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News on the Lawyers and Legal Professionals of Texas
Updated: 2 hours 15 min ago

Vick: Proposed State Bar budget reduces spending

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 16:46

Editor’s note: State Bar of Texas President Tom Vick sent the following message to members on Monday. 

I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season so far. Please read below for updates on the State Bar budget and other news.

Good Financial Stewards

I’m pleased to report that, under the leadership of our new Executive Director Trey Apffel and his staff, the proposed 2018-2019 State Bar general fund budget reduces overall spending by 5 percent compared with the current budget while adding additional money in reserves. This is a fiscally responsible budget, and I was proud to vote for it as a member of the State Bar Board of Directors’ Budget Committee.

The committee met Thursday at the Texas Law Center and invited the major State Bar departments to present their budget proposals. After hearing detailed reports and asking a number of questions of staff, the committee voted unanimously to approve the proposed budget for presentation to the full Board of Directors. I want to commend our staff and the committee, led by President-elect Joe K. Longley, for their many months of diligent work to get us to this point. The Board of Directors will consider the proposed budget on January 26 and April 27 before submitting it to the Texas Supreme Court for final approval. The State Bar also invites your feedback at a public hearing at 9 a.m. on April 3 at the Texas Law Center in Austin. 

While no particular budget savings recommendations have been received as yet from the financial task force appointed by President-elect Longley, the task force is working on recommendations for future budget savings. Those recommendations will be furnished in a report to the State Bar Board of Directors, and I look forward to reviewing the recommendations when the task force completes its work.

Studying Advertising Review 

As attorneys, most of our public marketing efforts must be submitted to the State Bar Advertising Review Committee under Part VII of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. As your president, I am committed to making sure this service is as user-friendly as possible while still achieving its purpose. As such, I have asked the Advertising Review Committee to study ways to improve the system. If you have feedback, please email Gene Major.

Other Reviews 

At the request of President-elect Longley, I have asked the State Bar Board’s Administration Committee to study the necessity of hiring a general counsel for the board. I have also asked the board’s Policy Manual Subcommittee to study our travel policies and recommend any needed changes. I will update you as these studies continue.

Open Enrollment Reminder

Finally, the 2018 open enrollment period for health insurance ends this Friday, December 15. To learn more about the offerings listed on the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange or schedule an appointment with a benefits counselor, please go to the website.
Sincerely,

Tom Vick
President, State Bar of Texas

Upcoming ABA YLD Twitter chat focuses on mental health and addiction

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 09:30

The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division will host a Twitter Chat focused on mental health and addiction during the holidays. Brian Cuban, author of The Addicted Lawyer, and Bree Buchanan, director of the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program, will be joined by members of the Michigan Bar and Florida Bar as they respond to questions from Twitter users using the hashtag #Fit2Practice. The ABAYLD will then retweet responses. The chat takes place Monday, December 18, and runs from 11:30 a.m. to noon CST.

In August, a task force of ABA and non-ABA groups, co-chaired by Buchanan, released a report on the state of mental health in the law profession. The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change offered ways attorneys, law firms, law schools, and bar associations can help improve overall wellness in the profession. One of the report’s recommendations is to facilitate, destigmatize, and encourage help-seeking behaviors. The Texas Lawyers Assistance Program offers many resources on wellness stress and anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder, substance abuse, cognitive decline, and suicide prevention. For more information, go to tlaphelps.org or call (800) 343-8527 (TLAP). All calls are confidential.

Lawyer Death by Suicide

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 09:00

The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program receives calls almost weekly about a lawyer loss by suicide. In fact, 11 percent of lawyers have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their career. Will you make a commitment to help another lawyer and to help yourself? If you are experiencing substance abuse or depression and anxiety, call TLAP right now 24/7. All calls are confidential. You can help another lawyer who might otherwise be in such pain that suicide seems the only option. You can help yourself by fine-tuning your own lawyer wellness program. You can learn how to help a survivor from a loss by suicide, whether it is a colleague or a loved one. TLAP is available to all legal communities to make a one-hour ethics presentation that is designed for your group needs at no charge. Call TLAP at (800) 343-8527 (TLAP) or go to tlaphelps.org and click on Suicide Prevention under What We Help With for current research to help lawyers. Additional resources include the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-TALK. .

ABA CoLAP to host live Twitter chat on problem gambling

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 09:30

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs is hosting “Problem Gambling in the Legal Profession,” a live Twitter chat that features special guests Christine Anderson, of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, and Keith Whyte, of the National Council on Problem Gambling. They will discuss the consequences of gambling, the signs and symptoms of a person who may have a gambling problem, how to receive assistance or refer someone to help, and how law schools and law firms can address the issue.

The chat will take place from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EST on December 13. Follow along or join the discussion with #GamblingHelp4Lawyers.

Culhane Meadows earns Women’s Business Enterprise certification

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 15:30

Culhane Meadows was certified a Women’s Business Enterprise, or WBE, by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Women make up a majority of the management team of this national firm, which has offices in Austin, Dallas, and Houston.

“WBE certification is a welcome acknowledgement of the commitment Culhane Meadows has made to create an environment where inclusion and diversity is at the forefront,” said Kelly Culhane, co-founder and a managing partner in the firm. “From our very beginning, we have sought to create an open and transparent platform where all lawyers can thrive regardless of gender, race, religion, age, or geography.”

Management of Culhane Meadows, with nearly 60 partners across seven major business markets, is up to a five-person team. Three of its leaders, as well as about 40 percent of the firm’s total roster of attorneys, are women.

“There are very few national law firms of any size with women in management positions much less a majority,” said Kim Verska, a managing partner. “Our clients already recognize the increasing importance diversity in their workplaces and encouraged us to pursue WBE certification to highlight Culhane Meadows’ fundamental commitment to creating a law firm partnership based on a true meritocracy where every member can flourish with real equal opportunity.”

Established in 1997, the WBENC has promoted diversity and made it a mission to encourage women’s business development. The nonprofit’s WBE certification is administered across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands and acknowledges businesses owned, controlled, and operated by women.

Culhane Meadows’ own mission statement says the law firm is committed to hiring and retaining the best no matter the gender, race, or creed. Of its managers, about 60 percent are women, according to the firm’s website.

“We were pleased to participate in the WBENC’s certification process,” said managing partner Jim Meadows. “Like the council and many of our Fortune-ranked clients, Culhane Meadows is committed to removing barriers and giving everyone a truly level playing field to achieve success regardless of background, gender, race, or family circumstances. We are proud to be a national leader in promoting women within the legal marketplace and creating a better way to practice law.”

Apffel: It’s Time to Get to Work

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 11:18

Editor’s note: The following column also appears in the December 2017 issue of the Texas Bar Journal.

As I write this column, I’m busy winding down my 35-year practice as a Galveston County trial lawyer. By the time you receive this issue of the Texas Bar Journal, I will have assumed the job as executive director of the State Bar of Texas. I am humbled and honored that the Board of Directors chose me for this position, and I look forward to working with the board, President Tom Vick, President-elect Joe K. Longley, Board Chair Rehan Alimohammad, our staff, and each of you to further the State Bar’s mission.

As I transition from volunteer leader to staff member, I think back on my first Texas Bar Journal column as president of the bar in 2014-2015. In it, I called for a “year of inclusion” to deepen engagement with our members and ensure our bar remained strong and prepared to meet tomorrow’s challenges. That was my commitment then, and that is my commitment today and going forward.

One way I’m demonstrating that commitment is by bringing back this Executive Director’s Page, which was a regular feature in the Bar Journal in the 1990s. I will use this space to update you on developments at the Texas Law Center and as a forum to answer your questions.

As president, one of my top priorities was improving and increasing our communications. The idea was not just to talk to you about what the State Bar does, although we accomplish many great things for many people. I also wanted to hear from you, our members, especially from segments of our profession who say the State Bar doesn’t understand your problems or represent your interests. Working together with our board and staff, we made progress toward this goal and took concrete steps to make your membership more valuable.

We redesigned texasbar.com to make it more user-friendly and adaptable to mobile devices. We continued the free CLE series for solo and small firm practitioners that started under 2013-2014 President Lisa M. Tatum and is still going strong today. We launched a significant new member benefit—free online legal research through Fastcase, making us the first and only state to provide lawyers with free access to both Casemaker and Fastcase (which have a combined value of about $2,000 per year). We also expanded the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange.

The State Bar has continued to advance under the leadership of Presidents Allan K. DuBois, Frank Stevenson, and Tom Vick—as I am confident it will under President-elect Longley next year and those who follow him as president. Today, the State Bar of Texas is a national leader in many areas, including lawyers’ assistance programs, young lawyer associations, and efforts to encourage pro bono services to military veterans and the general public. Our success comes on the shoulders of our volunteers, including the board, section and committee leaders, CLE speakers, and countless others who donate their time and work tirelessly for the bar. If you’re not currently volunteering for the State Bar, consider doing so. Give me a call and we’ll find an opportunity for you.

Still, with all our success, we can always do better. In my new role as manager of the State Bar’s day-to-day operations, I will work to make sure we are as efficient, transparent, and fiscally responsible as we can be.

If you have questions, I will answer them. If you bring criticism, I will meet it with a listening ear and an open mind. If you don’t like what we’re doing and there’s a better way to do it, I will consider the alternatives.

Simply put, I’m working for you. And it’s time to get to work.


Trey Apffel

Executive Director, State Bar of Texas
(512) 427-1500
trey.apffel@texasbar.com
@ApffelT on Twitter

State Bar accepting expressions of interest for 2018-2019 committees

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 10:01

The State Bar of Texas is accepting expressions of interest to serve on committees for the upcoming bar year.

Please fill out this form by December 8 to express interest in serving on a State Bar committee beginning in the 2018-2019 bar year, which starts June 1. Information provided in this form will be submitted to the president-elect for consideration when naming committee appointments.

State Bar committees are established by the Board of Directors and appointed by the president-elect to consider matters of interest to the bar membership, update professional materials, recommend changes to policies and procedures, and study legal issues affecting the legal profession and the public.

A list of committees and their roles is available at texasbar.com/committees.

Free legal clinic for veterans in Katy

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 09:30

Veterans in Katy can receive free legal advice at a clinic hosted by the Katy Bar Association and Houston Bar Foundation’s Veterans Legal Initiative on Saturday, December 9.

The clinic will offer veterans, or spouses of deceased veterans, one-on-one advice and counsel from volunteer attorneys in areas of law including family law, wills and probate, consumer law, and real estate and tax law, as well as disability and veterans benefits.

Veterans who qualify for legal aid and are in need of legal representation may be assigned a pro bono attorney from the Houston Volunteer Lawyers.

The event will take place at the Katy VA Outpatient Clinic, 750 Westgreen Blvd., Katy 77450. No appointment is necessary.

Additional Houston Bar Foundation legal clinics take place Fridays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. For more information, go to hba.org.

To view a list of other free veteran legal clinics around the state, please visit the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans website at texasbar.com/veterans.

Texas Bar Journal Must-Reads for December

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 12:00

Can’t wait for the December issue of the Texas Bar Journal to arrive? Check out our editorial staff’s must-reads for a look at agricultural law and a holiday tradition at the Capitol. And don’t forget Movers and Shakers, Memorials, and Disciplinary Actions.

A River Runs Through It
Resolving the Rio Grande water dispute between the United States and Mexico.
By Ruben R. Barrera and Dan A. Naranjo

A Century-Old Tradition
The 2017 ornament celebrates 100 years of trees at the Texas Capitol.
By Adam Faderewski

Cybersecurity Compliance
Why the new rules in New York are important to businesses everywhere.
By Shawn E. Tuma

A Return to Form
A Houston criminal defense attorney is running again after surviving a heart attack.
Interview by Eric Quitugua

Texas prosecutors and county attorneys help Harvey-ravaged colleagues

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 09:36

Harris County Administrative Assistant Ruth Cortez, left, speaks to TDCAA Executive Director Robert Kepple and Harris County DA Kim Ogg after receiving a $1,000 check to assist her with her Harvey-damaged home. (Photo credit: Harris County DA’s Office)

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Texas District & County Attorneys Foundation created a relief fund and asked people to donate to help their struggling peers. As a result, this week the foundation gifted $1,000 per person to 40 prosecutors, investigators, and administrative staff in eight South Texas counties.

“We know this is not a king’s ransom to anyone, but it is love from prosecutors around the country,” Robert Kepple, executive director of the TDCAA, said in a news release.

The foundation is the Texas District & County Attorneys Association’s fundraising 501(c)(3). The individuals who received the funds had to apply and meet certain requirements, including having an uninsured or unreimbursed loss of $5,000 or more as a direct result of Harvey. The recipients are from Harris, Aransas, Victoria, Orange, Jefferson, Montgomery, Refugio, and Fort Bend counties.

Recipients from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office were given their checks during a Tuesday luncheon, according to an office news release.

Ruth Cortez, an administrative assistant, who saw her roof cave in during Harvey, was among those to receive a check.

“This is a blessing,” Cortez recalled saying when she was first told she would receive the assistance. “You have me in tears right now.”

Col. Robert Preston offers insights into the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 09:00

The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps—one of the largest law firms in the world and the oldest firm in the United States—was founded by George Washington on July 29, 1775, with the appointment of William Tudor as the first judge advocate general. Five years later, Congress authorized the Navy JAG, and thereafter JAGs were established in the Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines. The Air Force JAG comprises about 1,300 uniformed lawyers, 800 uniformed paralegals, and 900 civilians who are attorneys or legal support.

Col. Robert Preston, the Air Force JAG director of professional development and functional manager and career field manager, manages JAG standards and processes, officer assignments, and more. The Texas Tech University School of Law graduate has been a JAG since 1994 and has worked assignments stateside, as well as in Southeast Asia and Italy. From the Pentagon, Preston spoke to the Texas Bar Journal about his experiences and what future JAGs can expect as they begin their law careers with the Air Force.

What do you look for in prospects? What qualifications should they have?
The neat part about being a judge advocate is that, of necessity, you have to be a military officer, and so we look for a lot of the same kind of attributes of people who serve the military in other capacities, which is a real focus on service—some interest perhaps in travel and adventure. And people who value mobility and change.

From a standpoint of lawyers, we really don’t have a typecast to say that people should study only military law or something like that when they go to law school. We have a pretty wide-ranging practice, and so what we’re looking for from candidates, whether they be law students from whom we get about half of our accessions every year, are people who have what we call the basic blocking and tackling skills of being good writers, good advocates, and people who can stand on their feet and argue a case on behalf of the government in a federal court or in a military courts-martial. We’re looking for people who are adaptable, who might be interested in tackling more than one area of practice. We feel like we offer—especially to young people—some good opportunities to build skills and tackle several areas of practice.

What can entry-level advocates expect when they begin their careers in the Air Force?
For one thing, you are a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force; we put you through training that any officer would have to learn to be part of the military and effectively serve as an officer. From that you go on to training to be a judge advocate. We have what’s called the judge advocate’s staff officer course, where you learn all the basics of practice as a judge advocate. I think something that’s desirable about being a judge advocate is that we don’t put anybody in a position we haven’t trained them for. As people move along in their career, they’re given more training to accomplish the missions that are more complex as they move up the ladder.

Our basic areas of practice, what we call the base level when people come in as junior judge advocates, are really three things: (1) Legal assistance—young judge advocates help Air Force and other service members and their families with our version of legal aid; (2) Military justice—we train all judge advocates to be advocates in the military courts-martial and either be prosecutors or defense counsel in the future and in the distant future as they become more senior military judges; and (3) Wing commander—they work more or less as the adviser to an installation commander in environmental law, labor law, and government contract law, kind of the transactional and regulatory law that occurs at the base level.

Then quickly, because they’re military officers, they will deploy, supporting U.S. forces in overseas operations. So they may also do what we call international and operations law, what you might be familiar with as international law but focused on the law of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions, as well as what we call operations law, which is the U.S. legal authority by which we conduct military operations in overseas environments.

When did you become a judge’s advocate and what motivated you to become one?
I am a Texas lawyer. I was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 1994 after graduating from Texas Tech University School of Law. I originally enlisted in the military as a United States Marine and went to school on the Hazlewood Act. As I was finishing law school, some of the avenues that I had been interested in seemed to be closing because the market was bad. I took this opportunity and was selected in the JAG Corps as a law student. When I was admitted to the bar, I came on active duty in the Air Force. I’m an example of one of those folks who started off in those general areas of practice that we do—I did courts-martial when I was young, both prosecuting and defending them, and went on from that to do some work in government contracts, which is a big deal for the Air Force. I was later selected to receive an LL.M. in international and comparative law, which became my specialty for the Air Force for almost 10 years and took me to Italy several times and to the Middle East. I’ve been able to do pretty interesting things with that degree. And then for a variety of reasons, after doing a number of jobs in leadership and management, I was brought to the job I’m talking to you from right now, which is our office of professional development, where we do the cradle-to-grave human resource management for the JAG Corps.

Going in, did you have any expectations?
My expectation was to serve my country, certainly, but also to get some good experience. I never expected to stay for 20 years or more—in my case, 24 years. It turned out to be a rewarding career choice. I liked the variation in practice. I liked being able to explore areas that I never would have been able to get into had I gone into private practice or stayed in one geographic region. For example, being able to do international law for a decade was something I probably would not have been able to do coming out of law school and staying in Texas. Some of the experiences of deploying to the Middle East for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and things like that have been rewarding.

Looking back, what would you say is a case you handled that you’re the most proud of?
It’s hard to say. There are many efforts that I’ve been part of that I’m pretty proud of. The most recent one I’m both proud of for the efforts that the team put together and also because I think it illustrates some of the opportunities you get as a JAG is a case in which I was the co-lead for the team that defended a highly classified bid protest for a plane called a long-range strike bomber. It was about a $20 billion contract, and we successfully defended that bid protest against a couple of major government contractors. It was rewarding to bring together a large team of government attorneys and contracting specialists to carry that thing across the finish line for a very important plane—what we call a capability for the Air Force.

What do you take away the most from your career?
We had a controversial case that was frustrating and we were having a tough time persuading our client to do something we felt was appropriate. It was going to take, frankly, going over that person’s head. As I was wringing my hands about that, my boss said to me, “You know, the best part about being a judge advocate is we have the luxury of doing the right thing.” That’s not only a desirable thing to have, it’s your honor-bound duty. You’re a military officer and you represent not only your agency, that is the Air Force, but your country. You really have a sense of purpose and integration with a higher calling, if you will, at least for me, than if you were doing something that was commercial.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in your career?
That’s a tough one. I would say the best piece of advice I have received would be to keep a focus on the client and the client’s mission, never forgetting that the law is not an end unto itself, that you’re doing this for people. When I’ve been successful, it’s because I remembered that we’re not an end unto ourselves but we serve others, in this case the Air Force client.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming a judge advocate?
It’s a great opportunity for the right person, but it’s very much about whether you’re the right fit for the organization rather than the organization being the right fit for you. I would urge people to talk to as many others as they can, research as much as possible, and figure out if it’s something that you would like to do. The other piece I would say is that people should not rule themselves out because they don’t come from military families or don’t come from a military background. We want the Air Force and the services to be open to everyone who feels a calling to serve. We find that there are people who have no affiliation with the military whatsoever who become outstanding military officers whether that’s as lawyers or other things. It’s a great calling for the right person.

Holiday shopping discounts

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 08:00

Your Beneplace Savings Program is your one-stop holiday shopping solution—find something for everyone on your list! Check out the Electronics, Flowers & Gifts and Entertainment categories to find great gift ideas.

  • HP – Save up to 40% on HP’s holiday favorites! Shop laptops, desktops, tablets and more, and enjoy exclusive pricing and seasonal savings.
  • Samsung – In a holiday shopping slump? Check out Samsung! Enjoy exclusive, members-only pricing on their hottest products—including TVs, tablets and PCs.
  • Blue Nile – Looking for a special present for that special someone? Save 10% on diamonds and fine jewelry with Blue Nile.
  • Edible Arrangements – Edible Arrangements has freshly crafted bouquets and chocolate-dipped fruit boxes for any occasion! Save 10% on your next order.
  • Discount Movie Tickets – From blockbusters to indie films, you can see them all with TicketsatWork! Save at a theater near you, including AMC Theaters, Regal, Cinemark and National Amusements.
  • Premium Seats VIP Tickets – Premium Seats is your ultimate source for sports, concert and theater tickets nationwide! Find the best seats at the best prices—and check out VIP packages for travel packages, hotel accommodations, and much more!

Current offers provided by Beneplace.

For more information on other discounts you’re eligible for as a member of the State Bar of Texas, visit texasbar.com/benefits.

Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange
The Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange is a multi-carrier private exchange designed for State Bar of Texas members and their staff and dependents. Available to both individuals and employer groups, the exchange offers a wide range of health insurance choices and more.

State Bar of Texas – Benefits & Services

Registration under way for 2018 Law-Related Education Conference

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 06:34

All educators, supervisors, and regional service center personnel are welcome to attend the 2018 Annual Law- Related Education Conference on January 26-27, 2018, at the Commons Learning Center in Austin.

Conference participants will explore literacy components of reading, writing, and articulating points of view through history and why it is essential to maintaining freedom.

The keynote speakers, Stanford Levinson and Cynthia Levinson, will discuss their newest books, Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today and The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist. Each attendee will receive a copy of their books.

The registration fee is $150 and includes breakfast and lunch, parking, and two days of classroom-ready material. Go here to register.

For more information about the conference and Law-Related Education, go to texaslre.org.

The Law-Related Education (LRE) Department of the State Bar of Texas serves as a catalyst to advance law-related and civic education programs throughout the state through curriculum development and educator training.

Harvest Celebration raises $735,200 in pro bono legal services

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 09:00

From left: Phillip Sharp, of Baker Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz; HBA Auxiliary President Lisa Sharp; HBA President Alistair Dawson; Wendy Dawson; Sandy Sales; and Houston Bar Foundation Chair Travis Sales at the 68th Harvest Celebration in Houston on November 13.

Houston area pro bono legal services received a big boost thanks to money raised at the 68th Harvest Celebration at the River Oaks Country Club.

At the November 13 celebration, $735,200 in underwriting was raised to support pro bono legal services in Houston. The celebration benefits the Houston Volunteer Lawyers, a Houston Bar Association project that assists low-income residents with family law, consumer law, probate, and other civil legal problems.

The Harvest Celebration, sponsored by the HBA, Houston Bar Foundation, and Houston Bar Association Auxiliary, has raised nearly $7.5 million in pro bono legal services in Harris County in the last 18 years, according to a press release.

This year’s attendees included HBA President Alistair Dawson and his wife, Wendy Dawson; Houston Bar Foundation Chair Travis Sales and his wife, Sandy Sales; and HBA Auxiliary President Lisa Sharp and her husband, Phillip Sharp, of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.

Scams continue with fake law firm websites

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 15:30

Texas attorneys continue to be targeted by online scammers. Throughout 2017, there were several attempts to coerce people into sending money while claiming to work for real law firms. In a recent rash of scams, websites have been designed to mirror firms’ very real pages. But there are giveaways—and resources for verifying the not-so obvious scams.

According to a recent complaint we received, one such website, lanierpartllp.com, was set up to impersonate that of the Lanier Law Firm. However, spotty details and outright misinformation exposed the address, which is no longer accessible as of this writing. Those included using “Joseph Lanier” interchangeably with firm founder Mark Lanier, listing a New York phone number that goes to a recording, and having a different logo. The actual law firm, which houses offices in Houston, Los Angeles, and New York, lists no attorney by the name of Joseph Lanier.

In June, we reported on a similar scam involving yet another fictitious law firm website. This site touted estate planning and other legal services in the Houston area—scammers mailed letters to people claiming they were owed an inheritance. The site was complete with fake attorney names and photos and bios lifted from real law firm websites.

Other similar scams have taken place overseas using information from Texas attorneys. In mid-November, we received a report of a scammer using a lawyer’s information to establish a fake law firm website and contact a person in Australia. The impersonator claimed to be able to help the person recover money from a bankrupt company called Norton Pearce Associates. The same attorney’s name was used in another ploy to collect money—this time changing the company’s name to Stuart Lyall.

The State Bar of Texas offers tips on avoiding scams. Lawyer credentials can be checked on the “Find a Lawyer” search on texasbar.com or by calling the State Bar Membership Department at (800) 204-2222, ext. 1383. Search for law firms in Texas by using this form and entering the firm’s name in the contact information. If you believe you are the victim of a scam, contact your local law enforcement immediately.

A Texas Bar Foundation grant sends Texas judges to the National Judicial College in 2018

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 09:30

Six Texas judges will attend the National Judicial College’s flagship general jurisdiction course in Reno, Nevada, in 2018 thanks to a $12,000 grant from the Texas Bar Foundation.

The general jurisdiction course will bolster the judges’ courtroom management skills and better prepare them to conduct jury trials and apply the latest in criminal law and procedures. The National Judicial College has provided such judicial education since 1963 and has taught participants from across the United States and from more than 150 countries.

The Texas Bar Foundation’s grant will award $2,000 to each of the judges, who will attend the course in either the spring or fall session. The college then matches the funding for six $4,000 awards. The Texas Office of Court Administration and Texas Center for the Judiciary will select the recipients.

Vick: Update on State Bar 2018 President-elect nominees

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 12:06

State Bar President Tom Vick

Editor’s note: State Bar of Texas President Tom Vick sent the following message to members Wednesday

Dear Members,

I’m writing to let you know that the Nominations and Elections Subcommittee of the State Bar Board of Directors voted today to nominate Lisa Blue of Dallas and Randy Sorrels of Houston to be candidates for 2018-2019 State Bar president-elect. The Board of Directors will vote on the nominations at its next meeting, on January 26 in San Antonio.

The election will take place April 2 to May 1. The winner will serve as State Bar president-elect in 2018-2019 and as president in 2019-2020.

You may have heard that Ms. Blue and Mr. Sorrels have been gathering petition signatures to become candidates for president-elect. Under the State Bar Act, Texas lawyers can run for president-elect either through our board’s nomination process or by collecting petition signatures.

This year, the subcommittee decided to nominate the petition candidates for board consideration. This is unusual, but I believe it is prudent under the circumstances.

Here’s why: Our board’s Nominations and Elections Subcommittee met in September and identified 31 potential president-elect nominees. With the exception of Ms. Blue and Mr. Sorrels, none of them desire to be candidates. When contacted, many expressed interest in running for president-elect someday, but they did not want to run this year because in their view the petition candidates, who started gathering signatures months ago, had a significant head start on campaigning and thus a potential advantage.

As I reported in September, the Nominations and Elections Subcommittee is working to ensure that all candidates—whether they are selected by the board or certified through petition—have the same opportunities to campaign under our election guidelines. The subcommittee and the full board will continue to work to improve our processes.

In the meantime, anyone seeking election as a petition candidate in 2018 has until March 1 to be certified for a place on the ballot.

I will keep you updated on the nomination process. If you have questions or comments, please let me know.

Sincerely,

Tom Vick 
President, State Bar of Texas

Wafa Abdin named executive director of Houston Volunteer Lawyers

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 09:00

Wafa Abdin has been named the new executive director of the Houston Volunteer Lawyers. “I am very excited about the opportunity to work with pro bono volunteers and the HVL team to provide to low-income individuals free civil legal aid that helps stabilize families, maintain housing, and even improve children’s health,” said Abdin, who served as vice president for Immigration and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and led the Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance.

In her more than 16 years of pro bono legal service, Abdin has represented detained adults and juveniles, asylum seekers, and victims of human trafficking and other crimes before the Department of Homeland Security, the Immigration Court, and the Board of Immigration.

Abdin is a former president of the Arab American Cultural Center and is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance. In 2010, she received a J. Chrys Dougherty Legal Services Award from the State Bar of Texas for her work.

“We are very fortunate to have Wafa joining our Houston Volunteer Lawyers in this leadership role,” Houston Bar Association President Alistair B. Dawson said. “The depth of her experience with nonprofit organizations and her commitment to pro bono legal services will be a great asset as we move forward in providing pro bono legal representation to those in need in Houston and surrounding areas.”

Texas’ newest lawyers are sworn in at induction ceremony

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 11:30

The newest group of Texas attorneys took the Lawyer’s Oath Monday morning at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. Members of the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, deans from Texas law schools, and representatives from the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Board of Law Examiners welcomed hundreds of law school graduates to the Texas Bar.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Texas Access to Justice Commission Executive Director Trish McAllister presented John VanBuskirk, a UNT Dallas College of Law student and Air Force and Army veteran with 780 pro bono hours, with the Access to Justice Law Student Pro Bono Award. Royal Furgeson Jr., the founding dean of UNT, accepted the Access to Justice Law School Commitment to Service Award for the law school.

State Bar of Texas President Tom Vick congratulated the new attorneys in the audience, applauding them for their sacrifice, perseverance, and scholarship in preparing for the Texas Bar Exam. “We must all be advocates for our legal system and our system of justice,” Vick said. “If we, as lawyers, do not stand up for what is right, we cannot expect those outside the legal community to do so. The members of the courts here and our fellow 100,000 lawyers are depending on you to carry the torch for justice as our new generation of lawyers.”

Baili Rhodes, president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, encouraged the new lawyers to research practice tip resources TYLA offers its members, such as Ten Minute Mentor and Office in a Flash, and also advised them to prioritize self care, find ways to serve their communities beyond their office walls, and internalize the Lawyer’s Oath.

“Don’t do the easy thing, do the right thing,” she said. “Whether it’s being truthful to opposing counsel or acting with candor to the court, with our 100,000 lawyers in the state, you will continue to run into the same ones again and again and again, and I encourage you each to remember to take the high road. The oath you are taking today—take it to heart and remember it as you enter your practice.”

Philip Murray MacGregor Cooper, the high scorer of July’s Texas Bar Exam and a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, spoke on the importance of self-doubt as motivation, relating a reassurance-seeking text exchange with a friend who had already passed the exam. In that conversation, Cooper asked if the exam was as hard as he was making it out to be, to which his friend replied, “The test is definitely failable.” It was a reality check that gave Cooper the sense of urgency he needed to pass—something he said his fellow graduates could use as fuel in their careers. “I hope that a similar sense of urgency stays with us throughout our careers,” Cooper said. “I hope that the same impulses that drove us to frantically learn about how to settle a mineral estate or probate a will also compel us to explore and analyze all aspects of the problems that our future clients present us.”

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, who administered the Lawyer’s Oath, closed out the ceremony, telling the new lawyers that everything they do in their careers will contribute to a republic in which the rights, life, liberty, and property have displaced the lives on class, heredity, wealth, and mind. “You have a special responsibility not only to those you represent but to our profession and to this great experiment in democracy.”

Update from State Bar President Tom Vick—Nov. 17, 2017

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 09:45

State Bar President Tom Vick

Editor’s note: State Bar of Texas President Tom Vick sent the following message to members Friday. 

If you haven’t already, you should soon receive a letter in the mail from your State Bar district director(s) on some of the bar’s latest projects and member benefits. The letter is part of a board initiative to better communicate with our members and provide ways for you to contact us with feedback. You’ll receive a similar message—this time by email—from your State Bar director(s) in the spring.

In the meantime, please read below for some other State Bar updates.

Transparency Task Force
President-elect Joe K. Longley has appointed a Transparency Task Force to explore what recommendations, if any, should be made to the State Bar Act, State Bar Rules, and/or the State Bar Board of Directors Policy Manual to improve transparency and openness within the State Bar. Upon completion of its work, the task force will make recommendations, if any, to the board in accordance with Section 1.14.07 of the State Bar Policy Manual.  Click here for a list of task force members.The State Bar is committed to transparency, and I look forward to receiving the task force’s recommendations.

Welcome, New Members
According to the Board of Law Examiners, 2,124 people passed the July 2017 Texas Bar Examination. Some of them have already been sworn in, so if this is your first update from me, welcome to the State Bar of Texas. I’m excited to welcome other members of this new class of Texas lawyers on Monday at the New Lawyer Induction Ceremony in Austin. You can follow the hashtag #NewTXLawyer on social media for updates and photos from the ceremony.

Open Enrollment Ends December 15
Remember that the 2018 health insurance open enrollment period is under way through December 15, 2017. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to explore the offerings listed on the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange, an online clearinghouse for comparing and purchasing products from leading health insurance providers. Licensed benefits counselors are available to help you choose the best option for your needs. Federal rules shortened open enrollment to just 45 days this year, so please don’t wait to schedule an appointment with a benefits counselor.

Texas Minority Counsel Program
Last week, the State Bar hosted the 25th annual Texas Minority Counsel Program (TMCP) in Austin. To call this program a success is an understatement. Every year, hundreds of attorneys attend this program for its unique format of valuable CLE credit, client development, and networking. This summer, the American Bar Association honored TMCP with a national Partnership Award for exemplary bar association projects that increase the participation and advancement of diverse lawyers. The State Bar leadership is proud of TMCP for its 25 years of success in helping us meet our mission of promoting diversity in the legal profession. Congratulations to the volunteers, staff, law firms, and corporations that make TMCP happen every year—and to 2017 TMCP award winners Abel Martinez, Rodney Ellis, and Lawrence Clifton Morgan.

National Pro Bono Celebration Week
We participated in the National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 22-28) with a series of communications and events honoring lawyers who do pro bono work and publicizing ways that others can get involved. As part of the celebration, Houston Bar Association President Alistair Dawson and I wrote a column on the continuing need for volunteer attorneys to serve those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Click here to read the column in the (McAllen) Monitor.

Sutherland Springs Shooting
Finally, I applaud the Bexar County legal community for responding to the San Antonio Bar Association’s call for volunteers to provide legal assistance for those affected by the Sutherland Springs church shooting. Thank you to the San Antonio Bar and its Community Justice Program for stepping up to meet this need. The State Bar extends its deepest sympathies to all those affected by the tragedy.

Sincerely,

Tom Vick 
President, State Bar of Texas

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