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The Texas Office of the Attorney General is seeking a few good lawyers who currently make big bucks at private law firms but are willing to take a significant cut in pay for at least a couple of years to serve the public and gain invaluable legal experience. “We’ve got a legal experience to offer that money can’t buy,” says First Assistant Attorney General Andy Taylor. Taylor says some young lawyers may go to big law firms in Texas expecting that they will get into court; they find out that’s not likely to happen soon. “They’re going to find themselves holed up in a library doing research and maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll get to carry the brief case of the lawyer who’s going to actually do the deposition, make the argument and try the lawsuit,” Taylor says. The new Fellows Program at the Texas AG’s office offers attorneys who have some experience an opportunity to gain courtroom experience, he says. Taylor and his boss, Attorney General John Cornyn, have pitched the program to law firms around the state and hope to start hiring lawyers for the program later this year. The program is budgeted for up to 12 lawyers, an AG spokeswoman says. The pay will depend on each lawyer’s experience, with the least experienced starting at $37,900 a year, compared to the more than $100,000 beginning salary offered new lawyers at major Texas firms. Although lawyers must sever ties with their old firms, they are free to return to those jobs after they have completed their two-year commitment to the state. The concept is receiving mixed reviews. “I think it’s an effort to get people in law firms interested in public service, and I think that’s a good idea,” says William C. Powers Jr., a law professor and incoming dean at the University of Texas School of Law. Former Attorney General Jim Mattox, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Cornyn in 1998, says he has “strong reservations” about the program. Mattox, now a solo practitioner in Austin, says the program starts off with the mistaken assumption that lawyers working at prestigious law firms are better than the lawyers working at the AG’s office. However, Mattox says he was able to recruit able young lawyers who “beat the pants off” the big firms’ lawyers. He also says that he recruited lawyers from private firms during his tenure as attorney general but not with the idea that they would return to their former jobs. “It’s going to create an inherent conflict of interest because of that particular pattern,” Mattox says. Mattox says the AG’s office has a certain amount of confidential information that it doesn’t want its legal competitors to have. He says it would help a law firm to know what the state’s strategy is likely to be on different kinds of cases. “It doesn’t make sense,” Mattox says. “Instead of training lawyers to work for you, you’ll be training them to work against you.” Not everyone is as concerned about the program as Mattox. “Obviously, there is always a potential for conflict, but it’s not significantly different from conflicts that can arise from a migratory lawyer moving from one law firm to another,” says Jim McCormack, a former general counsel and chief disciplinary counsel for the State Bar of Texas. McCormack, now a partner in Austin’s Tomblin Carnes & McCormack, says any “insider knowledge” that a lawyer gains by working at the AG’s office may have a short shelf life since attorneys general “come and go” every few years. The rules of professional conduct also offer the state some protection, McCormack says. Under the rules, a lawyer is prohibited from representing a private client in connection with a matter in which the lawyer participated “personally and substantially” while employed in the public sector unless the government agency involved consents. McCormack says a lawyer who moves from one law firm to another in Texas cannot be “screened” from any participation in a matter in which he had been involved at the old firm. But the rules provide for screening of lawyers who move from the public to private sectors, he says. Donald Wood, managing partner of the Austin office of Vinson & Elkins, says his firm is supportive of the program and would be happy to have one of its lawyers participate. He says the conflict of interest issue for lawyers who participate in the Fellows Program would be handled much in the same way as Vinson & Elkins handles similar situations with lawyers who have worked as judicial clerks. “We would make certain there was no conflict when they join the attorney general’s office and certainly would when they come back to Vinson & Elkins,” Wood says. In an advisory opinion issued Jan. 14, the Texas Ethics Commission said that lawyers selected to participate in the Fellows Program can’t receive any assistance from their firms prior to going to work for the state. The Penal Code prohibits a law firm from making a severance payment, paying moving expenses or providing other benefits once a lawyer has accepted an offer to work for a state agency, the opinion said.

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