‘We Can Do This’: New Legal Education and Conference Center Moves Closer to Reality

Written by Lowell Brown

SBOT Board Update
TOP ROW: State Bar President Laura Gibson presents a resolution to Brazos County Court at Law 2 Judge Roy Brantley for exceptional service to the legal profession.
BOTTOM ROW (left to right): State Bar President Laura Gibson presents resolutions to retired 272nd State District Judge Travis B. Bryan III and College Station attorney Donald Delgado for exceptional service to the legal profession. Photos by Geoffrey Hinkson.

A plan to build a three-story legal education and conference center next to the Texas Law Center in Austin received an initial green light from the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors.

The board approved the conceptual building design for the property at 1415 Lavaca St. and authorized the board’s Building Planning Special Committee to move forward with additional planning for the project. The action came during the board’s quarterly meeting January 27 in Bryan. Other aspects of the project, including approval of construction costs and a fundraising plan, will come before the board at future meetings.

The project would benefit Texas lawyers and the legal profession by providing space for attorneys to meet, work, and attend continuing legal education events, said State Bar Immediate Past President Sylvia Borunda Firth, chair of the building committee. The State Bar would gain additional space to host educational events and meetings, instead of paying rising costs for hotel and other meeting space in Austin. And the facility could generate revenue if third parties lease it for their own events, she said.

“The vision for the building has had several priorities—the No. 1 priority being [to] find a way to utilize the space in the best way that serves the membership of the bar,” Borunda Firth told the board. “That’s a lofty goal, but I think when we go through what we’ve done [with the building plans], you’re going to see we have addressed that priority.”

The Lavaca property is adjacent to the bar’s headquarters and includes the historic Bartholomew-Robinson building, which incorporates part of a stone home from the 1880s. The bar’s plans include preserving and restoring the historic structure and constructing a new, three-story building on the same property.

The new building would include a large theater and mezzanine on the first floor, smaller conference rooms and workspaces on the second floor, and a meeting space and outdoor reception area on the third floor overlooking the Texas Capitol. The building would provide workspace for lawyers visiting downtown Austin as well as space for the State Bar and other legal groups to host continuing legal education, conferences, and other meetings.

The State Bar expects to launch a fundraising campaign to seek voluntary donations to cover construction costs and is prepared to scale down the project if those efforts fall short, Borunda Firth said. The proposed conceptual building construction cost estimate is approximately $14.2 million, which includes $3.9 million in contingency funds. The actual cost will be determined following the creation of construction designs and a review by the construction manager at risk, Borunda Firth said. Additional costs include other aspects of building development typical for such a project, including additional architect, construction manager, and consultant services.

“We know that the estimated cost is significant, but we really do believe it’s a realistic goal that we can achieve,” she said, noting the Austin and Dallas bar associations have undergone successful fundraising campaigns in the past. “If they’re doing that just focusing on a city, then certainly a statewide campaign can match that. . . . We can do this.”

The board approved purchasing the property in 2021 and created the building committee to advise the bar on decisions related to remodeling, repairs, and uses of the site. More information on the project is available at

Finance and budget. The board approved the State Bar of Texas fiscal year 2023-2024 proposed budget for publication in the Texas Bar Journal (see pages 166-171). A more detailed breakdown of expenditures by category is available at The bar will hold a public hearing on the budget at 9 a.m. April 4 at the Texas Law Center in Austin before presenting a budget proposal to the Texas Supreme Court for consideration. The board also approved the bar’s internal audit plan for fiscal years 2023-2027 and financial audit for fiscal year 2021-2022. The State Bar received an unmodified, or “clean,” opinion for its financial audit.

Rules and policies.
The board approved changes to Board Policy Manual subsection 3.08.02, relating to the publication of the Client Security Fund application process, and subsection 8.01.10, relating to State Bar sections as resources for governmental bodies. The board voted to refer the State Bar Court Rules Committee’s proposed amendments to Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 52.9, Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 226a, and Texas Rules of Evidence 509 and 510 to the Texas Supreme Court for consideration. Also, the board approved the following proposed Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct to be included in a future referendum of the State Bar membership: Rule 1.00, relating to terminology; Rule 1.09, relating to conflicts of interest regarding a former client; and Rule 1.10, relating to imputation of conflicts of interest.

Presidential initiatives/free CLE.
President Laura Gibson reported that TexasBarCLE has produced three free CLE webcasts associated with her presidential initiatives:

  • “What Every Lawyer Should Know About the Attorney Grievance System;”

  • “Don’t Wait, Designate,” which focuses on succession planning essentials; and

  • “Just Ask: How We Must Stop Minding Our Own Business in the Legal World,” which focuses on suicide and depression prevention (produced in partnership with the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program).

All three webcasts are available to watch on demand at, under “Free Online Classes.”

Day of Civility resolution.
The board approved a resolution joining the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals in designating April 14, 2023, as the Texas Day of Civility in the Law and encouraging lawyers to participate in local Day of Civility events.

Ombudsman report.
Stephanie Lowe, ombudsman for the attorney discipline system, discussed her office’s annual report, which is available at

Board chair election.
The board heard comments from two candidates for 2023-2024 chair of the board: Dwight McDonald, of Lubbock, and Kennon Wooten, of Austin. The board will vote in April to elect a new chair.

Swearing-in and recognitions.
Kenda L. Culpepper, of Rockwall, was sworn in as a section representative to the board for a term expiring in 2025. Gibson presented resolutions honoring Brazos County Court at Law 2 Judge Roy Brantley, retired 272nd State District Judge Travis B. Bryan III, and College Station attorney Donald Delgado for exceptional service to the legal profession. State Bar Executive Director Trey Apffel presented the quarterly Staff Excellence Award to Brenda Lopez, Dallas regional office manager for the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.

Looking ahead.
The next board meeting is scheduled for April 28 in Waco. If you have comments for the board, email them to To find your district directors, go to and click on “Board Members.”TBJ


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