State Bar of Texas – A message from the president
I’m writing to update you on recent State Bar activities, including actions from our Board of Directors meeting on September 20 in Corpus Christi.
Statewide Courthouse Access Badges
Earlier this year, I supported the first legislative attempt to establish a statewide access badge to allow lawyers to bypass courthouse security lines. State Rep. Gene Wu was able to pass HB 1359 out of House committee, but it did not make it to the House floor before the end of the session. This bill attempted to balance courthouse security with less intrusive lawyer access, requiring a strong annual background check, a picture ID, committee review of each application, and an annual fee (with a portion being returned to the counties for their security budgets). I expect a similar bill to be filed again next session.
Contract Lawyer Program
Look for this new program to roll out soon. It will help connect lawyers who need temporary contract lawyer help with lawyers who are looking to do temporary contract legal work. All lawyer practice areas including transaction lawyers, office practice lawyers, consumer lawyers, and litigators will soon be able to take advantage of this service.
Parental Leave Continuance
The Court Rules Committee has sent the Supreme Court of Texas a proposed “parental leave continuance,” which would provide some relief to attorneys in connection with the birth or adoption of a child. It is hoped the proposed rule would help eliminate some of the uncertainties surrounding applications for continuances based on the birth or adoption of a child. The Court has asked the Supreme Court Advisory Committee to study the proposed revision to Rule 253 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, which you can read here.
Uniform Vacation Letters
The Court Rules Committee is studying the most efficient way for lawyers to file vacation letters with courts. Ideally, a single uniform vacation letter filing could be made which would apply in courts statewide. This would allow lawyers to easily notify courts of vacation plans. Your input and feedback are welcome.
IOLTA Exemption Study
The board agreed to empower its Administration Committee to work with the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to study potential rule updates that would allow an IOLTA deposit exemption for advanced flat fees below a certain amount. I am excited about this effort and the huge time savings that could result for Texas lawyers by streamlining deposits of client funds.
Emeritus Lawyers CLE
As I campaigned, I heard concerns from lawyers over 70 years old about access to State Bar of Texas CLE programs. In response, our TexasBarCLE department created a terrific program, Flash CLE Silver, to allow emeritus lawyers to obtain all of their CLE hours on a flash drive at a significant discount. And if an emeritus lawyer cannot afford this, the department will provide them select CLE programs for free.
President-elect Nominees Approved
The board approved the nominations of Pablo Almaguer of Edinburg and Sylvia Borunda Firth of El Paso as candidates for 2020-2021 State Bar president-elect, accepting the recommendation of the Nominations and Elections Subcommittee. The candidates will appear on the ballot in April 2020 along with any certified petition candidates.
Click on the names below to read the candidates’ interest letters to the Nominations and Elections Subcommittee.
Potential petition candidates have until March 1 to submit nominating petitions to the State Bar for certification. For information on how to run for president-elect, go here.
The board appointed Steve Fischer, of El Paso, to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct and Lynne Liberato, of Houston, to the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection. The board also added seven people to its Social Media Engagement Team, which is part of the State Bar’s efforts to better communicate with our members.
MCLE Accreditation Changes
The board amended MCLE regulations to simplify accreditation fee charges paid by MCLE sponsors. The changes, effective January 1, 2020, will create one accreditation fee based on the number of hours submitted for accreditation. Current fees are based on either the number of attendees or the number of hours. The changes will not adversely affect costs for MCLE sponsors or attorneys.
New Board Members
We had the pleasure of welcoming two new members to the board. Justice Gina Benavides, of Edinburg, is the board’s new Judicial Section liaison, and Denise Reid Hoggard, of Little Rock, Arkansas, is our new out-of-state lawyer liaison. We are fortunate to have both of them serving our bar.
Finally, it was my honor to recognize two Corpus Christi attorneys for exceptional service to our profession. Tracy Figueroa leads Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s disaster assistance group, which coordinates outreach in communities affected by disasters. Audrey M. Vicknair is a board-certified attorney who handles civil appeals and has been active in volunteer service to the profession and the Corpus Christi community. Both received well-deserved resolutions from the board.
Feel free to contact me with questions about the board meeting or any other State Bar issues. You can find meeting agendas and materials at texasbar.com/board.
President, State Bar of Texas, 2019-2020