Executive Director's Page

COVID-19 Pandemic Brought Changes Big and Small

Headshot of Trey Apffel

The pandemic that has gripped our world for the past 14 months has affected every aspect of our lives and livelihoods.

While our world and business suffered a cataclysmic shift with the closing of courthouses and the addition of work restrictions, lawyers, law firms, judges, and our court system proved their adaptability. We moved from office work to dining table work, from in-person hearings to Zoom hearings. There were a few bumps (and cat filters) along the way, but this test has shown the overall resiliency of the legal profession.

At the same time, the State Bar of Texas changed and adapted, searching for the best ways to serve and support Texas lawyers during this challenging time.

There were immediate alterations such as the quick transition of all CLE and events to an online format. The membership department sought and obtained an extension from the Texas Supreme Court to extend the payment of bar fees from August 31, 2020, to October 31, 2020. The MCLE department provided compliance extensions beginning with attorneys who had birthdays in November 2019. Those extensions continued rolling through all of 2020 and some extensions continue today.

TexasBarCLE developed free online courses relevant to the pandemic and has continued complimentary offerings on a variety of topics, including adding storm-related courses after Winter Storm Uri. Since June 1, TexasBarCLE has provided close to $5 million in free CLE events. These courses are available to all lawyers at texasbarcle.com in the Online Classroom under Free Online Classes. TexasBarCLE has also provided $594,000 in free CLE to legal aid lawyers and $148,000 in scholarships during the current bar year.

As noted in a past column, the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program staff shifted even more resources online, including presentations and access to online lawyer support groups. TLAP’s confidential services remained available 24/7 and they are available today to anyone who calls or texts 800-343-TLAP (8527).

TLAP professionals report that over the past several months, they’ve witnessed the intensity of the mental health struggles of Texas lawyers, judges, and law students skyrocket as they grapple with fear, isolation, grief, and anxiety. For those who’ve lost loved ones or struggled with deepening anxiety, the weight of the past year has been immeasurable and my heart goes out to anyone suffering. TLAP professionals and resources are available to you. Please reach out for help.

TLAP also is offering Just Ask: How We Must Stop Minding Our Own Business in the Legal World, a new, free one-hour CLE on depression and suicide prevention that can be accessed from the website tlaphelps.org. Every lawyer should take advantage of this CLE. Simply put, it could save someone’s life.

Aside from the services bar staff adapted or implemented directly to assist lawyers during the pandemic, sometimes help came in the smallest way: in the form of a friendly listener.

The bar employs two amazing attorneys who answer calls placed to the Ethics Helpline (800-532-3947). The toll-free helpline is designed to help Texas attorneys who have specific ethics questions to which they have been unable to find answers.

Throughout the pandemic, these attorneys continued answering ethics questions, but they also began to notice a trend: the calls from lawyers became longer and often strayed from ethics questions into more general concerns about the pandemic, their lives, how to make ends meet, and how to make sense of it all. While the calls may have begun with a professional concern, callers in general seemed to be craving an interpersonal connection, ethics attorney Rita Alister said.

Alister and her colleague, ethics attorney Ellen Pitluk, described in general terms emotional calls from lawyers who had just lost their jobs, lawyers going through a firm breakup, some pondering how to market themselves in this economy, and others fearful they would be forced into an in-person meeting, putting their health or their loved ones at risk.

Alister and Pitluk answered the lawyers’ questions, listened when needed, and referred several to TLAP for more specialized help. At the same time, they experienced a flow of gratitude back from those they helped. Some called back to thank them or left voicemails of appreciation.

It’s not lost on Alister. “I feel really lucky to be another professional that these lawyers can call and kind of open up to,” she said. “I feel like this last year has been such a blessing to me. I liked my job before this, but it has really kept me sane and happy and fulfilled and connected.”

Same here, Rita. Nothing makes me happier than hearing how this bar is able to serve and help its members in good times and in bad.


Executive Director, State Bar of Texas
Editor-in-Chief, Texas Bar Journal

Trey Apffel can be reached at 512-427-1500, trey.apffel@texasbar.com or @ApffelT on Twitter.

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