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More than half of the respondents to a State Bar of Texas survey say they have never attended an annual meeting and don’t plan to attend the meeting scheduled for June in Austin. Survey respondents who say they have attended an annual meeting in the past cite continuing legal education as a key attraction. The majority of respondents — 59 percent — say they prefer “nuts and bolts” CLE programs that will help them in their law practice. Tony Alvarado, executive director of the State Bar, says the survey results validate his belief that members are not going to attend annual meetings unless they are offered “something of value” in the CLE programs. Although Alvarado says Bar members can pick up as many as 60 hours of CLE at an annual meeting, “just any old CLE program” isn’t going to attract them to the meeting. “They want something that’s cutting edge,” he says. A total of 992 Bar members responded to the survey, which was sent to approximately 15,000 lawyers in Amarillo, Dallas, Houston, Lubbock, Tarrant and Travis counties. Local bar associations in each of those counties assisted in surveying their members. Alvarado says the next step will be to have focus groups discuss the survey results to get a better idea of what the findings mean. The survey is part of a study being done by a 19-member task force appointed by Alvarado to make recommendations to the State Bar board on what to do about the annual meeting. The account that funds the yearly get-together is in the red because of flagging attendance in recent years. Although the June 2000 meeting in San Antonio generated $20,000 in net profit, the State Bar is more than $100,000 in debt from previous conventions, according to a Bar report. The report shows the Bar lost more than $59,500 on the 1999 convention in Fort Worth and almost $51,000 on the Corpus Christi meeting in 1998. Bar statistics show that total attendance at last year’s meeting was 3,482, including 2,525 lawyers, or about 4 percent of the total membership. The total attendance at the 1999 meeting in Fort Worth was 2,701, including 1,993 lawyers. An important factor in deciding not to attend an annual meeting, the survey respondents say, is being unable to afford time out of the office. Alvarado says most people are so busy these days that they end up prioritizing. “It’s a pick-and-choose game, and in that pick-and-choose game, the annual meeting is losing out,” he says. If the Bar doesn’t offer lawyers something they perceive as valuable to them in their practice, they’ll continue to stay away from the annual meeting, Alvarado says. One proposition for increasing the number of attendees at annual meetings is to market the convention better, and another suggestion is to cut activities to those required by board policies, Alvarado says. He also suggests that the board consider holding four meetings geared toward lawyers’ practices at smaller sites around the state, with one of the sites designated for the general session and resolution committee meetings. Another possibility, Alvarado says, is to invite well-known speakers to address cutting-edge legal topics at meetings conducted with State Bar sections, law schools or outside entities. The board also could consider renaming the meeting, devoting it to hot topics and finding a corporate sponsor to subsidize it, he says. Those suggestions are ways to save the event, but Alvarado says the board also has to consider eliminating the annual meeting unless a way can be found for it to break even or make money. Alvarado will make a preliminary report on the task force’s study at the Bar board’s meeting this Friday in Austin. The task force’s recommendations will be presented to the board at the annual meeting, which is scheduled June 14 through 16. The board’s decision would not become effective until 2003. LAW CLERK BONUSES ALLOWED A bill passed on April 10 by the Texas Senate allows state court law clerks to accept bonuses from firms that have hired them if they file a statement disclosing the benefit and are recused from handling cases involving their future employers. The bill’s author, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, added an amendment that allows the Texas Supreme Court to write rules governing the acceptance of bonuses. Travis County Attorney Ken Oden has questioned the legality of law firms paying bonuses as high as $35,000 to Supreme Court law clerks. The bill by West, a partner in Robinson, West & Gooden in Dallas, amends the penal code to make the practice legal. “It solves the problem for the clerks and their potential employers,” Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips says of the bill. Cris Feldman, staff attorney for Texans for Public Justice, says the bill, if it becomes law, is an erosion of the penal code. “I think the bottom line is that the Senate voted to allow law firms with pending cases [before a court] to subsidize court employees, and that smells,” Feldman says. The bill goes to the House for consideration.

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