Back to the Future

The Local Bar Leaders Conference returns to in-person programming and continues to inspire the next generation of bar leaders.

Written by Eric Quitugua

Bar Leaders Conference
FROM LEFT: State Bar of Texas President Laura Gibson, leadership expert Elizabeth Derrico, and Texas Access to Justice Commission Chair Harriet Miers at the Local Bar Leaders Conference in Houston, the first held in person since 2019. Photos by Eric Quitugua

The return of the in-person State Bar of Texas Local Bar Leaders Conference brought about 200 attorneys from across the state to the Westin Galleria Houston in July. During two days of programming, lawyers learned about successful leadership styles, the scope of opportunities to help Texans through pro bono work, cautionary tales with social media, and more from veteran practitioners and industry experts.

Friday’s opening luncheon brought back bar Elizabeth Derrico, recognized by bar associations across the nation as a leadership expert. Trading the podium for floor space, Derrico led attendees through exercises to highlight what qualities Texas’ legal community thinks leaders should possess and what attorneys’ own mission statements were for community involvement. Be inclusive when engaging people, be welcoming, create community, and bring together people with skills you don’t have, she said.

Panels included “Building Resiliency After a Global Pandemic,” led by Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program Director Erica Grigg and Clinical Professional Michelle Fontenot. Takeaways from their presentation on self-care: get over the willpower mindset, prioritize six-to-eight hours of sleep, listen to soothing music, compartmentalize traumatic news, and unfollow toxic friends on social media. “Stay On Trend: Key Issues Impacting Bar Associations” featured Molly Kilmer Flood, information manager of the American Bar Association Division for Bar Services. With local bar association membership down since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Flood said some things to look at include viewing events as forums for connections, cutting funding for programs that have outlasted their function, and developing a policy for issues impacting the justice system that an organization will speak out on.

Saturday’s events featured breakfast with Texas Access to Justice Commission Chair Harriet Miers, who presented Deborah G. Hankinson Awards to local bar associations and young lawyer affiliates; State Bar of Texas President Laura Gibson; Texas Young Lawyers Association President Michael J. Ritter; and Local Bar Services Committee Chair C. Michael Davis, judge of the 369th District Court; and a luncheon with keynote speaker Judge Audrey F. Moorehead, of the Dallas County Criminal Court at Law No. 3.

State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Director Bambi Hall and Geoffrey Hinkson, the bar’s digital content specialist, presented “Navigating a PR Crisis in a 24/7 Connected World.” Hinkson and Hall showed examples of social media blunders and successes in addressing crises, while offering advice. A few pro tips: determine who speaks for the brand, determine a singular voice for social media, utilize social listening, plan for crisis scenarios, and if someone has their phone up recording an executive member of an organization, for example, approach the person and either ask them to put the phone away or offer to arrange a formal interview. Dallas attorney Mark Melton described how he, and his group of volunteer lawyers, have been helping his community during “ATJ—Pro Bono Projects in a Pandemic: Spotlight on Eviction.” A random Facebook post he made on evictions in the beginning of the pandemic kickstarted Dallas Eviction 2020. The program began with more than 175 volunteers recruited to assist Dallas area residents facing evictions. The program has since had over 250 attorneys with about 10,000 tenants served. Now Melton is expanding his staff of full-time lawyers to 12 with a focus on Spanish-speakers to cover each eviction docket in Dallas County. “We’re going to make some tenants have something they’ve never had on a large scale: a champion,” he said.TBJ


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