STATE BAR BOARD UPDATE
CLE Courses on Bias, Attorney Well-Being to Qualify for Ethics Credit
Board approves MCLE accreditation changes, new workgroup on lawyer needs.
Written by Lowell Brown
The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors voted April 16 to approve amendments to the MCLE Accreditation Standards to allow courses on implicit and explicit bias, mental health, and substance use issues to qualify for ethics credit.
The board accepted the recommendation of the bar’s Minimum Continuing Legal Education Committee, which leaves bias and wellness courses as voluntary options for Texas lawyers, who could count those courses toward their requirement of three ethics hours per year starting June 1.
Although the board’s vote was unanimous, some directors said they believed more study was needed to determine whether the bar should make implicit bias courses mandatory for all Texas lawyers. President-elect Sylvia Borunda Firth said the board was reserving the right to revisit the issue of voluntary versus mandatory implicit bias training. As part of its action on April 16, the board asked its Administration Committee to study the matter and return to the full board with a recommendation. Separately, Borunda Firth’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is also studying the issue.
New workgroup on lawyer needs. Meeting virtually by videoconference, the board also approved President Larry McDougal’s request to create the Workgroup on Texas Lawyer Needs Arising From the 2020 Pandemic and 2021 Winter Storm. Former State Bar board chairs Roger Key and Cindy Tisdale will co-chair the 11-member workgroup, which will work to identify areas where the bar can continue or expand efforts to help members who are facing continued challenges, consistent with the bar’s statutory purposes.
McDougal said many Texas lawyers have struggled financially, mentally, and physically due to challenges brought by the pandemic and winter storm. Since April 2020, the nonprofit Sheeran-Crowley Memorial Trust provided over $246,000 in grants to 85 attorneys, almost doubling the amount of annual assistance provided to Texas lawyers in need, he said. The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program refers attorneys to the trust when they demonstrate financial need and could benefit from mental health or substance use treatment. In addition to the workgroup, McDougal announced the bar would seek to help struggling lawyers by donating $150,000 to the trust using unspent funds from the bar’s 2020-2021 budget.
The board also heard updates from other bar task forces and workgroups on criminal court proceedings during the pandemic; public protection and grievance review; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and bar standing committees.
Day of Civility resolution. Directors approved a resolution in support of the Texas Day of Civility in the Law on September 17. The Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals adopted similar resolutions. Local bars led by the Dallas Bar Association will host a virtual Day of Civility celebration on September 17 that will be open to lawyers statewide.
Finance and budget. The board voted to submit the proposed 2021-2022 fiscal year budget to the Supreme Court for review and approval. The proposed budget and other financial documents are available at texasbar.com/finances.
New board chair-elect. The board elected District 10, Place 2 Director Santos Vargas chair of the board for the 2021-2022 bar year. Vargas, a shareholder in Davis & Santos in San Antonio, is a former president of the San Antonio Bar Association and the San Antonio Young Lawyers Association and a past chair of the State Bar of Texas Local Bar Services Committee. He is a fellow of the Texas and San Antonio bar foundations and a member of the William S. Sessions American Inn of Court.
New at-large director. Kelly-Ann Clarke, assistant vice president and senior legal counsel to AT&T Services in Dallas, was appointed to an at-large director position. She will serve a three-year term starting in June.
Committee appointments. The board approved Borunda Firth’s appointments to the bar’s standing committees for 2021-2022.
Recognitions. McDougal presented a resolution honoring Waco lawyer Vic Feazell. Executive Director Trey Apffel presented Staff Excellence Awards to ethics attorneys Rita Alister and Ellen Pitluk, who answer the State Bar Ethics Helpline.
Looking ahead. The next scheduled board meetings will take place June 16-17. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. To find your district directors, go to texasbar.com/board and click on “Board Members.” TBJ
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Go to youtube.com/statebaroftexas to watch the April 16 board meeting. Find meeting agendas and materials at texasbar.com/bodmaterials.TBJ