Chad Baruch Dallas Joe K. Longley Austin Laura Bellegie Sharp Austin The Texas Bar Journal asked 2017-2018 president-elect candidates Chad Baruch, Joe K. Longley, and Laura Bellegie Sharp to share their perspectives on issues facing the bar. Vote online or by paper ballot from April 3 to May 2, 2017 WHY DO YOU WANT TO SERVE AS PRESIDENT OF THE STATE BAR OF TEXAS? Baruch: What could be better than advocating for lawyers? What we do is important. As the child of a refugee from Nazi Germany, I have a special appreciation for the role our justice system plays in helping to protect our freedom. Helping lawyers fulfill their important role in our society would be exhilarating. As someone who started in a downtown law firm but then practiced for 20 years as a solo in Rowlett, I understand the issues facing those in both types of practices. I hope to put that insight to work for Texas lawyers. Longley: Through my candidacy, I seek to reform the way the State Bar currently conducts its business. The State Bar of 2017 seemingly exists only for itself with little thought given to the voting rights of its members. The bar is perceived by many to be an exclusive club of insiders perpetuating absentee leadership through low-turnout elections resulting in leaders totally relying on staff-prepared talking points to run the show. My hope is that this perception is wrong, but how else can one explain the State Bar’s September 1, 2015, Self Evaluation Report to the Sunset Advisory Commission recommending statutory elimination of bar members’ right to an up or down vote on rules changes related to dues or discipline? No record exists of any board of directors’ discussion or vote approving such a radical change. My research reveals that no elected bar officer or director had knowledge of such a controversial proposal prior to the staff’s report being filed. Editor’s Note: State Bar staff identified the referendum process as an issue Sunset staff could expect to be raised by various stakeholders during the review process, including those who favor the referendum in its present form and those who favor its modification or elimination. This was discussed, as were possible alternatives to ensure attorneys still had input instead of the outright elimination of their right to guide any rules amendment. The State Bar Board of Directors was not involved in developing the Self-Evaluation Report because the report is a staff-to-staff document under the Sunset process. At the next step of the process, Sunset staff interviewed State Bar officers, directors, members of the bar, and members of the public as it put together its Staff Report. Sharp: We are all members of an amazing profession, and I strive to remember that at all times. I am invested in our profession and want to be a part of leading it. Our members are unique, skilled, and well trained to counsel and assist individuals, entities, and businesses in a variety of legal matters. And the majority of attorneys give back to the community in countless ways. However, not many wish to take leadership positions to be out in front for the collective profession. I have the experience to do this and relish serving in this way. I am driven to roll up my sleeves and solve, help, facilitate, and do whatever is necessary. I can’t just direct or cheer on the sidelines. For most of my career, I have worked actively for the State Bar, and I will continue to do so. I would be honored to use my energies and experience in leading and am eager for the challenges such a role requires. IN YOUR OPINION, 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? Baruch: (1) Mental health and substance abuse. This is a crisis. We must expand the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program and other resources, ensure members know about them, and encourage lawyers to seek help. (2) Fracturing of the profession. The gulf between big firm lawyers and solo practitioners continues to grow, with more lawyers feeling alienated from the State Bar. This threatens our unity as a profession and our commitment to the rule of law. I would visit rural areas and reach out to solos—after all, I was one for a long time. This also may mean changing some rules governing how we select bar leaders to expand the voices we hear among leadership. (3) Connecting lawyers with clients. More Texans than ever need legal assistance. We have clients needing lawyers, and lawyers needing clients, and we can’t figure out an economically viable way to connect them. We need to—fast. Longley: (1) Apart from ongoing, basic statutory functions, such as licensing and discipline, the State Bar first needs to get its own house in order before it can effectively address other issues facing the legal profession; (2) the State Bar needs to explain how its former membership director and deputy clerk of the Texas Supreme Court, without detection, engaged in a nine-year embezzlement of over $500,000 of members’ dues money, and why the State Bar collected only 15 percent of the stolen funds from the thief and never sued her; and (3) bar leadership needs to explain how its staff could recommend to the Sunset Advisory Commission the elimination of members’ 77-year-old right to vote on proposed rule changes involving dues and discipline without any board of directors’ vote or discussion on such a radical change. Editor’s Note: In May 2013, a former State Bar employee, who also worked as a deputy clerk for the Texas Supreme Court, pleaded guilty to felony theft from a fund that was outside the scope of the State Bar audit process. The former employee was sentenced to “shock probation”—including 180 days in state prison and 10 years’ probation—and ordered to pay $73,949 in restitution to the State Bar. Of the restitution amount, $48,949 covered additional theft documented by the district attorney’s office and $25,000 represented the bar’s deductible applied to the employee theft insurance claim. The insurance company recovered the $25,000 according to policy terms. In addition to that restitution, the State Bar was reimbursed $482,029 by its insurance carrier. The State Bar was fully reimbursed minus its deductible, and it was the insurance company’s decision whether to prosecute its subrogation claim. After the theft was discovered in 2012, the employee was fired and both the Supreme Court and State Bar put new processes in place to ensure that it could not happen again. Among other safeguards, all accounts associated with membership dues are now the subject of an internal audit every year. Sharp: The profession is facing increasing challenges to the traditional practice of law. My top concerns are: (1) maintaining competency, relevance, and flexibility in providing legal services in a highly competitive market that attracts competing non-legal businesses; (2) ensuring that newly minted attorneys who face a shortage of traditional entry-level jobs, and often are burdened with debt, have the necessary guidance and resources to navigate the practice; and (3) remaining vigilant in protecting and educating the public on the importance of the Constitution, supporting the independent judiciary, and, if necessary, intervening with our skills and knowledge. The solutions are not unrelated and the bar can address these issues with targeted communication with our members and the public, providing member benefits and tools necessary to deliver competent and quality legal services for new and experienced attorneys, and ensuring that our outreach educational programs are relevant. 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? Baruch: My work in sections. On a section council, you work with people who may not otherwise participate in State Bar leadership. They are “in the trenches” lawyers, representing a large cross-section of our profession. Honestly, though, my best preparation was my 15 years as a high school assistant principal. This required overseeing a diverse staff and balancing the competing concerns of different constituencies. It required telling people things they did not always want to hear. Most of all, it required teamwork; we worked together to ensure that everyone—students, faculty, staff, board members, alumni, and donors—felt they were part of the team. And it required doing all of this without losing sight of the overarching goal: developing young minds burning with intellectual curiosity but grounded in the ethical principles of their faith. This experience was invaluable—not to mention fun. Longley: After successfully opposing a 1976 proposed dues increase,1 I helped lead the 1978 successful effort to pass a onetime assessment to pay off the mortgage note on the Texas Law Center; the note was in jeopardy of default due to overpromising by bar leadership.2 This sensible, fiscally responsible solution avoided another dues increase and led to the adoption of several reforms I had proposed during my three-year term (1976-1979) as a bar director. These reforms included: board meetings to be held in Texas (previously a meeting had been held in Mexico, at great expense to bar members); the State Bar put under its first Sunset Review in 1979; prohibition of any bar indebtedness that could not be paid within one year; and no bar tabs for alcoholic beverages (large bar tabs by bar insiders were all too common). 1) Joe K. Longley, No: Do Not Increase Fees, 39 Tex. B.J. 951, 954-956 (1976); Gibson Gayle Jr., Legislation and the Executive Director, 40 Tex. B.J. 121 (1977). 2) See 41 Tex. B.J. 122, 312, 499 (1978). Sharp: For 19 years I have served on the Austin Bar Association board, a diverse group with over 50 members, including section and affiliate representatives and liaisons. My work as president with the association, as a State Bar director, and an American Bar Association delegate taught me to appreciate diverse views and develop consensus, recognizing that this makes us stronger. By serving as perennial director of the Austin Bar Foundation and as trustee of the National Conference of Bar Foundations, I cultivated skills to initiate and grow meaningful projects. While chair of the State Bar of Texas Insurance Trust my board was challenged with changes forced by the Affordable Care Act. I successfully led the board through the transition to the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange. Observing national legal trends while working for nine years in the American Bar Association House of Delegates enlarged my vision for the future of our bar. WHAT CAN THE STATE BAR AND INDIVIDUAL LAWYERS DO TO ENSURE ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR TEXANS, ONE OF THE STATE BAR’S CORE MISSIONS? Baruch: The best thing we can do is support federal and state funding for legal aid. That’s it—simple answer. There is no substitute for a lawyer, and some people just can’t afford one. Here’s what we shouldn’t do: impose mandatory pro bono, raise fees on lawyers to fund legal services, or view this as a “lawyer issue.” Access to justice is an essential principle of our system of government. Without it, that system cannot endure. Don’t get me wrong; as lawyers, we should be vitally concerned about this issue. But so should every citizen. Those of us who can afford to provide pro bono services should do so. But our efforts must be part of a societal commitment to ensuring that everyone has meaningful access to our justice system. One important thing we can do is educate our fellow citizens (and particularly young people) on this issue. Longley: As chief of the Texas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, I drafted what became HB 417, the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. With its enactment in 1973 came the authority for the attorney general to collect civil penalties from wrongdoers—which became a seminal source of funding for the judicial fund that currently provides up to $50 million per biennium for basic legal services provided to the indigent.3 I urge both the bar and its individual members to lobby senators and representatives this legislative session to raise the judicial fund to $60 million. With Legal Services Corporation funding in jeopardy in Congress, we must redouble our efforts to assist both legal aid programs and other legal service providers. 3) See Tex. Gov’t Code § 402.007(b)(1) & (d). Sharp: Providing access to justice for people who need our help is central to being a lawyer. Events around the world remind us how essential lawyers are in protecting the rights, inclusion, and openness that are fundamental to a free society as recently demonstrated by immigration attorneys’ commendable swift use of their skills. Individual lawyers can volunteer their time and expertise through local bar programs. The State Bar should provide additional clinics throughout Texas—making it easier for more attorneys to assist the public and veterans, provide guidance regarding how to properly and efficiently unbundle legal services for a specific limited problem, and help give local bar associations and lawyers the skills and resources to raise money for legal access programs threatened by reduced funding. WHAT SHOULD THE BAR DO TO GUIDE AND PREPARE THE NEXT GENERATION OF LAWYERS? Baruch: One thing I learned as a teacher is that if you want to know what might help a student, ask the student. As an experienced attorney, I have ideas about what beginning lawyers need to learn to be successful. But, like most bar leadership, we probably need to do a little more listening in this area—as a 25-year lawyer, I may not be the best person to know exactly what a 25-year-old lawyer needs. We certainly should continue excellent programs like Transition to Practice and Ten Minute Mentor and partner with the Texas Young Lawyers Association in reaching out to young attorneys. We need to ensure that lawyers in their first years of practice can afford to attend our high-level continuing legal education programs. And, finally, we need to expand our partnerships with Texas law schools to ensure students know about the array of available resources before they graduate. Longley: The bar should request that the sponsors of the Sunset bills—SB 302 and HB 2102—delete sections three and six and any other section that would disenfranchise bar members from their right to an up or down vote on dues and discipline. Our next generation of lawyers should enjoy the same fruits of democracy within the unified bar as have all members since 1939; that being the right to cast a direct up or down vote on all proposals for change in bar dues and/or disciplinary rules. Legal technology is increasingly changing law practice and law firms; the bar should provide resources to assist all practitioners, especially young lawyers, to adapt to these major changes. Sharp: We must provide necessary technical skills and professionalism training for them to succeed as competent, careful, and ethical lawyers. President Frank Stevenson’s initiative, the Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator, is in the process of rolling out in Austin and, once established, will be a model across the state. However, we must do more. We need to encourage young attorneys to be involved in efforts to ensure access to justice, take on pro bono work, consider locating their practice in underserved areas, and be innovative in creating a practice area. Experienced practitioners could pair with new attorneys on pro bono cases to help them develop skills and know-how. We need to continue supporting the good work of the Texas Young Lawyers Association and encourage new lawyers to participate in bar activities. Such involvement provides important support and experience that will enhance their practice, their professionalism, and personal connections. WHAT CAN THE STATE BAR DO TO ENHANCE ETHICS AND PROFESSIONALISM AMONG TEXAS LAWYERS? Baruch: Let me try answering this question without waxing eloquent about the Texas Lawyer’s Creed. It’s great. But saying we need lawyers to follow it is just a different way of saying we need to enhance ethics and professionalism. The question is how. When it comes to ethics, a great many of the most serious ethical breaches by Texas lawyers can be traced back to issues involving personal crisis, depression, or substance abuse. Redoubling our commitment to helping attorneys in crisis will reduce unethical behavior by lawyers. So will providing younger attorneys with increased education on practice management. Professionalism is a different issue. I am especially concerned about the effect of social media on lawyer behavior and discourse. I don’t have a magical solution, but I do think that positive reinforcement may be effective. We need to reward professionalism and provide lawyers with positive role models to emulate. Longley: The State Bar should set the example for ethics and professionalism by eliminating talking points that mask the bar staff’s apparent agenda to abolish bar members’ right to a direct up or down vote on dues and discipline. Next, the bar should be more transparent and explain in detail what measures, if any, have been taken to prevent any internal stealing of our bar dues. It should also work to reduce the cost of CLE for lawyers, especially the cost of required ethics CLE. Finally, the bar should reveal why it accepted, without further effort, only $74,000 in restitution from the former membership director who stole close to $500,000 in bar dues owed to members—leaving the impression that “crime does pay” with a profit of $426,000. Bar employees who steal dues monies—or anything else—should be sued to pay back every cent they steal—not just 15 percent. Sharp: Ethics and professionalism are not something that can be imparted at a seminar. Lawyers ought to give much consideration to interacting with each other outside of their adversarial roles, which promotes civility, respect, and even friendships. We all need to act as though we will see an opposing attorney at the grocery store, our kids’ schools, or at a friend’s dinner table. The State Bar can do more to promote this by providing networking or community forums, encouraging section participation, rotating meetings to different jurisdictions, enhancing support to local bar associations, and providing worthwhile projects that are accessible to attorneys and help them fulfill our mission of providing access to justice. The bar should educate us about proposed new grievance rules through continuing legal education, local bar associations, and specialty bar meetings so that we can give careful, thoughtful, and thorough input into the referendum process from start to finish. HOW IMPORTANT ARE YOUR COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES TO BALANCING YOUR LIFE AS A LAWYER? WHICH HAS AFFECTED YOU THE MOST? Baruch: That’s easy: my 25 years as a teacher and coach. Throughout my years as a lawyer, this second career has kept me grounded (and sane). I have been a head high school and college basketball coach and taught U.S. government at both levels as well. It was incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. Now I get the special pleasure of seeing a number of my former students and players joining me in the practice of law. Occasionally, one of them even asks for my advice. Longley: My community involvement has included funding and coaching Little League, Pony League, girls basketball and kickball, and a variety of important political activities to support good candidates and worthy issues. I’ve been involved for all my legal career in raising money for myriad causes, including the YMCA and the performing arts—especially music. However, it’s been my pro bono work at the Legislature that has been the most rewarding. I have worked with many colleagues on legislative efforts to provide access to justice for indigents and a fair marketplace in which Texas businesses can honestly compete. Successful efforts include passage of the DTPA (consumer protection); Texas Insurance Code Chapters 541 (unfair practices), 542 (prompt payment), and 544 (unfair discrimination); the Home Solicitations Transactions Act; the Texas Debt Collections Practices Act; landlord-tenant remedies; and consumer credit remedies found in the Finance Code. Sharp: Some days the word “balance” is not in my vocabulary. It is often superseded by something that might be better termed “ballast.” The great majority of the time that I devote to community activities is done through organized local and State Bar programs because I believe in their value and because I enjoy the interactions with colleagues who are also involved. I am thankful that other attorneys have the time and talent to organize events or invite me to participate in worthwhile programs. My very favorite is Austin Adoption Day in Travis County. There is never a sad face. Happiness decants from the children who have been placed with their forever families. It is the best feel-good experience. DESCRIBE YOUR MOST SATISFYING LEGAL EXPERIENCE. Baruch: It was my most painful loss. Texas is one of only a few remaining states where an indigent person’s parental rights can be terminated, in a privately initiated action, without the benefit of court-appointed counsel. Eight years ago, I assembled an appellate team to challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court the constitutionality of this statutory scheme, working pro bono. This became one of the few times in American legal history in which the court requested briefing from a state solicitor general at the certiorari stage. Ultimately, we failed. To this day, it hurts just to think about it. But I am proud that we took on the state and tried our best to change an unjust law. Longley: I have two. (1) In the late ’70s, I worked success-fully to save several East Austin homes from foreclosure at the hands of unscrupulous “home improvement” operators who had obtained bogus liens by fraud; and (2) I played a major role in the 2011 repatriation of $528 million to U.S. policyholders from one of the world’s largest foreign insurance cartels. Sharp: I have practiced on both sides of the docket and believe that no matter the outcome, my clients respected the process and my representation of them. In one instance, I represented a friend, a fellow attorney, in a medical malpractice case. He started pro se; however, his dwindling health rendered him unable to continue in the case. I took over for the duration of his life, and, after death, for his family. I am gratified to know that he would have approved the outcome. My commitment to being respectful to opposing counsel fosters civility and the integrity of the legal process, even when advocacy strains communications. I am proud that at the end of most of my cases, I remain or have become good friends with lawyers on the other side. My greatest satisfaction is in doing my best for my clients. I feel so lucky to be a lawyer. WHAT CAN THE STATE BAR DO TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY WITHIN THE LEGAL PROFESSION? Baruch: I was the first. Vote for Me! is a terrific example of a State Bar project that encourages all Texas schoolchildren, regardless of background, to consider a career in law. We must continue to support the bar’s Law-Related Education Department in its work to promote the rule of law and our profession to students across the state. Additionally, we need to ensure diversity among our leadership ranks (including diversity in geography, firm size, and practice area). When minority lawyers succeed, they encourage, inspire, and mentor young people to do the same. We should support local bar initiatives like the Dallas Bar Association’s legal internship program for disadvantaged high school students. Finally, as someone who coached at a historically black college, I believe personal visits by the president of the State Bar to institutions that largely serve minorities would help encourage students to consider a career in law. Longley: Support Sen. Kirk Watson in his efforts to pass SB 416, which will establish “outreach directors” on the State Bar Board of Directors. These will be essential to maintain an inclusive membership within the bar itself—and to guarantee an aggressive outreach to all citizens of Texas. Then we must implement that “outreach,” working with all segments of the bar—including specialty bars—to ensure that we have a broad, inclusive organization, and not just a trade association run by and for a small group of insiders. Sharp: Minority director positions have undoubtedly enriched the board, added immense value to the mission of the bar, and offered leadership paths to diverse attorneys that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Bar leaders need to remain mindful of the benefit diversity offers to the governance of our profession and choose attorneys for appointed board positions who will continue to provide this value. The State Bar should promote programs that reach and encourage young people of all backgrounds to seek a law degree and support the reintroduction of civics instruction in schools to address the demonstrated lack of understanding about the fundamentals of our legal system and the essential role of lawyers in society. With this framework and understanding, more diverse students may be attracted to the law. The legal profession will better serve the people if those working within it reflect the demographics of those needing their services. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, TV, OR FILM REPRESENTATION OF A LAWYER? WHY? Baruch: With apologies to Gregory Peck and Joe Pesci, I choose Spencer Tracy in Judgment at Nuremberg. He plays an American judge presiding over the trial of Nazi judges and prosecutors after the war. He struggles to understand how these lawyers, including an internationally respected judge, allowed themselves to become tools of genocide—and to determine what constitutes justice in this situation. For much of my life, I watched my father struggle with the same questions. So for me, Tracy’s portrayal is intensely personal and moving. Longley: Film: The Verdict, starring Paul Newman. The film authentically depicts the “grit and grime” of a personal-injury practice and the toll that it takes on lawyers and clients alike. Law is a wonderful profession, but trials are stressful and tough on all involved. Sharp: My Cousin Vinny because while it gives a lighthearted view of the profession, it fairly accurately portrays the proper workings of a trial (and how to make grits), unlike my second favorite series, Perry Mason, which panders to my analytical, puzzle-solving side and makes me laugh at the implausible legal “gotcha” moments. Vote online or by paper ballot from April 3 to May 2, 2017. The deadline to cast ballots is 5 p.m. CST May 2, 2017.
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