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Free legal clinic for veterans in Tomball

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 12:00

Veterans can receive free legal advice at a clinic hosted by the Houston Northwest Bar Association, the Montgomery County Bar Association, and the Houston Bar Foundation’s Veterans Legal Initiative on Saturday, February 24.

The clinic will offer veterans and spouses of deceased veterans advice and counsel from volunteer attorneys in any area of law, including family law, wills and probate, consumer law, real estate and tax law, and disability and veterans benefits. Those who qualify for legal aid and are in need of ongoing legal representation may be assigned a pro bono attorney to take their case.

The clinic, which does not require an appointment, will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at the Tomball VA Outpatient Clinic, 1200 W. Main St., Tomball 77375.

The Houston Bar Foundation also sponsors weekly Friday afternoon clinics 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 go to the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans webpage at texasbar.com/veterans.

Sponsored Content: Why Lawyers Need a Virtual Receptionist

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 23:01

Practicing law isn’t easy, and neither is staying organized on top of all the work you have to put in as a high performing attorney. One of the most frustrating distractions is having to take a client call that has nothing do with what you are working on, taking your valuable attention away from more important issues.

According to the 2017 Legal Trends Report from Clio, 30 percent of lawyers report being interrupted 6-10 times per day. Further research shows that on average it takes 23 minutes to get back on task. You can’t afford to lose billable hours on low priority tasks.

The solution? Hire a virtual legal receptionist. You can save time, money, and resources by growing your team and getting a reception specialist to handle the crucial details of scheduling and qualifying leads.


Your current and potential clients want a live voice on the other end of the phone. Endless voicemails and phone trees will spell out frustration for callers; 67% of surveyed customers said they choose a law firm if they promptly answer the first call or email. Having a live voice answer their questions, anticipate their needs, and get them the information they need makes a world of difference for customer experience.

With this in mind, the obvious solution is to hire a receptionist. However, an in-house receptionist can cost over $50,000 a year after salary, benefits, bonuses and time off.

Not only that, but your clients will be contacting you at all times with high profile cases that need immediate attention, outside of regular business hours.

More than just an answering service, a virtual receptionist can offer 24-7-365 support, appointment scheduling, lead qualification and CRM integration. Your calls will be handled by a live voice that is indistinguishable from an in-house receptionist, and your clients will be able to reach you anytime, anywhere.


This might seem obvious, but strong organizational skills are a key trait necessary for legal receptionists. Since you’re dealing with multiple clients, scheduling, and lots and lots of paperwork, you need a virtual receptionist who can keep up.

Career Trend says, “Not having the proper organizational skills puts you at danger for losing documents, misplacing valuable client contact information, forgetting about meetings, and miscalculating your appointments.” That’s the last thing you need when heading in court.

When using a virtual receptionist, multiple team members are trained on the details of your account. Using verticalized training systems ensures that that every one of your calls goes to a virtual receptionist who has been extensively trained in legal jargon. Answer 1 is a virtual receptionist firm in Phoenix, Arizona, that answers calls for

thousands of lawyers across the country every day. Our virtual receptionists offer top quality answering, scheduling, and technology integration services, and we’re ready to do the same for your firm.

“If you’re an attorney and you don’t have an assistant that answers your phone 24/7, I guarantee you are losing potential clients,” says Stephen Shepard, an attorney based in Maryland.  “A missed call could cost your firm a lot since that caller will likely just call the next attorney on the list…Answer 1 has helped my business tremendously by answering my missed calls properly and getting me the information I need. ”

As a lawyer, you’re going to face unique challenges. Answer 1’s dedicated legal receptionist team is the solution.We want to be the professional voice answering your clients needs, winning you new clients and keeping you free from unnecessary interruptions.

State Bar of Texas Seeking General Counsel Proposals

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 15:31

The State Bar of Texas is requesting proposals from licensed Texas attorneys capable of providing general counsel legal services to the State Bar Board of Directors.

The General Counsel will be elected by and will provide counsel to the Board and the officers on an as-needed, contract basis as set forth in the Request for Proposals (RFP).

Licensed Texas attorneys are invited to submit proposals without regard to whether they practice as solos or in small or large firms. Respondents should pay particular attention to all instructions, requirements, and deadlines indicated in the RFP and respond accordingly.

The deadline for submission of proposals is 5 p.m. CST March 12, 2018.

All questions concerning the specifications for proposals must be in writing, preferably by email, and addressed to the following:

Amy Turner


Ann Nunez

Entries sought for local bar association awards

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 08:00

The State Bar of Texas Local Bar Services Committee is now accepting local bar association submissions for the annual Stars of Texas Bars Awards and Judge Sam Williams Award.

The Stars of Texas Bars Awards include eight award categories that recognize local bar associations for outstanding community involvement, commitment to increasing access to justice, dedication to the profession, and excellent reporting from May 1, 2017, to April 30, 2018. Each local bar has the opportunity to receive awards based on its division. Divisions are broken down by the size of bar membership.

The Judge Sam Williams Award honors one individual who demonstrates a commitment to fostering and maintaining the relationship between his or her local bar and the State Bar of Texas. The award, established in 1990, is named in honor of Judge Sam Williams, the longtime president of the Northeast Texas Bar Association. Judge Williams, an outstanding leader of the local bar, exemplified the highest ideals of the position and significantly contributed to maintaining the local bar’s relationship with the State Bar of Texas.

For more information about the awards and to view submission criteria, go to texasbar.com/stars.

The deadline to submit entries is 5 p.m. CST April 30. For questions, please email localbars@texasbar.com or call (800) 204-2222, ext. 1514. Winners will be honored at the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting on Thursday, June 21, 2018, at the Marriott Marquis in Houston.

Solo/Small Firms: Accurate Data

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 15:00

Tips on what solo and small firms can use to get accurate data about their websites.

Stories of Recovery: In Law School, I Partied My Way to Notoriety; Now I’m Building a Foundation for Sobriety

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 06:00

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.

My first experience with alcohol at age 13 should have been as good a deterrent as any. A friend and I consumed three quarters of a bottle of 40-proof liquor in about an hour. It wasn’t long before we were both sick. I didn’t drink for years after that.

Alcohol re-entered my life at age 18 or 19, when my buddies and I would run around the music clubs trying not to get discovered for being under 21. Drinking and driving never seemed like much of a problem and I am thankful I never hurt anyone. As my 20s rolled on, I was drinking more and more and cocaine found its way into my life. Years would go by when I couldn’t think of a day when I wasn’t intoxicated, high, or both. But through it all, I was able to work, get an undergraduate degree, and (mostly) maintain friendly and romantic relationships.

I hadn’t always wanted to be a lawyer. I grew up around them and didn’t see much need for yet another lawyer in the world. But when my dad, who was a criminal defense attorney, passed away suddenly, a voice in my life that would have talked me out of law school was gone. It was either law school or business school, and I always enjoyed explaining more than I did selling.

In hindsight, my problems with alcohol and drugs began far before I walked into my 1L year. I had dabbled in trying to get sober but nothing ever worked, in part, because I thought I had all the answers. But the minute I walked into law school, I foolishly believed that I was there to “drink like a lawyer.” And I did.

For most, entering law school is a time to buckle down and get serious. For me, it was an invitation to live off student loans, make it to class every once in a while, and drink or party my way into notoriety.

It’s easy to be the fun guy during your 1L year. Everyone is getting to know everyone else and there’s a real sense of “us against the world” with your fellow section mates. I was always the first one at the bar in the afternoon and usually one of the last out, unless I left early to go score more drugs.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise when I ended up at the bottom of the class after my first semester. I managed to move up the class ladder a few positions in my second semester, but not by much. All the while I was partying harder and harder and isolating myself more and more. I actually thought I was getting good at balancing the rigors of my law school caseload and activities all while my addictions made me feel like a train speeding toward a brick wall.

While I had heard about the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) during 1L orientation, I first sought help for my addiction problems through the school psychological services clinic. I knew I had a problem, but I also was going to be the one to dictate how that problem got solved.

Based on my drinking and drug use, it was suggested that I go to inpatient rehab. I ardently refused, thinking that I would be kicked out of law school if I took 30 days off for rehab. Instead, I went to a few more counseling sessions and paid lip service until they figured there wasn’t anything else they could do to help me. It was during this time that I also finally reached out to TLAP, but I wouldn’t appreciate their full potential in my recovery until later.

It’s hard to describe the loneliness I felt during my third year of law school. I’d taken to spending all of my time either in my apartment drinking and using, or at school trying to maintain the responsibilities I had taken on. Things got worse and worse and it became apparent I wouldn’t be graduating at the same time as my classmates. I also wouldn’t be spending my summer studying for the bar exam.

I celebrated all of this by getting a DWI in May 2014. Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a greater gift. The Board of Law Examiners told me I’d need to have a character and fitness hearing before they determined if I was going to be allowed to get a law license. My pretrial services officer pushed me to go to intensive outpatient treatment, which didn’t work. And that led me into inpatient rehab at the end of 2014. I walked out of rehab just before New Year’s Eve 2014 surrounded by the “pink cloud” of sobriety, fully expecting that the world would hand itself to me now.

But then that’s the funny thing about getting sober. While there is great pride in working to overcome your addictions, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to deal with the residual effects of years of addiction. I soon found out that I would be dealing with a large set of residual effects before I could get my law license: passing the Texas Bar Exam, graduating law school, and humbly persuading the Board of Law Examiners that I did, in fact, have the requisite character and fitness to be a practicing attorney in Texas.

Well, the bar exam took four tries and two years, but I finally passed. And I finally graduated from law school. And after two years of continuous sobriety while I studied for and took those bar exams, I am eternally grateful that the Board of Law Examiners saw fit to allow me a law license.

I’ve been a practicing attorney for a little over a year now. The stresses that I was told came with practicing law are all there. And recovery is not always easy, but going to meetings, working with a sponsor, and utilizing the incredible resources and people at TLAP have provided me with a firm foundation to maintain my sobriety.

State Bar President-elect Candidates Offer Messages to Members

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 10:58

Editor’s note: In an effort to encourage voter participation and educate members on the platforms of the 2018 State Bar of Texas president-elect candidates, the State Bar will publish periodic messages submitted by the candidates addressing topics of their choosing. The first messages are available at the links below. 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 will take place April 2 to May 1.

On April 2, attorneys eligible to vote will be mailed an election packet that includes a paper ballot, candidate brochures, and instructions on how to cast their vote. An email also will be 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 Bar’s election provider, Election Services Corporation, and will be sent from statebaroftexas@electionservicescorp.com.

The election packet and email will 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.

Sponsored Content: Need to Protect Sensitive Data? Get it Out of Your Office.

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 23:01

When people think of high-profile hacks, their minds don’t usually drift to the legal world. However, recent security breaches at several large firms, including Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, have highlighted the vulnerabilities law firms face. In fact, after one such event, former Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said the incident “should serve as a wake-up call for law firms around the world: you are and will be targets of cyber hacking, because you have information valuable to would-be criminals.”

With the speed at which technology is advancing, most firms don’t have the time, money, or personnel bandwidth necessary to keep up, leaving their internal systems out-of-date and vulnerable to attack. But does this mean all lawyers need to immediately become cybersecurity experts in order to protect the valuable information in their office? Not at all.

Trust Sensitive Information to the Professionals

Protecting sensitive data is actually simple for attorneys to do, and in most cases, requires nothing more than getting that information out of their office and into the hands of a trusted vendor that has security expertise.

According to Jason Anders, CEO of Amazon Web Services, “What’s happened over the last three to four years is that most companies have figured out that they can have a much stronger security posture in AWS and the cloud than they can on-premises, because we’re able to employ a lot more people to focus on security.” He added that companies that focus on providing cloud-based services are also able to do so with greater agility and at a lower cost than most businesses can manage in-house.

Limit Your Liability

Moving sensitive data out of your office not only provides you with greater security and protection, but also frees you of the responsibility to protect that information. Think about it—hackers can’t steal something from your firm if it’s not there to steal in the first place. If you keep information like client credit card numbers stored on your computer, you’re responsible for protecting that data, and you’re liable if something happens to it. But if you trust this information to a secure partner, the liability goes with it.

So why burden yourself with the liability and stress of maintaining a secure system? Let someone who is an expert in cybersecurity protect your firm’s sensitive information, and rest secure knowing your firm won’t become the next cautionary tale.

About LawPay

LawPay was developed specifically to provide a sophisticated payment solution for legal professionals. The LawPay platform contractually protects client funds by restricting the ability of any third-party from debiting monies from a Trust or IOLTA account. LawPay is an approved Member Benefit of 47 state bar associations, trusted by more than 50,000 lawyers, and is the only payment solution offered through the ABA Advantage program. Click here to learn more.

DBA, DWF, and DWLA establish WE LEAD program

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 15:30

The Dallas Bar Association, Dallas Women’s Foundation, and the Dallas Women Lawyers Association have created DBA WE LEAD: Women Empowered to Lead in the Legal Profession.

The one-year program, which is designed to empower women as leaders in the profession and address challenges they face in practice, is an initiative of DBA President Michael K. Hurst.

“Gender equality in the workplace is imperative—morally, and because equality creates maximum benefit to our communities and economy,” Hurst said in a press release. “It is important for me personally for the Dallas Bar to partner with the DWF and DWLA to uplift, support, and impact women facing their unique challenges in the legal profession.”

DBA WE LEAD focuses on the challenges of women who have practiced law for 8 to 15 years and emphasizes strategies for strengthening already successful law practices. The program is also designed to prepare women lawyers for leadership roles within their firms, businesses, and communities at large. Currently, there are 24 participants in the inaugural class.

“I am thrilled to chair the WE LEAD program because it is imperative that high-performing women lawyers push through to roles of management and leadership in our firms and corporate legal departments,” Program Chair Shonn Brown said in a press release. “The WE LEAD program will arm them with the tools to do just that. Our committee has worked tirelessly to develop a substantive curriculum that can be a game-changer for the 2018 WE LEAD Class.”

For more information about the program, contact Judi Smalling at jsmalling@dallasbar.org.

Founder and supporter of the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education program dies

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 11:50

Isidore Starr, long considered the “father of law-related education” died February 10, 2018. He was 106.

Starr was one of the founders and supporters of the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education program. Since the 1970s, he and his wife, Kay, have conducted institutes on the founding documents across Texas. Starr has authored many articles and books about LRE.

In 1983, the American Bar Association established the Isidore Starr Award for Excellence in Law-Related Education to recognize outstanding achievement in the field of law-related education.

In an October 8, 2013, interview with the World Justice Project, Starr talked about the importance of educating people about the law.

“We are completely surrounded by the law, whether we want to be or not. It’s the backbone of our society and is with us from the time we’re born—birth certificates—to the time we die—trusts and estates—and everything in between. The clothes we wear, including the ways that fabrics are manufactured and sold, and the food we eat, for example FDA regulations, all involve the law. The law is here, there, and everywhere. The law is not the enemy; it is a way of life.”

For more information about the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education Department and its many programs, go to texaslre.org.

State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division elects president-elect

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 14:00

The State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division elected Megan Goor as its president-elect.

Goor, who is a certified paralegal in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, is a senior paralegal and office manager at the Brender Law Firm in Fort Worth. She works on cases involving personal injury, product liability, insurance bad faith, and employment discrimination.

Goor has previously served as the division president from 2016 to 2017, as director of the division’s District 3 from 2012 to 2015, and as chair of the 2017 Texas Advanced Paralegal Seminar. She was also a liaison to the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the American Bar Association and is currently the editor of the Texas Paralegal Journal in her role as the division’s publications chair.

For more information about the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division, go to txpd.org.

Intellectual Property Law Section accepting applications for women and minority law student scholarships

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 12:42

The Intellectual Property Law Section of the State Bar of Texas is seeking applications for two $2,500 scholarships that will go to women and/or minority law students.

The scholarships facilitate and encourage women and minorities to enter the practice of intellectual property law in Texas and to become active members of the State Bar IP Section by assisting these students with their financial needs.

Any woman or member of a recognized minority group, including but not limited to African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans who intends to practice IP law in the State of Texas, is eligible to apply. Applicants must be enrolled in an ABA-accredited law school in Texas at the time the application is submitted. Individuals who have been accepted to law school but have not yet started classes at the time the application is submitted are ineligible.

Selection criteria of the scholarships include: merit, scholastic performance, and financial need. Consideration is also given to extracurricular activities both inside and outside law school.

Click here to obtain an application. Applications must be postmarked by no later than May 1.  The Scholarships will be awarded at the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting in Houston in June 2018.

Questions can be directed to Chris Joe at chris.joe@bjciplaw.com.

State Bar Board Update: Candidates Approved, Election Policies Changed

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 07:30

Lisa Blue

Randy Sorrels

The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors voted January 26 to approve Lisa Blue of Dallas and Randy Sorrels of Houston as candidates for president-elect in the 2018 election. There are currently no additional president-elect candidates, although members have until March 1 to run as a petition candidate by submitting a petition signed by at least 5 percent of the State Bar membership.

Voting will take place April 2 to May 1 by paper and online ballot. The winner will serve as president-elect from June 2018 to June 2019 and as president from June 2019 to June 2020. Additional information on the election, including a Q&A with the candidates, will appear in the April issue of the Texas Bar Journal.

The board also updated procedures for president-elect and district director races. Candidates’ petition signatures will now have a 180-day expiration date—a provision that matches the law governing petitions in other state elections. The board also decided to move its approval of board-nominated candidates from January to September in future elections, which means the board will vote on the 2019 president-elect candidates in September 2018.

Tom Vick

President Tom Vick said the changes, taken together, would promote fairness by ensuring the campaign periods are roughly equal for president-elect candidates, regardless of whether they are nominated by the board or certified through petition.

The 180-day expiration date on petition signatures passed, 32-9. President-elect Joe K. Longley, who last year became the first petition candidate elected State Bar president-elect, opposed the change as “candidate suppression.” Longley said that Steve Fischer, a petition candidate for president-elect in 2013, spent more than a year collecting the required signatures, while Longley himself spent “slightly” more than six months.

“This [expiration date] will grossly discourage petition candidates in favor of nominee candidates,” Longley said.

Immediate Past President Frank Stevenson, co-chair of the board’s Nominations & Elections Subcommittee, disagreed, saying the changes would only create a more level playing field.

Stevenson explained the need for a change, saying his committee met last fall and identified 31 potential president-elect nominees for the 2018 election. With the exception of Blue and Sorrels—who both were gathering petition signatures at the time—all declined to run, Stevenson said.

“Individuals seeking candidacy by petition begin campaigning in late August, five months before the State Bar board chooses its two candidates,” Stevenson told the board before the vote. “The individuals we contacted [as potential nominees] felt this asymmetry was so profound and such a disadvantage, it simply could not be overcome.”

The board also updated its policy manual to relax or remove various campaign restrictions. Vick said the changes would help ensure that president-elect and director candidates could freely present their visions for the bar.

Internal records policy. The board is considering a policy that would establish a process for fulfilling requests from State Bar officers and directors for internal records that are not subject to the Texas Public Information Act. The Policy Manual Subcommittee informed the board it was delaying action on the policy to allow for more study.

Finance and budget. The State Bar received an unmodified, or “clean,” opinion for its 2016-2017 fiscal year financial audit. The board approved the proposed 2018-2019 budget for publication in the March issue of the Texas Bar Journal. Also, a member of Longley’s financial task force reported that procedural changes made by State Bar staff immediately after a 2012 embezzlement case were “adequate and proper” and should be enough to prevent another such theft (click here for a full report).

Day of Civility. The board adopted a resolution recognizing the Texas Day of Civility in the Law on April 20, 2018. In coordination with the State Bar Professionalism Committee, the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals designated the day as a time for Texas lawyers to participate in local bar association programs that focus on the Texas Lawyer’s Creed.

From left: Tom Caldwell, Tom Vick, and Sarah Dingivan

Attorneys honored. Meeting in San Antonio, the board presented resolutions to area attorneys Tom Caldwell and Sarah Dingivan for outstanding service to the legal profession and the greater San Antonio community in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the fatal shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Caldwell, county attorney for Wilson County, was instrumental in pulling the local legal community together to help victims of the shooting. Dingivan, managing attorney for the San Antonio Bar Association’s Community Justice Program, went above and beyond her regular duties to serve Community Justice Program clients during both crises.

Board chair election. The board heard comments from three candidates for 2018-2019 chair of the board: Christy Amuny of Beaumont, Laura Gibson of Houston, and Rudolph Metayer of Austin. Board members will elect the chair during their April 27 meeting in Fort Worth.

New at-large director. San Antonio attorney James C. Woo was sworn in as an at-large director after the board approved his appointment to a term expiring in June 2020. Woo is a shareholder at the firm of Davidson Troilo Ream & Garza and is board certified in estate planning and probate law.

New section. The board approved the formation and bylaws of the new State Bar of Texas Child Protection Law Section, which will provide education and resources to Texas attorneys who practice child welfare law. (Click here for an update from the inaugural section chair, Justice Debra H. Lehrmann.) The board also approved a request to change the name of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section to the Civil Liberties & Civil Rights Section.

Staff Excellence Award. Executive Director Trey Apffel presented the quarterly Staff Excellence Award to Karen Peck, accounts payable manager.

New video from the Texas AG educates and aids Texans in fight against human trafficking

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 16:30

A new comprehensive training video introduced by Attorney General Ken Paxton aims to educate Texans about and combat against human trafficking. Be the One in the Fight Against Human Trafficking was put together by the Office of the Texas Attorney General’s Human Trafficking and Transnational Organized Crime Section and debuted to the public at the Austin ISD Performing Arts Center in January.

“This remarkable training video represents my deep conviction to inform, educate, and empower Texans to prevent, recognize, and report human trafficking,” Paxton said in a press release. “Be the One in the Fight Against Human Trafficking was created to enlist citizens from every walk of life to help Texas in its nationwide leadership role to combat and ultimately eliminate this horrific and dehumanizing crime.”

Texas has the country’s second highest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, according to the press release, and at any given time there are more than 300,000 victims in the state.

The 50-minute video uses real Texas cases to educate viewers on human trafficking and how they can look out for their communities. Be the One is full of deeply emotional stories from survivors, experts on human trafficking, law enforcement, and even a Texan who helped authorities shut down an operation in The Woodlands.

Be the One was made mandatory viewing for the some 4,000 employees of the attorney general’s office and was used by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to train its 8,000 front-line caseworkers, according to the press release.

To watch the video, go to texasattorneygeneral.gov/human-trafficking.

From ROTC to the DOJ: A Q&A with retired Army JAG John Siemietkowski

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 15:30

John Siemietkowski credits the Army with giving him his first law experience. An ROTC scholarship helped him graduate from Georgetown University and eventually Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. His work as a judge advocate put him in a federal court as a special assistant U.S. attorney just a few years out of law school. Coupled with his experiences as a judge, litigating with the military led him to working in Afghanistan as NATO counter-corruption director and to his current roles as a trial attorney with the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and a lecturer on government contracts.

The recently retired Army JAG spoke with the Texas Bar Journal about law school, his faith in the jury system, and how lawyers should be themselves in the courtroom.

Let’s start with your experiences in the military. When did you join the Army and what was your motivation?
In 1980, as a college freshman at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., I received a four-year ROTC scholarship, which I used to pay for college with the intention of eventually serving my four-year obligation and then leaving the military. So, we see how that’s worked out!

Did you go in for JAG initially?
Pretty much. Upon college graduation in 1984, I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Military Intelligence Corps. I never served in that branch, however, electing instead to defer my commitment in order to attend law school, which I did at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law.

What expectations did you have upon joining?
I expected to have lots of hands-on experience in my early JAG career, which I did. As a special assistant U.S. attorney at Fort Hood, I was trying cases in U.S. District Court only three years out of law school.

What was the process like?
Like those with no ROTC background, I had to apply to the JAG Corps. I remain grateful that they accepted me.

Before joining the military, what was your law experience? Where did you earn your law degree?
Aside from clerking different places in D.C. and New Jersey during law school at Catholic U, the Army provided my first law experience. I was on active duty for about 12 and a half years, in private practice in Dallas for two years, active duty again for four years, and a reservist since joining the Department of Justice, or DOJ, in 2002. I retired from the Army on February 1.

What can you tell me about your experience with Operation Resolute Support?
Spending a year at Resolute Support, or RS, in Kabul, Afghanistan, was the most challenging— and most rewarding—experience of my professional career. The difficulties of being away from family combined with a grueling work pace were more than compensated by the sense of service and accomplishment—and amazing camaraderie.


What is the Afghan Anti-Corruption Justice Center and what did helping sustain it entail? Was that part of Operation Resolute Support?
The idea of the Anti-Corruption Justice Center, or ACJC, was conceived by my predecessor at Resolute Support, along with representatives of the British Embassy and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA. President Ashraf Ghani decreed it into law in June 2016, and it officially opened just before I arrived in early October 2016. The idea was to dedicate a court to prosecuting high-level corruption among government and private defendants. It is outside downtown Kabul, away from potential influence by Parliament, Ministries, and the Palace. Gosh, I could write 100 pages describing how we helped sustain it. We—primarily the three entities above, but also the U.S. Embassy and other members of the international community—worked with the ACJC logistically and substantively. Logistically, the United Kingdom spent approximately $2 million to build the ACJC a new facility. We provided security advice, and members of the international community ponied up money for security screening equipment and other material. Substantively, we encouraged the Afghan prosecutors to assemble evidence and begin bringing cases. We also had many discussions with prosecutors and judges to ensure the ACJC was operating within its jurisdictional limits. Along with frequent meetings between individual international entities and the ACJC leadership, the international community as a whole also often met with the ACJC leadership at sessions led by UNAMA.

What prepared you for that?
Honestly, every job I ever had before deploying to Afghanistan prepared me for my role as NATO counter-corruption director. Whether working in our Paris embassy, presiding over cases as a judge, interacting with clients in private practice, teaching at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, and litigating cases in federal court, each experience contributed greatly to our achievements in Afghanistan.

In what role do you serve with the Department of Justice? How did you join the DOJ and when?
Since 2002, I have been a trial attorney in the DOJ’s Commercial Litigation Branch. I very much enjoy our nation-wide practice, as well as teaching trial skills at our National Advocacy Center in South Carolina.

Do you see any crossover with your work in the Army and the DOJ?
There is tremendous crossover between practicing law in the Army and litigating for the DOJ. Both institutions demand that attorneys be quick learners and hard workers. Additionally, both entities expect attorneys to work independently, while also providing strong professional support networks.

What are the key things you go over when you teach government contracts and trial advocacy? What are the most important things students need to know?
When teaching government contracts, I emphasize fundamental distinctions with commercial and private contracts. For instance, in government contracts, the concept of “apparent authority” is virtually non-existent; students are surprised to learn that only those with “actual authority” can bind the government. In trial advocacy, I stress the importance of students being themselves in the courtroom; sure, we all can improve certain skills, but we shouldn’t try to change our personalities once we step before the bar.

At any point in your career, what is the single most important piece of advice you’ve received?
It’s hard to pick just one. I’ve been lucky to have several great mentors at various points of my career, whether in private practice, in the Army, or at the DOJ. I guess one that sticks out is an old adage, “Saw the wood in front of you.” Work hard at whatever task you’re given.


Of all the cases you’ve worked on either as an attorney or presided on as a judge, which is the one that stands out the most to you?
Again, it’s hard to choose just one. I once presided over a trial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in which the defendant was on a prolonged absence without leave, or AWOL. After pleading guilty, he elected to have a jury hear his sentencing case. I expected a harsh sentence. However, once these hardcore paratroopers heard him explain how he went home to care for his mom in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood and then rode a Greyhound bus back to North Carolina to rejoin his unit, they sentenced him to confinement but allowed him to stay in the Army. That seemed just and reaffirmed my faith in our jury system. Here at the Justice Department, litigating the Cobell Indian trust funds case (one of the largest class actions ever filed against the United States) for many years taught me a great deal about teamwork and perseverance.

What does it take to be a great lawyer in the military?
In my personal opinion, attitude, work ethic, and smarts, probably in that order.

What would you tell a person who is considering a military law path?
It is a great career, even if only for a few years, yet you must recognize that, like any job, it has its drawbacks. Probably no other career will give you so much experience and responsibility so soon after law school. You will also have chances to live in and travel to some amazing places, which you might otherwise not visit. On the other hand, the Army tells you what your job will be and where you will live. Moreover, even with the great experiences, dodging car bombs and rocket attacks in Kabul is not for everyone.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor underscores need for expanded ethics instruction during visit to UH Law Center

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 16:20

Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, urged law schools to weave ethical training into course curriculum earlier and to encourage students to participate in pro-bono work in a discussion held at the University of Houston Law Center last Friday.

Sotomayor made her comments during a fireside chat in Krost Hall with Professor Michael A. Olivas, the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Law and director of the Institute for Higher Education Law & Governance. The Justice also participated in a question and answer session with students.

“What we are not doing is training young lawyers to understand their ethical, moral obligation,” Sotomayor said. “It is not clear to me that we spend enough time teaching these students — lawyers of the future — about the difference between rules that should be our floor of behavior, and ethical behavior born from professional integrity. I think that some of the derision that the public has about lawyers comes from that lack of training.”

Sotomayor mentioned a lack of emphasis on core courses that teach students how to be well-rounded lawyers. She suggested that lawyers be familiar with varied areas of practice.

“To me it doesn’t really matter if you have your heart set on specializing in a particular area of law or not,” she said. “Students should consider taking taxation because every client you have will be affected by taxes one way or another.

“Take classes like estates because everyone has family and friends die. You should be able to talk intelligently to your parents and colleagues about making sure that they protect their families when they die.”

While emphasizing the importance of judges remaining neutral in court, Sotomayor said members of the bench must assess and overcome their own emotions so they can remain impartial.

“We do not put on our robe and lose emotion,” she said. “It is impossible. You are a person. If you hear a sad story or read a sad story, you cry. If something tugs at other people’s hearts, it tugs at our hearts.

“You have to as a judge take stock within yourself of your own prejudices, your own biases, your own feelings. You have to consciously correct for them. If you do not, you are unconsciously being unfair to the other side.”

While answering questions from Law Center students, Sotomayor slowly walked up and down the aisles of the auditorium, pausing to shake hands with members of the audience, and posing for pictures. At one point, she made her way into a center row where she chatted briefly with a young girl, signed an autograph, posed for a picture, and gave her a hug.

Sotomayor also met with student leaders in the morning. When asked what she regretted most in her career, she told students it was not serving as a federal law clerk even though her mentors encouraged her to do so.

Following the discussion Sotomayor was given the Dean’s Award from Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes at a luncheon sponsored by UH Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Paula Myrick Short. UH President and System Chancellor Dr. Renu Khator, UH administrators, elected officials, local attorneys, students, alumni, and friends of the Law Center were in attendance.

“As a university president you have many special moments,” Khator said. “But there are some where you just stand in awe and in humility in front of somebody who is bigger than life, someone who is such an amazing and inspiring story that you just get speechless. This is one of those moments.”

“Justice Sotomayor was very down to earth and brilliant,” Baynes added. “Her background is so fitting of many of our students. Being the third woman and the first Hispanic to sit on the Supreme Court is an amazing accomplishment. Her background is really the story of the American dream.”

One of only four women to serve on the Supreme Court, Sotomayor was nominated by President Barack Obama on May 26, 2009, and joined the court on Aug. 8, 2009. She previously served as assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office from 1979–1984. She then litigated international commercial matters in New York City at Pavia & Harcourt, where she served as an associate and then partner from 1984–1992. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, where she served from 1992–1998. She served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1998 until her appointment to the Supreme Court in 2009.

Sotomayor earned a B.A. in 1976 from Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude and receiving the university’s highest academic honor. In 1979, she earned a J.D. from Yale Law School where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

This article, which originally appeared on the news and events page of law.uh.edu, has been reprinted with permission.

University of Houston Law Center Professor Michael A. Olivas, left, asked Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, right, a variety of questions last week in Krost Hall.








Photograph courtesy of the University of Houston Law Center

Free legal clinic for veterans in Texas City

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 09:00

Veterans in need of legal advice can get free consultations at a legal clinic at the Texas City VA Outpatient Clinic on Saturday, February 10.

Veterans or spouses of deceased veterans can receive counsel from volunteer attorneys in any area of law, including family law, wills and probate, consumer law, real estate law, and tax law, as well as disability and veterans benefits.

A pro bono attorney may be assigned to veterans who need ongoing legal representation and qualify for legal aid.

Appointments are not necessary.

The clinic, a service of the Galveston County Bar Association and the Houston Bar Foundation’s Veterans Legal Initiative, will take place from 9 a.m. to noon and is located at 9300 Emmett F. Lowry Expy., Ste. 206, Texas City 77591.

For more information, contact the Veterans Legal Initiative at (713)-759-1133 or 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.

Update from State Bar President: Election Season is Here

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 15:12

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

It’s election season, which means it’s time to get to know your candidates for State Bar president-elect.

We’re planning a number of communications to make sure the president-elect candidates have a fair and equal chance to reach you with their messages and visions for our bar. Those include a Q&A in the April issue of the Texas Bar Journal and brochures that you’ll receive by mail with your ballot at the beginning of April.

We also hope to encourage more voter participation this year through a series of emails that will include a message from each president-elect candidate on topics of their choosing. The State Bar board’s Nominations and Elections Subcommittee voted today to approve the email series as part of its work to ensure that all candidates have the same opportunities to campaign.

As I reported last week, the State Bar Board of Directors has approved Lisa Blue of Dallas and Randy Sorrels of Houston as president-elect candidates. Candidates running by petition have until March 1 to submit their signatures to the State Bar, but we are unaware of anyone collecting signatures this year besides Ms. Blue and Mr. Sorrels. Voting will take place by paper and online ballot from April 2 to May 1.

Depending on where you live, you may also be voting on your State Bar district director. Click here to see the districts with open seats this year and for information on how to run for those positions.

Also, the Texas Young Lawyers Association will elect a president-elect and 13 directors in April. Raymond Baeza of El Paso and Victor Flores of Denton are the candidates for TYLA president-elect. More information on the TYLA election is available here.

If you have any questions about the election process, please let me know.




Tom Vick
President, State Bar of Texas

HBA’s annual ‘Will-A-Thon’ to provide wills and medical directives

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 09:00

The Houston Bar Association Elder Law Committee will sponsor a “Will-A-Thon” at the Tidwell Park and Community Center.

The event will provide wills and basic medical directives at no cost to senior citizens 60 and over, disabled persons, and veterans of all ages who are Harris County residents and meet the Houston Volunteer Lawyers’ low-income requirements.

Those interested in services provided at the Will-A-Thon must apply for assistance by calling (713) 228-0735 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. from February 5 to March 30.

Qualifying applicants will be given an appointment to meet with a volunteer attorney on April 4 at the community center, located at 9720 Spaulding St., Houston 77016. Documents will be completed and executed there on May 2.

For more information, go to hba.org/committees/elder-law.

State Bar of Texas ABA Delegate Applications Sought

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 08:00

The board of directors of the State Bar of Texas has adopted a procedure to ensure diversity in the State Bar’s delegation to the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association. The House of Delegates is the policy-making body of the ABA. Members serve two-year terms and no person may serve as a delegate of the State Bar for more than six consecutive years.

A special committee, chaired by Immediate Past President Frank Stevenson of Dallas, will nominate a slate of persons to produce a delegation with various types of practices, from all firm sizes and geographic locations and with diverse backgrounds reflective of the bar’s membership. Appointments, which will include the president, president-elect, and immediate past president of the State Bar, will be approved by the board of directors. The deadline for receipt of applications is April 2, 2018.

If you are interested in being a delegate of the State Bar of Texas to the ABA House of Delegates, you can apply by sending a resume and cover letter, including your reasons for wanting to serve as a delegate and highlighting your particular experience with the State Bar of Texas and the ABA, to:

Special Committee to Nominate ABA Delegates
c/o Chielsey Barber
State Bar of Texas
P.O. Box 12487
Austin, TX 78711

Please contact Chielsey Barber for additional information at (800) 204-2222, ext. 1416, or chielsey.barber@texasbar.com.