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Pro Bono Spotlight Day 5: Jacqueline B. Williams

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 10:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

Jacqueline B. Williams is the owner and lead attorney at J.B. Williams in Allen. She practices in the areas of family law, juvenile justice, personal injury, and contract law.

What kind of pro bono work do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been taking pro bono cases through Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas since 2000. Prior to that, I volunteered only at clinics in Dallas. I’ve tried to continue attending clinics to help out since that time and to try to attend one clinic each month. I’ve generally handled family law matters, everything from divorces and custody modifications to child support and wills. Over the years I have felt more confident in handling matters involving family violence.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
There are always people who need assistance but cannot afford an attorney to assist them. Sometimes their matters are fairly simple (at least for attorneys) and other times they are extremely complicated. But I feel that every matter I have handled has allowed the client to be fairly represented and has provided him or her with the security that someone was on his or her side. I’ve met people at their worst time, and for those through Legal Aid, at their worst financial time as well. Nearly every client I’ve spoken with at the clinics has been extremely happy and courteous. And I’ve sometimes heard back from some of the them as they have moved forward in life and things have improved for them—little cards or emails telling me that they are so happy to be past that point and to thank me for my time. It’s a wonderful feeling giving back to individuals and their families.

What is your favorite pro bono story?
My favorite was a case where the client went to a clinic for assistance only after her mother insisted. I could tell at the initial meeting when I agreed to handle the matter that she was considering returning to the marriage situation. I was able to express my concern after listening to a lot of details, spending more time than with most clients for the initial interview. When the client left, she was willing to move forward and file for the divorce. While the case was pending there were several incidents, and the client would call me panicked and ready to back down but always ended the calls feeling better and wanting to move forward. The family had tried for years to get her to walk away but the lack of finances and fears had held her hostage. She sent me a beautiful card after and thanked me for providing her the support and strength she needed. I had that card tacked on my board for years to remind me that sometimes they just need to know that someone they’ve never met believes in them and is willing to help them get free.

Pro Bono Spotlight Day 5: Jacqueline B. Williams

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 10:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

Jacqueline B. Williams is the owner and lead attorney at J.B. Williams in Allen. She practices in the areas of family law, juvenile justice, personal injury, and contract law.

What kind of pro bono work do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been taking pro bono cases through Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas since 2000. Prior to that, I volunteered only at clinics in Dallas. I’ve tried to continue attending clinics to help out since that time and to try to attend one clinic each month. I’ve generally handled family law matters, everything from divorces and custody modifications to child support and wills. Over the years I have felt more confident in handling matters involving family violence.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
There are always people who need assistance but cannot afford an attorney to assist them. Sometimes their matters are fairly simple (at least for attorneys) and other times they are extremely complicated. But I feel that every matter I have handled has allowed the client to be fairly represented and has provided him or her with the security that someone was on his or her side. I’ve met people at their worst time, and for those through Legal Aid, at their worst financial time as well. Nearly every client I’ve spoken with at the clinics has been extremely happy and courteous. And I’ve sometimes heard back from some of the them as they have moved forward in life and things have improved for them—little cards or emails telling me that they are so happy to be past that point and to thank me for my time. It’s a wonderful feeling giving back to individuals and their families.

What is your favorite pro bono story?
My favorite was a case where the client went to a clinic for assistance only after her mother insisted. I could tell at the initial meeting when I agreed to handle the matter that she was considering returning to the marriage situation. I was able to express my concern after listening to a lot of details, spending more time than with most clients for the initial interview. When the client left, she was willing to move forward and file for the divorce. While the case was pending there were several incidents, and the client would call me panicked and ready to back down but always ended the calls feeling better and wanting to move forward. The family had tried for years to get her to walk away but the lack of finances and fears had held her hostage. She sent me a beautiful card after and thanked me for providing her the support and strength she needed. I had that card tacked on my board for years to remind me that sometimes they just need to know that someone they’ve never met believes in them and is willing to help them get free.

Pro Bono Spotlight Day 4: Pilar Martinez

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 14:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

Pilar Martinez is from Seattle and is a 3L at St. Mary’s University School of Law. She is active in St. Mary’s pro bono program, acting as the student site coordinator for the monthly veterans legal advice clinic and the Community Justice Program. Martinez is also president of the Immigration Law Association and the vice president of the Public Interest Law Foundation. She serves on the editorial board of The Scholar. Martinez plans to practice immigration law at a nonprofit after graduation.

What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I got my first glimpse of pro bono in undergrad. I helped organize citizenship workshops for low-income immigrants. That work sparked my interest in law and specifically immigration law. I love doing pro bono work with immigrants and veterans. Recently, I think both groups have come under attack and are in need of assistance. Money should not inhibit these individuals from seeking counsel. I have been doing this work since 1L and hope to make a career of it upon graduation.

Why is pro bono important to you?
Growing up in a family of six, my parents worked hard to provide my brothers and me with life’s necessities. My passion for helping underrepresented indigent individuals stems from my upbringing and the legal struggles my family went through. When my family should have sought legal advice, we struggled in silence as we could not afford an attorney. I want to educate people on the resources available to them. Also, pro bono is important because the legal system is confusing. A lot of people who cannot afford an attorney attempt to take on the system by themselves, which may have damaging consequences for their cases. So in addition to being confusing, legal matters are expensive. I feel everyone deserves justice and not just those who can afford representation.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
I have learned the need for pro bono is far greater than I thought. Legal aid resources are limited, and many requests for legal assistance go unanswered. There is a justice gap in our society and we, as law students and attorneys, need to help bridge that gap. I have also learned that the human spirit is strong. I have heard some horrible stories from clients struggling with their legal issues. These stories and the strength of these clients motivate me to keep fighting!

What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Pro bono is rewarding! You will learn so much, meet some amazing clients, and help these clients work through a stressful time in their lives. If you do not help these individuals, they may not get help anyplace else. As a human, if you have the ability to help someone, why would you not? And as an attorney, you are privileged and have a unique set of skills. You have a responsibility to use those skills to ensure everyone has access to justice.

Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
My first client fled his home country in West Africa after being targeted, jailed, and tortured on account of his race, nationality, and political opinion. I represented him in immigration court and he was awarded asylum. He thanked us profusely while tears streamed down his face. My own eyes teared up, and I struggled to maintain composure. After one year as an asylee, he can apply for adjustment of status. I hope to help him through that process as well.

Pro Bono Spotlight Day 4: John C. VanBuskirk

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 10:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

John C. VanBuskirk is a solo practitioner and a retired U.S. Army major. He is a graduate of UNT Dallas College of Law.

What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
Ten days after I entered the inaugural class of UNT Dallas College of Law in August 2014, I assisted at my first Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, or DVAP, clinic, and I was hooked. I did 31 DVAP clinics in my 1L year and a total of 800 pro bono hours during law school. Since becoming a licensed attorney in May 2018, I have helped at 23 DVAP legal clinics and performed 158 pro bono hours. My cases, so far, have been estate planning (wills, POAs, etc.), petitions for non-disclosure, affidavits of heirship, and deed work.

Why is pro bono important to you?
It’s just the right thing to do. A person with limited income should not have to spend a relatively large portion of his or her scant money to have basic legal help. Not having legal representation solely due to poverty is a form of societal bullying, and I hate bullies.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
While I was in law school, it helped me understand the application of the law. As an attorney, it provides me a platform to learn and hone new skills with guidance and mentoring.

What would you say to an attorney who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Show what a great person you are—extend a helping hand, learn a new skill, get acknowledged for your community engagements. With registered 75 hours of pro bono you earn free membership in the State Bar of Texas Pro Bono College and a logo on your personal “find a lawyer” page setting you apart from others. The host organization you work through usually provides the professional liability insurance for your pro bono work and provides checklists, forms, and mentoring. You can choose your hours, even work from home in your pink bunny slippers through programs like the State Bar of Texas’ Texas Legal Answers at https://texas.freelegalanswers.org.

Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
A lady came into the Wills Clinic because her husband had recently died intestate, and she saw what not having a will does to a family. She cried through the entire clinic and was not able to make any decisions, from naming the executor or agents to distribution of assets. Two months later she signed her will and associated estate plan documents, and she was very much at ease because she knew how much turmoil and chaos she had saved her family.

DBA hosts annual Education Symposium

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 09:00

The Dallas Bar Association will host its annual Education Symposium from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. October 29 at the Belo Mansion. The symposium aims to bring together community leaders in the hopes of improving public education in the Metroplex.

“Improving the Lives of Children Through Advocacy,” is the theme of this year’s symposium. Educators and members of the public are invited to attend. Marquis Fomby, judicial secretary for the U.S. Marshal Service, will be giving the keynote address. During the luncheon, the Jack Lowe Sr. Award for Community Leadership will be presented to Reading Partners North Texas. SMU Dedman School of Law’s W.W. Caruth Jr. Institute for Children’s Rights is co-sponsoring the event.

Registration for DBA members and judges is $75 and $110 for non-members. A special rate of $35 per ticket is available for nonprofits. Fee waives are available if unable to afford the program. To register, go to dallasbar.org/event/dba-education-symposium-2. Attendees can receive 5 hours of MCLE credit.

Claiming privilege for proprietary information: properly applying Tex. R. Evid. 507

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 08:00

If a lawyer litigates long enough he or she will inevitably face written or oral objections to requests for production or interrogatories. While objections may be straightforward and easy to navigate, they become more complex and potentially fatal to a litigator’s case when opposing counsel raises an objection based on proprietary information privilege. While it is often, albeit incorrectly, believed that proprietary information is relegated strictly to commercial litigation, the truth is that proprietary information reaches much further into other areas of litigation than many may suspect. But, what exactly is proprietary information? How does a claimed privilege affect discovery? And how much depth is there to Tex. R. Evid. 507?

In short, proprietary information, which is more commonly known and referred to by lawyers as trade secrets, generally relates to information maintained as confidential by individuals or entities. In Texas, trade secrets are defined by the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act, or TUTSA, which is codified within Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code, Title 6, Ch. 134A. Though TUTSA was adopted in 2013, some interesting and important changes have been made to the statute by recent Texas Legislatures, especially the 85th Legislature Regular Session in 2017. The events which prompted these new amendments to TUTSA were twofold in nature: (1) Congress passed the Defend Trade Secrets Act in May 2016; and (2) the Supreme Court of Texas introduced a seven-factor balancing test for overcoming certain presumptions under TUTSA. (See In re M-I L.L.C., 505 S.W.3d 569 (Tex. 2016)). In a clear reaction to these two preceding points—one legislative, one judicial—the Texas Legislature amended TUTSA to reflect these newly manifested punctilios of trade secret theory.

First, in regard to the recently amended updates to TUTSA, the definition of “trade secret” has now been expanded to include “all forms and types of information including business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information, and any formula, design, prototype, pattern, plan, compilation, program device, program, code, device, method, technique, process, procedure, financial data, or list of actual or potential customers or suppliers, whether tangible or intangible and whether or how stored, compiled, or memorialized physically, electronically, graphically, photographically, or in writing . . .” (Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code, Title 6, Ch. 134A, § 134A.002(6)). This could, theoretically, also be argued and understood to encompass proprietary information that is stored within one’s own mind via memory. (See FTC v. Exxon Corp., 636 F.2d 1336, 1350, 205 U.S. App. D.C. 208 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (finding that “[i]t is very difficult for the human mind to compartmentalize and selectively suppress information once learned, no matter how well-intentioned the intent may be to do so.”)). However, while many are quick to attempt a privilege under 134A.002(6), subsections (A)-(B) are the true qualifiers for such protection. These subsections hold that the aforementioned are only qualified as trade secrets if “(A) the owner of the trade secret has taken reasonable measures under the circumstances to keep the information secret; and (B) the information derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information.” It becomes clear that the two main qualifying elements that must be present, regardless of whether or not the alleged proprietary information makes the laundry list above, are (1) reasonable measures to ensure secrecy, and (2) derivation of independent economic value. Another punctilio that practitioners should note is the conjunction separating subsections (A) and (B). The conjunction the Texas Legislature chose to use is the word “and” not “or.” (See TUTSA § 134A.002(6)(A)-(B)). Hence, for example, even if financial information is claimed as proprietary information and reasonable measures were taken to ensure its secrecy, if it does not simultaneously derive an independent economic value then it is not qualified for protection under Tex. R. Evid. 507.

Second, the amendments in 2017 further clarify the definition of “willful and malicious” by expanding the original definition to now include the “intentional misappropriation resulting from the conscious disregard of the rights of the owner of the trade secret.” (Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code, Title 6, Ch. 134A, § 134A.002(7). See also Learning Curve Toys v. PlayWood Toys, 342 F.3d 714, 730 (7th Cir. 2003)).

When it comes to discovery and asserted privileges for proprietary information, the truth is that a proper application of Tex. R. Evid. 507 is not as simple as it appears within the limited text of the rule itself. In fact, understanding its proper application is the best counterattack when opposing counsel adds this privilege, either expressly or ambiguously, to the typical “harassing, burdensome, and outside the scope of discovery” language to which many of us have grown accustomed.

Ultimately, the spirit and purpose of discovery is to uncover the truth and allow a case to justly be decided upon all the facts, and not by hiding the facts. (Axelson v. McIlhany, 798 S.W.2d 550, 555 (Tex. 1990)). A party may obtain discovery regarding any matter that is not privileged and is relevant to the subject matter of the pending action, and it is not a ground for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at trial if such information appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. (See Tex. R. Civ. P. 192.3(a)). The party whom discovery has been served upon then has 30 days to respond. (Tex. R. Civ. P. 196.2(a), 197.2(a)). It is permissible and proper to respond to discovery requests by either providing the requested information, making a proper objection, or asserting a privilege. (See Tex. R. Civ. P. 193.1-193.3). The party seeking to provide an objection or assert a privilege for discovery protection has an affirmative duty to do so, and failure to do so risks waiver of any objection or privilege. (In re Union Pac. Res. Co., 22 S.W.3d 338, 340, 43 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 145 (Tex. 1999)). In addition, courts have largely held that “[r]equests for discovery must be tailored to include only matters relevant to the case.” (In re Univar USA Inc., 311 S.W.3d 183, 186 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2010) (citing Mallinckrodt, 262 S.W.3d at 473.)). Courts have also opined as to the scope of relevance in that “[a] specific request for discovery reasonably tailored to include only matters relevant to the case is not overbroad merely because the request may call for some information of doubtful relevance.” (In re Nat’l Lloyds Ins. Co., Nos. 13-14-00713-CV, 13-14-00714-CV, 2015 Tex. App. LEXIS 5509, at *17 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi May 29, 2015) (citing Texaco v. Sanderson, 898 S.W.2d 813, 815 (Tex. 1995)). And, most importantly in this regard, Texas courts have further held that “[t]he phrase ‘relevant to the subject matter’ is to be liberally construed to allow the litigants to obtain the fullest knowledge of the facts and issues prior to trial.” (Id. at 17 (citing Ford Motor Co. v. Castillo, 279 S.W.3d 656, 664 (Tex. 2009); See also, In re HEB Grocery Co., 375 S.W.3d 497, 500 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2012, orig. proceeding)). Finally, courts have further illumined practitioners by continuing to hold to the longstanding principle that “[i]nformation is relevant if it tends to make the existence of a fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the information.” (Id. at 16). That said, if a party wishes to object to discovery, “[a] party may object to [discovery] only if a good faith legal and factual basis for the objection exists at the time the objection is made” and “[b]y rule, the party resisting discovery must make a timely objection to the discovery request or else the objection is waived.” (Id. (emphasis added)). That said, a common mistake I routinely observe litigators making throughout Texas is attempting to assert privileges via objections, which is wholly improper, though this does not initially waive a privilege. (See Tex. R. Civ. P. 193.2(f) and 193.3).

Understanding these basic fundamentals of discovery practice, a 507 claim of privilege for proprietary nature must be upheld only upon the claimant proving that the information is warranted such protection under TUTSA. The plain language found within Tex. R. Evid. 507(b) further augments the validity of this logical truism. The pertinent language states that “[t]he privilege may be claimed by the person who owns the trade secret . . .” (Id. (emphasis added)). Yet, even if the alleged information is shown under TUTSA to warrant protection by Tex. R. Evid. 507, such rule still states in part that a court may compel discovery if “nondisclosure will tend to conceal fraud or otherwise work injustice.” (Id. See also, Garcia v. Peeples, 734 S.W.2d 343 (Tex. 1987) (“Out of an abundance of caution, the trial court, after determining which documents are true trade secrets, can require those wishing to share the discovered material to certify that they will not release it to competitors or others who would exploit it for their own economic gain. Such an order would guard [claimant party’s] proprietary information, while promoting efficiency in the trial process.”)). In addition, while Tex. R. Evid. 507 effectively presumes the validity of a trade secret having already been established, TUTSA § 134A.007(c) further states that “[t]o the extent that this chapter conflicts with the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, this chapter controls.” Yet, if we look back to the Tex. R. Civ. P. through this lens we arrive at a discoverable result virtually equal to the applications of the rules as to any general discovery requested to which opposing counsel likely did not object. However, understanding the clear intent as prescribed by the Texas Legislature that TUTSA controls in such cases, opposing counsel, arguably, must generally move for an injunction under § 134A.003 and successfully meet the burden of proving that the information sought is protectable proprietary information. Assuming arguendo that opposing counsel does successfully carry such burden, and further moves for a proper injunction under TUTSA, the fact remains that “it is not a ground for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” (Tex. R. Civ. P. 192.3(a)).

Even if an opposing party successfully convinces a court that the information sought is in fact a trade secret, and an injunction is properly granted, this in no way automatically grants nor supports a total bar on discovery of the requested information. This theory is further legitimized by § 134A.006(a) of TUTSA because it specifically provides for the preservation of secrecy of such information without barring discovery during litigation. In fact, given the plain context of § 134A.006(a), it appears that the Texas Legislature clearly understood, thanks in no small part to Garcia, the importance of forthcoming and candid cooperation during the discovery phase of litigation. This acknowledgment was made manifest when the Legislature granted courts wide discretion regarding various methods of allowing sealed discovery of proprietary information. (See Civ. Prac. & Rem Code, Title 6, Ch. 134A, § 134A.006). Steps that courts can take to preserve trade secrecy without barring discovery of such information include “[p]rotective orders . . . limiting access to confidential information to only the attorneys and their experts, holding in camera hearings, sealing the records of the action, and ordering any person involved in the litigation not to disclose an alleged trade secret without prior court approval.” (Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code, Tit. 6, Ch. 134A, § 134A.006(a)).

If we look to the processes of sealing court records as prescribed under Tex. R. Civ. P. 76a, there are two options available to a party to limit disclosure of proprietary information in addition to TUTSA: (I) 76a(1)-(4) outlines a complete and final seal of court records; and (II) 76a(5) outlines the standards and process for obtaining a Temporary Sealing Order. Thus, neither TUTSA, the Tex. R. Evid., nor the Tex. R. Civ. P. suggest that it is proper to completely bar discovery of alleged proprietary information during a litigation setting. In fact, by the plain language and context of the foregoing authorities it would appear quite the opposite was intended by the courts and Texas Legislature.

In sum, when viewed in its totality under binding statutory authorities, common law principles of stare decisis, and professional rules of legal procedure and evidence, a typical Rule 507 objection or claimed privilege—and subsequent refusal to produce the requested discovery under the argument that such information is non-discoverable—becomes moot, improper, legally myopic, and rendered effectively without merit or authority. However, even in the rare case where trade secret status is actually warranted it is still likely that the astute practitioner can persuade a court to compel discovery via a Tex. R. Civ. P. 76a sealing order.

Blaze Taylor is an attorney in the Lubbock office of the Moster Law Firm, where he practices in the firm’s Civil Litigation Section. After serving 29 months in combat with the U.S. Army, 13 months of which he spent as one of 16 bodyguards to H.R. McMaster, Taylor moved home to pursue a legal and academic career. While working for Congressman Jeb Hensarling and studying at the Washington Center, he finished a B.B.A. with an emphasis in economics from Lubbock Christian University in 2012. Taylor later earned his J.D. from Pepperdine University School of Law in 2016.

Stories of Recovery: After alcohol abuse, TLAP gave me my life back

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 06:00

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery blog series. TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.

I started drinking alcohol at about age 6.

Surrounded by military fighter pilots, alcohol was simply a part of my life. It was 1967, and the Vietnam War was at its height. Our friends and neighbors were all getting deployed to Vietnam, along with my father and my uncle. This was a scary time for everyone, as our pilots were getting shot down and captured and tortured with some regularity. Automatic, ghastly, immediate torture awaited any shoot-down.

At that time, small children were required to attend both church and Sunday school, both of which I hated. In the pews, pamphlets depicted our guys roped into excruciating stress positions and left for hours and days, beaten and tortured, to demonstrate to the parishioners the great faith that the POWs displayed (the better to show us howweshould be faithful too). I don’t know if I have a photographic memory or not, but I sure as hell remember those pamphlets and their drawings! Very traumatizing at that age.

At age 8, I was bigger than my mother. With Dad overseas, I had to follow no rules. It was always, “Just wait till your father gets home.” That was her way to try to keep me in line, but whenever Dad came home we were so relieved and happy, nothing ever came of all my shenanigans. We were all pretty good kids, military brats, and proud of it.

I started smoking marijuana at age 8. I don’t remember ever paying for it; the big kids just had it all the time and would let us smoke with them. We constantly found ways to obtain both alcohol and marijuana. I had good grades in school, so we were never suspected. Anyway, it was the Summer of Love, Woodstock, and hippies, so we didn’t stick out much.

Preparing for our transfer to South America at age 15, we were living the alcohol- and drug-soaked ritzy high school privileged lifestyle (of Northern Virginia). Upon learning we were going to South America, our local drug dealer said, “Oh, man, lucky you, there’s tons of good coke down there.”

With cocaine, it is imperative that one drink alcohol, at least when using the quantities we started using. We would trade coveted blue jeans, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and J&B whiskey for coke. Anything we could trade from the States was better than cash, as the country was under a socialist government that refused to deal with the USA.

The thing is, though, when under the influence of pure cocaine, the human body hardly registers the presence of alcohol. We drank copiously, just to counteract the coke. Cigarettes by the thousands, also.

This went on all through university, living the good life in California. So, at age 26, I had 20 years of alcohol abuse, 18 years of pot, and 10 years of solid cocaine use behind me. I quit the coke, pot, and cigarettes, but kept drinking, and drinking and drinking. This, of course, builds formidable mental tolerance.

Finally, my body couldn’t take it anymore. I was always nauseated—poisoned really, from a clinical standpoint. Covering up for work—shower, deodorant, Binaca, Visine, Listerine—but still unable to show for work a lot because I was throwing up, I almost lost my job.

Anyway, I called TLAP from a flyer I came across at the firm, called Penni Wood, who gave me the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers information in my area. I now have a sponsor. I am now clean and sober and loving it. I attend two meetings per week and really look forward to them.

Thanks Penni, LCL, and TLAP for giving me my life back.

Chicago Bar Association offers technology, practice management videos

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 16:00

The Chicago Bar Association is adding to its collection of Law Practice Management and Technology How To videos and making them accessible to everyone.

Currently more than 100 on-demand videos can be watched and or accessed through the CBA’s video library. Each video is one hour or less in length and hosted on Vimeo, which is mobile friendly and offers rewind and fast forward capabilities. Topics include cloud computing, communication, eFiling, firm management, and more.

For more information and to be added to the email list to be notified about the release of new videos, contact Catherine Sanders Reach.

Pro Bono Spotlight Day 3: Hannah Cramer

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 14:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

Hannah Cramer is a Plano native and is currently a 3L at St. Mary’s University School of Law. She is the student coordinator for the pro bono program, site coordinator for the ID Recovery program, vice chair of the board of advocates, president of the Public Interest Law Foundation, and a staff writer for the Scholar: St. Mary’s Law Review for Race and Social Justice.

What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I participate in most of the law school’s pro bono workshops and am frequently at the ID Recovery program. I have been volunteering with ID Recovery since the fall of my 1L year. Law students, under the supervision of our pro bono director, go to Haven for Hope every Friday and conduct intakes with clients who are experiencing homelessness.

Why is pro bono important to you?
It’s important for me to use my knowledge and resources to help individuals who do not have the same resources and pro bono work allows me to do this. Also, selfishly, I feel really good when I’ve helped someone who wouldn’t otherwise receive services.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
By doing pro bono, I have learned a lot about interacting with clients and how to be a professional advocate. Many of the clients at ID Recovery are going through a very tough part of their life, and serving them has taught me how to be a compassionate advocate while maintaining professionalism.

What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
If a fellow law student asked me about doing pro bono for the first time, I would tell them it is the best choice I made at law school. You will receive real-world experience, network with local attorneys, and learn more than you could ever learn by sitting in the classroom. Pro bono is the perfect way to see what you’ve read about in casebooks in real life.

Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
My favorite pro bono success story is about one of my clients at ID Recovery. This client had an intellectual disability and I was nervous that he wouldn’t be able to follow-up the following week to receive his documents. I conducted his intake and then worried about him all week and whether he would remember to come back. He came back next week and was able to get his ID! For most people this doesn’t mean much, but for this client that meant he could access his food stamps, and hopefully find permanent housing.

Pro Bono Spotlight Day 3: Brooke Hendricks-Green

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 10:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

Brooke Hendricks-Green is from Odessa and works in the Ector County Attorney’s Office. She is a member of the Pro Bono Advisory Board for Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas.

How long have you been doing pro bono work?
I worked at Legal Aid Society in Lubbock from 2004 to 2006 while attending law school. I also did pro bono criminal cases as a defense attorney for two years while in private practice. I currently volunteer as a member of the Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas’ Pro Bono Advisory Board. I originally started volunteering on the board back when the Equal Justice Volunteer Program first created the advisory board in the Midland office in 2017. On the current board, I am excited to help run the driver’s license clinic. As a prosecutor, I see people daily who cannot navigate the complicated system that is the Texas Department of Public Safety and figure out not only why his or her license is suspended but also how to resolve it. I think it will be a beneficial clinic in our area.

Why is pro bono important to you?
It is so important for everyone to have equal access to justice, regardless of his or her situation. Our country is based upon the principles of equal rights for all, and we must ensure that is taking place on every level of legal needs. We must help those who cannot help themselves. I am looking forward to helping Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas as I transition to the bench in January as well as in any way I can.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
I have learned that there are many wonderful people who have unfortunate events happen in their lives that can truly be helped by pro bono work. A little of your time is priceless to the person you are assisting.

What would you say to an attorney who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
You will not regret it. You will not believe how rewarding and heartwarming it is to see the difference you can make in people’s lives. Please share your talents.

Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
I helped a woman falsely charged with aggravated assault who was in her 70s. The state was adamant about pursuing these charges against her and she was even set for a jury trial. I worked zealously to advocate for her and to show the truth. She lived off Social Security and had rented out a room to her new “alleged victim” to try to make ends’ meet but who then told a fabricated story that she had pointed a weapon at him. She was traumatized by being taken into jail and by the whole criminal process. I eventually got the case dismissed and her life restored to normal. That was one of the best hugs I have ever received.

Sponsored Content: Smokeball’s “Season of Giving”: Practice Management Software Company Continues Dedicated Efforts for Charity

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 23:01

On Wednesday, October 17, 2018, Smokeball kicked off a new charity initiative for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children.  Smokeball is a practice management software company based in Chicago and Sydney dedicated to building software solutions for small law firms that result in less stress and more success.  Smokeball is also dedicated to working in the community and raising money for great legal causes.  In fact, one of the company’s core values states, “Caring is Not Optional.”

It’s latest initiative, aptly named the “Season of Giving”, is well in line with its past efforts and its core values.  For each new demo completed with a Smokeball small firm specialist between now and Thanksgiving, Smokeball is donating $100 to CASA.  CASA ensures abused or neglected children receive the competent legal representation they desperately need and rightfully deserve.  CASA “envision[s] a time when every child in state care has an influential voice in the court and in the community.”  To achieve this, CASA trains volunteer advocates to speak for children throughout various legal processes.  Smokeball has partnered with CASA for past fundraising efforts, including running Chicago’s Race Judicata 5K for its benefit.

Smokeball, through its socially-conscious employees, continually pursues ways to help in their community and effect changes nationwide.  Smokeball employees regularly volunteer with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Anti-Cruelty Society, and the Ronald McDonald House.  Smokeball’s culture dictates that entrepreneurship and helping small law firms do not occur in a vacuum; giving back to the community goes hand-in-hand with the company’s growth goals.  Thanks to leadership from its President, Jane Oxley, the company has quickly become one of Inc. magazine’s Best Workplaces and is a sought-after landing place for tech and legal folks across the country after being named one of 11 tech companies where employees can shine.

Besides creating intuitive easy-to-use yet powerful legal software, Smokeball continually promotes several core values, all of which shine through with its latest initiative, the Season of Giving.  The core values are easy to remember and should be common sense for most companies: (1) caring is not optional; (2) innovate for the client, not the press release; (3) keep listening, keep learning; (4) check your ego at the door; (5) be frank; and (6) if you see it, you own it.  Armed with these core values, Jane Oxley came to the U.S. from Australia to build a company that mattered to both its employees and its clients.  Earlier this summer, Inc.com profiled this journey and Smokeball’s dedication to its values.

In all, Smokeball’s efforts through the “Season of Giving” are meant to achieve dual goals: put Smokeball in front of more small firms that could greatly benefit from it, and give a pile of money to a tremendously important cause.  “We’re so confident that anyone who sees Smokeball will love it that it’s a no-brainer for us to give back to the community to get more people taking a look,” says Jane Oxley about the reason for the campaign.  “Getting Smokeball in front of more small law firms that need it and helping those firms’ communities at the same time, that’s what our Season of Giving is all about.”

Smokeball looks forward to scheduling demos for Texas attorneys before Thanksgiving to help support the Season of Giving!

State Bar President-elect Randy Sorrels honored by South Texas College of Law Houston

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 15:00

State Bar President-elect Randy Sorrels speaks after receiving the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award from South Texas College of Law Houston on October 19 in Houston.

South Texas College of Law Houston named State Bar of Texas President-elect Randy Sorrels the recipient of its 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award on October 19 in Houston.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented in recognition of outstanding accomplishments in the community, the legal profession, and at South Texas College of Law Houston. Sorrels graduated in the top five of his class in 1987, was a member of the National Mock Trial Program, and served on the South Texas Law Review. He is the managing partner in Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz in Houston and serves on the law school’s board of directors.

The law school’s 19 legal clinics, named the Randall O. Sorrells Legal Clinics, connect clients with law students who can help to address their legal needs while under the guidance of law school professors.

Sorrels has also been honored by the law school’s alumni association with the inaugural Public Service Award and the law school’s highest honor, the Dean’s Medal, in 2006.

Pro Bono Spotlight Day 2: Claire Brown

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 14:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

Claire Brown is from Houston and is a 2L at Texas A&M University School of Law. She is on the Texas A&M Law Review, vice president of the student organization 12th Law Man, and a student ambassador. Brown plans on practicing public interest law.

What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
My pro bono work has been with two different organizations: the Tarrant County Bar Association, or TCBA, and the Community Revitalization Project, or CRP. I began working at TCBA in October of my 1L year and continue to do so. Most of the work at TCBA consists of doing intake for their Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans clinics that are held once a month. I started my work with CRP the summer after my 1L year as a volunteer intern. I did a variety of projects related to community development, low-income communities, and nonprofit organizations. I also learned about and participated in some of community outreach efforts. I currently help with community education.

Why is pro bono important to you?
Prior to law school, I worked with refugees, the homeless, and veterans and saw how unfair the world can be to people who do not deserve to be treated badly. I want to help those people because they have so much good to contribute to society if only society would let them. Pro bono work changes people’s lives and I like being a part of that. I know it might sound cliché, but ultimately I want to make a difference in the world—at its core that is what pro bono does, one little step at a time.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
I can honestly say that most of the practical things I know about the legal profession and being a lawyer I learned from doing pro bono. I came into law school knowing next to nothing about the practice of law or its different areas, but through pro bono, I have been exposed to most of the major types of law, which has helped me to gain a better understanding of what I want to do. I have also met many great lawyers through pro bono who have taught me how to interact better with people on a personal level and also that lawyers are not the scary, intimidating people I thought they were—they are real people too.

What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from doing pro bono. Law school is busy, but there’s always something you can stop wasting time on to make room for pro bono. It gives you skills early on that your classmates do not have, and it is a great way to network.

Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
I recently had the opportunity to assist with a wills clinic held at a local domestic violence center. Obviously no one wants to think about needing a will, especially young people with families, but the women who came to the clinic were strong enough to realize that it was something they needed to have just in case. Being able to help them with the process and see the relief they felt when they knew their families would be taken care of no matter what happens really made me feel like I was doing something right.

Texas Rep. Oscar Longoria honored with Texas Access to Justice award

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 11:42

Chief of Staff Lee Loya accepted the Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award from Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman on behalf of Rep. Oscar Longoria at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center in Austin on October 18. Photo by Eric Quitugua

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation honored Texas Rep. Oscar Longoria with the Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award at a luncheon in Austin on October 18.  He was recognized for his contributions during the 85th Texas Legislature.

“As an attorney, Rep. Longoria understands that legal aid is essential for the economically disadvantaged and that having a lawyer can make all the difference in a time of need,” Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman said in a press release. “We’re truly thankful for all the hard work he has put into championing legal aid for all Texans.”

The Legislative Hero Award program was launched by the commission and foundation in 2010 to recognize people who have advanced access to justice in Texas, either through appropriating funds or other substantive activities that provide legal aid.

“I believe in making a strong impact on underprivileged Texans who need legal services,” Rep. Longoria said in a press release. “I hope to continue to create viable solutions and foster legislation that will positively affect not only the Rio Grande Valley, but all our Texas families and communities.”

Legal aid organizations funded by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation help more than 150,000 low-income Texas families yearly—only about 10 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income and poor Texans are met due to a lack of resources.

Sterling: Happy Texas Paralegal Day!

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 11:14


Editor’s note: Stephanie R. Sterling, the 2018-2019 president of the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division, issued the following message today for Texas Paralegal Day.

Today marks the 37th anniversary of the founding of the Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas on October 23, 1981.

It was the first such action by any state bar in the entire United States. The Paralegal Division was instrumental in having October 23 declared Texas Paralegal Day beginning many years before; however, it wasn’t until 2009 that it became official permanently. 

It was on January 9, 2009, that the State of Texas with the help of Senator Kirk Watson made Texas Paralegal Day permanent, with Senate Proclamation No. 1144.

Proclamation No. 1144 states, in part,

Paralegals are vital resources to their firms, performing valuable services for and under the direction of an attorney, and their work requires a thorough knowledge of legal concepts and facts… Through their exceptional talents and expertise, paralegals provide valuable services that contribute significantly to the efficient functioning of the judicial system in the Lone Star State and they are indeed worthy of special recognition.”

I would like to extend my gratitude and appreciation to each of you who have tirelessly given their time and talents to grow this profession by setting set high standards through education and ethics, voluntary certification, and volunteerism.

I am thankful for my career and for all of my colleagues—past, present, and future. It is truly all your hard work and dedication to this profession that has made it what it is today and is the reason that we are recognized on this day.

Happy Texas Paralegal Day and thank you for being a PD member!

Stephanie R. Sterling, TBLS-BCP
President 2018-2019

Stephanie R. Sterling is a paralegal with the law firm of DuBois, Bryant & Campbell, LLP in Austin and is board certified in civil trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Sterling is the current Paralegal Division president and is a past president of Capital Area Paralegal Association (CAPA).

Pro Bono Spotlight Day 2: Julie K. Sherman

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 10:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

Julie K. Sherman is a paralegal at Cantey Hanger in Fort Worth. She is a past winner of the Texas Young Lawyers Association’s Liberty Bell Award, the Tarrant County Young Lawyers Association’s Liberty Bell Award, and 2013 State Bar of Texas Exceptional Pro Bono Service Award—Paralegal Division. Sherman is a past Tarrant County Bar Association Paralegal of the Year and Fort Worth Paralegal Association, or FWPA, Paralegal of the Year. She is a past president of FWPA. Sherman is a board-certified in personal injury law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I am currently the Tarrant Volunteer Attorney Services, or TVAS, co-chair. TVAS is one of the two pro bono communities under the Tarrant County Bar Foundation. I have been a member of the TVAS committee for six years. TVAS puts on family law, estate planning, and general advice clinics with facilities such as the Gatehouse, True Worth Place, the Morris Foundation Women’s & Children Center, Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County, and Northside Inter-Community Agency, Inc. Prior to my involvement with TVAS, I participated for over 10 years in wills clinics, divorce clinics, and other pro bono events with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, or LANWT, the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division, and the Fort Worth Paralegal Association.

Why is pro bono important to you?
I have been blessed in my life. I have a wonderful family and a career I love. I have been a paralegal with Cantey Hanger for 22 years and they are supportive of my pro bono work. Pro bono is my way of giving back to my community and those who are less fortunate. Through pro bono volunteering, I have been given the opportunity to meet and help some extraordinary and gracious people. I have also had the opportunity to meet and work with a great number of amazing and caring attorneys and paralegals.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
I have learned that no matter what your skill set, education, or experience, everyone has the ability to help someone in need. I have also learned that I get just as much, if not more, out of helping people than the people I am helping.

What would you say to an attorney who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Don’t wait, there is a lot of need out there. Over 13 percent of Tarrant County residents are below poverty level. You have the ability to help someone that is truly in need of help. It only takes a few hours and you can change someone’s life forever. There is no better feeling than that of helping others.

Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
It is hard to pick just one, but one of my favorite stories is that of a woman whose husband had left her and their children 30 years earlier. She had no idea where he was. As a single mother, she had been busy working two jobs and raising their children, then their grandchildren. One day a friend of hers gave her a flyer about a pro bono event. That pro bono clinic gave her the ability to finalize something that had been weighing on her for 30 years. I will never forget how excited and grateful she was.

KoonsFuller attorney leads pro bono case to help woman get conservatorship of children

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 16:00

Eight years ago, Katy Hayes, of Kingwood, lost all of her limbs due to a group A streptococcal, or GAS, infection following the home birth of her third child. Last year, Hayes filed for divorce from her husband, and after mediation with her former attorney, her ex-husband was awarded temporary conservatorship of their children. KoonsFuller Managing Shareholder Sherri Evans saw Hayes’ need for adequate counsel in the matter, and KoonsFuller associate Jordan Turk took on the case pro bono. Turk was able to settle the case without going to trial and obtained primary conservatorship of the children for Hayes. The Texas Bar Journal sat down with Elizabeth Lampert, where we discussed the background of Hayes’ medical battles, the ongoing legal battles after her divorce, and Turk’s work in helping Hayes get conservatorship of her child.

Can you give me some of the background on the case?
In 2010, Katy Hayes lost all of her limbs to a catastrophic infection—invasive group A streptococcal disease, or GAS—following the home birth of her third child. Since Hayes’ journey navigating this disease began, the Kingwood community has come together to help her and her family—from sending her to Boston for two years where she was to receive arm transplants, which ultimately failed, to providing her with a van.

In 2017, Hayes filed for divorce. Prior to Jordan Turk taking on the case pro bono, Hayes had gone to mediation on temporary orders with her previous attorney, which resulted in her ex-husband being awarded temporary conservatorship of their children.

How did this case come to your attention?
Sherri Evans knew of Hayes and from local Kingwood acquaintances heard of her divorce and custody challenges with the ex-husband’s attempts to take the kids away.

Can you give me some details of the case?
Prior to Turk taking on the case pro bono, Hayes had gone to mediation on temporary orders with her previous attorney, which resulted in her ex-husband being awarded primary conservatorship of their children. Turk was able to settle the case for Hayes without going to trial, resulting in Hayes obtaining primary conservatorship of her children, keeping the house, and her vehicle.

What made this case a particularly important one to take on pro bono?
Since February 14, 2010, when doctors determined Hayes had been infected with GAS, she has overcome tremendous obstacles, beating all odds. This case was important to show that being physically disabled does not prevent you from being an effective parent. Hayes never let her disability define who she was as a mother. Above all, she loves her kids, and KoonsFuller just needed to channel that into positive advocacy for Hayes.

What serves as your motivation to do pro bono—for this case—and in general?
We established the KoonsFuller Family Law Foundation this year. We are awarding the North Texas area and Houston nonprofit organizations grants totaling $200,000 at our 40th anniversary events in November. That $200,000 is in addition to the firm’s “everyday” fiscal charitable contributions. Our dedication to charitable contributions, in addition to our heavy involvement in charitable activities, leadership roles, pro bono, etc., is important to the firm.

Kingwood native Evans felt especially compelled to offer the firm’s services pro bono to Katy with Turk taking the lead.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t done pro bono but is considering it for the first time?
Don’t be scared. Don’t worry about not having time to do it—you will make time. You will be able to give the gift of comfort, of empowerment, to your client. This is one of the reasons why you went to law school. You get to make an indelible mark on someone’s life. Contact your local bar association and they will point you in the right direction. There is an entire community of attorneys who will make themselves available to assist you.

Now, just get out and do it.

Pro Bono Spotlight Day 1: Asha Brown

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 14:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

Asha Brown, a Bakersfield, California, native and a 3L at Baylor Law School, will graduate on November 10. She is a student ambassador who is involved in myriad activities including Diversity in Law, Black Law Student Association, American Association of Justice Mock Trial Competition Team, Battle of the Expert Mock Trial Competition team, Public Interest Legal Society-Adoption Day, Baylor Academy of the Advocate in St. Andrews, Baylor Law & Wills Trust clinic, Veterans clinic, Juvenile clinic, and Municipal Court clinic. Brown plans on practicing criminal law and has secured a clerkship with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals from 2019 to 2020.

What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I have been working with the free veterans legal clinic that is part of Baylor Law School’s clinic program for two years. I have also been part of the Wills and Estate Planning clinic for two years. My role has been to help first responders whose income is under 200 percent of the federal poverty limit who wish to have a last will and testament, power of attorney, etc. I have done legal advice online a few times where people in the community submit legal questions and we, as law students, work with lawyers to do research and solve their problems for them. Since I received my bar card three months ago, I have worked in the juvenile clinic representing juveniles for their first appearance hearings. Also, these past few months, I have been working to represent indigent criminal defendants in municipal court.

Why is pro bono important to you?
Pro bono is important because it is the foundation of my love for the legal system. Growing up, I started to realize how many aspects of your life have legal consequences. However, many people cannot afford counsel and they are taken advantage of and that is not what the legal system should be about. I believe that people should not be taken advantage of because they don’t know any better. Further, I don’t believe anyone should miss out on the important things in life, like making sure you have a will, just because you can’t afford an attorney.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
I have learned how blessed I am and how much I have to give to the world. I grew up poor and disadvantaged. I knew very little about how the world operated outside the neighborhood I lived in. However, I continued my education and have always strived to learn more—and now that I have the knowledge, I feel that it is my duty to impart that knowledge to those who are less fortunate. I have also learned that there is not enough pro bono out in the world and there should be more.

What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
I would tell him or her that this is a great opportunity to learn about the law, about helping real people, and about appreciating something bigger. Being in law school you sometimes lose sight of the realness of the law when your mind is enthralled in reading 50-year-old cases and you don’t have clients. However, doing pro bono work will remind you why you came to law school in the first place and help keep your eyes on the purpose throughout your journey.

Bree Buchanan retiring; new Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program director named

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 10:16

Bree Buchanan

Bree Buchanan, a national leader in the movement to address substance abuse and mental health issues in the legal profession, is retiring October 31 as director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) of the State Bar of Texas. Staff attorney Chris Ritter will succeed her as director of the program.

Buchanan will continue as chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) and as co-chair of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.

“It’s been such an honor and a highlight of my career to serve the members of our profession, both those who are courageously seeking help for themselves and those who are compassionately seeking help for others,” Buchanan said.

Chris Ritter

Ritter said he is excited to take on the role of director. Before joining the TLAP staff in 2014, he was an assistant district attorney as well as a partner in two prominent civil litigation law firms.

“TLAP means the world to me,” Ritter said. “You can’t find a more important cause for the legal world, and it is a personal passion of mine as an attorney in recovery. I am very grateful to have this opportunity.”

Read the full news release.

Pro Bono Spotlight Day 1: Elizabeth “Heidi” Bloch

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 10:00

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.

Elizabeth “Heidi” Bloch is a partner in Husch Blackwell in Austin. She represents clients before state and federal courts in all aspects of appellate practice.

What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been doing various types of pro bono work for three decades. The legal work has primarily been representing folks who have been denied Social Security benefits, but I recently branched out into helping veterans with appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veteran’s Claims, which is very rewarding. I’m glad to say I’m 4-for-4 on those appeals. I’ve acted as a mentor to first-time pro bono attorneys who need a little assistance and encouragement. I’ve also served for many years on the board for Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas (vlsoct.org), which has given me the opportunity to see things from the inside, such as the tireless dedication of lawyers and administrators who do pro bono work 24/7, the generosity of the small army of volunteer lawyers in our community, and the extraordinary administrative effort required to reach out to clients who need services and match them up with someone who can help.

Why is pro bono important to you?
As lawyers, we benefit from a legal system that is too complicated for our paying clients to navigate themselves. We owe it back to the system and to our community to help those who cannot afford our services. On a more basic level, it’s the right thing to do.

What have you learned from doing pro bono?
That with some reach, and perhaps a mentor, you can get out of your comfort zone and tackle a legal matter that you might not have taken otherwise; that there are deserving and grateful people in our community who need our help; that access to justice has support at high levels, but is constantly under attack and at risk of being underfunded.

What would you say to an attorney who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Don’t hesitate! You may get opportunities that you wouldn’t get in your practice such as court appearances, direct client contact, interaction with judges, etc. There are appellate opportunities that might get you your first oral argument. Feel free to ask for a mentor to walk you through your first case. It is truly rewarding.

Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
I still have a thank-you card and a homemade necklace from a Social Security client from long ago. How many thank-you cards do we get from clients?

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