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Sponsored Content: What Technology Does Your Law Firm Actually Need?

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 23:01

For many law firms, legal technology is the great equalizer. With the right technology, firms can run more efficiently, satisfy clients better, research cases faster, stay on top of tasks, and maintain an output that keeps them competitive with larger firms.

There’s just one problem: With the amount of tech available, making the right choice can be overwhelming.

To get you started, here’s a list of tech tools your firm actually needs:

Office 365: For running your office

If you’re using any technology in your law firm, it’s likely office productivity software (OPS). Encompassing word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, and email, productivity suites will provide—at the bare minimum—the functionality that you need to succeed in the world of business.

After years of running locally-installed versions of Office, a number of law firms are starting to embrace Office 365. It offers the same functionality as the original suite with the flexibility and accessibility of the cloud.

Learn more about Office 365.

LawPay: For payment processing

Is your law firm still using check-based payments? Consumer behavior is tipping in favor of the convenience and speed of credit card payments. In fact, in 2016, check payments made up less than 12% of total non-cash payments processed in the U.S., while the number of credit card payments processed both online and in-house has grown 8% annually each year since 2012.

But not all payment processors are created equally—law firms in particular must remain cognizant of compliance issues around handling trust payments and fund separation.

LawPay, built specifically for the legal industry (the name is a dead giveaway), ensures you remain compliant with IOLTA guidelines and the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct. It offers payment solutions in-house, via an online portal, and through a mobile card swiper, making it effortless for clients to pay you for your hard work—all at industry-low processing rates.

LawPay also powers Clio Payments, the integrated payment processor built right into Clio. Using Clio Payments, shared invoices can be paid with one click, and trust and operating payments are tracked automatically. The best part of Clio Payments? It’s included free of charge as part of your Boutique subscription.

Accepting credit cards can shorten time-to-pay by up to 11 days for law firms. Stop locking up your cash flow in checks and start accepting credit cards today.

Learn more about LawPay and Clio Payments.

Clio: For full-featured practice management

Behind every great law practice is a powerful practice management solution. If you’re looking for the best, Clio is the obvious choice. With cloud and mobile functionality, Clio gives you secure access to your firm’s information and management tools—anywhere, anytime. You’ll spend less time on administrative tasks like time tracking, matter management, and invoicing, leaving you more time to spend on billable work.

Also, Clio integrates with many of the other apps on this list (we have over 90 app integration partners in total), which means you’ll be able to run your entire practice from one place. If your law firm is a body, Clio is the nervous system, simplifying and streamlining the multiple moving parts that make today’s law firm successful.

Try Clio for free today.

Don’t miss out: These are just the first three items on our list of essential tech for your law firm. Get the full list here.

Vick: Committee recommends Ross Fischer as State Bar general counsel

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 12:08

Tom Vick

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

The State Bar of Texas General Counsel Search Committee voted by acclamation Monday to recommend to the State Bar board Ross Fischer of Austin as general counsel. The State Bar Board of Directors, which elects the general counsel by a majority vote, will consider the recommendation at an open meeting on June 20 in Houston.

Mr. Fischer is an attorney with the Gober Group who specializes in legislative and campaign law, professional ethics, and government integrity matters. His clients include elected officials, candidates, trade associations, political committees, local governments, municipalities, and corporations. A graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, he is regularly called upon to advise public entities on matters involving legislative law, public integrity, and campaign and election procedures.

You can read his resume here.

As I previously reported, the State Bar board voted unanimously in January to approve the hiring of a general counsel, a statutory position under the State Bar Act. The board’s General Counsel Search Committee carefully reviewed responses to the Request for Proposals (RFP) and selected six Texas lawyers to interview for the position out of 12 respondents.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read my April 27 message, where I go into more detail about the general counsel search process and address some misconceptions. If you have additional questions or comments on the process, please contact State Bar Human Resources Director Amy Turner at (800) 204-2222, ext. 1708, or (512) 427-1708.

 

Sincerely,

Tom Vick, President
State Bar of Texas

Feerick Center for Social Justice selected as ACTL’s 2018 Emil Gumpert Award recipient

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 14:00

The American College of Trial Lawyers, or ACTL, has selected Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice as its 2018 Emil Gumpert Award recipient. The center is being recognized along with its partner, the Dilley Pro Bono Project, or DPBP, for providing pro bono legal counsel to asylum-seeking women with children in Dilley.

The Feerick Center will receive a $100,000 grant to assist with providing remote access to legal services for asylum-seeking women with children in South Texas.

The Feerick Center and DPBP will develop a remote legal assistance program to meet the challenging legal service needs of women and children at the South Texas Family Residential Center, or STFRC, in Dilley. The program will supplement onsite efforts by volunteer attorneys and DPBP staff, particularly the initial screening in the asylum application process.

The DPBP is an initiative that seeks to enhance and expand access to legal services for women and children who are detained at the STFRC. More than 100,000 immigrant mothers and children have sought asylum along the southern U.S. border since 2012.

“Since 2012, the numbers of women with children seeking asylum along the southern U.S. border have increased exponentially, and these asylum seekers have a legitimate need for legal services,” said Dora Galactos, adjunct professor of law and executive director of the Feerick Center for Social Justice, in a press release.

STFRC is the nation’s largest immigration detention facility and currently holds approximately 2,200 mothers and children. The center has the capacity for 2,400. DPBP estimates that since 2014, approximately 30,000 women and children have been detained there.

Mental health awareness can save lives

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 12:49

Since 1949, May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. For the legal profession, mental health has become an increasingly important topic. A report released in 2016 by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation brought to light some staggering statistics: lawyers are three times more likely to suffer from depression than other professions, lawyers are two times more likely to die by suicide, and 11 percent of attorneys contemplate suicide monthly, to name a few.

Two articles on mental health, which were originally published in the Dallas Bar Association’s May edition of Headnotes, can be found here and focus on the stigma associated with mental health issues and how lawyers need to realize that they can ask for help or help a colleague or friend. If you know a lawyer, judge, or law student suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse, please contact the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, which can provide confidential assistance 24/7, at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP). More information is available at tlaphelps.org.

Free legal clinic for veterans in Galveston

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 12:45

The Galveston County Bar Association and the Houston Bar Foundation’s Veterans Legal Initiative are sponsoring a free legal clinic for veterans on Saturday, May 5, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Veterans and spouses of deceased attorneys can receive one-on-one advice and counsel from volunteer attorneys in family law, wills and probate, consumer law, real estate and tax law, and disability and veterans benefits.

Pro bono attorneys from the Houston Volunteer Lawyers may be assigned to veterans in need of ongoing legal representation and who qualify for legal aid.

No appointment is necessary.

The clinic will be held at the Galveston VA Outpatient Clinic, 3828 Avenue N., Galveston, 77550.

For more information, go to hba.org or call (713) 759-1133.

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

Mother’s Day gifts savings

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 08:00

With savings on everything from flowers to concert tickets, your Member Benefit Program can help you give your mom the best Mother’s Day gift ever. Visit the Flowers & Gifts, Retail, Dining & Grocery and Entertainment pages to start saving.

  • 1-800-FLOWERS.com – Make someone smile today by sending an original arrangement from 1-800-Flowers.com. Gifts include fresh flowers, gourmet gift baskets, chocolates, spa baskets and more.
  • Teleflora – Show someone you care with a fresh floral arrangement. Members enjoy 25% off every flower order from Teleflora.
  • Jewelry.com – Jewelry.com has the perfect gift for every occasion. Save 25% on exceptional designer styles and unique collections.
  • Eve’s Addiction – Save 25% on this spectacular jewelry collection. Your Member Benefit Program gives you access to a huge selection of designer- and celebrity-inspired jewelry.
  • FragranceNet.com – Founded in 1997, FragranceNet.com is the leading online retailer of discounted brand-name fragrances and beauty products. Save 25% on all orders at FragranceNet.com.
  • Winc – At Winc, it’s our mission to remove the old-school obstacles that come between you and a great bottle of wine. State Bar of Texas members get four bottles of wine for $30 plus shipping.
  • Premium Seats: Concert Tickets – Don’t get stuck watching your favorite performer from the upper deck. State Bar of Texas members can save 10% on concert tickets.

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

HBA and Harris County judiciary honor legal community for pro bono services

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 17:46

The Harris County judiciary and Houston Bar Association presented the 2018 Harris County Bench Bar Pro Bono Awards at the 14th Court of Appeals on April 30. The awards honor law firms, attorneys, and legal departments that encourage legal services to low-income residents and provide outstanding pro bono service through local legal services providers.

Richard Mithoff, who established the Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s Joe Jamail Endowment for Veteran Legal Services, was the keynote speaker. The endowment, named after Mithoff’s late mentor, aims to provide Texas veterans with access to free legal help to integrate into civilian life. Mithoff also has contributed to the endowment of the University of Texas School of Law’s pro bono program to match law students with pro bono services that fit their professional and personal goals.

Hon. Robert Schaffer, the administrative judge of the Harris County District Courts, and HBA President Alistair Dawson presented the following awards:

  • Large Firm—Baker Botts;
  • Mid-size Firm—Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld;
  • Small Firm—Berg & Androphy;
  • Corporation—Exxon Mobil Corporation Law Department;
  • Individual—Mike Day, of the Trey Yates Law Firm; and
  • President’s Pro Bono Star—solo practitioner Steven C. Howard.

February 2018 Texas Bar Exam results released

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 11:15

Congratulations to everyone who passed the February Texas Bar Exam!

We’re looking forward to seeing you all at the New Lawyers Induction Ceremony at 10 a.m. May 14 at the Frank Erwin Center.

The Texas Board of Legal Examiners website has posted the full pass list for exam. Pass-rate statistics are also available on the site.

Texas Bar Journal Must-Reads for May

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 11:30

Check out the May issue of the Texas Bar Journal for a recap of SXSW legal panels, the First Amendment and social media, cyberspace estate planning, and lawyers’ role in the future of cryptocurrencies. Don’t forget to catch up on Movers and Shakers, Memorials, and Disciplinary Actions.

SXSW 2018
The intersection of law and technology.
By Adam Faderewski and Eric Quitugua

Taking the Heat for a Tweet
A look at lawyers, the First Amendment, and social media.
By John G. Browning

Digital Assets
The basics of cyberspace estate planning.
By Gerry W. Beyer

Cryptocurrencies
An evolving ecosystem is changing the way society transfers value.
By Sharon Yin

Confidentiality and E-Communications

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 10:26

A prudent lawyer would no doubt avoid communicating sensitive client information in a crowded room where bystanders would be able to hear the conversation. However, in the rapidly changing technological landscape, the reasonable steps necessary to ensure lawyer-client communications are truly private are often less intuitive. So what steps should a lawyer take before hitting send on an email to a client? And what considerations apply to communications made by text message, or through mobile apps or social media messaging?

The Professional Ethics Committee for the State Bar of Texas and the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility have each issued opinions that provide useful information in analyzing such questions. In Ethics Opinion 648 (2015), the Professional Ethics Committee outlined relevant factors a lawyer should consider in determining whether confidentiality will be protected when communicating by email, and whether encrypted email or a different form of communication may be necessary. In Ethics Opinion 665 (2016), the Professional Ethics Committee addressed a lawyer’s obligations to avoid the inadvertent transmission of metadata (information embedded in an electronic document) containing confidential client information.

More recently, ABA Formal Opinion 477R (2017) provided an in-depth discussion related to the securing of internet communications. The opinion recognized a lawyer’s obligation to keep informed of technological risks and benefits, and to take reasonable efforts to protect confidential information based upon factors such as the type or sensitivity of information at issue, the method of communication, and “the types of available security measures for each method.”

While the opinions provide numerous considerations and suggestions relating to the protection of client information in electronic communications, here are just a few considerations a prudent lawyer may need to make:

  1. What type of information is involved and is it of a sensitive nature? When dealing with sensitive information or information at a higher risk for theft or intrusion, more protective security measures may be necessary.
  2. Is a communication (such as an email or a text message) encrypted? For sensitive client information, encryption may be warranted.
  3. In evaluating whether to communicate with a client through a mobile app or social media messaging, a lawyer should determine whether a third party (including the service provider) may have access to the information. While some platforms may provide for encryption of communications, others do not or may not make that the default setting. (For instance, the most recent Facebook Messenger app for iOS and Android devices provides users the option to activate encryption for a message but does not provide encryption as a default setting. By contrast, messages sent through a desktop version of Facebook Messenger do not currently have the same option for encryption.)
  4. Who else may have access to a client’s email account or electronic device? Are accounts and devices password protected? Does anyone else know the client’s password, and does the client always log out of accounts? Does the client utilize public or shared computers to check his or her email? A lawyer may need to advise a client as to the risks associated with sending information electronically and the use of accounts and devices that may be accessible by third parties.
  5. What if the lawyer’s electronic device is lost or stolen? A prudent lawyer should plan ahead and, depending on the circumstances, consider methods for remote disabling or destruction of data on such devices.

The reasonable steps a lawyer should take to protect client confidentiality will require a continued evaluation of the risks and benefits involved as technology changes, and the opinions discussed may provide useful guidance for lawyers regarding their professional responsibilities.

If you are a Texas lawyer and have questions about your ethical obligations, you may contact the State Bar of Texas Ethics Helpline at (800) 532-3947 for guidance on how to access the relevant rules and information, including ethics opinions and caselaw, that may help you reach an informed decision. Please note that the service is not confidential and is not binding on any grievance committee panel.

Brad Johnson is an ethics attorney with the State Bar of Texas. 

Promoting Jury Appreciation Week

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 10:00

The following article first appeared in the summer 2017 In Chambers magazine and is republished with permission.

Serving on a jury—few understand the fundamental importance of jury service more than trial judges and appellate justices. But, how well do we communicate the significance or express our appreciation for those who are answering the summons to serve?

As the Texas Uniform Jury Handbook states, “The United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution guarantee all people, regardless of race, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status, the right to trial by an impartial jury. Justice ultimately depends to a large measure upon the quality of the jurors who serve in our courts.” When members of the venire leave the courthouse, are we adequately helping them understand the importance and solemnity of the judicial proceedings in which they participated?

In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed a bill creating “Jury Appreciation Week” to be celebrated the first week of May. The bill’s author, Sen. Royce West, filed this statement of intent with the bill:

The fundamental importance of a trial by jury in our system of justice is demonstrated by its enshrinement in the 6th and 7th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, along with Article 1 of the Constitution of Texas, our state bill of rights. The work of juries is extremely important to the function of our democracy and without it many of the liberties and freedoms we have as a society could be in jeopardy. To serve on a jury is to serve one of the most important civic duties in both our state and our nation. A juror’s work is an often tough, tiring, and thankless job. However, without it, one of the foundations of our democracy, the judicial system that ensures a safe and free society, would crumble. The first week in May is designated as Jury Appreciation Week to express to those who have served or are currently serving on juries of all kinds that their work is noted and appreciated.

Texas Government Code Section 662.155 states, “The first seven days in May are Jury Appreciation Week in recognition of the outstanding and important contributions made by Texas citizens who serve as jurors.”

The week corresponds with Law Day on May 1st, proclaimed by President Eisenhower, and later codified as a special day of celebration by the people of the United States in appreciation of their liberties and ideals of equality and justice under law and for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.

Jury Appreciation Week is dedicated to honoring those citizens who give of their time to participate in the judicial system. And, although Jury Appreciation Week is designated to occur during the first week in May, it can be scheduled during any week that jurors are empaneled, as not every county tries a case to a jury during the month of May, much less the first week. The important thing is to make an effort to be intentional in expressing appreciation for our citizens’ participation in the judicial branch of government.

This year was the second year of this effort to celebrate the jurors for their service. The primary effort thus far has been two-fold: (1) communicating with county and district clerks about the week, providing them with toolkits containing resources that will aid them in promoting the week, and (2) providing information and resources on the State Bar of Texas’ Jury Service Committee website. The website has many resources for judges, including a sample “thank you” letter to send to jurors selected for service on a jury.

The State Bar of Texas Jury Service Committee is dedicated to developing and implementing programs to ensure broad citizen participation and support of jury service. Visit the Committee’s website for additional resources, including public service announcements, educational pamphlets, and articles of interest. Links to all of the Jury Service Committee resources are available here.

Judges are, among other things, leaders. Leadership in promoting the effort to raise awareness, provide information, and express appreciation for our jurors can, and should, start with the judges who summon jurors for service. We can work in collaboration with our clerks and local bar associations to formulate plans that work well for the courts we serve.

By small, intentional, consistent acts of appreciation, jurors will better understand their critical role in our system of justice and truly feel our gratitude.

Judge Eddie Northcutt serves as the judge of the 8th Judicial District and is currently in his second term.

Randy Sorrels of Houston elected State Bar of Texas president-elect

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 20:00

Texas attorneys have elected Randy Sorrels of Houston as president-elect of the State Bar of Texas. Sorrels received 58 percent of the 32,445 votes cast during the month-long voting period that ended May 1. His opponent, Lisa Blue of Dallas, received 41 percent of the votes.

The 32,445 votes set a record for the highest total of votes ever cast in a State Bar election. With 31.8 percent of the bar membership voting, it was also the highest turnout percentage since 2000.

In the Texas Young Lawyers Association election, Victor Flores of Denton was elected president-elect.

View State Bar election results here; click here for TYLA results. For the news release, click here.

State Bar of Texas warns public of jury duty scams

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 14:05

As Texas’ annual Jury Appreciation Week approaches in the first week of May, the State Bar of Texas wants to warn Texans about the proliferation of jury duty scams across the state in recent months.

There have been widespread reports of scammers calling residents and accusing them of failing to show up for jury duty. The scammers may claim to be with a local sheriff’s department, the U.S. Marshal’s Office, a district or county clerk’s office, or even a court.

The callers threaten that the person answering will be arrested unless he or she pays an amount, typically $500 but it may vary, using either prepaid gift cards or a wire transfer.

The callers have some knowledge of the jury duty system and often use language that makes them sound legitimate. The callers can get very aggressive and may also ask for personal information, like social security numbers.

Texans should know that no government agency will demand payment over the phone.

If you receive this type of call, hang up the phone. Do not send money and do not answer their questions. Call your local sheriff’s department, district attorney’s office, or court clerk’s office using publicly available phone numbers to report the scammers.

Final Updates from the 2018 State Bar President-elect Candidates

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 13:07

Editor’s Note: The following message was sent to State Bar of Texas members on Tuesday. 

In an effort to encourage voter participation and educate members on the 2018 State Bar president-elect candidates, the State Bar is sending periodic emails with messages submitted by the candidates addressing topics of their choosing. The seventh and final messages are available at the links below.

Note: Opinions expressed by the candidates do not necessarily reflect the views of the State Bar of Texas.

Lisa Blue
Dallas

Randy Sorrels
Houston Click here to read Lisa Blue’s message.  Click here to read Randy Sorrels’ message. 

Voting in the 2018 election for State Bar president-elect and district director is under way through 5 p.m. CT May 1. On April 2, attorneys eligible to vote were mailed an election packet that included a paper ballot, candidate brochures, and instructions on how to cast their vote. An email also was sent to attorneys, giving them instructions on how to vote online. Be sure to check your spam filter. Election emails are sent by the State Bar¹s election provider, Election Services Corporation, from statebaroftexas@electionservicescorp.com.

The election packet and email contain a voter authorization number (VAN) with instructions on how to vote online. Attorneys may use this VAN and their bar card number to log on to the election website to cast their ballot. If attorneys do not have their VAN, they can also go to the State Bar website, texasbar.com, to cast their vote during the voting period.

Attorneys may either submit their paper ballot via mail or vote online using the information provided. The secure election system will not allow duplicate votes.

More information on the election is available at texasbar.com/election.

Jury Appreciation Week: A time to honor jurors

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 10:39

By Kaci Singer

As Texas celebrates its third annual Jury Appreciation Week starting today, we pause to honor those citizens who give of their time to participate in our judicial system.

Jury Appreciation Week was created by the 84th Legislature and was first celebrated in 2016. To mark the occasion, the State Bar of Texas has produced the Jury Appreciation Week Guide to offer ideas on how to celebrate Jury Appreciation Week in your communities. Please note that although Jury Appreciation Week is designated to occur during the first week in May each year, it may be observed anytime.

The State Bar of Texas Jury Service Committee is dedicated to developing and implementing programs to help ensure broad citizen participation and support for jury service. We encourage you to visit our website at texasbar.com/juryservice for additional resources, including public service announcements, educational pamphlets, and articles of interest.

Many other states will be celebrating jury service during the first week in May, which also coincides with Law Day on May 1. You can find additional ideas for celebrating jury service week at americanbar.org. The State Bar of Texas has provided this information to court clerks and judges across the state and encouraged them to organize Jury Appreciation Week activities.

We hope that by small, consistent acts of appreciation, jurors will better understand the critical role they play in our system of justice and truly feel our gratitude.

Kaci Singer is an Austin attorney and the 2017-2018 chair of the State Bar of Texas Jury Service Committee.

Laura Gibson chosen State Bar of Texas board chair-elect

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 21:51

Laura Gibson

Houston attorney Laura Gibson was chosen to be chair-elect of the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors during the board’s meeting in Fort Worth on Friday.

Gibson will take office during the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting to be held June 21-22 in Houston. She will serve as chair until June 2019.

Read the full news release here.

Vick: State Bar of Texas Board Takes Action on Transparency, Budget

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 17:11

Tom Vick

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

I’m writing with an update on today’s State Bar of Texas Board of Directors meeting in Fort Worth, which included action on transparency, the budget, and president-elect task forces; an update on possible advertising review changes; a next step in our general counsel search; and the election of a new board chair. As promised, the meeting was taped, and the video will be available at texasbar.com/board by next week.

Transparency Efforts
The board voted unanimously to request proposals from qualified firms to conduct a thorough, independent review of transparency issues at the State Bar. The findings will be reported to the board and shared publicly.

This is a positive step that further illustrates our commitment to being a leader in open government. It is the latest in a series of transparency improvements at the State Bar in recent months, including the launch of the Our Finances webpage and the videotaping of board meetings. We are looking into technology to allow possible live streaming of future board meetings.

President-elect Task Forces
President-elect Joe K. Longley has appointed two president-elect task forces—one on State Bar finances, the other on transparency. The board voted to request that both task forces present an update at the June 20 board meeting in Houston and prepare a written report to the board two weeks before that meeting.

The State Bar leadership and staff have worked in good faith to fulfill every request of these task forces, including sending staff members to answer in-person questions and assigning staff members as liaisons to facilitate their work. We have made it known to the task forces that we welcome any recommendations as to how we can better address financial and transparency issues. And we widely publicized the first and only official report we have received from either task force to date, which looked at the State Bar’s proactive response to an embezzlement of funds from a Supreme Court account that the State Bar discovered in 2012.

At today’s board meeting, State Bar director Scott Stolley of Dallas and a number of other board members raised concerns about how the Transparency Task Force has been operating. Scott was appointed to that task force and later resigned over his concerns. He called it a “flawed vehicle” for achieving what we all want: a more open State Bar.

One of Scott’s major concerns was that statements made by the State Bar’s legal counsel to the task force in March were taken from their intended context and used against the State Bar in a pending litigation matter. His concerns prompted considerable discussion by the board, and I invite you to watch the discussion on the State Bar website when the video is available if you’re interested.

Our directors were clear that they support the objectives of both task forces. Both task forces will continue their work.Our directors simply want to ensure their work is progressing and isn’t duplicative of the work being done by the board’s existing committees. In the meantime, they directed State Bar staff to continue responding to written requests from the task forces but to pause additional in-person interviews until the board receives the requested reports.

The State Bar has invested more than 400 staff hours and approximately $50,000 in time and expenses to support the work of the Financial Responsibility & Fiscal Control Task Force since it started meeting in August. The State Bar has also devoted resources to the Transparency Task Force, which formed in November and started meeting in January. As the governing body of the State Bar, the board has a responsibility to ensure these resources are being used wisely. We look forward to hearing from the task forces in coming weeks.

General Counsel Search
The board’s General Counsel Search Committee announced it has narrowed its short list of candidates from six to three (listed in alphabetical order): Martha S. Dickie, Ross Fischer, and Michael A. Shaunessy. The committee is gathering more information on the candidates and will continue deliberations. The committee ultimately will make a recommendation to the full board, which will elect the general counsel by a majority vote.

As I explained in prior messages, the board voted unanimously in January to approve the hiring of a general counsel, a statutory position under the State Bar Act. The general counsel will provide counsel to the State Bar board and officers on an as-needed, contract basis as the board directed. As prescribed by the RFP, this individual will be independent—reporting straight to the board, not to the executive director—and will perform duties usually expected of a general counsel.

You should know that a group calling itself Texas Lawyers for State Bar Reform has distributed emails on the general counsel search that contain inaccurate and misleading statements. I want to directly address those claims here, so there is no confusion about the board’s actions:

  • The board is not hiring an “outside law firm” to serve as general counsel. The State Bar Act is clear that the general counsel is an individual, and the board will be electing an individual to this position.
  • The State Bar Act does not require the general counsel to be a full-time, in-house position. The board agreed to structure the position as an independent contractor after determining there wasn’t enough work to justify the cost of a full-time general counsel. The general counsel will still fulfill all statutory requirements—including by serving as an ex officio member of the board’s executive committee.
  • The State Bar’s in-house legal counsel will not perform the general counsel’s work, nor will the general counsel report to the in-house counsel or to the executive director. If you read the RFP used to solicit the candidates, you will see the roles of general counsel and legal counsel are clearly delineated and independent of each other.

If you have any questions or comments on the search process or the candidates, please contact Amy Turner, the State Bar’s human resources director, at (512) 427-1708.

Ad Review Changes
This year, I asked the Advertising Review Committee to take a look at the advertising rules and regulatory structure and recommend improvements, and the committee submitted a report with some thoughtful recommendations.

The report describes how the committee is making changes to its administrative procedures to streamline the ad review system. The committee is also making suggestions for amending many of the disciplinary rules that govern lawyer advertising.

Today, the board voted to refer the report to its Discipline and Client Attorney Assistance Committee for review. That committee will return with its recommendations on the proposed rule changes at a future board meeting.

State Bar Budget
The board voted unanimously to submit the proposed 2018-2019 State Bar budget to the Texas Supreme Court, which will review and consider approval of the budget in May. I have sent several messages about this budget (the latest one is here), but in short it would reduce overall general-fund spending by 5 percent compared with the current budget while adding additional money in reserves and without reducing member services.

Board Chair Election
I want to congratulate Laura Gibson of Houston, whom the board elected to serve as chair for the 2018-2019 bar year starting in June. Laura is a partner in Dentons’ litigation and dispute resolution practice. She is board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is a dedicated volunteer for our profession, having served as president of the Houston Bar Association among many other roles. Laura will succeed our current board chair, Rehan Alimohammad of Sugar Land.

Remember to Vote!
Finally, don’t forget to vote in the 2018 State Bar and Texas Young Lawyers Association election, which ends at 5 p.m. CT on May 1. Go to texasbar.com/election to cast your ballot or to learn more about the candidates.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments.

Sincerely,

Tom Vick, President
State Bar of Texas

Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans raises $404,000

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 07:13

Veterans across Texas were honored at the Champions for Justice Gala Benefitting Veterans on April 25. More than $404,000 was raised to provide civil legal services to low-income Texas veterans at the event.

The gala, co-sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Commission and the State Bar of Texas, was held at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center in Austin. Keynote speaker for the evening was the Hon. Nathan Hecht, the 27th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.

Click here to read the full news release.

Sponsored Content: 3 Roles to Outsource for your Law Firm

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 23:01

The legal world is still deeply steeped in tradition, but sometimes defying the norm can have enormous benefits for your law firm. One way to bend the rules is to think creatively when hiring your team. Often, that means thinking remotely.

The amount of people working remotely at least part time has jumped from 15% to 20% in the last 4 years, according to Thrive Global. This rising rate shows no signs of stopping, because the benefits are undeniable.

A study by TINYpulse concluded that remote workers are happier, more productive, and feel more valued than their in office counter parts. They value flexibility and freedom and more detailed contact with their managers, and can do amazing things for your law firm.

Here are 3 roles you should definitely consider outsourcing for your legal team.

Marketing

Marketing might not be a huge priority for your firm, especially if you work with a small team. However, you absolutely need to be thinking about the way your law firm represents itself. Webris reports that “96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine”. If you don’t have a solid website ready with FAQs, rates and services, and information about your firm, you are missing a huge demographic of potential customers.

“Your firm needs a high-quality website with valuable content and effective search engine optimization (SEO),” reports Answer 1. “The right website is instrumental in bringing in new clients. Local SEO is especially important so that you get visitors who are looking for lawyers in your area.”

Reception

As a lawyer, you absolutely need a receptionist to help you manage scheduling and paperwork. “There is a tremendous amount of administrative work that is associated with running a law firm,” says Parker Davis on a recent episode of the Lawyerist podcast. A receptionist can help you keep your business in order, as well as maintain the crucial line of contact for potential clients.

But having a full time, in house receptionist can be expensive and ineffective for law firms, especially smaller firms.

This is where outsourcing comes in. Hiring a virtual receptionist for your law firm makes sense; VR services are 1/10th the cost of an in-house option. Not only will they save you time, a comprehensive virtual reception service will help you qualify leads, schedule appointments, and make sure every potential client is taken care of.

Answer 1 offers call answering 24/7/365, which is crucial for lawyers. Your future clients will be in tense legal situations and need answers at all times, which is why services like Answer 1 make sense for legal professionals. The 2017 Clio Legal Trend Report discovered that 2 out of 3 potential clients will choose a firm that promptly answer their first call. You need a live voice, virtual receptionist to assure clients that you are their best legal option.

Make sure to look for a virtual receptionist service that covers after hours.

Paralegals

Another area that attorneys should consider outsourcing is their paralegals. This might prove trickier because of privacy concerns with sensitive legal material. However, that shouldn’t hold attorneys back from exploring this option;

The American Bar reports that “Virtual paralegals offer attorneys a seamless, remote staffing alternative while maximizing the value of each billable hour…not only are attorneys who outsource more productive, but they also realize higher revenues because they pay only for the work being done.”

Hiring on a virtual paralegal will increase your billable hours and allow you to get back to the real work of practicing law.

Moving Forward with Legal Outsourcing

Outsourcing as a lawyer can feel nontraditional, but makes a lot of sense for the average, busy legal professional. Research your options, and consider hiring freelance marketers, virtual receptionist services, and remote paralegals to elevate your law practice.

Texas Bar Journal announces 2018 Short Story Contest winners

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 09:00

Thank you to the 28 writers who submitted entries to the Texas Bar Journal Short Story Contest this year.

Author names were removed from entries before being submitted to judges in order to keep the contest fair and impartial. Two panels of judges faced the challenging task of selecting the winners, and for each round, the same evaluation form was used for consistency. Twelve entries advanced to the final round, which was judged by Pamela Buchmeyer of Dallas and Jupiter, Florida, Mike Farris of Dallas, and last year’s winner, Gregg Mayer, of Brandon.

The winner, “The Protective Order,” by Rosanne Gordon, earned the highest number of points.

Please congratulate these attorney-authors for making it through the competitive first round of judging to the finals.

“The Protective Order,” by Rosanne Gordon (First Place)

“Whiskey Hands,” by Ron Uselton (Second Place)

“Max’s Mindspeak,” by Marvin Sprouse (Third Place)

“Hart’s Calling,” by Brandon Beck

“Pity the Dinosaur?,” by Frank J. Gonynor

“Weary Mr. Wycliffe,” by Francis Mwangi

“The Spillover Room,” by David Jones

“2,519,” by Ronald Brown

“Ben’s Paradox,” by William Cornelius

“What He Said,” by Victor Segura

“The Wrath of Stephen, The Pirate-Wizard of Galveston County,” by Andrew Culbertson

“Vignette,” by Robert “Jim” Middleton

Here’s an excerpt from “The Protective Order”:

“The overwhelming smell of pine cleaner grabbed my throat as I opened the glass door. I walked quickly across the rural community center’s glistening tile floor, glancing at the dozens of people sitting on folding chairs against the walls. A pair of young women. One probably applying for a divorce, the other making sure she didn’t chicken out. A scowling man holding a bundle of papers. An elderly couple with an adult, disabled child. I avoided eye contact with the volunteer law students stationed at tables in the middle of the room, hoping they were too busy interviewing potential clients to notice my arrival. No such luck. A tall, young man in a crisp, gray suit called out, ‘Professor?’”

The entire story, along with the second and third place winning entries, will be published in the June issue of the Texas Bar Journal.

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