Trey Apffel League City Steve Fischer Rockport Larry W. Hicks El Paso The Texas Bar Journal asked 2013-2014 State Bar of Texas president-elect candidates Trey Apffel of League City, Steve Fischer of Rockport, and Larry W. Hicks of El Paso to share their perspectives on issues facing the State Bar of Texas. (Biographical information was included in the March issue, p. 177, and is available at texasbar.com.) Votes for the State Bar of Texas president-elect can be cast by paper ballot or online from April 1 to April 30, 2013. The deadline to cast ballots is April 30, 2013, at 5 p.m. CST. Why do you want to serve as president of the State Bar of Texas? APFFEL To be able to practice law is a privilege. We have all made great sacrifices to achieve that privilege. My volunteer work for the Bar has been an attempt to repay our profession for all that it has afforded me. It has allowed me the opportunity to meet and work with attorneys from all over Texas, and has given me firsthand insight into the needs of lawyers and how the State Bar can benefit them. I know that I can work effectively with all groups within the bar and that I can be a strong advocate for the interests of lawyers and for the rule of law before the Legislature and the Supreme Court. I would like to use the problem-solving and consensus- building skills I have developed during my three decades in practice to address issues of importance for our members, such as developing better insurance options for the many Texas lawyers who need them, providing more widespread discussion and involvement on issues affecting lawyers, and protecting access to the courthouse. As a sole practitioner who has also been a partner in a small firm, I am conscious of the fact that the majority of Texas lawyers are in this same category. I want to work to make the State Bar even more helpful to them in their practice. Our profession is important to me, and I want the opportunity to protect it, to promote it, and to speak up for all lawyers. To serve at this level would be a great privilege and a welcome challenge. FISCHER Anyone can complain but it’s best to be positive. I was offended by the rules referendum two years ago. That was the impetus for my election as State Bar Director. Knowing that 80 percent of attorneys toss their ballots in the trash, I decided to run by petition and over 6,000 attorneys signed. I logged 11,592 driving miles talking with, and more importantly listening to, Texas attorneys. I want to represent more than the few who pull the strings behind closed doors. These “Bar Leaders” scoff at me at our lavish retreats when I opine that not all attorneys love them. It’s our Bar, let’s take it back! Most Bar candidates run without real platforms. It’s about how important they believe they are and how their title will attract prestigious clients. The type of clients I have, unfortunately, equate a “Bar” with greater opportunities to drink. For me it’s about how important I believe we all are; all 92,210 of us. Finally, I think it would be fun advocating for lawyers. HICKS I am honored by the opportunity to give back to an organization that has contributed so much to my life and my family. The State Bar of Texas has the important role of self-governance of the profession. Leadership must coordinate a diverse membership across the state and address the unique problems facing all lawyers. I can add gravitas to the words and actions of Texas lawyers in our relationships with the public, the Legislature, and each other. The State Bar is not, and cannot be, a typical bureaucracy. It is an awesome privilege to work with the capable State Bar staff to represent the most talented, accomplished collection of professional men and women in the world. Who wouldn’t want that job? Each of you has served the profession in a number of capacities at a number of levels. Which of these experiences has best prepared you to lead the State Bar? APFFEL My service as co-founder and director of the Galveston County Ad Litem Seminar. Beginning in 1994, I had the opportunity to organize and participate in putting on the Ad Litem Seminar in Galveston County. It has become the certifying program that all local attorneys must attend to qualify as an Ad Litem in civil cases. I have taken great pride in ensuring quality representation of minor children when funds are to be set aside for their future benefit. I have seen firsthand how quality instruction and education aids the courts in the effective and efficient administration of justice at the local level. This program has served as a reinforcement and constant reminder to me that affordable CLE is a necessity to both our profession and the clients we represent. My service on the State Bar Board of Directors. As a member of the State Bar Board of Directors from 1994 to 1997, I had the opportunity to work with other lawyers and public members in carrying out the mission of our Bar. I saw firsthand how the Bar is run and operated from top to bottom, and I recall how impressed I was with the quality of professionals overseeing the dayto- day operations of our organization. Most important, I realized the great opportunity our Bar has to serve lawyers from all across our state and to seek out their input and articulate their needs. My service on the Commission for Lawyer Discipline. From 1997 to 2000, I served as a member and vice-chair of our Commission for Lawyer Discipline. Working with lawyers and public members, we oversaw and administered each and every aspect of our disciplinary system. This service gave me a unique perspective into the practice of law, the importance of effective communication with clients and other attorneys, and the need for both discipline and fundamental fairness. FISCHER I’m a current director, not one from the 1990s, and I deal with today’s issues. I am on the board of editors of the Texas Bar Journal and my May 2012 “Practicing Law in Texas” detailed and projected the employment and caseload data for each of our counties, including the 8 without attorneys. I know the state of our profession. I chair the Insurance Survey Committee and vice chair Member Benefits, which is working toward fair-priced health insurance for all attorneys. I currently serve on or am an advisor to the following committees and sections: Criminal Justice Section, Family Law Section, Disability Issues Committee, and Technology Oversight Subcommittee. I have created many Texas Attorney Networking Groups (some on Facebook) and my experiences acquired through meeting thousands of attorneys one-on-one during the petition campaign allow me to know how attorneys feel. Every candidate can talk, but what have the others actually done for attorneys? HICKS My roles as chairman of the Litigation Section, director of the State Bar, and chairman of the Texas Bar Journal Committee each uniquely have prepared me. However, in the current climate, my membership on the board of directors of the Texas Lawyers Insurance Exchange (since 1987) is particularly useful and relevant. TLIE was created by the State Bar of Texas in 1978 and is owned by its members. TLIE has been a consistent and stable source of high-quality professional legal malpractice insurance at financially responsible rates for Texas lawyers and judges. I have served for eight years as chairman of the Reinsurance Committee. These responsibilities have placed me on the forefront in dealing with insurance issues facing Texas lawyers. I understand the way insurance pricing works and the insurance needs facing practitioners at all levels. These experiences have prepared me to address the hot-button issues of our profession today, including not only malpractice insurance issues but also the changing face of health coverage for members and their families. The State Bar president is an educator of the Bar and the public about a profession in which one never stops learning. My career has focused on education. I have mentored and trained many young lawyers (which has benefited me more than they). I have authored and taught many continuing legal education and continuing medical education seminars. I designed and taught a course on food and drug law at Texas Tech University, combining my own education experiences in science and law. In El Paso, I co-founded a classical school where I also taught classical rhetoric. Each of these experiences provided opportunities to develop as an educator and to interact with multiple generations of students. The State Bar presidency rotates between metropolitan, non-metropolitan, and open years. This year’s candidates are from small counties. As a lawyer from a small county, what new or different perspectives can you bring to the State Bar? APFFEL I am not sure that the distinction is as significant as it once was. Texas is increasingly an urban state, despite our large rural land area. In Texas, 83 percent of our attorneys work in the Houston, Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio metropolitan areas. While practice in small counties has unique characteristics and challenges, technology has shrunk distance and made resources available to lawyers wherever they practice. The primary focus for all lawyers, regardless of their practice and setting, must be to provide fair, ethical, and effective representation for their clients. I practice primarily in Galveston County. I have spent my entire career practicing either in a small firm or sole practitioner environment. Sixty percent of attorneys practicing in Texas are from small firms or are sole practitioners. Currently, 22 of the 39 voting members of our board of directors are from small firms or are sole practitioners. There is a common misperception that our Bar is run by insiders and big-city lawyers. That is simply not the case. I believe we need to continue our efforts to educate and inform our members as to how the Bar operates and to take full advantage of the resources we have in place to help our lawyers in their everyday practices. My belief is that all attorneys have something to add, and my job as president will be to mesh differing viewpoints and put them into practice that benefits the practice of law. FISCHER This is a joke, right? One Bar candidate lives within 1,600 feet of Harris County1 and about 950 feet from Farm to Market 452. The other is from the tiny hamlet of El Paso3. I’ve practiced in large metros such as DFW and El Paso but now enjoy living on the ocean in Rockport (8,745 people and 6.2 million fish and birds). My definition of traffic is when a car stops and the driver pleads, “Twix, please move over.” It’s a sign of uncontrolled urban sprawl when my doggie can’t enjoy a nap on the soft pavement without the interruption of cars. We haven’t had an attorney with small-town experience in ages. 1. The Houston-Galveston Metro is the 5th largest in the United States—population 6.2 million. 2. Also known as Interstate 45, one of our nation’s most congested. 3. El Paso 800,000 in city limits—metro of 2.7 million. HICKS No attorney practicing in El Paso has ever been elected as president-elect of the State Bar of Texas. I am a native El Pasoan, privileged to have been born and raised, and to live and work in such a unique culture that is both interstate and international in character. El Paso attorneys largely practice in solo or small firms, though there are also several successful large practices. El Paso lawyers serving clients are ambassadors of our state and our country on a regular basis. Our local bar is among the most diverse in the state and maintains exemplary collegiality and inclusiveness. Communities of lawyers across the state aspire to these qualities. The Bar will benefit from having a president from a community with such wonderful attributes. How would you describe your leadership style? APFFEL First and foremost, I know when to listen to those around me. I tend to be calm in tough situations and able to focus on developing solutions. The hallmark of a good president of any organization is to be a consensus builder. In order to do that, you have to trust those people from whom you seek input. As president of the State Bar, I would seek that input from all segments of our profession, so that the Bar reaches out to all areas of our practice. All comments and opinions are important, and all lawyers of the Bar need to be heard. All segments of our profession will have that opportunity. More importantly, all lawyers need to have a unified voice to speak out on their behalf. FISCHER I’m an independent advocate for attorneys. I’m not here to preach to lawyers how great the Bar is, but to make it better. Other than that I’m fairly straightforward … and funny. HICKS First, as a leader I lead by example, exhibiting diligence and hard work. Secondly, I delegate progressively more complex assignments to those with whom I work as they demonstrate their abilities. I urge them to achieve their highest potential while I keep careful watch and assist how and when needed. I am only as good as those with whom I work. The lawyers of the state are the Bar leadership’s best resource. As such, my problem-solving style will involve reaching out for wise counsel and listening to the members’ responses. Communication is the key. From there, a consensus can be built and successful execution of the plans initiated by the members can be obtained. Of the issues facing the legal profession, which three are most important to you personally and what role do you believe the State Bar should play in addressing them? APFFEL The State Bar must be relevant to our members. We must demonstrate that the Bar’s services, programs, and initiatives aid all lawyers and help make their lives easier. I believe we can do this by focusing on these three issues: Promote the practice of law and demonstrate the importance of lawyers in our society. This concept is the most important part of our mission statement. The political and economic climate over the years has made it sometimes difficult for lawyers to find rewarding work. At every step, we need to be prepared to discuss the pros and cons of any legislative proposal that affects the legal profession and those we represent. We need to establish a better rapport between the members of the Bar, our leadership, and the Supreme Court so that we protect the basic tenets of our profession and the privilege we have earned to practice law. And we need to engage those who seek to denigrate our profession and demonstrate who we are and what we stand for. The State Bar must ensure equitable access to and participation by all persons in all aspects of our system of justice. Impediments to the justice system threaten the integrity of the rule of law. We must continually remind our leadership, the Supreme Court, and the Legislature of this basic tenet. We certainly have a moral obligation to perform and encourage pro bono services, and must assist with ensuring adequate funding to provide legal services to those who cannot afford it. However, we need to be cautious and mindful of placing a set of legal forms in the hands of the public, or implementing streamlined procedures for “expedited” trials without listening to our membership and giving full credence to their concerns. I am a firm believer that the best way to ensure equitable access to justice is to ensure access to competent legal representation. Diversity. I pledge to continue the efforts of the State Bar when it comes to encouraging and ensuring that our leadership and our goals reflect the diversity of our membership and the people we represent. All one has to do is look at the individuals who have served in Bar leadership positions over the years and you will recognize that we are an organization of inclusion. The State Bar has many programs (Pipeline, LeadershipSBOT, TMAP, TMCP) to encourage diverse lawyers to be active in leadership positions, CLE, and the judiciary. Texas is diverse and our profession must reflect the demographics of our state. We should expand educational outreach to young people who might not have ever considered that they might become lawyers. We must continue to reach out to all corners of our profession—metropolitan, small town, rural, country, big firms, small firms, and sole practitioners— to ensure all lawyers from varied backgrounds have a voice and are represented. I want to build on the noteworthy efforts of Past President Bob Black in calling on the leadership of TTLA, TADC, and ABOTA to assist the State Bar on issues of importance to all lawyers, and those of Buck Files in actively reaching out to engage county attorneys, district attorneys, and the judiciary in the State Bar. I pledge that as president of our Bar, I will work hard in using the appointment process to encourage and appoint committee chairs and members that fairly reflect the diversity of the Bar. FISCHER The proliferation of new law schools. I write demographics articles for the Texas Bar Journal and know we are already adding over 2,200 attorneys per year after death and retirement. A new law school is starting at the end of the year in Dallas (UNT) and there are bills in the Legislature to build one in the Valley and El Paso wants one as well. Enough! So called “tort reform.” Our juries are not from Mars, they are Texans and our constitution ensures a right to trial by jury. With any more “reform,” the next generation of civil trial lawyers might need to switch to insurance sales or (gasp!) criminal defense. Our State Bar of Texas should support us and make our practice easier. It’s always some new cost or some new rule. As a result, in our February email about insurance only about 12 percent opened it even though my survey subcommittee wrote it to benefit attorneys. My state representative told me the Bar is weak among legislators because they know most attorneys are either indifferent to or dislike the Bar. HICKS Building trust with each other and the public. The State Bar does much good work, but many of our members do not know what the State Bar offers. The two most frequent complaints I hear from disgruntled members are: the State Bar is interested only in getting them to do pro bono work, and the State Bar does not represent them before the Supreme Court and the Legislature. I do not believe those are fair complaints, but if members believe them to be, then they must be addressed by the Bar leadership. Encouraging Texas lawyers to contribute their time and talent to disadvantaged citizens is only one of many priorities. I will make a priority of educating the Bar membership about the good programs available and listening to their concerns and interests for new or improved programs. I also will seek to ensure that the State Bar is actively involved in influencing those regulatory and/or legislative issues that affect all lawyers and their clients before the Supreme Court and the Legislature. Advocating on behalf of the profession to protect our ability to serve clients. Much legislation and rule-making has occurred during my career that has adversely impacted access to the courts and the ability of lawyers to represent their clients effectively. Many other issues are being proposed, such as eliminating or severely restricting prosecutorial immunity in criminal cases. Traditional roles of lawyers are being bypassed both by regulation/ rule-making and by commercial products being foisted upon the public. These issues need to be aggressively addressed by the Bar not only to protect the ability of lawyers to make a living, but also, and more importantly, to protect the public from proceeding unrepresented into a legal matter. Maintaining an inclusive and relevant organization. Texas is a melting pot of cultures. Our ethnic and sociological diversity makes our state rich. The State Bar does a good job including racial, ethnic, gender, and social minorities. It must continue to lead the way in societal inclusivity. For example, the University of Texas at El Paso offers a Law School Preparatory Institute that prepares undergraduate students for law school, and assists them in optimizing their LSAT scores and with law school admission. UTEP has a traditionally Hispanic population, so the institute helps to include students from its population in a minority subgroup-neutral way. Similar programs can be encouraged by the State Bar in other parts of the state. What can the State Bar do to enhance ethics and professionalism among Texas lawyers? APFFEL As lawyers, we all owe each other a sense of mutual respect and professionalism. “Respect” is the key word here. The State Bar should encourage professionalism and civility, and recognize those who exemplify those attributes at their highest levels. It’s really a simple approach and echoes the Golden Rule—treat those in our profession as you would want to be treated. While the nature of our work revolves around contentious issues and representing competing interests, we must recognize and respect each other’s obligations and responsibilities— and move toward a resolution of the dispute at hand. I am a firm believer that taking advantage of ongoing education is essential to keeping us at the top of our game and supporting our professionalism. Every year I take many more than the mandated number of hours and encourage other lawyers to do so. I will be an advocate for producing quality CLE programs and courses that emphasize ethics and professionalism in our practices. More attention needs to be drawn to our obligation to exhibit the highest standards of conduct and encourage nobility as the signature trait of all lawyers. We need to ensure that our excellent CLE programs are offered in such a manner as to be relevant, useful, affordable, and readily accessible. FISCHER The Bar spends $9 million a year on grievances. Some of the rules make no sense especially in certain areas of practice. They add unnecessary stress to our practice and cause resentment toward the Bar. On one hand, we should quickly remove the grossly incompetent and dishonest attorneys. For everyone else, I have been proposing a simple formula. If there is a combination of A. No bad intent and B. No harm to the client than C. No foul. I had a dispute with a “Bar prosecutor” who boasted, “I don’t need any ‘Men’s Rea.’ ” My response—“You don’t need this job.” Finally, I love the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program, which assists attorneys with depression and substance abuse issues. It’s a great program with the right idea. Help and support attorneys; don’t trash them. HICKS The State Bar should make the practices and tenets of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed familiar to the members of the Bar and highlight the positive contributions Texas lawyers are making to the ethical practice of law. We can provide resources that demonstrate, with specific examples, how the vision of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed can be implemented in our practices. The ethical issues posed by the Texas Lawyer’s Creed and in the disciplinary rules are a starting point, but we can also highlight aspirational goals for good professional and ethical practices. The Texas Bar Journal can publish short feature stories about attorneys who provide the “gold standard” in client services and professional, ethical behavior. These attorneys can educate the Bar through narratives of their experience and show how professionalism and ethical behavior promote the delivery of justice. Everyone loves a good war story, and the Bar can translate the experiences of our members into valuable learning opportunities. What should the Bar do to guide and prepare the next generation of lawyers? APFFEL The State Bar should continue to partner with our state’s nine law schools and provide input, direction, and guidance in the areas of the practical aspects of the legal profession, preparation for practice, and professionalism. State Bar–sponsored campus days should be scheduled with mentoring lawyers attending and sharing real-life experiences with law students. Mentoring programs such as Transition to Practice should be expanded from their current format and be made readily available to all graduating law students entering the legal profession. Connecting with law students before they finish their law school studies will ensure that they have some degree of practical knowledge when it comes to taking on the everyday rigors of practicing law. We must continue to support our law schools in this area as part of our obligation to promote the practice of law and help law students become better advocates for their clients. The State Bar should help to ensure that there are basic and affordable law practice management CLE courses available to new lawyers in the early years of their practice so that they can avail themselves of quality instruction and guidance in the areas of client representation, pro bono opportunities, career development, ethics, and professionalism. The TYLA provides important and significant programs for young lawyers, and we should continue to work with and support them in this regard. Lastly, we should encourage all lawyers to be mentors in their communities. I believe that most lawyers are willing contributors to this effort, and they should be recognized. FISCHER Have the courage to say there are enough law schools. Focus on assisting attorneys not badgering them. Lower the cost of the online library—its price is so high only two percent of our attorneys buy it. HICKS Mentoring is the key. Every new lawyer needs a good mentor. One can see the influence of an attorney’s mentor, whether good or bad, in the way any given lawyer practices law. Many new lawyers, especially those in a sole practice, have few opportunities for quality mentorship. The State Bar is uniquely able to facilitate mentor relationships and has taken the first steps by creating the Transition to Practice program. In this program, newly licensed lawyers are matched with more experienced attorneys who volunteer their time and experience to mentor lawyers in their first several years of licensure. Mentoring covers many areas, including law practice management, effective client representation, pro bono opportunities, career development, and other aspects helpful to successfully practicing law. For the first time in history, the State Bar is comprised of four generations of practicing attorneys. We should expand and continue to encourage participation in this program by experienced practitioners in order to bridge the gap between the generations and ensure ethical and professional practices in the future. How important are your community activities to balancing your life as a lawyer? Which of your community activities have you found most fulfilling? APFFEL Community involvement is an important and necessary service we can give to our society. Service of this nature helps to demonstrate the role lawyers can and do play in our society, not only from a professional perspective, but also in having a positive influence in our schools, organizations, and local governments. Over the course of history, lawyers have played a great role in shaping our nation’s history. I believe that is because as lawyers, we are problem solvers. We find solutions that others can’t. One of the most rewarding things I have ever done is serve as the Law Merit Badge Counselor to Camp Karankawa on behalf of the Boy Scouts. I designed the program for this badge to teach scouts the basics of our judicial system and the importance of the right to trial by jury and to cast the legal profession in a positive light for our youth. Their excitement in their participation of a mock trial, complete with the scouts acting as lawyers, witnesses, and jurors, was a satisfying and fulfilling way to promote our profession. FISCHER Some list community activities for résumé padding. When I served on my school board, I never missed one meeting (2008-2011). I was concerned with lower achievement scores, a declining football team, and the State Board of Education injecting politics into our children’s curriculum. I authored a resolution condemning them, and after publishing guest editorials in 40 Texas newspapers, our state’s school boards approved it by a 76 to 24 percent margin. In El Paso, I chaired governmental committees that built housing and parks, and I’ve helped coach sports. HICKS I cannot claim to have a “balanced” life, but the community programs in which I have been blessed to be involved have added balance and satisfaction to my life. My most fulfilling activities have involved educating and helping young people, such as helping to establish a day care, a kindergarten, and a classical high school, at which I taught classical rhetoric. For the past two years, I have served on the board of directors of the Greater El Paso Football Showcase, a nonprofit organization that strives to create scholarship opportunities for area high school students, athletes, and non-athletes alike. My primary participation on the board has been in the creation of a football Combine, an annual event in which college football coaches from across the country are invited to El Paso to evaluate players for possible scholarship opportunities and the opportunity to play football at the next level. It has been rewarding to see the hard work of the organization, players, and coaches translated into amazing educational opportunities. Last year, we were able to place more than $2 million in scholarships for participating students! These are students who otherwise might not have attended college at all. Instead, they are able to attend prestigious colleges and play football, while building a better future for themselves and their families. What is your favorite TV or film representation of a lawyer? Why? APFFEL Atticus Finch, the beloved character in To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was published in 1960, and the story told was that of a lawyer striving to protect the rights of all individuals, regardless of background. He embodied what we as lawyers should strive for in our personal and professional lives. On the personal side, he was a family man. He was a loving father who provided for and protected his family. He was strong, but fair. He fit the description of what you see is what you get. As a lawyer, he was the consummate professional. He believed in justice and the justice system. He had a demeanor that reflected calm and deliberate thought. He exhibited confidence and good judgment, all traits that we as lawyers must have in carrying out our duties as defenders of individual rights. He did not shy away from taking the unpopular position. He was not afraid of speaking out for what he thought was right. And most of all, not only did he gain the respect of those with whom he dealt, but also he had respect for all those who played some role in the legal process. He exemplified the traits that we as lawyers should strive for in our daily professional endeavors. FISCHER Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. Anyone denigrating Pesci’s legal ability should note he was paid several million for that performance and his talents were able to attract Marisa Tomei to boot! On a more serious note, I do have a special fondness for Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird because he went to my alma mater and was a strong proponent of civil rights back in the 1950s when it wasn’t popular. Peck also starred in Gentleman’s Agreement, a 1947 drama about prejudice against Jews. HICKS I usually do not watch lawyer shows because they often do not portray lawyers in a realistic light, and are unfair and unflattering. However, my favorite lawyer movie is My Cousin Vinny. I love the movie because it pokes fun at our profession without demeaning it. Everything that happens to Vinny in the courtroom is something that could happen in a real trial. One can see the stress that Vinny faces, which all of us who try lawsuits have faced. Vinny is scared to death that he has missed something and knows that he is not prepared well enough to do the job he wants to do for his clients. We have all been there. And when Vinny finds that nugget that pushes his case over the top, the elation and excitement he feels is palpable. Again, all of us who have tried cases have experienced that feeling. Lawyers need to take themselves, their clients, and our profession seriously; however, it is appropriate that we should be able to laugh at ourselves sometimes, too. Vinny provides that opportunity. Nevertheless, while I have frequently wanted to use Vinny’s opening statement, I do not recommend it. Describe your most satisfying legal experience. APFFEL For more than 30 years, I have had the privilege of representing individuals who have been injured or harmed by the carelessness of another. In some instances, these people have had their lives tragically affected. I have taken great pride in being able to both help these individuals put their lives back together and obtain fair compensation on their behalf. But perhaps even more satisfying than that aspect of my legal career has been the opportunity to help other lawyers represent the interests of injured minor plaintiffs as Ad Litems before the courts. I have represented minor plaintiffs over the years and served as Ad Litem for minor plaintiffs in cases handled by other attorneys. Having seen the nuances involved in this type of litigation from both perspectives, I felt I had a unique opportunity to serve our profession by developing an Ad Litem certification program in Galveston County in 1994, a program that is still in place today. We put on the seminar every two years to teach and instruct other lawyers on how to serve as a court-appointed Ad Litem and make recommendations to the court as to the best interests of minors involved in personal injury claims. It is the mentoring aspect of this program that has given me an opportunity to give back to the profession in a meaningful way. FISCHER It’s hard to choose, sometimes gaining custody for a worthy parent is enough. Winning the Texas Prison Gang Murder Trials (on the cover of Texas Monthly) was perhaps the most famous case I handled. Becoming Willacy County District Attorney after the incumbent tried to indict and disqualify me and cross-examining him at trial was the most satisfying single moment. The corruption convictions of crooked public officials are high up there as well. My most satisfying experience this week, however, has to be Attorney General Opinion GA-0995. The AG Opinion said two of the Bar’s rules are unenforceable because they conflicted with existing law. In September 2011, we eliminated another rule which clearly violated free speech. There are still several rules that need to go: see the SBOT Policy Manual under 2.01.10 where the Bar tells candidates who, and how they can email, and forbids initiating any contact with the press. In the current case the State Bar Nominations Committee chair had called and sent intimidating emails demanding I resign immediately. I defended myself versus 18 or so committee members as well as Chief Bar Counsel. The Bar, with the help of Texas Lawyer and comments on its own website, saw the “writing on the wall” and has restored my status, yet no one apologized. Despite these victories I do not consider myself a great attorney. I have to like my client, and when they cheat me and act obnoxiously, I sometimes “fire” them. I’m emotional and passionate when sometimes it would be better if I were calm and dispassionate. HICKS I have had more satisfying legal experiences than I can describe. It is what I love the most about my vocation. One particularly satisfying experience involved a trial in which I represented a doctor who practiced in a small clinic in a poorer part of El Paso where I lived as a child. (My client is now deceased, so I feel okay about discussing the case.) Other doctors did not want to practice in this part of town. He had little insurance coverage and could not settle the case anyway. He was not flashy or eloquent. However, he loved his patients and gave them all of himself. His patient had a poor outcome following a surgical procedure, but not because of his negligence. The patient was sick. Unfortunately, nobody involved in the case believed my client could win. I am ashamed to say that I was among that number. The case was tried for a week before an El Paso jury. After 40 minutes of deliberation, the jury found my client not negligent. Though he had been stoic and strong throughout the trial, as soon as the verdict was announced, he broke down and began to cry in the arms of his loving and supportive wife. After the trial, he continued for several more years healing folks in that small community, until he retired. He died soon after retirement. The opportunity to have that jury look beyond his frumpy exterior and see his heart was a true privilege. It was not only satisfying for me, but it also solidified my confidence in the jury system generally, and El Paso juries in particular. How do you think the State Bar is doing at policing the profession? What could the State Bar do to better educate the public about the lawyer discipline system and how it works? APFFEL I have personal experience with the Bar’s efforts to police our profession. My work on the Commission for Lawyer Discipline from 1997 to 2000 gave me a firsthand view of the efforts that go into protecting the public and ensuring high ethical standards. I also know several of the attorneys who either have served or are currently serving on the commission and can personally vouch for their efforts and credibility in the process. In my view, the State Bar does an excellent job in administering our disciplinary process. I think the public may sometimes have a different impression. We need to make information about the disciplinary process straightforward and easily understandable. It should be obvious and easy to access on the State Bar website. Materials could be more widely available in lawyers’ offices, legal aid clinics, and other venues. Lastly, we must continue to appoint quality lawyers from varied backgrounds to our grievance committees and the Commission for Lawyer Discipline. FISCHER See my answer to question six. Spending more of our dues to educate the public is wasteful and unproductive. Our website has everything. For years the Bar has given us new rules and costs to “improve the public perception of the profession.” It never works. People view lawyers from their own experiences; a poor parent who loses custody, a repeat criminal who goes to prison, or a negligent manufacturer will often blame the attorney rather than take responsibility for their own actions. Telling them how many hours of CLE we took or how extensive our rules are will not mollify them. Instead I believe a fair system as I proposed in question six will result in less stressed out attorneys. Happier attorneys make for happier clients. HICKS The State Bar does an excellent job of policing the profession through the grievance system. I hear few complaints by the public about it being difficult to access. I have not heard that grieving complainants have found the grievance committees to be unfair or unwilling to discipline a lawyer. Those with whom I have spoken who work on a grievance committee, both lawyers and public members, work hard and take their duties seriously. I am pleased that the lawyers of Texas contribute to the Client Security Fund to assist clients who have been wrongly deprived of money by their lawyer. In this computerinformation age, the State Bar should continue to publish information about the grievance system on its website so the aggrieved public can easily learn how to avail themselves of the offered remedies. What is one action the State Bar could take to help the public understand the justice system and the role lawyers and judges play in that system? APFFEL Our profession is constantly in the crosshairs of those who seek to diminish individuals’ rights to seek redress in the courts. The last time I checked the Constitution and the history of our great country and state, the right to trial by jury was the most important of our fundamental rights. In order to preserve this most basic tenet of fairness and equality, I will make it a priority to continue and improve initiatives currently in place to help the public understand the justice system and the role that lawyers and judges play in that system. The State Bar and TYLA have had many programs over the years aimed at explaining our justice system—We the Jury, Justice 101, and Texas Probate Passport, to name just a few. Past leadership has given us such initiatives as Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! and Let’s Do Justice for Texas that help make our democracy more than just words on a page. I pledge to support these efforts and to seek out new initiatives to demonstrate how relevant our laws and court system are to everyday citizens. This is an ongoing challenge for the Bar and an ongoing obligation for us as lawyers. We need to engage more of our members to encourage meaningful discussion of the system in those areas of their community where they have a presence— schools, church, community organizations, and professional and business forums. We must use technology effectively and creatively and make resources easily available. FISCHER Speak out against “tort reform” and any attacks against attorneys. What the Bar leaders do instead is attempt to appease our detractors by condescending referendums, more rules, costs, and obligations. I want a Bar that has our back, not one that looks down upon the rank and file attorneys. If the Bar supported our attorneys, we might then support our Bar. With 92,210 Texas lawyers plus staff and families, we would be a potent force in every district in Texas. Unfortunately as my recent (before redistricting) state representative who is also an attorney, explained, “The State Bar is weak because the Legislature knows most attorneys feel either indifferent or negative towards the Bar.” HICKS The State Bar could implement a public relations initiative to educate the public about the legal system and the roles lawyers, judges, and juries play in that system. The State Bar has already implemented an effective program aimed at educating the public on the rule of law. Immediate Past President Bob Black spearheaded the creation of the Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! program, a civics resource for students and teachers. The State Bar also has Making the Case on the State Bar website to help the public understand the rule of law in our society. The State Bar should continue to promote these and other similar programs. If the public better understands the legal system, and lawyers do their part by practicing with honor, dignity, and professionalism, the public’s perception of lawyers will improve, and justice will be assured for the coming generations. One of the State Bar’s core missions is to ensure access to the justice system. What can the State Bar and individual lawyers do to ensure access to justice for Texans? APFFEL I believe in the rule of law. When that rule of law is under attack, an individual’s right to access to justice is under attack. As I have said previously in this article, impediments to the justice system threaten the integrity of the rule of law. I firmly believe that as lawyers, we have a moral obligation to perform and encourage pro bono services and must assist in ensuring adequate funding to provide legal services to those who cannot afford it. However, we need to be cautious and mindful of taking steps such as placing a set of legal forms in the hands of the public, or implementing streamlined procedures for expedited trials without listening to our membership and giving full credence to their concerns. Self-representation is fraught with the possibility of unintended harm to those unfamiliar with and unschooled in the legal system. Those most likely to attempt to use these avenues may well be some who are least able to do so. Certainly there are methods available that we can utilize to ensure access to justice for all Texans, but we have to protect the public and also ensure that all lawyers have an opportunity to earn a fair living as part of that process. I know that there will be those that say lawyers have a vested interest in protecting their turf. But we need to balance the right of access to the courts with keeping lawyers in the mix. I pledge to be a voice for both those who seek access to justice and to those who are best qualified to represent those same individuals’ needs in the legal process. FISCHER 1. What the State Bar should do—As a current director, I spoke at the January 2013 Bar meeting for increased funding when Access to Justice was attacked. As an attorney I have won pro bono awards, and Aransas County District Clerk Pam Heard will tell you when an indigent appears at her office—she calls me and I’ve never refused a case (but should have in a couple of instances!). 2. What the State Bar should not do—is advocate increased mandatory fees added to our dues payment. The Bar has surpluses each year, but I’m against the trend of more costs, fees, and obligations. Many attorneys are not wealthy. Being forced to do something causes resentment. HICKS Texans often feel disenfranchised by the legal system. They cannot afford quality legal representation but can afford even less to be without it. The State Bar can continue to promote programs like Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, the Texas Legal Access Division, and the Texas Access to Justice program. Individual lawyers must continue to seek out opportunities to provide low-cost legal representation to disadvantaged members of our community. Every lawyer, no matter what specialty, has unique skills that can help those in need. The State Bar should continue to encourage a culture of volunteerism among our members, not only because it will help those in need and will give lawyers a sense of charity and satisfaction, but also because it is the right thing to do. What do you do for fun? APFFEL My fun time has always revolved around our family. For years, I was involved in our children’s athletic pursuits, coaching both boys and girls baseball and soccer, attending golf tournaments, camping with the Boy Scouts, training and running 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons, and shooting competitively at the pistol range. Then they outgrew me. Now, Karen and I spend as much time as we can at our special weekend getaway on Galveston Bay, where we enjoy entertaining large crowds. I especially enjoy taking family and friends fishing at the Galveston jetties and then taking lots of pictures. Another passion of mine is cooking, and I’m pretty adventurous in that department. FISCHER I love animals. We have a rescue dog and cat. When my children were younger I would always surprise them with a dog or rabbit until they realized the pets were really for me. In my 2001 friendly divorce, I won full custody of Alex the Possum. This had little to do with my lawyering ability. We love living right on the bay in Rockport and enjoy watching the fish, dolphins, and birds. I also love old buildings, often found in some of America’s worst neighborhoods. I have trouble getting anyone to go with me more than once, however. Finally, I love sports, both watching and playing. Our house has a mini-basketball court and I love to block shots and dunk against my 12-year-old daughter Hattie. If the Mavs don’t draft me soon, I’ll have to settle for being Bar president. HICKS My family provides most of my fun. When this article is published in the Texas Bar Journal, my 15th grandchild will have been born. My wife, Georgia, brought three grandsons into our family, bringing our total to 18 grandchildren! My only brother and his wife live one and a half hour away. My 87- and 85-year-old parents live in El Paso. My father and I enjoy building woodworking projects together, most recently a butcher-block island made from three different hardwoods. I enjoy reading. I also like exercising, running, bicycling, and cross-fit training. But most of my favorite leisure time is spent with Georgia, traveling, talking religion and politics, or simply sitting on the sofa together watching TV. Editor’s Note: In September 2012, Mr. Fischer told the State Bar’s Nominations and Elections Subcommittee that the State Bar’s election rules and policies would not apply to him because he planned to run as a petition candidate. To clarify whether the rules and policies would apply, the Bar requested an Attorney General’s Opinion on October 2, 2012 (RQ-1088-GA). Under statute, the Attorney General had 180 days to issue an opinion, which he did on March 19, 2013 (GA-0995). The opinion states that all candidates for State Bar president-elect, including petition candidates, must follow State Bar election rules and policies. It also states that State Bar Policy Manual Section 2.01.04, which makes State Bar board members ineligible to be nominated as candidates, is unenforceable as to petition candidates. Before the opinion was issued, Section 2.01.04 made Mr. Fischer ineligible to be nominated because he was a sitting board member. Regardless, with Mr. Fischer’s board service as the only obstacle to his nomination, the State Bar certified him as a president-elect candidate on February 19, 2013. Mr. Fischer resigned from the board on March 15, 2013. State Bar President Buck Files waited to appoint Mr. Fischer’s replacement to give as much time as possible before the election for the Attorney General to issue his opinion. On March 20, 2013, after the Attorney General issued his opinion, Bob Black, State Bar Immediate Past President and cochair of the Nominations and Elections Subcommittee, and Mr. Fischer mutually agreed that the resignation would be rescinded and Mr. Fischer would continue his service on the board. The State Bar has worked and continues to strive to ensure that all three candidates in this race are treated fairly. Opinion GA-0995 may be read at oag.state.tx.us and the State Bar Board Policy Manual may be found at texasbar.com/governingdocuments.
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