State Bar Director Spotlight
Interview by Eric Quitugua
Photo courtesy of Santos Vargas
Hometown: Port Arthur
Position: Partner in Davis & Santos in San Antonio
Board Member: District 10, Place 2; Chair since 2021
When I was growing up, my father introduced me to his lawyer, Mike Cichowski, from Port Arthur.
I was with my father on a few occasions when they met, and I was impressed even at a young age by how Mike handled himself. He was very intelligent, professional, and polished, while still managing to be extremely kind and down to earth. Before my introduction to Mike, my perception of lawyers had been shaped by what I had seen portrayed on television or movies. But the traits I saw in Mike really resonated with the type of person I wanted to be when I grew up. That is when I became interested in becoming a lawyer. Although he may not have realized it, the impression Mike made on me as a young man was profound.
My “welcome to law practice” moment came a couple of years into my practice.
A lawyer I knew had a scheduling conflict for an upcoming jury trial on a car accident case. The lawyer asked me if I would agree to sit second chair for the trial if another more seasoned lawyer agreed to handle the trial as first chair.
This was going to be my first jury trial and I only knew the most basic facts of the case, but I agreed because I wanted to gain the experience. Halfway through voir dire, the lawyer handling the trial as first chair “went to the bathroom” and never came back. After a couple of minutes of stalling, the judge ordered us to start back up since we had a panel waiting on us. I went on to try the case by myself and ended up winning on liability and damages.
Believe it or not, I never received an explanation as to why the first chair lawyer never came back. As horrified as I was at the time as a new lawyer, I’ve since come to appreciate how much that experience has helped me conquer my fears.
Several years ago, I was nominated to serve on the State Bar of Texas Local Bar Services Committee and eventually became chair of that committee.
Through my service on the Local Bar Services Committee, I was able to get to know and work with several members of the amazing staff and leadership at the State Bar. I was impressed with their passion for the State Bar’s mission and their tireless efforts to accomplish that mission. After my term as president of the San Antonio Bar Association, I decided to run for State Bar director because I wanted to continue being a part of this truly remarkable organization. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.
Some of the biggest challenges to being a director involve dissemination of information.
We all have busy practices and volunteer our time to the State Bar, but we have a duty to make sure our members receive accurate information about the State Bar’s initiatives and the important work the State Bar Board accomplishes. Sometimes our members receive inaccurate information about the State Bar from other sources. But more often than not, when we take the time to engage with our members and provide information about all of the great things the State Bar does for each and every one of its members, they come away with a different perspective. It often takes personal contact to help ensure the State Bar’s message is communicated accurately to our members. Although it can be time consuming to make this personal contact, it is much easier for the State Bar to accomplish its work when our members are well informed.
The State Bar Board has improved the legal profession in multiple ways.
Some of the efforts that immediately come to mind include recently updating disciplinary and advertising rules, keeping our members informed about resources available to them during the global pandemic, and supporting efforts to reopen access to courts. In addition to these efforts, the State Bar Board spends significant time supporting and administering programs benefiting Texas lawyers that have been in place for many years.
One of the ways I would like to see the State Bar improve is to enhance and build upon the recent efforts to increase access to board meetings through YouTube and social media platforms.
Many of our members interact with social media on a regular basis. If the State Bar increases access to board meetings and business through social media, I believe our members will be much better informed about all of the State Bar Board’s great work.TBJ