Politics are everywhere and the Texas State Bar is not immune.
Membership in the Texas State Bar has been statutorily mandated since 1939 for those practicing law in Texas, and the Bar now boasts the second largest number of active attorney members in the country.
If you are a member of the Texas State Bar you probably received an email before Thanksgiving containing the incoming (2018) State Bar President’s message. I did. You may have noticed the explanation at the top as to why this message did not come from the State Bar of Texas. Apparently, the Bar refused to send the incoming president’s message to its members and so in order to communicate with us, the president-elect had his message sent by an independent group called the “Texas Lawyers for Reform.” This group claims to support bar reform in Texas and also asked in that email for a donation to support their cause.
The Emails are going to keep coming.
Not long after the email from the President-Elect came the emails from the petition candidates who wanted me to sign their petition to get on the ballot to be the next State Bar President after the one who is not yet in office. Each of them has his or her own pitch and perspective on what is needed at the helm of the State Bar of Texas.
Then came the email from current President Tom Vick explaining that while the State Bar had identified 31 qualified candidates to nominate for the next State Bar President election, none of those potential candidates (other than the two who had already started gathering petition signatures) wanted to be nominated because the petition candidates had already gotten a head-start by sending their own emails independent of the committee nomination process. It is fair to say we have not heard the last of the battle over the Bar.
At this point it is awfully tempting to ignore what looks a lot like a family squabble at Thanksgiving dinner. Why not let someone else worry about managing the State Bar? What does this have to do with me as a lawyer or (you may ask) to this blog about Ethics?
Our existing Rules make it clear that as lawyers, we are different. We have duties—both as public citizens and members of a “learned profession” to undertake certain tasks and objectives, and, in order to discharge those duties we must both work within the legal profession and help the bar regulate itself. All of this is done, of course, in the public interest. Check out the Preamble to the Rules to get the full picture.
Your attention and involvement in the Bar was never more important than it is now.
The 2017 Sunset Legislation (SB 302) mandates the formation of a new Rules Committee for the State Bar and charges them with enacting important new ethics rules. Who they are, the process that they undertake, and the content of the new rules will determine how Texas lawyers are disciplined for decades. Whether the new committee goes beyond its mandate to understand and adopt the coming changes and updates to the ABA Model Rules is important because we increasingly practice law in a world where we are asked to advertise, opine, and give advice across state lines (a.k.a. the internet) and the ramifications of that kind of practice are only beginning to be explored and the ethics rules will need to be reformed accordingly.
Announcements and pronouncements have come and will continue to come from those inside and outside of the Bar, and they will all claim to know what is best for us. Don’t just take their word for it. Instead, pay attention, read your email, talk to your partners, follow up with research, form an opinion, send an email asking questions and demanding answers, attend a meeting, volunteer for a committee–whatever you are able to do while meeting the myriad of obligations that go along with the day to day practice of law.
It is, after all, part of the privilege and responsibility of membership in the Bar.