TBJ April 2022
Texas Young Lawyers Association Election 2022
The Texas Bar Journal asked 2022-2023 Texas Young Lawyers Association president-elect candidates Laura Pratt and Courtney M. White to share their perspectives on issues facing young lawyers in the state. For biographical information on the candidates, go to texasbar.com/elections or see p. 188 of the March issue. Vote online or by paper ballot from April 1 to May 2, 2022. The deadline to cast ballots is 5 p.m. CDT May 2, 2022.
Why do you want to serve as president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association?
PRATT: Because I want TYLA to be even more for you than it was for me. I was considerably isolated when I started my career. There are no lawyers in my family, and my legal network was small with very few connections in Lubbock. My success as a young lawyer was undoubtedly linked to my involvement in my local bar associations and TYLA. I found my law family in TYLA. This organization echoes my heart and passion for serving others. It is diverse in people, practice, and perspectives. With those differences, TYLA does great things. I want TYLA to be that for all our members.
The past two years have brought unprecedented difficulties. In our profession, there has been a serious move toward more isolation, with decreases in local bar memberships and overall disengagement. We are a little “Zoomed” out. Helping our TYLA members in that space is of chief importance to me. As president-elect, I will lead TYLA to reconnect with its members and their communities. We will focus on effective communication, active listening, and purposeful inclusion and involvement. TYLA needs to be a strong resource for reestablishing meaningful connections for our newly licensed lawyers across the state.
WHITE: I am grateful for the opportunity to run for TYLA president-elect. Like many young professionals, I struggle daily with confidence in the workplace. I would not be running for president-elect without the mentorship and support from role models like my parents (who are both lawyers), colleagues, and fellow young lawyers, including past and present TYLA directors. I am blessed to have friends who encourage and give me the opportunity to share my gifts with others, and I want to be that person for other young lawyers.
Not every young lawyer has access to a personal or professional mentor to train or be a sounding board for them. Not every young lawyer has an example of servant leadership in the practice of law. And most importantly, not every young lawyer knows that developing confident leaders is what TYLA does best! I see serving as president as an opportunity to provide growth opportunities to other young lawyers in the same way that my mentors have done for me.
What are the three most important issues facing young lawyers in Texas and what role should TYLA play in addressing them?
PRATT: Wellness. I am passionate about seeking holistic wellness and encouraging others to find it. The excessive stress of our profession can lead to many health issues. After losing my sister-in-law to substance use, I never want any family to face that struggle. TYLA should continue to be on the front lines championing wellness in our profession.
COVID-19. Much like Bruno, we don’t talk about it if we can help it. But we have a new normal, and we must adapt quickly to accommodate the needs and changes highlighted by the pandemic. TYLA should explore these changes and look for ways to assist new lawyers in this transition.
Financial Stability. Job uncertainty, overwhelming student loans, and unfair pay structures all contribute to the financial insecurity for young lawyers, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. TYLA should help its members develop more practical career and business skills to alleviate these challenges.
WHITE: Mentorship. Behind every success story, there’s a mentor who has been instrumental in providing guidance and instilling confidence in a young lawyer. Many do not have access to mentors to provide leadership/learning opportunities yet are expected to develop these skills anyway. TYLA can promote existing resources in a “virtual mentor” capacity and help connect members with real-life mentors.
Mental Wellness. Lawyer mental wellness begins with law student mental wellness. My personal law school experience was challenging with daily stressors morphing into anxiety, depression, and isolation, which continued into my first years of practice. We must help law students enter the practice with tools for good mental health.
Asserting Boundaries. As young lawyers, we feel pressure to say “yes” to work (billable hours), volunteer opportunities (pro bono), and social invitations (client development). In reality, some opportunities suit us, and it’s OK to say “no” to those that do not.
You have served the profession in a number of capacities at a number of levels. Which of these experiences has best prepared you to lead TYLA?
PRATT: I have had the privilege of serving with TYLA for many years and in many roles—committee member, board member, project lead, committee chair, and now vice president. Each role has had its unique challenges and provided key perspectives for leading TYLA effectively as president-elect.
I have learned so much from my TYLA service, including strong leadership techniques, practical management skills, and organizational knowledge. I have spent considerable time listening to our teams and developing action plans that can only make us stronger for the future.
All practical skills aside, I care about this organization, the people on our board, and our members. My TYLA roles have taught me that a team serves better when they feel valued, inspired, and empowered. Leadership is not about power or pride. As a servant leader for TYLA, I will focus on being authentic, understanding, and committed to the mission and people of TYLA.
WHITE: In my short time on the TYLA Board of Directors, my leadership skills have drastically improved as I have gained confidence. Although the old adage says you must believe in yourself for others to believe in you, my experience has been the opposite.
When I was charged with organizing the first-ever virtual season of TYLA Roadshows, I was a new TYLA director. (Why would anyone assign me this? I haven’t yet met all of the other directors!) I completed the task to the best of my ability, and we had fantastic attendance at every presentation. It means the world to me that someone thought I was capable and gave me the opportunity to succeed. I bring that confidence into this campaign. (Why would anyone nominate me to run for TYLA president-elect?) I know that confidence can be a struggle, and it’s OK! We will do this together!
If a college student sought your advice on whether to pursue a legal career, how would you answer?
PRATT: My answer is always the same. I love the practice of law, and the world needs good attorneys. However, a legal career is not for everyone.
The biggest mistake you can make in pursuing a legal career is having no good reason for doing it in the first place. You must know your “why” from the beginning. Pursuing a legal career requires a significant amount of time, energy, effort, and money, and it is not a step anyone should take lightly. You won’t get a reward for not liking what you do, and it will have disastrous impacts on your mental health. The “what” and the “how” can come later, so start with “why.” For me, as someone who has a passion for serving others and a knack for problem-solving, it is a rewarding career. Let me know how to support you if you go for it!
WHITE: The legal field can be a blessing in your life if you find the right fit. I spent my first three and a half years of practice at a law firm, and that was not the right fit for me. Now that I am a government lawyer, I have found my work to be more fulfilling and my life is more balanced. Not every lawyer has to do big-firm billable hours! And the legal system requires lawyers and non-lawyers to function! Every person interested in the justice system can find a place—and that may or may not be as a traditional law firm lawyer. I encourage prospective law students to consider government jobs, paralegal jobs, court administrator jobs, law enforcement jobs, etc. It takes all of us!
How do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
PRATT: Rather than struggling to achieve perfect balance (that effort was exhausting me), I now focus on managing the tension between the two. I start with my priorities, and I set boundaries to protect those priorities. When things start to get messy, I implement small changes to help relieve the tension, like removing social media from my phone, getting more sleep, or going for more walks outside. Also, I have an amazing support system for difficult times. When I need self-care, I try to do more of the things I love, like adventuring with my family, volunteering, exercising, and playing music.
I am by no means the expert, and work-life balance looks different for everyone. If you are struggling in this space, I encourage you to start a dialogue with trusted friends and try some new things. TYLA and the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program have great resources to help as well!
WHITE: To be honest, I’m struggling more than ever right now. As a government lawyer, I have a more traditional 9-to-5 job with the occasional late evening or working weekend. This campaign process has really challenged my work-life balance in a way that many lawyers experience all of the time. I am learning that I will be more successful overall if I take time for my well-being by exercising daily. Also, I have had success taking a break for mealtimes rather than having a “working lunch” or a dinner in front of the computer. I believe mealtime nourishes the mind, body, and soul.TBJ