State Bar Director Spotlight December 2021
D. Todd Smith
Interview by Eric Quitugua
Photo courtesy of Butler Snow
Position: Attorney at Butler Snow in Austin
Board Member: District 9, Place 1
I’m the only lawyer in my family, so law school wasn’t something I fell into.
I first thought about becoming a lawyer during my senior year of high school. A teacher recruited some of us to participate in University Interscholastic League speech and debate competitions, and my partner and I wound up making the state tournament in standard debate. That experience taught me how to argue both sides of an issue, so the foundation was laid. When I got serious about law school years later, as I was finishing a master’s degree while working full time, my dad tried to talk me out of going. Just this once, not following his advice was the right call.
Getting up to speed quickly on a new substantive area is something I enjoy,
but I gravitate toward commercial, real estate, and tort cases or those involving procedural issues. I love parachuting in to help get a case ready for trial and then guiding trial counsel with the assumption that one party or the other will appeal. That puts me in a great position to handle the appeal and gets me involved at a point where I can make a difference.
If you know what you want to do, don’t let someone else pick your path.
Bet on yourself and do what it takes to get there. To put this in context, I decided early on that I wanted to be a Texas appellate lawyer, and I pursued opportunities that made it happen. When I started my own appellate boutique, even some close friends doubted I would make it. Prepare yourself well, and don’t be deterred. Having the right mindset is everything.
My initial involvement with the State Bar was tied to my desire to develop as an appellate lawyer.
When I first went into private practice, I joined the Appellate Section and later got on the editorial board for its quarterly publication, The Appellate Advocate. From there I worked my way up to editor and then served on the section’s council. A few years later, I was appointed to serve on the Pattern Jury Charge Committee for the commercial volume. Both the Appellate Section and the PJC Committee provided great opportunities to connect with appellate lawyers and judges and work on projects important to the bar.
Directors must understand the process the board follows when making decisions. If you ever wonder why Robert’s Rules of Order exists, tune in to one of our meetings.
The State Bar board meets on a quarterly basis, and our agendas and meetings are long. Productive discussion is important and encouraged, but we have to stay on track to finish our scheduled business. Airing grievances with questionable connections to the agenda that don’t advance the discussion is counterproductive and harmful. And personal attacks have no place.
Like many other things in life, bar membership is largely what you make of it. The good news is that opportunities to get involved are abundant.
As a starting point, I would encourage lawyers unsure about what the State Bar does for them to join and become active in sections relevant to their practice area. Section and standing committee work is very rewarding and is one of the best ways to make meaningful connections within the bar.
We’re facing several critical issues, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit’s McDonald v. Longley decision and a backlog of jury trials in the wake of the pandemic. But I’d put lawyer well-being at the top of the list.
The sheer number of lawyers facing addiction and mental-health issues is staggering. We already have the excellent Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program in place, but we need to continue talking about these issues to break the stigma and encourage lawyers facing these difficulties to seek help.
The State Bar has weathered the pandemic without any significant decline in services.
As the world continues to open up, we look forward to more in-person events, including traditional CLE programs. Rather than fight aspects of the McDonald decision that didn’t go our way, the board approved a comprehensive plan for addressing those issues so the State Bar and its members can move forward. The future will present new challenges, but the board is well prepared to serve Texas lawyers and will continue to do so with integrity.
I would encourage lawyers interested in having the board address specific issues to contact their district representatives.
Although our constituents have many different viewpoints, we want to understand your concerns. On specific agenda items, the board invites public comment during our meetings. There’s no better way to weigh in on an issue you care about than addressing the board yourself.TBJ