The Texas Bar Journal asked 2015-2016 Texas Young Lawyers Association President-elect candidates Sam Houston and John Shaw to share their perspectives on issues facing young lawyers in the state. Vote online or by paper ballot from April 1 to April 30, 2015. The deadline to cast ballots is April 30, 2015, at 5 p.m. CST. For biographical information, go to texasbar.com/elections or see p. 222 of the March issue. WHY DO YOU WANT TO SERVE AS PRESIDENT OF THE TEXAS YOUNG LAWYERS ASSOCIATION? Houston: The legal profession is sometimes cast in a negative light, but working within TYLA has given me an opportunity to shine a positive light on lawyers and our profession. As the public service arm of the State Bar, TYLA is able to make positive contributions that are felt across the state. The organization produces projects that are valuable to lawyers, law students, and the public at large. We are able to do all of this work because the TYLA Board of Directors is full of members who are ready and willing to help and to serve. As president of the organization, I would have the opportunity to harness that energy and focus it on meaningful projects. I view being TYLA president as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will give me an opportunity to connect with young lawyers across the state and the nation. Shaw: In college, one of my classes required me to volunteer for a local organization. While the majority of students went to the food bank or another social service agency, I stumbled upon my local legal aid agency. While I was there, I was given the opportunity to sit in on consultations with domestic violence victims, families facing eviction, and disabled individuals trying to navigate the Social Security benefits system. I was impressed by the volunteer attorneys’ legal knowledge, and I was shocked by the range of legal problems that people in my community faced. I realized during that experience— regardless of the public perception—that lawyers truly do help others. TYLA has given me the ability to continue to help both my community and my fellow young lawyers. All of the work we do in connection with TYLA is done with service in mind, whether we are creating a Guide to Traffic Court for the general public, a Criminal Law Toolkit for young lawyers, or Slavery Out of the Shadows: Spotlight on Human Trafficking for everyone. I want to be president to continue the rich tradition of serving both the public and young lawyers of the State of Texas. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES FACING YOUNG LAWYERS IN TEXAS AND WHAT ROLE SHOULD TYLA PLAY IN ADDRESSING THEM? Houston: The job market continues to be challenging. As a result, many young lawyers must hang out their shingle immediately after passing the bar. Whether the decision to be self-employed is a lawyer’s first choice, it leads to a second issue, mentoring and practice development. Traditionally, a lawyer working in a firm or organization will have access to resources that will aid the lawyer in developing his or her practice. A solo practitioner does not have ready access to the same resources. The third issue involves the struggle to find balance and adequately deal with stress. TYLA has and will continue to provide substantive resources that address all of these issues. Shaw: In no particular order, the issues are: a lack of employment opportunities in the legal job market, student loan debt, and a lack of practical legal skills. The legal job market is still stagnant. The past several years of economic downturn have resulted in a glut of young lawyers who have been unable to find meaningful employment in the legal field. As an added burden, young, unemployed, or underemployed lawyers are strapped with crushing student loan debt. Because they have not been able to find legal employment, young attorneys have been unable to use the first years of their careers to transition from legal scholarship to the practice of law as smoothly as previous generations. TYLA will continue to develop meaningful and practical resources to help young lawyers in all of these areas. And we will make sure all young lawyers are aware of these resources. WHICH TYLA PROJECT OR PROGRAM THAT YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN HAS BEEN THE MOST FULFILLING TO YOU AND WHY? Houston: Putting What Do Lawyers Do? together was my most rewarding experience with TYLA. I got to travel around the state to moderate panel discussions with young lawyers about their path to law school and their practice. We focused on cities that did not have law schools. The panelists were diverse in gender, race, and practice area. Some of the panelists were friends, but I learned so many new things, including the struggles that many had to overcome just to make it to law school. I was also fortunate to conduct interviews of former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, a law professor, and lawyers working across a broad spectrum of practice areas. What an experience. It was so interesting to learn how the participants each had a unique idea on what it means to be a lawyer. Shaw: I am most proud of my work on TYLA’s newsletter, eNews. Each month, the Online Member Services Committee works to ensure that our general membership is provided relevant, important, and interesting topics. With more than 27,000 attorneys receiving eNews monthly, finding good content is often difficult and time intensive. Every edition has information about our activities, what TYLA projects are being brought forward for the public or are in the process of being created, tips from how to practice law to how to avoid grievances, and articles of general interest. Sometimes they are substantive legal topics, and sometimes they highlight the good works that young lawyers are doing throughout the state. Every edition is assembled with the hope that our members will find it useful. My work on eNews also allows me to work closely with our TYLA administrative team, without which, none of what we do would be possible. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE? Houston: My leadership style is governed by two core concepts: communication and empowerment. A leader is obligated to communicate his or her overall goal clearly. As to how we reach a particular goal, I look to my team members to formulate a plan. I have no interest in being a micromanager. By creating an inclusive environment, I believe that you allow your team members to become personally invested in the goal. Thus, what was initially the leader’s goal becomes everyone’s goal. Shaw: I believe in empowering people by giving them as much responsibility as they can handle. I probably developed this approach because, recently, I am often leading other lawyers. I have found that most lawyers are highly skilled, motivated, and capable of achieving a goal without me micromanaging them. Of course, that does not mean that I am not available for consultation, or to help with tasks as needed. My door is always open, and I am always willing to help in whatever ways that I can. And, although I frequently provide feedback, I am comfortable with someone choosing their own path as long as they achieve the desired result. HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR PERSONAL LIFE WITH YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE? Houston: From my perspective, the key to work-life balance is setting and managing priorities. You have to be flexible. At home, my wife and I work as a team to tackle the day-to-day household issues. We are constantly making adjustments to our routine. We also act as a team to ensure that we are meeting our work obligations while not allowing them to consume our world. I am also blessed to have a wonderful law partner who is able to help me manage the workload. Shaw: Our profession ebbs and flows, oftentimes dramatically. When the wave is at its crest, finding personal time is difficult or near impossible. With that said, I always remind myself that I am a father, husband, and lawyer—in that order—and I still have a responsibility to my family regardless of how busy I am. And, when the wave is in a trough, I make as much time as I can for my family. Ultimately, by following this approach, I think that I have been able to balance my personal and professional life pretty well. That does not mean that there are not times that I am so busy that I feel like I am failing to balance them. But I do my best.
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