Up For The Challenge

State Bar of Texas President Laura Gibson on effectuating meaningful change.

Interview by Patricia Busa McConnico

Laura Gibson Main
Photo courtesy of Laura Gibson.

Laura Gibson studied parks and recreation as a student at Texas A&M University. As a young girl, she had attended YMCA Camp Flaming Arrow in Hunt and then later worked there as a counselor. Gibson dreamed of owning and operating a summer camp. But around the time she became a rising junior, she realized her aspirations might be a tad lofty—she didn’t own any land or have the means to purchase property. Gibson had always enjoyed hearing her father’s stories about the clients he represented and the difference he made in their lives as a lawyer, so she asked him what he thought of her going to law school. Gibson’s father confessed that her mother had made him promise to never encourage Gibson to become a lawyer. Her mother thought being a lawyer was too taxing. Gibson’s father, on the other hand, told her she would be an excellent lawyer and offered her a job at his firm so she could afford to pay for law school. “My focus on going to law school helped me stay motivated to do well in school. Because my father had made it clear that college was on him but law school was on me, I applied to the University of Houston Law Center, where I was accepted,” Gibson said. After graduating from college, she moved back to Houston and became a runner at the firm. On Gibson’s first day, she was assigned to meet a new client and gather facts about a car accident. By the time she began law school in 1982, she knew she wanted to be a trial lawyer.

Gibson, who was born in Houston, is the middle child of three sisters. Her family lived in the Memorial area, where she enjoyed walking to elementary school every day with friends and later either walking or riding her bike to middle school. But when Gibson was in the seventh grade, her family moved from their idyllic home to the Galleria area, where riding the Metro bus to school became the norm. She and her family did savor the summers, where they would stay at their house in Jamaica Beach and she would swim in the canals, build sandcastles, and look for shark’s teeth in the sand. About the time Gibson was about to graduate from high school, her mother mentioned to her that one of her elementary school teachers said she would never be anything other than an average student. While Gibson had done well in high school, she could have done better if she had devoted more of her energy to studies instead of the time she spent reading fiction. Gibson was determined to prove her wrong—and that memory continues to motivate her to do well in all that she attempts to accomplish.

On January 2, 1985, Gibson began her law career at Locke Lord. She made partner in 1992, but after a year, she had the opportunity to form her own firm with three other firm colleagues. The move from a 90-person firm to a four-person firm presented its own challenges, but it is what led her to bar service—she needed the interaction and referrals. In January 2016, she joined Dentons, where she is the managing partner of the Houston office. Even though she is part of one of the world’s largest law firms, she still finds time to serve others and has been an integral part of many boards. She knows that by being prepared, she can make an organization better.

On June 10, Gibson was sworn in as president of the State Bar of Texas at the bar’s Annual Meeting in Houston. Gibson recently talked with the Texas Bar Journal about her career, role models, and plans as president of the State Bar.

Laura Gibson Photos
ABOVE: From left, Laura Gibson with her newest grandchild; Gibson enjoying some down time. Photos courtesy of Laura Gibson.

Who is your legal role model or mentor and what impresses you most about him or her?
My dad, David Argyle Gibson. He taught me that as a lawyer, my word is my bond. He made me understand that a lawyer wants her opposing counsel to be as qualified as possible. He emphasized that our job as a lawyer is to make sure that justice is served, not winning at all costs. He stressed that we have a duty to present the facts in the best light to our client. We don’t make the facts, nor should we try to.

You were a founding member of a small firm and now the managing partner of a firm in Houston. What are your key takeaways from those experiences? How will they help you as State Bar president?

I know that regardless of the size firm one practices in, the practice of law is hard. Our bar can be a tremendous resource to us as lawyers no matter the size of our firm or organization.

What are your presidential initiatives going to be this year and why are they important to you
I intend to work on promoting succession planning to encourage our solo practitioner lawyers to designate a custodian attorney. In 2018-2019, the bar created a Succession Planning Workgroup. Ultimately, the workgroup developed an online custodian designation portal on the State Bar website. The new Texas Rule of Disciplinary Procedure 13.04, which was approved by the referendum, adopted by the Texas Supreme Court, and became effective on July 1, 2021, enables lawyers to name a custodian to wind up and close their practice in the event of sudden cessation.

The State Bar Law Practice Management Committee continues to work on the creation and promotion of succession planning materials, which are available at texasbarpractice.com. While the bar has promoted the designation of a custodian attorney, less than 700 attorneys out of our nearly 109,000 active Texas lawyers have designated a custodian attorney through the bar’s portal. We have heard of the “silver tsunami” that the legal community is experiencing. In 2019, the number of Texas lawyers over age 66 totaled 19,085. Last year, in 2021, they totaled 21,137. The number of lawyers who are dying, becoming disabled, or disappearing without taking steps to close their practices has increased substantially. In fact, the State Bar has a cessations docket pilot project. The information the State Bar has obtained in working on this issue has led to the realization that this is a critical problem that will only grow worse unless we work to proactively address it and make sure our lawyers are taking the appropriate steps in returning their client files in advance of their retirement. For more information about succession planning resources or to designate a custodian attorney, go to texasbar.com/succession.

This project is important to me because my dad died in 1990 at the age of 56 without fully closing his practice. I want the family members of our lawyers to be able to mourn their deceased lawyer family members without having to deal with returning client files on their relative’s behalf.

Laura Gibson
ABOVE: Gibson with her husband, Bill Ogden, and nine of their grandchildren. BOTTOM: Gibson with her two sisters and parents enjoying the holidays. Photos courtesy of Laura Gibson.

What other areas will you be focusing on this year as State Bar president?
The board approved the creation of a diversity, equity, and inclusion standing committee beginning this bar year, and I will have the privilege of appointing 15 members to serve on this committee. Members will include a representative from the following standing committees and sections: (1) Disability Rights and Issues Committee; (2) Diversity in the Profession Committee; (3) Women in the Profession Committee; (4) African American Lawyers Section; (5) Asian Pacific Interest Section; (6) Hispanic Issues Section; (7) LGBT Law Section; (8) Native American Law Section; and (9) Women and the Law Section. We will also seek input from other underrepresented groups.

The bar must demonstrate a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. In my view, our bar would be better if more diverse people got involved with bar leadership. It is important that our leaders look like our lawyers. I will also make it a point to encourage diverse lawyers to get involved with bar activities.

The rule of law is under attack. Without preservation of the rule of law, our democracy will not survive. The bar needs to educate the public on the importance of the rule of law and the role of lawyers and the judiciary in preserving order, which will improve the quality of legal services to the public. Finally, after more than two years of remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we must continue to increase our lawyers’ feeling of belonging and educate them on the importance of lawyer well-being.

What have you found most challenging about being a lawyer? Most rewarding?

I find keeping up with emails to be the most challenging aspect of being a lawyer. Before email, I believe that people took more time to organize their thoughts and communicate clearly. Also, clients would meet me in person to discuss their legal issue, which would allow me to get to know them, locate documents and information relevant to the dispute, and have a good handle on the matter. Now, it is rare for a client to meet face-to-face and instead they will send information piecemeal with very little background information, which makes it more challenging to understand. Obtaining justice for my client is still the most rewarding aspect of being a lawyer.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

This quote by Maya Angelou is the best advice I have ever received: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” To me, this means that the person you are speaking with is the most important person in the room. I try to be sincerely interested in what other people have to say. I work hard to listen to what they are saying rather than being preoccupied trying to think of something clever to say in response. I find that people like people who take the time to listen to them.

Describe yourself in five words.

Resourceful, energetic, hardworking, considerate, and happy.TBJ

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