After interviewing six lawyers on Dec. 4, a subcommittee of the State Bar of Texas (SBOT) chose two nominees to recommend as 2013 president-elect candidates: Trey Apffel, a family and personal injury solo in League City, and Larry Hicks, president and managing shareholder in Hicks & Llamas in El Paso.
Also, Steve Fischer, a member of the State Bar board of directors, has gathered 5,044 lawyers’ signatures to run for president-elect as a petition candidate, only the second in history. The State Bar Act allows any lawyer to become a candidate if he collects signatures from 5 percent of active Bar members.
Apffel, Hicks and Fischer still must pass one more hurdle to become candidates formally. The State Bar board of directors will vote in January on approving the candidacies of Apffel and Hicks, and Bar Executive Director Michelle Hunter must certify Fischer’s petition.
“What we’ll do is to check each signature to determine that every individual who signed the petition a member in good standing and that there are no duplicates,” says Bar spokeswoman Kim Davey.
The Bar has also requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General to ask if a petition candidate must follow the Bar’s election rules. [See "Bar Seeks AG Opinion on Applicability of Its Election Rules," Texas Lawyer, Oct. 15, 2012, page 6.]
Texas Lawyer emailed questions to each potential candidate about his qualifications to be State Bar president-elect and his plans if elected. Here are their answers, edited for style and length.
Texas Lawyer: What is one significant challenge attorneys face today, and what would you do as State Bar president to help them?
Trey Apffel, League
Trey Apffel, League City solo: I believe the one significant challenge facing attorneys today is protecting the integrity of the rule of law. This challenge has many facets. As lawyers, we have an obligation to aid the courts in the administration of justice and to provide a forum for attorneys to promote the practice of law. The Bar needs to seek input from and listen to its membership, have healthy debate on issues pertaining to access to justice and how it impacts the rule of law, and then be able to articulate those views to the Supreme Court and the Legislature. In undertaking these objectives, we need to provide a unified voice to promote the positive impact our legal profession has on society.
Steve Fischer, Rockport solo: The Bar doesn’t stand up for lawyers. I will be a Bar president who represents us, not just the Bar bureaucracy. The Bar says and does nothing about those who want to emasculate our jury system (“tort reform”) or the emerging attorney glut (2,100 attorneys added each year after retirement and death, and it will be more when UNT Law [the University of North Texas Dallas School of Law] opens next year, and if El Paso and the Valley get law schools). My May 2012 TBJ [Texas Bar Journal] article “Practicing Law in Texas” details this by county and area of law. The Bar needs a proper balance between wise financial investments and investments in our infrastructure, which is us: the 93,000 Texas attorneys. My proposal to reduce the online law library from $295 plus tax to $39, because only 2,016 attorneys subscribe, and surveys showed at the lower price over 15,000 attorneys would use this, as an example of a win-win situation. . . . Many attorneys need affordable health insurance – I’m working on it.
Larry Hicks, president and managing shareholder in Hicks & Llamas in El Paso: There are SO many challenges facing attorneys today. I will choose one, as you have asked, and address the economic challenges lawyers face. Competence begets confidence begets success begets remuneration. I would help lawyers recognize the many resources available to them through the SBOT that will assist them in improving and maintaining competence. Mentoring programs, free or discounted CLE, free legal research and practice management resources, among many others, are all available to the members of the SBOT. These resources are underutilized by the members of the bar. I believe that many of the members do not know they exist. While the programs are excellent, the president must ask questions, listen to the answers and respond with action. That may mean the programs need to be revised, refined or scrapped and new programs put in their place. The president needs to be very involved in lobbying for the Bar before the Legislature, which will be in session the year I would take office. The president and the SBOT should anticipate legislative changes that might influence the ability of certain segments of lawyers to make a living.
TL: Some say the State Bar is not “relevant” to lawyers. What is your opinion? What would you change, if anything, to make the Bar “relevant” to lawyers?
Apffel: I believe the State Bar is relevant to lawyers. Our Bar is a unified, or mandatory, Bar. Our existence is due to legislative enactment. We undergo review of our existence every so many years with the Legislature. Self-governance is exercised in many ways, perhaps the most important of which is our disciplinary system. This goes hand in hand with the State Bar Act and our obligation to maintain high standards and integrity in the profession. The Bar oversees attorney discipline through our Commission for Lawyer Discipline. The State Bar also provides valuable services to its membership. Annual continuing legal education requirements can be met through the State Bar’s CLE programs and State Bar College. The State Bar website also provides affordable legal research opportunities for our members. The Bar also aids its lawyers in obtaining affordable health insurance for our members, their firms and their families through the State Bar Insurance Trust. Lastly, the State Bar sponsors programs that help both lawyers and the public. Lawyers who suffer from addictions due to the pressures of law practice can seek assistance and help through the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program, which provides guidance and real counsel to those in need. The public is protected through the Client Attorney Assistance Program, which allows the public a forum to resolve disputes with their attorneys. The one thing I would change to make the State Bar more relevant would be to provide a more open forum for attorneys to come forward and express their views on the operations of the State Bar and what they feel would be pertinent to their practice. We must enhance the opportunity that our members have to express their opinions in an open dialogue with Bar leaders.
Steve Fischer, Rockport
Fischer: The entire focus of the Bar. . . . [I have been told that] Bar-backed legislation lacks force because most legislators know most attorneys are indifferent (at best) about the Bar. We need a supportive Bar that stands up to our detractors instead of one that tries to appease them by mandating more costs, rules and obligations. Attorney occupation taxes, compliance laws, insurance disclosure, rules referendums [and] advertising fees all have added unnecessary stress to our lives. The Bar earned a surplus of over $2 million last year and will do better this year; some of that money should go to reduce our costs, especially CLE. If we had a supportive Bar that used our dues and resources to assist us, then perhaps our 93,000 attorneys, staff and families would unite and present a potent force in every political district in the state. That is my overall goal. As for “relevant” I started the Facebook group Make the State Bar of Texas Relevant (1,381 Texas attorneys), as well as Texas Groups for Civil Litigators (500), Texas Family Lawyers (785), Estate and Probate Lawyers (100) and Real Estate Lawyers (new 50). These groups offer advice, news [and] discussions, but never spam or marketing. Attorney networking will be a vital part of our practice if it isn’t already. I essentially believe the Bar should use our dues and CLE receipts to make our practice easier and less stressful. If it can’t do that, it should leave us alone.
Hicks: I disagree that the Bar is not relevant. However, I understand why some may feel it is not relevant. What I would do is communicate and educate. I plan to travel the state in my year as president to meet with as many of the lawyers of our state as possible, to listen to their questions and concerns. If there are SBOT programs that address the issues raised, I plan to bring them to the attention of the members. If there are no programs in place, or if the programs are not working, I plan to come to the board of directors and ask for changes to be made. The president cannot make changes, but he represents the membership before the board of directors, the public and the Legislature. I enjoy representing people with needs, and would consider it a great honor to be able to represent my colleagues across the state.
TL: What are the reasons you think you should be president of the State Bar?
Apffel: I am honored to be considered as nominee for the State Bar president position. I believe I would be an excellent president of the Texas State Bar because of my wealth of experience, my passion for practicing law, my practical knowledge and leadership skills. I have previously served on the board of directors, the Commission for Lawyer Discipline and the Bar foundation. I have been active in local Bar activities over the years and have realized great satisfaction through that involvement. I come from a strong family tradition of lawyers and legal service over the years. My father and uncle have both practiced for over 50 years. I have a brother and five brothers-in-law who are lawyers, and my son is currently in law school. The legal profession has given me an opportunity to meet and work with many lawyers throughout the state and experience many different views over the years. I feel this gives me a good understanding of what our members want, need and expect from a unified bar. I believe I am capable of implementing and overseeing those programs that best serve our profession. I look forward to the opportunity to represent the lawyers of the State of Texas and provide leadership in improving the services of the State Bar that affect lawyers in their everyday practices.
Fischer: I’m independent and nominated by over 5,000 Texas lawyers, having met all but a few of them face-to-face. I’ve spent the last 10 months listening to lawyers at CLEs, such as advanced civil, personal injury, family, oil and gas, and criminal, and in front of most of our major courthouses. The online discussion groups I have founded provide me with instant access to the thoughts of thousands of Texas attorneys. I’m vice chair of the subcommittee working on affordable health insurance for all attorneys by the end of 2013. Many of the Bar executives and directors have commented publicly on how much work I do, even teasing me at [public] meetings concerning emails I’ve sent at 3:30 a.m. My independence allowed me to fight against the failed Bar rules referendum and forced PLI [professional liability insurance] . . . disclosure. My extra grad degrees — MPA [master's degree in public administration] [the University of] North Texas and MA [master's degree] Sam Houston [State University] and financial experience — enlighten me. . . . I also have a son at UT [The University of Texas at Austin], a 12-year-old daughter at home, and several pets who always tell me when I’m wrong. Having a sense of humor and not taking myself too seriously helps. When not in court I’m accessible on Facebook, [LinkedIn] and at SFischerlaw@gmail.com.
Larry Hicks, president
and managing shareholder
in Hicks & Llamas in El
Hicks: I perceive the job of president to largely involve education and communication. The president must help educate the public about the rule of law and the role lawyers play in the system. The president also must educate the lawyers of the state about the SBOT programs available to them. The president must be an effective educator and communicator of these subjects. I have those qualifications. Finally, and most importantly, I am willing and consider it an honor to serve the Bar and the citizens of our state in this capacity.
TL: What past experience do you have that you think would help you most as State Bar president?
Apffel: I am a practicing lawyer. I am a sole practitioner. The great majority of our lawyers in this state come from a solo law practice or small firm. I represent regular, everyday people in my practice. I work with many lawyers in representing my clients, and I have a great admiration for all lawyers and what they do and what they stand for. I enjoy visiting with lawyers about not only their practices but also their personal lives. I know what issues drive lawyers and what lawyers think is important to their practice. Additionally, I have had [the] opportunity to serve on the State Bar board of directors, the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, and Texas Bar Foundation. I am familiar with State Bar operations and what limitations are imposed because of our existence as a mandatory Bar. I served on the legislative policy committee during my time on the board, and I also served on the executive committee of the Bar board of directors during my last year on the board. I have testified before the Legislature at the request of the State Bar on issues relating to the legal profession. Through my service on the board and through my practice, I have met and worked with lawyers throughout the state, and I feel I have a good understanding of what is important to attorneys, and I understand what their needs, wants and expectations are.
Fischer: Variety makes life richer (although some of my choices have made me poorer). I’ve practiced all over Texas in cities big and small: Denton-DFW, Odessa-Midland, El Paso, Cuero, Hereford (briefly), Huntsville-Conroe, The Rio Grande Valley (Willacy county and district attorney) and now on the coast in Rockport. I’ve also had a wide variety of practice including: family law, criminal prosecution and defense, several professorships, some real estate and civil litigation including a large suit now in the sixth year. I have authored many Texas Bar Journal articles, including five on attorney demographics, and many statewide editorials on law and education. I’m a currently elected State Bar director and deal with today’s issues as well as a member of the Texas Bar Journal editorial board who wants to make this publication more readable. I’ve been heavily involved in many groups as a leader and member including: vice-chair, bar insurance benefits committee; president of Aransas County Bar Association 2006 to 2010; crime victims; indigent defense committee, Penal Code committee; adviser State Bar sections — family law, worker’s compensation section and criminal justice; chaired El Paso’s community development committee; served on El Paso’s aldermanic redistricting committee and authored the Fischer plan, which drew new equitable districts and allowed for fair Hispanic representation; member College of the State Bar 1990 and 2012. I’ve received pro bono awards, and [I have been told] I am the legal aid in my county. I don’t believe in forced, documented pro bono for others; I do it because I like it. Aransas County ISD board member 2008 to 2011.
Hicks: I have spent most of my career educating and communicating. I have had the privilege to train and mentor many young lawyers over the years. I designed and taught a course at Texas Tech University. I was a co-founder of a classical Christian high school where I also taught classical rhetoric. I also have much experience and involvement in Bar work. I was on the TYLA [Texas Young Lawyers Association] board of directors, and the SBOT board of directors in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I was a member of the SBOT consumer law council and the SBOT litigation section council, serving one year as its chairman. I have served on many committees and boards associated with Bar-related projects, so I feel I understand the culture. I am not a Bar junkie, but I have exposure and experience, all of which qualifies me to serve. I have been the principal in a small law firm since 1984. I have managed lawyers and staffs and handled the diverse issues concerning the management of a professional organization and making a living. I know the challenges that face lawyers today, economically and professionally. I have made mistakes, and I have had successes, all of which have taught me how best to manage highly intelligent and motivated people like those who make up the staff and the membership of the SBOT.