Sally L. Pretorius Dallas Jenny Lee Smith Austin The Texas Bar Journal asked 2017-2018 Texas Young Lawyers Association president-elect candidates Sally L. Pretorius and Jenny Lee Smith to share their perspectives on issues facing young lawyers in the state. 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. For biographical information on the candidates, go to texasbar.com/elections or see p. 176 of the March issue. WHY DO YOU WANT TO SERVE AS PRESIDENT OF THE TEXAS YOUNG LAWYERS ASSOCIATION? Pretorius: As cheesy as it sounds, it is to make a difference. Throughout my legal career, I have been able to see what a difference bar service can make. The projects that TYLA has created truly help people and help the community. I want to be president of TYLA so I can continue its legacy of greatness. Combining my passions and my collaborations with colleagues, I have been able to formulate goals and a vision for a wonderful 2018-2019 bar year. Those goals and visions include creating a program that was inspired by my and my husband’s friends, who served in the military and post-service were immediately reintegrated back into society. This program would create awareness and educate Texans on the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on our veterans, while simultaneously reinvigorating existing resources and offering legal assistance to veterans. I also would like to create a program that helps foster leadership in law students so that they transition easily into bar service, produce videos to help attorneys and pro se litigants when they find themselves in Title IV-D courts (child support courts), and create programs that educate young lawyers and bring awareness to work-life balance and challenges we face. Smith: I want to implement programming to encourage our members to strive for a healthier work-life balance. Most attorneys are Type A personalities. It’s this characteristic that drove many of us to this career, and it pushes us to be the best associate, work the most billable hours, have the highest utilization rate, etc. This attitude, while it drives us to succeed, often consumes us with late nights, little sleep, and strain on our bodies and personal relationships. I want young lawyers to know that they can work hard and be extremely successful but also find time to take care of themselves in the process. Furthermore, I would like to find ways that TYLA can improve the lives of foster children, such as by developing programs that educate, encourage, and guide couples that are considering becoming foster parents. Because we all know that loving families can make all the difference in a child’s life, it is my hope that TYLA can facilitate that process. TYLA is the public service arm of the State Bar of Texas; we work on projects that serve both the profession and the general public, and it is my passion to continue that great tradition of service. WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES FACING YOUNG LAWYERS IN TEXAS AND WHAT ROLE SHOULD TYLA PLAY IN ADDRESSING THEM? Pretorius: Work-life balance. Defending the integrity of our profession. Community service. TYLA is and should continue to play a role in addressing these issues. TYLA currently has projects that encourage young attorneys to take a closer look at mental-health issues and remove the associated stigma. If I am elected, I want to create a program that helps lawyers recognize and combat compassion fatigue and secondary post-traumatic stress. I think the second two issues go hand-in-hand. Attorneys are often the punchline of jokes and don’t always have the best reputation; I believe that by getting out in the community and fulfilling our public service obligation, we accomplish good and help build our reputation. TYLA is already helping with this by creating guides for the community that educate and address current, relevant, and important issues. I hope to continue this legacy and build on the integrity of our profession. Smith: Simply put, debt, jobs, and experience. The current job market and legal environment that young lawyers encounter have changed drastically, even in the short amount of time since I graduated in 2011. In this market, I see three major issues: (1) many young lawyers face significant debt from law school and college; (2) young lawyers seeking a career in litigation have fewer opportunities to be in court, which hinders their growth as lawyers; and (3) because the supply of lawyers is outpacing the demand from law firms, students graduating law school are more likely to hang their own shingles and have less access to natural mentorship opportunities. TYLA should offer resources in all of these areas and, in fact, already offers many, including Office in a Flash, Ten Minute Mentor, Partnering for Pro Bono, and Financial Resources Guide for a Public Interest Legal Career. 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 TYLA? Pretorius: All of them. *Objection Non-Responsive: (Lawyer laughs). But really, I cannot point to one experience in my bar leadership history that has best prepared me for this because all of them have built on each other. I have, however, learned two lessons that have prepared me to lead TYLA. When I was on my first board, I thought that leadership meant being a rock star and doing everything yourself, but along the way I learned that it means empowering others and combining efforts to achieve one goal and that people want to help and make a difference—they just need a little push and a little guidance. A little further down the line, I learned that there is a time to help and a time to lead. Being a good leader also means sometimes taking the back seat and being a worker bee—we all need to do our part. Smith: During my time with TYLA, I have had the opportunity to work with TYLA board members, legal experts, and other attorneys on issues that are important to me. Two of the most beneficial experiences were serving as a chair for the Law Focused Education Committee and as a project lead for And Justice For All: Preventing Wrongful Convictions Through Education. In those leadership roles, I worked with other members to supervise completion of those projects. I also enjoyed getting to learn and analyze different leadership styles, which in turn, helped me bring together various stakeholder perspectives in working toward our common goals. I believe the most important attribute that the TYLA president should have is the ability to bring people with different ideas and experiences together to create the best product possible. I look forward to the opportunity to build on my TYLA leadership experience toward that goal. IF A COLLEGE STUDENT SOUGHT YOUR ADVICE ON WHETHER TO PURSUE A LEGAL CAREER, HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER? Pretorius: First, I would tell them to follow their dreams because I am not one to stand in the way of someone’s dreams. Second, I would want them to explore their reasons for wanting to be a lawyer because I think there are a lot of misperceptions about “lawyer life.” Aspiring law students need to understand that law school is hard and expensive—it requires lots of work and is a big financial commitment. The last piece of advice would be to talk to as many attorneys in different fields as possible—I love being a lawyer and love my job, but there may be other attorneys who have different views. Smith: The legal profession is a noble one, but it requires diligence, sacrifice, and hard work to be successful. When college students ask me about pursuing a legal career, I always answer: If you want to be a lawyer, go to law school, work hard, and pursue that dream. It was a dream I had for a long time and I’m glad that I followed through on it. If you are thinking about going to law school simply because you are not sure what you want to do and it sounds like a good idea, it may not be the right choice because it is a major life commitment and should not be entered into lightly. HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR PERSONAL LIFE WITH YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE? Pretorius: Work-life balance, the holy grail. I haven’t achieved it yet, but I have things that I practice to achieve some sort of balance. First, I surround myself with people who truly understand my professional life and goals—I married a wonderful man and have a fabulous family that has always supported me. Second, I take time to unplug. When we rescued our German shorthaired pointer, Molly, I had no idea she was actually rescuing me. She requires a long walk or run every day, which makes me unplug and get some exercise. Third, practice. When I first started practicing, I couldn’t “turn off” work and would wake up thinking I missed deadlines and obsessing over cases, but over time, this has faded. I try to focus on what is in front of me and not work all the time—I still cannot “turn-off” work, but I still have time to practice. Smith: Over the past few years, I have learned important lessons that have helped push me to work harder at finding that balance. First, I attend barre classes three to five times a week. For the hour that I spend each day in class, I have no access to emails or phone calls. Second, I make time for lunch. That sounds like common sense, but you would be amazed at all the times I used to skip it because I was “too busy.” Lunch is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and it is an excellent opportunity for business development. Finally, I strive to make time to see my friends and family—another seemingly reasonable activity that often eludes those in our profession. With these changes, I find I am a better lawyer for my clients, better family member and friend, and a healthier person both mentally and physically.
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