James E. Brill 2014-07-01 03:17:34
Recalling the early days of the State Bar’s CLE program. “Education is to law practice as fertilizer is to agriculture.”—Lee Turner A lawyer’s legal education cannot end with passing the bar examination. It must continue for as long as he or she practices, and there is no exemption from the need to learn about changes in the law and to incorporate those changes into an ongoing practice. Today we are overwhelmed by the offerings from dozens of continuing legal education providers. The State Bar of Texas, the largest provider in our state, plans and presents courses to live audiences, and video recordings of these presentations are available to those who choose to watch them in the convenience of their hotel rooms, homes, and offices. Additionally, programs are presented in vacation destinations and even on cruise ships. It wasn’t always this way. Before we partake of the smorgasbord of CLE offerings, let’s press the rewind button to 1961. Houston Endowment Inc. and the MD Anderson Foundation had donated $10,000 to the State Bar to create a fund to support the publishing of legal books for Texas lawyers. Under the leadership and cajoling of then-State Bar President Paul Carrington Sr., 39 lawyers from both sides of the docket wrote articles for the first publication titled, Personal Injury Litigation in Texas. As indicated in the editor’s preface, the State Bar of Texas was in the forefront of providing service to its members. This undertaking is considered unique in the annals of “How To Do It” practice manuals now available in the profession. Among those sitting on the Legal Institutes Committee (soon to be renamed to the Committee on Continuing Legal Education) at that time were Gordon Carpenter, who chaired the committee for 12 years, and Gene Cavin, whose contributions were destined to become legendary. Cavin was a practitioner from Tyler who was elected to the board of directors of the State Bar. When the board voted to employ a full-time director of CLE, Cavin resigned from the board and in 1963 was hired to develop and oversee a program for the continuing education of Texas lawyers. To paraphrase words from a well-known song, “this could be the start of something big!” Around the country, lawyers were searching for new ways to organize their practices for greater efficiency and productivity. Those from Texas included Cullen Smith Jr., who later became president of the State Bar in 1978. Word spread and before long, many of these lawyers had connected to share their ideas and experiences with each other. Cavin found ways for the State Bar CLE programs to feature these lawyers and give their ideas greater exposure. As a result, they were joined by others who understood the benefits. There could never be enough programs or publications or opportunities to satisfy the thirst. The natives clearly were restless. Change was in the wind. Press the fast-forward button to move to the late 1960s. The most significant single hour of my law practice was spent listening to Lee Turner, whose quotation opened this article. Turner was a member of a two-lawyer defense firm in Great Bend, Kansas, that had 28 non-lawyer staff members to support the practice. Turner and his partner delegated much of what had been customarily regarded as “practicing law.” Turner taught other lawyers that when these services were performed under the supervision of a lawyer, it was not the unauthorized practice of law. Instead of hourly billing, fees were based on uniform charges for standardized services regardless of the pedigree of the person who rendered those services. Clients easily understood and favored these “fixed” fees, which were responsible for greater profits for the firm. They also provided meaningful work for the firm’s nonlegal personnel. Turner’s presentation went by at lightning speed, and in a single hour, he had described a new profession—that of the legal assistant. Although quickly adopted by those “pioneers” who recognized the potential benefits to all concerned, it took far longer than one might imagine (approximately 20 years) for the American Bar Association to offer membership to legal assistants, and even longer for the now-universal acceptance of these dedicated professionals. Fast-forward again to October 1971, when the State Bar sent me to Salt Lake City, Utah, to attend a one-week course covering administrative procedures for the lawyer’s office—including timekeeping, billing, accounting, and even a test for identifying qualified staff members. Kline D. Strong, a notable law scholar, had put together a program that was state-of-the-art for law practice management in America at that time. The course concluded with the introduction and demonstration of substantive systems for probate, divorce, and corporations. Returning to Houston, I assembled six or so colleagues to collect and incorporate their Texas versions of the proper forms, letters, and procedures for the probate of a will and the administration of an estate. The combination of those systems, coupled with the work product of half a dozen lawyers, led to the publication of the 1972 Texas Probate System, the first manual of its kind to be published by any state bar association, laying out a system widely adopted by bar associations from more than a dozen states. The most recent edition was published in March 2014. Technology has become so powerful, so flexible, and so widespread that it would seem egotistical for lawyers to claim any credit for its impact on the practice of law. Touch the button to arrive in Boston in the fall of 1973, when manual typewriters were in widespread use in law offices, and the average lawyer believed that a regular electric typewriter was an automatic typewriter. At that meeting of the International Word Processing Association, a New York lawyer, Bernard Sternin, took the microphone to describe the practicality of an automatic typewriter and the benefits of placing the responsibility for its operation in the hands of one person while another person performed the administrative tasks for the practice. What an eye-opener. For those who dared to follow, this device meant greater efficiency and more productivity. The times, they were a-changin’. In order to participate in the movement, a lawyer needed a machine. IBM responded, and for $150 per month, one could rent a Mag Card Selectric Typewriter with its “golf ball” printer head and purchase magnetic cards for $1 each. Because one card could hold only a single page of text, the cost of storage was equal to $1 per page. To top it off, the machines had no video screen and a computer crash happened only when the cards were dropped and their correct order could not be replicated. And then there was J. Harris Morgan, a solo practitioner “from the metropolitan community of Greenville, Texas,” whose contacts with Turner, Strong, Sternin, and others concerned with the economics of law practice brought them to participate in CLE programs in Texas. With his portfolio of oversized posters, Morgan extolled the virtues of “Six Systems For the Lawyer’s Office,” “How To Draft Bills That Clients Rush To Pay,” the findings from “The Missouri Motivational Survey,” “Romancing Fees Into the Twenty-First Century,” and even Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” as it related to law practice. Morgan delivered his message with the fervor of an itinerant tent revivalist, but then he slowed down to close his lectures by exhorting his audience to “Begin. The Rest Is Easy.” Rightly so, Morgan was regarded as the Billy Graham of legal economics. We come now to a Saturday in February of 1974 at the Shamrock Hotel in Houston, where 750 Texas lawyers registered for a program titled “Salvation For the Solo Practitioner,” featuring Morgan’s “Six Systems” and Bernie Sternin’s “What You Need To Know About Word Processing.” Then-State Bar President Leroy Jeffers opened the program with a rousing defense of the Texas minimum fee schedule, which was being challenged by the Federal Trade Commission. At the time, it was said to be the largest audience to ever have attended a CLE program in Texas, and it confirmed the increasing demand for practical programs to help lawyers become more efficient. The momentum to educate Texas lawyers has not always been forward or easy. At one time or another, even the progressive lawyers on the State Bar CLE Committee were reluctant to spend money on new programs. For example, a proposal for a program estimated to cost about $500 was rejected as being too expensive and too risky. But Cavin persevered. His first response to any proposal was yes, no matter how harebrained. He encouraged candid discussion, and, as a result, a bad idea could die gracefully, an average idea could be developed into something useful, and a great idea could result in courses and manuals. It was his willingness to listen, his enthusiastic encouragement, and his unflinching support that motivated the volunteers to devote so much time and effort to developing and presenting cutting-edge programs that, when successful, were expanded into publications and multiple presentations in other venues. By 1975, the CLE Committee had been handpicked to include members whose first response to any idea, like Cavin’s, was yes. During this time, certification of specialists was in its infancy. Even though real estate had not yet been recognized as an area for specialty designation, the committee recruited University of Houston law professor John Mixon to plan and to present the bar’s first advanced course. He led the audience from the contract for the purchase of property through the closing, financing, and completion of its development. From this beginning has come the plethora of advanced courses that is the envy of CLE providers everywhere. CLE in Texas was never the same. But Cavin persevered. His first response to any proposal was yes, no matter how harebrained. He encouraged candid discussion, and, as a result, a bad idea could die gracefully, an average idea could be developed into something useful, and a great idea could result in courses and manuals. From baby steps to the cornucopia of today’s CLE availability, the publications, course offerings, and other services have multiplied many times over. Although the benefits of other people’s experiences were so great and by themselves could have been expected to motivate attendance, the members of the bar felt it necessary to vote to impose requirements for annual minimum CLE. Those who attain not only the annual minimum of 15 hours but who also obtain twice as much training are eligible for membership in the College of the State Bar of Texas to recognize their dedication to self-improvement. While Cavin presided over and guided the Texas program for almost 20 years, he also had contemporaneous service as president of the Association for Continuing Legal Education, the national organization for CLE leaders in state and specialty bar associations and other non-profits. Cavin’s legacy continues in Texas through his philosophy of excellence and service that he instilled in volunteers, bar staff, and the lawyers who were privileged to work closely with him. Press the button once again, and we return to the present. Today, TexasBar- CLE continues in the great tradition started back in 1963, producing informative and engaging materials, offering annually more than 95 live seminars, 60 video replay courses, 160 webcasts, and 1,900 online classes. We are taught that to do great things, we should stand on the shoulders of giants. Certainly there are other giants from other times, but these—Lee Turner, Kline Strong, Bernie Sternin, Harris Morgan, and Gene Cavin—were the giants of their time who provided strong shoulders on which to stand and from which the State Bar’s CLE has grown, improved, and been made available in so many formats to so many of us. It is said that the past is the prologue to the future. And what a past we have had. There have been so many new ideas and so much improvement in the traditional tried-and- true. In thinking about the future, one thing is certain: Things will change. I believe the changes will bring enhancements not even imaginable to the wisest of the “futurists.” If this prediction is even partially accurate, the best of law practice and continuing legal education is yet to come. Wouldn’t the early participants love to be around to watch? They are all gone now—Turner, Strong, Sternin, Morgan, and Cavin—but their contributions live on. We now drink the water. Let us always remember who dug the well. JAMES E. BRILL is a 1957 University of Texas School of Law graduate and a solo practitioner from Houston whose practice emphasizes probate, estate planning, and real estate. He has been the principal author of every edition of the Texas Probate System and is a recipient of the Presidents’ Award from the State Bar of Texas.
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