At a time when women leadership and female empowerment have become an everyday part of American discourse, the issue of gender has entered a contested race for president-elect of the Texas bar.
Two candidates—one a man and the other a woman—are vying to become president-elect of the State Bar of Texas. The position has been held by only six women since it was created in 1939. But all six of these women are now throwing their support behind the male candidate.
On Jan. 9, the six former bar presidents publicly backed Houston trial lawyer Randy Sorrels, who is running against Dallas trial lawyer Lisa Blue. In an email sent from Friends of Randy Sorrels to members of the bar, the six women declared their support for the Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels Agosto & Aziz partner.
“We admire the long-term level of commitment and competence he has brought to each of his many roles in the bar and to our profession,” they wrote. “We are confident that he will effectively represent all of the lawyers in Texas.”
Blue, of Baron and Blue in Dallas, said she is not surprised the six female past presidents would support Sorrels. Blue sees the race as one between “insiders” and “outsiders”—not as one between the sexes. Sorrels has the backing of “bar insiders,” she said, while her support comes from “regular lawyers.”
“The bar is in a time of change, and change is never easy. It is never popular with the insiders who have benefited from the old way of doing things,” Blue wrote in an email, adding that she wants the bar to be “more open, transparent, and more fiscally responsible.”
Blue stated that the election of Austin-based solo practitioner Joe Longley in 2017 as president-elect shows that most Texas lawyers want change. Longley was critical of the bar during his campaign.
The former bar presidents who signed the email in support of Sorrels are Harriet Miers, a partner at Locke Lord in Dallas and former White House counsel to President George W. Bush, who was bar president from 1992 to 1993; Colleen McHugh, a solo practitioner in Corpus Christi who was president from 1996 to 1997; Lynne Liberato, a partner at Haynes and Boone in Houston who was president from 2000 to 2001; Betsy Whitaker, a solo practitioner in Dallas who was president from 2003 to 2004; Martha Dickie, a partner at Almanza, Blackburn, Dickie & Mitchell in Austin who served from 2006 to 2007; and Lisa Tatum, of LM Tatum in San Antonio, who was bar president from 2013 to 2014.
Sorrels decided to inject gender into the campaign when he realized that all six female past bar presidents were backing him. He said he has personally called about 1,000 bar members to ask for their support and started thinking about who might be well-known among his supporters. That’s when he realized that every former female bar president was supporting him.
Sorrels said he asked the women if they would consider issuing a joint statement of support, and they agreed. “They did all the drafting and agreed on it. I was very honored,” he said.
Sorrels said he’s worked with many of the six women on bar matters over the years, and appreciates the support.
He considers support from the group of women significant because each is respected for her leadership and her success at breaking into a male-dominated system. In addition, they are well-known among Texas lawyers.
In interviews, three of the former bar presidents—Dickie, Tatum and McHugh—spoke highly of Sorrels and said they have not participated in anything similar to this before.
“I’m supporting Randy because he’s really, really qualified and would be a great president,” Dickie said.
Gender never factored into her endorsement, Dickie said. She recognizes that some may question what message is being sent when the six former female Texas bar presidents are supporting a man in a race against a woman. But she said it was never intended to be viewed as a gender issue. “It’s about competence and leadership,” she said.
Tatum said she’s worked with Sorrels on bar matters on many occasions. “I’ve known Randy for years now. It’s easy to support him. I felt he was a good fit,” she said.
The president-elect voting runs from April 2 through May 1. On Jan. 11, the executive committee of the bar’s board agreed to recommend Blue and Sorrels as the two candidates for president-elect.