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Lynne Liberato nearly jumps out of her chair with excitement as she talks about a new feature on the State Bar of Texas’ Web site. At the push of a button, lawyers can check whether they’ve met their continuing legal education requirements for the year. “This is cool. … This is so cool,” she emphasizes over the din at the Buffalo Grille, a popular Houston breakfast joint. Liberato, who takes the reins of the State Bar June 22 as the self-styled technology president, promises more innovation. She sees technology as the cure for the Bar’s most persistent problem: member apathy. Sure, we’ve heard supposed panaceas before. But if anyone is up to the task of creating a leaner, meaner Bar, it’s Liberato, who is a tsunami of energy. This is a typical week for the 46-year-old Houston appellate lawyer. On her agenda: a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals bar conference in San Antonio, a firm retreat in Dallas (she is a partner in the Houston office of Haynes and Boone) and a State Bar function in Washington, D.C., for Texas lawyers living in the capital. “I’m just busy, busy, busy all the time,” she says. “I never sit down. I never sit still. I stand whenever I’m in my office. … I get that from my dad.” Liberato’s father, Frank, is a former fighter pilot who spent much of his career in the U.S. Navy, first in Florida and then in Arlington, Texas, where he raised his family. Liberato calls her father the “Great Santini.” Though he’s retired, she says, he still makes to-do lists every day, prioritizes the projects and knocks them off one by one. Liberato, who can’t seem to stack enough on her schedule, has clearly inherited this discipline. Besides her Bar duties, she is a single mother of two boys — Callon, 14, and Benjamin, 11 — a volunteer in many charitable organizations and a jet-setting CLE speaker. Four pages of her long-form, six-page r�sum� are devoted to various topics she has spoken and written about. “We call her superbroad,” says Frank Liberato. “She is the original type-A personality.” THE NURTURER While Liberato’s extracurricular plate is full, she is no mere joiner. She is on a short list of Texas appellate specialists who consistently get the nod in significant litigation. In In the Interest of Olivia Grace McGill, for example, Liberato tackled a high-profile issue of first impression, arguing to the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston in 1999 that a father’s parental rights in a frozen embryo did not survive divorce. In December, she represented the city of Houston before the 5th Circuit in Piotrowski v. City of Houston, which has been a major embarrassment for the city. In 1998, it was hit with a $26 million judgment after a jury found the Houston Police Department knew but failed to warn Barbara Piotrowski, a former model, about a contract on her life. Liberato honed her appellate chops at the 1st Court of Appeals. She was hired in 1981 as the court’s first staff attorney and stayed there until 1990, heading an office that eventually swelled to eight lawyers. In 1990, she was the first lawyer hired to staff the Houston outpost of Dallas-based Haynes and Boone. The Houston office has since mushroomed to more than 75 lawyers, and Liberato deserves much of the credit for the growth, says George W. Bramblett Jr., a firm partner and member of the executive committee. “She is a gifted leader,” he says. Colleagues say Liberato is adept at attracting people to work with her and convincing them to stay, for obvious reasons — she is pleasant to be around. She is so gregarious, in fact, with such an easy, boisterous laugh, that when you first meet her, you might wonder if she is for real. Is she really this nice? Does she really think I’m that funny? Friends insist it is no put on. She rarely loses her temper, they say, and even then, she doesn’t scream or belittle people. No one knows that better than Vicki Lindberg, who has been Liberato’s secretary for 12 years, both at the 1st Court and at Haynes and Boone. “I can count on one hand how many times she has gotten upset,” Lindberg says. “That is amazing for an attorney, much less a friend.” Perhaps an even greater testament to Liberato’s personality is that she is on good terms with her ex-husband, Tom Nichols. They divorced in 1996 after a 12-year marriage. Incredibly, they live across the street from each other in the West University area of Houston and do not follow visitation orders — the boys just go from house to house as their parents schedules dictate. Without Nichols’ active help in raising the boys, Liberato says, she would not have been able to serve as Bar president. “It would be tough for Lynne to do so much without her ex-husband and me there to help juggle her professional life and scheduling,” adds Lindberg. “Lynne has been able to get support around her [because of] how she treats people. If you nurture relationships, it enables you to branch out into other things.” THE PRO BONO QUESTION Liberato will have to call on all her diplomatic skills as she tries to get the Bar ready for Sunset Review in 2003, when the Texas Legislature will determine whether the agency has outlived its usefulness. While many pundits believe the Legislature will merely tinker with the Bar, if anything, Liberato still feels a sense of urgency to energize the membership. She also realizes this will be no easy task. “Right now people think of the State Bar as, ‘I’m the State Bar. I’m here to help enforce grievances against you, to enforce mandatory CLE on you, to enforce advertising rules on you and to provide great CLE, but it sure is expensive,’” Liberato says. “I want to give something back.” That something, she says, will be more “relevant” services like online CLE. Lawyers can not only check their CLE compliance online, she explains, but also search online for available CLE courses and, by logging onto texasbarcle.com, they can download course materials. “You can do every minute of [CLE] sitting at your computer,” she says, again almost apoplectic with joy. She promises even more electronic wizardry to help the Bar fulfill its other obligations, such as providing legal services to the poor. For a committed volunteer and admitted lefty — she votes Democrat and calls herself a child of the ’60s — Liberato is surprisingly laissez faire about pro bono. Her position is this: If lawyers are up to it, great; if not, that’s their prerogative. While she has no intention of bullying lawyers into public service, she believes the Bar can provide a much more valuable resource. Texas Lawyers’ Care, the pro bono arm of the State Bar, for example, might be able to create a computer database of research and legal forms, which could be used by pro bono groups around the state, she posits. Or, she says, the Bar might be able to provide software programs to pro bono groups that would be used by them to expedite the processing of claims. Liberato says she will commit Bar dollars to these sorts of projects. A former journalist (she was a daily newspaper reporter and a television reporter), Liberato also has her sights set on revamping the Texas Bar Journal. Not surprisingly, technology fits into her vision. She says the Bar Journal occasionally suffers from a lack of timeliness and relevance. It publishes vital information — such as scholarly articles or proposed rules revisions — some of which it is statutorily required to print. Still, she concedes, such weighty matters can be deadly to readers’ interests. She’d like to see more short, newsy articles, published, perhaps, in a separate, online version of the Bar Journal. “What I’d like to see happen,” she says, “is that we have an online Bar Journal and that it compete with the print Bar Journal, and may the best publication win.” As to her plans for the year ahead, Liberato says, “if we don’t have significant changes and significant services that the State Bar provides as a result of technology then I will have been a failure as president.” And if she succeeds, it may finally be time for Liberato to kick back and bask in the glory — say goodbye to the Bar and take a well-deserved, six-month sabbatical. Not a chance. A remote corner of Liberato’s brain is already tuned ahead. During breakfast at Buffalo Grille, she floats an interesting trial balloon but then partially deflates it. “I’ll do something next, but I don’t know what it will be. I don’t think it would be president of the ABA [American Bar Association] or that I would try for that. Not that I could get it. … But, it is hard to get on a roll and not live for the next thing and the next thing because, as much as I love practicing law, I really love Bar work.” LIBERATO’S SONS COME CLEAN (SORT OF) Lynne Liberato, the new State Bar of Texas president, has a reputation as a people person. Ever circumspect, Texas Lawyer wondered whether there is a secret “Liberato the Tyrant” lurking just beneath the well-known “Liberato the Sweet and Agreeable.” If there is such a Mrs. Hyde character, Liberato’s colleagues aren’t talking. So we decided to take our investigation to the source — two sources to be exact — who know Liberato the best. For this first-ever exclusive, Liberato’s two sons, Callon, 14, and Benjamin, 11, eagerly agreed — too eagerly perhaps — to come clean about their mother. Texas Lawyer hit them with the following two-parter: “Does your mom ever get mad? If so, what gets her angry?” BENJAMIN: He laughs heartily at the first question. “Oh yeah,” he says, promisingly. “She can get grumpy.” Aha! So what sets her off? “Yesterday,” he says, “I put a pencil on her bedspread.” Fair enough, pencils can wreak havoc on a bedspread. Anything else? Anything? Benjamin thinks awhile, running through a long mental file, no doubt, of stern lectures, unreasonable demands and arbitrary punishments. Nope, he says, that’s it. Hmm. CALLON: From Callon, however, Texas Lawyer learned there is actually a litany of things that make Liberato angry. He checks them off: acting like a jerk, leaving food upstairs and messy rooms. “I’m a certified pig,” he says. “I have clothes and boxers hanging on the walls in my room.” But there’s more. Callon explains that he has a running battle with his mother about who is taller. Recently, he says, she had gotten dressed up for a party — makeup, a nice dress, the whole nine yards, he explains — when he decided to settle the score. He says he wanted to prove to her that he was taller even when she was wearing high heels. So, they stood back to back and mom prevailed by a hair. Not for long, though. Callon decided that his mother had topped him because of her hairdo, so, he says, he decided to “smush” down her hair. Bad move. “She was ticked off,” he says. Adds Callon, “I learned a valuable lesson about girls: You don’t touch their hair.”

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