Michael C. Smith Marshall Tom Vick Weatherford The Texas Bar Journal asked 2016-2017 president-elect candidates Michael C. Smith and Tom Vick to share their perspectives on issues facing the bar. Vote online or by paper ballot from April 1 to May 2, 2016. WHY DO YOU WANT TO SERVE AS PRESIDENT OF THE STATE BAR OF TEXAS? Smith: I want to serve as president of the State Bar of Texas because I see the good that lawyers do working together, and I want to help support and promote that effort to make our shared profession better. We can do more for our members. As chair of the State Bar board’s Member Services & Education Committee, I worked to expand our program of discounts for members, using the leverage of a 90,000-plus member organization to provide additional benefits to Texas lawyers. And as a longtime member and past chair of the State Bar’s Litigation Section, and as current president of my local chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, I have worked to create and improve numerous programs to serve the needs of our membership and the public. But as good as our work has been, I know we can do more and I want to help make that happen. Finally, my background in public policy as an elected official, through academic work, and as a practicing attorney uniquely qualifies me to assist our bar leadership with the ongoing Sunset review, as well as interacting with the many and varied constituencies of the State Bar. Vick: I am part of a family of lawyers. I lived in the legal system and the fraternity of lawyers from my earliest memories. I have spent the better part of 30 years working to improve the law for families, to improve the practice of law for my colleagues, and to improve avenues for the less fortunate in our communities to have access to courts and lawyers. I have spent countless weekends and evenings in meetings around the country, working with lawyers in state and national organizations to accomplish these goals. I have the experience, expertise, and the leadership qualities to continue that work for the benefit of all Texans and Texas lawyers. I am deeply committed to and invested in seeing the practice of law develop and seeing the fulfillment of these objectives. WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES FACING THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND WHAT ROLE DO YOU BELIEVE THE STATE BAR SHOULD PLAY IN ADDRESSING THEM? Smith: Addressing Sunset review. The State Bar faces Sunset review, at which time we must show our elected officials that we continue to serve an important public purpose. Helping our young people become better citizens. I believe attorneys must promote understanding of the rule of law and our system of justice. I want to support the State Bar’s work educating hundreds of thousands of Texas schoolchildren each year, so that in years to come, when I am looking across a courtroom or a polling place, I see young people who I know are better jurors, better voters, and better citizens because of the work that we did. Safeguarding our profession. Our profession faces new challenges to the traditional practice of law. Whether in the guise of self help forms or unlicensed practitioners, we must protect the public and our profession from efforts to limit lawyers’ role in the practice of law. Vick: First is the ongoing Sunset review. We have a great leadership team in place to navigate that process. It will consume significant time by both staff and the leadership in the next years. We must continue to find ways to keep the courthouse open for all Texans. In addition to the strategies discussed later, we must renew the creative processes originally contemplated in 2001 with the creation of the Texas Access to Justice Commission and later carried out by the SOLUTIONS 2012 task force, which I led, to find ways to “expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low income Texas residents.” Finally, we need to work to get funds appropriated for the technology infrastructure needed to make courts—particularly those outside metropolitan areas with fewer resources—more efficient. This investment will allow lawyers to serve clients more effectively. YOU HAVE 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 OF TEXAS? Smith: Law office management. My experience running my own law office over the past several years tells me how much lawyers need the bar to understand and appreciate the challenges that they face on a daily basis. State Bar experience. My service as chair of the State Bar’s Litigation Section and as a member of the State Bar Board of Directors has also been helpful because these experiences gave me insight into the bar’s operations as an attorney receiving services and as a member of the bar’s leadership. What both activities have in common is that they involved learning how to work together with lawyers from different backgrounds to provide better programs and services. Trial teams. Working with trial teams in litigation has taught me how it is possible to work together to find common ground, even in an adversarial system. Vick: Each has prepared me in different ways. Serving on the board of directors gave me an excellent understanding of the workings of the State Bar and a perspective on all the sections. My work with the Access to Justice Commission and the Texas Bar Foundation deepened my insight into and appreciation of statewide challenges and legal needs and the valuable work done by Texas lawyers. In my years on the Family Law Section Council, we found creative ways to meet a number of challenges. Foremost was the creation and then funding of the Texas Family Law Foundation to allow family lawyers to lobby without violating the State Bar Rules prohibiting that activity by the section. The foundation has been effective both in passing bills and working to defeat undesirable legislation. Leading the formal comprehensive long-range planning process for several state and national legal groups has been valuable experience. WHAT CAN THE STATE BAR AND INDIVIDUAL LAWYERS DO TO ENSURE ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR TEXANS, ONE OF THE STATE BAR’S CORE MISSIONS? Smith: We know that access to justice means access to a lawyer, not a form. We can help provide that by providing willing lawyers with a playbook to assist them in representing clients in a cost-effective way in fields that are outside their normal practice area. But the need for representation extends beyond legal aid-eligible clients to clients of modest means. To address this, the State Bar can work through its referral system and those of urban bar groups to provide affordable legal representation in needed areas, learning from similar programs of other states. The bar can also look at innovative initiatives, such as incubators, reduced-cost CLE, and access to referrals as ways of deepening the pool of lawyers who can provide “modest-means” clients needed representation at an affordable cost. Vick: We must commit to the proposition that access to justice means access to lawyers. Anything less is demeaning to the client, the profession, and our justice system. There are a number of ways to do this. We can work on reducing the costs of delivering services by implementing existing technology in our courtrooms, with negligible investment, to make access to the courts more cost-effective. As an example, if courts conducted hearings on non-evidentiary matters via video conferencing so participants could attend without leaving their offices, the costs to litigants for those matters would plummet and attorneys could practice more efficiently. I toured the most “technologically advanced courtroom in the world” designed for judges, lawyers, and witnesses to participate from different locations. Interestingly, that courtroom in Virginia is razed and rebuilt about every three years because technology improves so dramatically in that time. We have a duty to keep current. WHAT SHOULD THE BAR DO TO GUIDE AND PREPARE THE NEXT GENERATION OF LAWYERS? Smith: I believe we need to provide new lawyers with what I call the “lifeboat drill”—training that provides enough information that they know: (1) where to go, (2) what to do, and (3) who to ask for help during their early years of practice. The State Bar, Texas Young Lawyers Association, TexasBarCLE, and other groups are working with law schools on this issue, but more can be done. For example, a consolidated seminar for new attorneys along the lines of TexasBarCLE’s current Federal Court Practice seminar could provide them with the information they need in important areas, such as ethics, recurring grievance issues, mentoring resources, trial and client counseling skills, and law office management. It could also provide an invaluable opportunity to show new lawyers what civility means in practice. Our new generation of lawyers can be sufficiently prepared to provide professional representation to clients, even in this challenging environment. Vick: This may be the most exciting issue the bar will deal with in the coming years. The first thing our bar must do is to listen to our new lawyers about their concerns. Our newest colleagues have assimilated information in a different way, communicate differently, and will likely deliver legal services to their generation of clients in a manner that will seem foreign to lawyers from a generation ago. We need to embrace these changes. Our bar will have to ramp up its assistance to develop and implement new technologies in our courtrooms and law offices. Lawyers will look to the bar for help in staying current. Equally fascinating, it will also cause us to stay nimble in our approach to providing CLE. Evolving brain research will reveal the most effective methods of teaching new lawyers and old. It is likely the traditional “talking-head” approach is not the way. THE TEXAS SUPREME COURT RECENTLY CREATED THE TEXAS COMMISSION TO EXPAND CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES. WHAT ISSUES AND IDEAS SHOULD THIS NEW COMMISSION FOCUS ON? Smith: I believe that the commission should focus on ways to connect lawyers with the specific needs of “modest-means” clients primarily by finding opportunities to reduce the cost of legal services. This may take the form of supporting incubators or other nontraditional ways of delivering services, which cut overhead costs for lawyers and allow them to provide representation at affordable rates. I believe the commission should also consider using existing legal referral services to provide attorneys in needed practice areas with incentives to offer reduced-rate representation to clients who meet certain income limits. Such “modest-means” panels would leverage attorneys’ need to broaden their client base into access by clients to affordable legal representation. Vick: It is important to identify who falls in the “justice gap” and specifically what legal needs they have that are not being met. In the communities where I practice, there are a variety of lawyers, with varying experiences and skill levels, offering services that would be affordable to most people. The commission should find ways to provide an appropriate match between lawyers and those needing help. There are other models around the country where lawyers work together in a nonprofit corporation and offer quality legal services on a sliding-scale fee structure. Where we should not be spending our resources is in creating special rules or procedures for people who can afford a lawyer but choose to represent themselves. It denigrates the profession and the justice system. The commission is replete with diverse talent. I’m confident it will explore a variety of options. HOW IMPORTANT ARE YOUR COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES TO BALANCING YOUR LIFE AS A LAWYER? WHICH HAS AFFECTED YOU THE MOST? Smith: I am interested in historic preservation in my community, and one of my favorite projects was the restoration of the historic 1901 Harrison County Courthouse in downtown Marshall. I chaired the courtroom committee for much of the 15 years that the project was underway, and when it was complete, I had the unique opportunity to conduct voir dire and try three cases in the beautifully restored courtroom. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to restore a historic 1870 shoe store as my law office, and that has been a highlight of my professional career and for me personally. I am now part of the downtown small business community, which I enjoy very much, as it allows me to work together with my neighbors to preserve the friendly and historic environment I grew up in. Vick: The Jeffersonian vision of legal education centered on Jefferson’s theory that our republic would need educated, virtuous, and visionary leaders. He was convinced properly educated lawyers could best serve that role. I share that vision. I firmly believe we owe a special duty to work as leaders in our communities. By education and training we have unique skills to evaluate facts and find solutions to the issues presented at every level of government. My two terms on the Weatherford Independent School District board taught me the importance and efficacy of building consensus. I was constantly guided by a single principle: Despite all of the politics, rhetoric, and special interests, if I would ask myself, What is best for children?, I would find the right answer. At every level of leadership and governance, as in personal and professional life, you should have a guiding principle for your decisions. DESCRIBE YOUR MOST SATISFYING LEGAL EXPERIENCE. Smith: My most satisfying legal experience is when a client’s faith in our system of justice is rewarded. The look on a client’s face when a jury comes back with the verdict that he or she was asking for, and deserved, is the best feeling I get when practicing law. Probably the best example was in a recent case representing a foreign company whose manager doggedly refused to settle a case where he believed the facts were in his favor. He counted on the American system of justice in general and the jury of Texas citizens to find in his favor, and his faith was justified. Seeing the look on that client’s face when the American system of justice—about which he had heard so, so much—worked, was very satisfying. Vick: It was that morning in April 2008 when 400 of my colleagues began to stand in line to enter the courthouse in San Angelo, Texas, to represent the children who had been removed by Child Protective Services from their homes and their parents at the Yearning for Zion Ranch. They came from every corner of the state at their own expense without any expectation they would ever be paid. When the leadership of the bar asked me if I could recruit that many lawyers to be in San Angelo on less than a week’s notice, I agreed without hesitation, confident that we could do so. My friends work every day in courthouses around this state helping parents and children in crisis. The lawyers of this state were not going to let those children down. I have never been more proud to be a member of the State Bar of Texas. WHAT CAN THE STATE BAR DO TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY WITHIN THE LEGAL PROFESSION? Smith: I am very proud to be a member of a profession that values diversity and different points of view. As we know, diversity does not help just the people who are brought into an organization and into positions of leadership; it helps the organization and everyone associated with it gain from the added perspectives and ideas. As a trial lawyer and president of an ABOTA chapter, I know we have a lot of work to do in promoting diversity in trial teams, and I have worked with bar groups to try to address this. Again, I believe that this begins with our programs directed to educating Texas schoolchildren on the importance of the rule of law, which is why civics education is so important to me. Vick: It starts with initiatives similar to State Bar Past President Lisa M. Tatum’s that signal to children of every background that becoming a lawyer is within their grasp. At the bar level, we must continue to recruit diverse groups of lawyers to leadership positions, as directors, on bar committees, in our CLE, and on grievance committees so that the face of the bar includes lawyers from all walks of life. We must communicate the opportunities at the local level as well. Texas will soon be a “majority minority” state; our bar must reflect that change as well. All Texans should realize that they have access to our legal system and confidence that they will be well represented. Diversity in the bar will provide better access for our increasingly diverse population. I have actively sought to involve more women and minority lawyers in the bar organizations that I have led. WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN? Smith: Our family’s favorite activity is traveling together. We have shared many exciting experiences, and we are always looking forward to more. My favorite hobby, when I am home, is working in my study and workshop. I like to read, wish I had time to build the ship models I still collect, and engage in occasional woodworking. But most of all, when not working for clients or in bar groups, I like spending time with my wife, Jamie, and our three teenage boys, Grayson, Collin, and Parker. Vick: I enjoy spending time with my three children and my two grandsons. I love traveling and experiencing other cultures and cuisines, attending live music and sporting events wherever I go, and meeting people from other walks of life. Despite being only a mediocre golfer, I love the serenity and the scenery when I get out to play—it’s one facet of my life in which I don’t feel competitively inclined because I don’t play often enough to expect to play well. Due to a rock climbing accident a few years ago, I have backed off on some of the sports I used to love playing, but I still love being on and in the water. Vote online or by paper ballot from April 1 to May 2, 2016. The deadline to cast ballots is May 2, 2016, at 5 p.m. CST. For biographical information, go to texasbar.com/elections or see p. 206 of the March issue.
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