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Stories of Recovery: Like a Freight Train

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 07:01

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery 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 feel like alcoholism just appeared in my life overnight. Logically, however, I know this is not the case. It certainly felt as if it came out of nowhere and definitely hit me like a freight train. But if I think about it, I always drank alcoholically.

It was a big joke amongst friends that I, standing all of five feet flat and 100 pounds soaking wet, could drink all the boys under the table and I could with no problem. I was always able to consume ungodly quantities of alcohol, and with no real appreciable effect on my faculties.

However, these drinking bouts were few and far between. I drank socially in high school—no more and no less than any other teenager in my small-ish town where there was seemingly nothing better to do come weekends. In college, I would again categorize my drinking as “normal,” arguably less than most of my peers as I did not have time for such things as bars, parties, and “Sunday Fundays.” I had much more important things to worry about: collegiate sports, academics, and the array of extracurriculars, in addition to working to supplement tuition and bills. The typical Type-A overachiever that is pervasive amongst our profession.

College proceeded successfully, and I secured a full-ride scholarship to law school. Law school began in earnest, and again, I loaded myself down with responsibilities: moot court, various internships and clerkships and volunteer work, in addition to being a newlywed, having married my high school sweetheart the summer after 1L year. Life was grand.

But looking back, this is when my drinking began to ratchet up. The social life of young, “successful” 20-somethings, with disposable income and limited responsibilities, lent itself to relationships and engagements that revolved around drinking. “Sunday Funday” became a “thing”! All-inclusive vacations on the beach in Mexico that were designed to keep one obliterated. Drinking was becoming intrinsic to all of life’s activities. Whether it be four-bottle wine dinners or co-ed softball, drinking was a part of it.

Although I wasn’t yet experiencing any real adverse consequences associated with my drinking, my consumption was steadily increasing. The alcoholic behaviors were already manifesting, as well, such as covering up the quantities I was actually consuming at home so my spouse wouldn’t discover how much I was really drinking. At the time, I don’t recall considering this to be as abnormal as I now know it to be. I imagine I just talked myself into believing that it was really none of his business. But nonetheless, life carried on.

I finished law school, passed the bar, and was recruited to move from D/FW to Houston to jump into what was the booming oil and gas industry at that time. I was offered a ridiculous amount of money to work at a big law firm with lots of offices all over the “US of A” and again, my perceived positioning in life was augmented. My spouse and I were “DINKS”—double income, no kids. We were under 30 and between the two of us making comfortably into the six digits. We bought a big, expensive house in a fancy Houston neighborhood and drove luxury vehicles and spent money as if we didn’t have a care in the world, because we didn’t.

But Houston was the beginning of the end for me.

As some point, that substantial shift in my drinking occurred and “the cucumber became the pickle,” as I’ve heard Old Timers say. While I “maintained” for a while, managing to hold down my job and otherwise keep anyone on the outside from knowing how out of control things had become, the yarn quickly began to unravel. Drinking was no longer an option, but a requirement.

Things really began to fall apart when I stopped showing up at work altogether. All I cared about was drinking. I had also begun supplementing my drinking with pills: amphetamines to balance me out and allow me to drink more; pain pills stolen from my spouse from dental procedures or old sports injuries and from my parents from surgeries, along with anything else I could get my hands on. My spouse and family (who, blindsided, once informed by my spouse of what was going on as this secret had thus far been pretty well preserved between us) decided I needed to go to treatment.

A full on Dr. Phil-esque intervention occurred with friends and family members and the interventionist—the whole nine yards. I, of course, resisted but ultimately acquiesced, mainly to placate everyone. I stayed there maybe two weeks before leaving. I didn’t have a problem so why did I need treatment? The drinking ensued again shortly.

Within a couple months, I got a DWI with my nephew and young cousin in my car—both child passengers under 15, resulting in a felony offense—that landed me first in jail, then in treatment again. This treatment facility was followed by several others, both inpatient and outpatient, in addition to a multitude of emergency rooms, detoxes, and therapists’ offices.

Lost jobs, a divorce, multiple injuries from falling (which I did frequently), and a variety of other repercussions marked the next couple of years. My final bender had me holed up at my parents’ lake condo for several days. I awoke from being passed out to find a half-finished bottle on the table. I knew it wasn’t the bottle I last recalled drinking, and confirmed this when I found that empty bottle disposed in the trash. The realization that I had driven—several miles in fact, as the nearest store was nowhere close to me—in a complete blackout was too much to handle. I had absolutely no recollection of driving to obtain my coveted alcohol.

Not being completely oblivious to the consequences of my actions and having a yet-unresolved felony DWI, I knew my behavior would end me up in prison or dead, or worse yet, I would kill someone else. I reached out to TLAP and was placed in treatment within 48 hours. I have been sober since November 1, 2016.

I owe a forever-unpayable debt of gratitude to the State Bar of Texas and TLAP for giving me my life back.

Longtime Texas RioGrande Legal Aid leader to retire

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 16:01

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Executive Director David Hall will retire from his position after 42 years at the helm, the organization announced Wednesday.

“It has been my honor and privilege to work alongside colleagues and friends with such inspiring values, compassion, and dedication for justice,” Hall said in a statement to staff announcing his decision. “Siga la lucha.”

The Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Board of Directors plans to form a hiring committee to conduct a nationwide search for Hall’s successor, who will lead the nonprofit that provides free legal services to Southwest Texas residents who are unable to afford them.

“David and the people (has led) at TRLA are legendary in Texas colonias, barrios, and poor neighborhoods for their aggressive, fearless, first-rate lawyering for the most impoverished and oppressed Texans,” said John Henneberger, an affordable housing expert, in the organization’s statement. “He’s never shied away from a fight. He has cut a broad swath in Texas for longer than almost anyone else has been doing social justice work.”

Before joining TRLA in 1975, Hall was director of the South Texas Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and a staff attorney for the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. He was featured in the Texas Legal Legends project, created by 2008-2009 State Bar President Harper Estes to share the perspectives and stories of legendary Texas lawyers. Watch his interview here.

Read more about Hall and his announcement on the TRLA Facebook page, and learn more about the organization at trla.org.

Texas attorneys named to Fastcase 50 list of top innovators

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 08:40

Two Texas attorneys were included on the annual Fastcase 50 list, which honors top innovators in the legal field.

Cameron Vann, senior staff attorney for the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, and Cisselon Nichols Hurd, senior counsel to Shell Oil, received the honor alongside attorneys, professors, and technology entrepreneurs from across the country.

Fastcase in its announcement praised Vann—who came out of retirement in 2008 following a successful career in probate and elder law—for her work over the past nine years with TLAP, which provides confidential help to lawyers, law students, and judges facing mental health and substance abuse issues.

Hurd, a co-founder of the University of Texas School of Law’s Center for Women in Law, was honored for “her outstanding work on behalf of women and minorities,” which “helps to remove roadblocks and make the path to success easier for everyone.”

“Every part of the legal market is changing right now—from law school through every part of the practice,” Fastcase Chief Executive Officer Ed Walters said on the company’s website announcing the list. “That change can be daunting or discouraging to many people. And that’s one reason that our team enjoys celebrating the accomplishments of the Fastcase 50. These are people who inspire us by their intelligence, creativity, and leadership. We hope they will inspire others as well, especially during a time of great change for the profession.”

Free legal clinic for veterans in Lake Jackson

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 14:09

Free legal assistance is being offered to veterans in Lake Jackson on Saturday, July 15 from 9 a.m. to noon.

Volunteer attorneys at the clinic, organized by the Brazoria County Bar Association and the Houston Bar Foundation’s Veterans Legal Initiative, will provide veterans and spouses of deceased veterans with advice regarding disability and veterans benefits and counsel in various areas of law including family law, wills and probate, consumer, real estate law, and tax law, in addition to disability and veterans benefits.

Veterans in need of legal representation and who qualify for legal aid may be assigned a pro bono attorney.

The clinic will be held at the Lake Jackson VA Outpatient Clinic, 208 Oak Drive South, Lake Jackson 77566.

For more information, contact the Veterans Legal Initiative at (713) 759-1133 or go to www.hba.org.

Summer savings

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 08:00

Make the most of your summer with great savings from your Beneplace discount program! Whether you’re planning a vacation or staycation, heading to Six Flags or Disneyland, or getting tickets to see your favorite band, check this site first to see how much you can save.

TicketsatWork offers deals on a variety of entertainment and shows around the country. Save on admission to your favorite theme park—whether it’s Universal Studios, Disneyland, Disney World, SeaWorld, or Six Flags. You’ll find deals on multi-day passes and single day savings to parks in whatever city your travels bring you to.

Plan a trip to the entertainment capital of the world? Save big on dazzling shows and other attractions in Las Vegas. Catch a magic show, Cirque du Soleil performance, or concert. Maybe you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple? Save on tickets to the hottest Broadway shows, including Dear Evan Hansen, Book of Mormon, Groundhog Day and Aladdin.

Find even more great entertainment offers with Premium Seats and Ticket Monster. You’ll save on tickets to see sporting events, concerts, movies and shows. Plus browse their VIP packages to create an even more memorable experience.

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

Does filing for Chapter 11 make you a business failure?

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 09:17

In the past year or so, there has been great public debate about whether someone can be considered a successful business person if his or her business has filed for protection under “Chapter 11.” For many people, Chapter 11 is synonymous with bankruptcy, but it is actually only one of several chapters of the Bankruptcy Code that a business can utilize. “Bankruptcy” is, for many people, synonymous with failure; but to professionals who focus on this area of the law, Chapter 11 many times does not.

Chapter 11 is the portion of the Bankruptcy Code (found in Title 11 of the United States Code) that governs bankruptcy restructurings. The goal of a Chapter 11 case is for the entity to emerge from bankruptcy as an operational business, either through reorganization or through a going-concern sale to new owners. In a “true reorganization,” the entity may restructure its secured debt (typically by extending payment terms or reducing interest rates); improve cash flow by obtaining approval to pay unsecured creditors a percentage of what they may be owed, and over an extended period of time, streamline operations by terminating unfavorable contracts; and obtaining new equity financing.

Often, creditors will approve these measures because an operating business that pays some portion of its debts is better for everyone than one that just folds. The hope is that the combination of bankruptcy strategies the debtor and creditors utilize in a reorganization case allows the business to continue its operations in a stronger financial position.

Another option is for the business to sell all or substantially all of its assets through the Chapter 11 process. If this is the path the debtor chooses, it will seek court approval for a sale process, which will likely include an auction to be conducted by the bankruptcy court. The goal of this process is to sell the debtor’s business assets for the highest price and then distribute the proceeds of the sale to the debtor’s creditors in order of their priority as determined by the Bankruptcy Code.

While this is similar to a liquidation proceeding under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, the Chapter 11 sale process more often sells the business assets as a going concern, rather than selling individual assets that would be incorporated into the buyer’s existing business.

For example, say the debtor is a retail store. In a Chapter 11 sale, the business assets, including the lease, the inventory, fixtures, and office equipment would be sold together to the highest bidder—essentially a “turnkey” sale. In contrast, in a liquidation sale under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, different buyers might purchase each category of assets separately, with one person buying inventory, another buying the office equipment, etc.

The biggest difference between the two types of sales is that in a Chapter 11 proceeding, the debtor’s existing management generally stays in control (absent accusations of mismanagement or malfeasance) whereas in a Chapter 7 case, a professional bankruptcy trustee is automatically appointed on a rotation system from a panel of trustees approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. Thus, even in a Chapter 11 sale, the end result is an operating business, although it might be under another name.

“Bankruptcy” is, for many people, synonymous with failure; but to professionals who focus on this area of the law, Chapter 11 many times represents a sound strategy to create a business that is viable in the long-term. Successful Chapter 11 cases can result in business entities that are financially and operationally stronger and able to achieve long-term success.

Natalie Friend Wilson practices in Langley & Banack’s bankruptcy, litigation, and appellate group. She represents debtors, trustees, and creditors in commercial bankruptcy cases filed under Chapters 7 and 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, including related litigation and appeals. Learn more about the firm at langleybanack.com.

Texas Bar Journal Must-Reads for July

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 09:15

Want a head start on July’s issue of the Texas Bar Journal? Check out our editorial staff’s must-reads. And don’t forget to read Memorials, Disciplinary Actions, and Movers and Shakers.

Dollars and Sense
How a recent federal law makes wrongful conviction compensation tax-free.
By Robert W. Wood

Kid Duty
The right of first refusal in custody cases and how it can backfire.
By Jonathan James

Advertise With Care
Should you use a search engine marketing company?
By Paul H. Cannon

Jam Session
An Austin attorney trades the courtroom for the world of roller derby.
Interview by Eric Quitugua

Texas criminal defense attorneys to read Declaration of Independence for Fourth of July

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 10:08

All across the state on the Fourth of July, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association members will lead readings of the Declaration of Independence.

The annual recitation of the nation’s founding document is a tradition started seven years ago by Houston criminal defense lawyer Robert Fickman, a past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

One of the many participants this year will be renowned trial lawyer Dick DeGuerin of Houston, who will stand on the expansive lawn of Marfa’s town square and read the 241-year-old document.

“The Declaration of Independence is our country’s most revered symbol of a nation’s stand against the illegal and immoral depredations of the crown against our citizens,” Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association representatives said in a news release. “These readings are our reminder to all in the criminal justice system that abuses of power will be exposed and fought by members of the defense bar.”

For information, contact organizers Fickman of Houston at (713) 655-7400 or rfickman@gmail.com; or Chuck Lanehart of Lubbock at (806) 535-2689 or chucklanehart@hotmail.com.

Watch past readings online here.

WATCH: Highlights of 2017 State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 15:13

Hours of compelling CLE. Engaging keynote speakers. The swearing-in of new leaders.

Miss out on Annual Meeting in Dallas this year? Or just want to relive the conference? Watch our video and catch the highlights.

And while you’re at it, check out our social media recap.

State Bar of Texas offers tips on avoiding scams involving fake lawyers, law firms

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 16:06

Scammers targeting the elderly have set up a fake law firm website as part of an elaborate scam designed to trick the public, according to a lawsuit filed by the Houston Bar Association.

The scam reportedly involved sending letters to elderly people informing them that they are due to receive life insurance proceeds as a way to gain bank account numbers and financial information. The law firm depicted in the website is fictitious and the lawyer photos and bios were stolen from other websites.

The State Bar of Texas is concerned about this news and wants the public to be cautious about this and other potential scams.

To check the credentials of someone who claims to be a licensed Texas attorney, you can do an easy “Find A Lawyer” search on the front page of the State Bar’s website, texasbar.com. Your search will reveal whether a lawyer by that name exists, his or her eligibility to practice in Texas, any public disciplinary history, and more. Similarly, you can search for law firms in Texas by using this form and typing in a keyword used in the firm name. You can also call the State Bar membership department at (800)-204-2222 ext. 1383 if you’re concerned about whether a lawyer is licensed.

Also keep in mind there restrictions on how and when an attorney may make contact with a member of the public.

Generally speaking, an attorney can send a member of the public a solicitation when a specific legal event has occurred. For example, if someone received a traffic ticket. The attorney must be very specific about how he or she received the information about the legal event and must prominently display the word “Advertisement” on the information sent.

If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, immediately contact your local police department.

If you believe someone is practicing law without a license, the Supreme Court of Texas has created the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, which is charged with preventing, investigating and prosecuting unauthorized practice of law. You can file a complaint for the committee to investigate here.

Early thoughts for family law practitioners on the modernized military retirement system

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 08:57

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 defined a modernized retirement system, or MRS, for individuals entering military service on or after January 1, 2018. Service members with less than 12 years of service on December 31, 2017, have the option of remaining with the current military retirement system or switching to the new one. (NDAA 2016, Sec. 631) The decision window in which an eligible service member may opt in is one year, starting January 1, 2018, and ending December 31, 2018. Id.

Under the new system, the retired pay multiplier is reduced from 2.5 percent to 2 percent times the number of years of creditable service at retirement, which factors in determining the service member’s monthly retired pay. (NDAA 2016, Sec. 631) Thus, a service member retiring with 20 years of creditable service will receive 40 percent (instead of 50 percent) of his highest 36 months’ base pay. Id. This reduction is blended with automatic enrollment in the Thrift Savings Plan, a defined contribution plan, with the opportunity for matching contributions from the government. (NDAA 2016, Sec. 632) Thus, a service member in the MRS is referred to as a “full TSP member.” (NDAA 2016, Sec. 631)

Full TSP members receive an automatic government contribution to their TSP account of 1 percent of basic pay. (NDAA 2016, Sec. 632) These members are enrolled automatically at the default rate of 3 percent contribution from the member’s base pay, which can be adjusted up or down by the member, and the government will then match a member’s own contributions up to a maximum 5 percent match, ceasing at 26 years of service. Id. Full TSP members are vested in the government match after two years’ service.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 expanded the 2016 legislation’s use of continuation pay, a form of retention bonus, for full TSP members. Continuation pay may be offered to these members between the eight- and 12-year point if the member contracts to serve not less than three additional years. (NDAA 2017, Sec. 632) Continuation pay will be not less than 2.5 times the member’s basic pay for active duty or not less than half basic pay for reserve and guard members, as determined by the secretary of defense. Id. Presumably, differences in continuation pay will be driven by retention levels among military occupational specialties. The compensation may be taken in either a lump sum or a series of not more than four payments.

Service members in the new system will have options on how they wish to receive their military retired pay beyond the normal monthly installments commencing at retirement and continuing until death of the member. Under the MRS, the member may take a lump sum (discounted to net present value) equal to 50 percent of the monthly retired pay they would receive from the date of military retirement until the date of eligibility for social security retirement, plus 50 percent of monthly military retired pay the member otherwise would receive, according to the law. Alternately, the member may opt to take a 25 percent lump sum, plus 75 percent of the monthly military retired pay the member otherwise would receive.

The secretary of defense will determine the assumptions used in computing the net present value. No adjustment to the lump sum is permitted should, over time, the secretary’s assumptions in computing the net present value prove to have been to the member’s disadvantage. Before any lump sum payment may be made, any reduction for Veterans Affairs disability compensation must be factored. Retirees who have opted for a lump sum and reduced monthly retired pay are restored to full retired pay at their Social Security retirement age.

For family law practitioners, ideally, the modernized retirement system should mean there will be considerable amounts in Thrift Savings Plans and less monthly retired pay, and, perhaps some remaining balance of continuation pay, to divide in divorce. From my experience practicing military divorce, reality may prove that there will be only modest amounts in Thrift Savings Plans and less monthly retired pay to divide in divorce.

By my observation, many junior and mid-grade military families live paycheck-to-paycheck or close to it. Without significant home budget adjustments, many might not be able to take maximum advantage of the government match for the TSP. It may also be prudent to consider adding language in a decree and domestic relations order that prohibits a service member from opting for a lump sum and reduced monthly retired pay that might disadvantage a former spouse if the secretary’s assumptions in calculating the lump sum, over time, prove detrimental. With respect to calculating the lump sum, the complexities of factoring the VA disability compensation offset are many given the backlog of claims still existing at the VA.

These are just a few areas for military divorce practitioners to consider as the body of knowledge about the modernized retirement system grows with its implementation.

James G. Cramp is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and the founder of and principal in the Cramp Law Firm, which provides a spectrum of family-related legal services in the San Antonio region. Learn more at cramplawfirm.com.

Scams Continue to Target Texas Attorneys

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 15:49

Update 6/26/17: We received a report of another scam targeting Texas attorneys. An attorney received a scam email seeking representation to draft a purchase and sales agreement for a boat sale. The scammer sent the email using another attorney’s name in the email address. View the scam email attachment.

Update 5/26/17: We received a report of another scam targeting Texas attorneys.

A lawyer received a call from someone purporting to be from the State Bar of Texas. The caller, who identified the date the lawyer was admitted to practice law in Texas, offered the attorney a half-year free membership and listed associated benefits. After the attorney refused and ended the conversation, the caller attempted to contact another lawyer in his office but was stopped by the receptionist.

The State Bar of Texas Membership Department does not call attorneys with special offers for membership dues.

Update 5/4/17: We received reports of two more scams targeting Texas attorneys.

A law firm received emails from a person asking to hire the firm to collect payment for goods provided to a third party. The firm also received an email from the third party. Both emails were fake. The firm also received a check as a retainer, and upon verification with the Canadian bank listed on the check, confirmed it was fake. View the scam emails and fraudulent check.

Another law firm received several scam emails within a few days of each other from different senders from locations in Europe, the Netherlands, Africa, and the United States. The emails were requests for various legal services including help with a real estate loan default, seeking assistance with an investment, and drafting a purchase and sales agreement for a drilling rig. The firm also received a fake out of office reply email from a sender they did not contact.

Update 4/17/17: We received a report of another scam in which a law firm’s accounting department received an email purporting to be from the president of the firm, instructing them to pay a statement for $19,500 for professional service. When accounting requested more information, the president responded that the email was not from him. The address it appeared to come from was exeuva@comcast.net.

Update 4/11/2017: We received reports of two more scams targeting Texas attorneys.

An attorney received a phishing email. He tried to open an email which appeared to be from a referring attorney sending documents via DocuSign. Over 20 people on his contact list also received the email. The hackers sent out thousands of fake emails to his contacts which appeared to be coming from him. The hackers also responded to inquiries from his contacts questioning if the phishing email was legitimate.

Another attorney received a fraudulent check. He received a $400,000 check that cleared his bank and was told it was part of a $1,000,000 deal. He also received a second payment. He received instructions to deduct his fee and wire the remaining funds to Kenya. He called his bank to verify the check. The check had a name and address on it that appeared to belong to an oil company but was that of a U.S. insurance company.

Update 3/9/2017: We have received a report of a phishing scam targeting Texas attorneys. The scammer stated they were seeking legal counsel. View a copy of the scam email.

Update: 2/23/17: We have received reports of another scam email targeting Texas attorneys. Some attorneys have received emails that appear to be coming from another attorney. It appears that the scammer was able to access attorneys’ email address books for the purpose of forwarding the e-mail from one attorney to another giving the appearance that it is a referral. It is apparently a scam enlisting attorneys to prepare legal documents upon receiving a cashier’s check deposited in trust accounts with an overpayment of legal fees being returned to the scammer from the attorney’s trust account. The initial payment is fraudulent.

Law firms in Canada and the UK have received similar e-mails.

The scam emails are coming from the following accounts with the name Tijmen Smit: systemspecified@yahoo.com and jamescrosbyhalifax@yahoo.co.uk.

Update: 9/23/16: A San Antonio lawyer has notified the State Bar of Texas that he received a fraudulent check as part of an attempted scam. View the fraudulent check and scam letter.

Update 2/26/16: We received a report about another fraudulent check scam targeting attorneys.

Update 2/3/16: We received a report of a new scam targeting clients of attorneys. Scammers are “spoofing” phone numbers of attorneys and calling clients to get money. Read the full story.

Update 10/23/15: The State Bar of Texas has been alerted to a potential email scam involving a debt collection. On October 20, a Fort Sam Houston attorney received an email from a sender who claimed that she had lent a sum of money to a borrower, and that the borrower had not yet repaid the loan in full and had since moved to Texas. The sender claimed she was seeking legal assistance in the matter and requested information about the attorney’s fees. The message also included a copy of two checks (here and here) and an alleged loan agreement promissory note.

Update 10/8/15: We received a recent report of a scam targeting attorneys. An attorney was contacted by a company and received a bogus check. Read the details on this fraudulent check scam.

Update 2/26/15. We have received a report of a scam from an attorney who received a request for assistance. She spoke on the phone to the proposed client, who asked that a buyer send the firm a 15 percent deposit from a purchase price to use as a retainer, that the firm bill their fees against it, and return the remainder to the client. Upon further searching, the attorney uncovered a scam.

Update 6/4/14. We received a report this week about a sophisticated scam involving collection with a fraudulent certified check that has affected at least three Texas attorneys. Read the details here. 

10/18/13. We received a report today that the name of a San Antonio law firm is being used in a debt collection scam, where scammers apparently obtained files from a payday loan company. The scammers are calling people all over the country, saying they are with the law firm, and threatening the people with arrest if they do not immediately pay their debts. Law enforcement and the Secret Service in San Antonio are investigating the matter.


Texas attorneys should be extra-vigilant regarding potential scams involving fraudulent checks or wire transfers. These scams are increasing in sophistication, sometimes involving innocent third parties who seek legal services at the request of a scam artist.

The bottom line is this: Never issue a check from a trust account until deposited funds have been collected.

Scam scenarios include:

  • a request for help in collecting a divorce settlement from an ex-spouse
  • unsolicited email requests for legal help collecting money or judgments, sometimes apparently coming from actual professionals whose identities have been stolen
  • a real estate transaction for an overseas client (whose identity was stolen by a scam artist) involving an innocent third-party realtor
  • impersonation of law firms by scam artists who issue bogus checks and attempt to charge a fee for the checks to clear
  • a bogus check received by a law firm, purportedly for payment regarding representation of an inmate
  • impersonation of a lawyer and law firm by a scammer “collecting debts” under the attorney’s name

Again, be vigilant and do not disburse funds from your accounts until underlying funds have cleared your bank (and not simply been made “available”).

Cases involving bank fraud are investigated by the Secret Service. If you are targeted, contact an office in your area. Internet fraud should be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

If a scam has targeted you or your firm, please leave a comment below describing the scenario or tactics the scammer used.

#SBOT17: Relive Annual Meeting through our social media recap

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 10:38

Thank you to everyone who made 2017 Annual Meeting in Dallas such a success. Relive the conference with our social media recap.

And make sure to mark your calendars for next year’s event in Houston on June 21-22.


Free legal clinic for veterans in Katy

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 08:00

Free legal advice will be offered to veterans in Katy on Saturday, June 24, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Volunteer attorneys will be available to advise any veteran or spouse of a deceased veteran in a number of areas including family law, wills and probate, consumer law, and real estate and tax law, in addition to disability and veterans benefits.

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

The clinic takes place at the Katy VA Outpatient Clinic, 750 Westgreen Blvd., Katy 77450. No appointment is necessary.

The event is a service of the Katy Bar Association and the Houston Bar Foundation’s Veterans Legal Initiative. The Houston Bar Foundation holds weekly clinics on Fridays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston.

For more information, go to www.hba.org.

Discounts for car shopping

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 08:00

If you’re shopping for a new car, check out your Beneplace discount website for great deals on a variety of makes and models. Or browse your refinancing options to lower your current monthly car payment.

With the Employee Auto Buying Program you can see what others paid for the new car you want or compare used car listings to market averages. Buyers save an average of $3,221 off MSRP. Top makes include Chevrolet, Nissan Toyota, Ford, Jeep, and Hyundai. Or save $750 when you purchase a well-maintained, late-model pre-owned car from Avis. You can shop thousands of cars, trucks, SUVs and vans and test-drive the vehicle for up to three days.

Are you paying too much in monthly payments for your current vehicle? myAutoloan.com is a premier online auto finance and refinance marketplace—apply now and receive up to four loan offers within minutes. With myAutoloan.com, the average customers save up to $1,900. It’s fast, easy and secure. Or refinance with RateGenius, where customers save an average of $81/month. Simply fill out an application and rateGenius will match you to its nationwide network of lenders and Credit Unions to lower your monthly car payment and interest rate.

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

Texas Supreme Court congratulates first TOJI cohort

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 10:36

The 10 members of the first cohort of the Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator received words of support and encouragement from the Texas Supreme Court on June 13, 2017. Justice Phil Johnson spoke to the group gathered in the courtroom and reminded them of their important role in helping those who need access to justice. He praised the continued efforts of Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht and Justice Eva M. Guzman, who have championed access to justice and encouraged others to follow suit.

The Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator is an innovative approach to legal access that helps new lawyers build sustainable practices that serve low- and modest-income Texans. The first cohort started the program on April 3 at offices in Austin. After completing an intensive three-week “boot camp” training session, they began building their individual law practices.

“The importance of having the unequivocal support of the Texas Supreme Court cannot be overstated,” said 2016-2017 State Bar President Frank Stevenson, who over the past year made the incubator his presidential initiative, working with the State Bar and other organizations to launch the program. “The court’s support affirms the commitment our State Bar and, more importantly, our TOJI participants have made to provide justice for Texas citizens and opportunity for Texas lawyers.”

TOJI is accepting applications through July 7 for the second cohort, which is expected to start on October 2. An information session will be held June 15 from 5:30 to 6:30 at the Texas Law Center, 1414 Colorado St., Austin, Texas 78701. Arrive at 4:30 for networking opportunities. For more information, go to txoji.com.

Above from left to right: Crystal Fletcher, Carolyn Cadena, Mary Rios, Sarah Kelly, Justice John Phillip Devine, Justice Don R. Willett, Justice Paul W. Green, 2016-2017 State Bar President Frank Stevenson, Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, TOJI Director Anne-Marie Rábago, Justice Phil Johnson, Justice Eva Guzman, Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd, Justice Jeff Brown, Jackson Gorski, Mario Cantu, Kori Martin, Claire Vaho, and DeVondolyn Arrington.

Stories of Recovery: High Anxiety

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 07:00

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery 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 was the first born, over achiever, good grades. I worried so much all the time, and still do about what others think of me. Do they think I’m smart enough? Do they think my hair is too frizzy? Do they think what I just said is ridiculous? There is constant ruminating every day when I get home about what I should’ve said, and why mostly everything I did was wrong.

This overly anxious attitude seemed to help me in law school. I was so anxious about doing poorly that I studied and did all the work so I wouldn’t fail out and embarrass myself. I also started sleeping way less and had a lot of extra energy.

I began therapy in my early 20s and was encouraged to see a psychiatrist for a diagnosis. The diagnosis I got was high anxiety. It reminded me of when I was asked to participate in a study for highly anxious people as a UT undergrad. Apparently my survey responses were very abnormal. Almost everything made me anxious, very anxious; apparently that doesn’t happen to others.

Then, about three years ago I was in a weird accident where I fell out of a moving vehicle and struck my head hard on the concrete. After that I started feeling even more anxious on an even more regular basis. I had at least two panic attacks where my heart wouldn’t stop racing, my vision blurred, and I had to sit down to not pass out.

I went to see a new psychiatrist thinking I was losing my mind and desperately needed inpatient treatment. Instead, intensive outpatient therapy was recommended to me and I was told I had to be given a diagnosis for my health insurance to cover treatment.

I was asked how I felt about a bipolar diagnosis. Well, I’ll tell you how I felt about it: unhappy. I didn’t want to be labeled as a “bipolar” for the rest of my life. That’s how those diagnosed as such are labeled, not even as bipolar people, but as “bipolars.” I didn’t want a permanent mental health diagnosis. I didn’t want to be in that category.

How my depression manifests now: I am very low energy, I don’t want to see people or participate in things, I’m unmotivated, especially to do anything differently. How I know it’s depression and not just sadness is that it is constant and pervasive, it is not precipitated by a really sad event, and it doesn’t lessen in a normal amount of time.

I’ll tell you what I do now, and that is focus on a lot of self-care. I have to take good care of myself. For me, this includes mindfulness and meditation. I use the Calm app on my phone and try to meditate every morning and night. I also take prescription medication on a daily basis. I speak on panels and tell my story when I am invited, and I do things like write this article. I try to get outside as much as possible and walk, even if it’s just around the block during lunch.

Sometimes I feel silly doing these little things, but I really need them to be OK on a regular basis.

TLAP director named chair of American Bar Association commission

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 13:50

Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program Director Bree Buchanan was appointed chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.

2016-2017 American Bar Association President-elect Hilarie Bass appointed Buchanan to a one-year term beginning after the association’s Annual Meeting in August.

The Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs aims to educate the legal profession about alcoholism, chemical dependencies, stress, depression, and other mental health issues, and support bar associations and lawyer assistance programs in developing ways to provide effective solutions for recovery.

Buchanan in November was named co-chair of the commission’s Task Force on Lawyer Wellness, a joint effort between the commission, the National Organization of Bar Counsel, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and others, to address the findings of the ABA and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study, which showed attorneys experience substance abuse and mental health issues more than any other profession and the general population.

Learn more about the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program at tlaphelps.org and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs at americanbar.org/colap.

TYLA seeks lawyers to judge State Moot Court Competition

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 14:14

The Texas Young Lawyers Association is seeking volunteers to judge the preliminary rounds of the 2017 State Moot Court Competition held annually in conjunction with the State Bar Annual Meeting.

Eight Texas law schools will participate on June 20-22 in Dallas at the Hilton Anatole, 2201 N. Stemmons Fwy., and judges are needed at the following times:

Tuesday, June 20
9 a.m.                                                            
11 a.m.              
2:30 p.m.                
4:30 p.m.

Wednesday, June 21
9 a.m.
11 a.m.
2:30 p.m.

All necessary materials, including a bench brief, will be provided prior to the round, and each attorney can receive 2 hours of CLE self-study credit for being a judge.

If you are interested in judging, you can sign up online or send an email to alex.bell@fletcherfarley.com.