that goal, I have seen the commitment and action by directors to “bend the moral arc” of the bar toward achieving that goal.

In my time on the board, I believe we have

greatly expanded and improved member benefits, including a focus on educating the membership about what benefits are available; realized and worked to better the bar in terms of inclusion and diversity; and acted to bring awareness to and minimize the stigma of mental health, addiction, and suicide issues impacting our membership.TBJ


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