Trey Apffel, solo practitioner and Former State Bar of Texas President.
Trey Apffel, solo practitioner and Former State Bar of Texas President. (Courtesy photo)

Former State Bar of Texas President Trey Apffel is slated to become the bar’s next executive director.

After interviewing seven finalists yesterday, the bar’s executive director search committee recommended Apffel, a League City personal injury solo. The bar’s board of directors will vote on the recommendation on Sept. 22.

Fifteen of the 16 members of the search committee chose Apffel, said Bob Black, chairman of the search committee. He declined to say who voted against Apffel. Black said Apffel had the right answer to the key question, “Why you and why now?”

“We feel the basic administration of the bar is sound, but that we need someone who is capable and eager to reach out to the individual lawyers of the state—Trey is a solo practitioner—and have a dialog with them for the next years to try to heal the bar and to seek better ideas and to improve the lot and the lives of all of the lawyers of the state,” said Black, managing partner in MehaffyWeber in Beaumont.

From June 2014 to 2015, Apffel was president of the state bar. He won the position in a contentious, historic state bar election in 2013 that saw three candidates, rather than two, and ended in the first-ever runoff race. Apffel won the runoff against Steve Fischer, one of the first candidates to win a nomination by gathering lawyers’ signatures on a petition, a procedure authorized by the State Bar Act.

State Bar President-elect Joe Longley wanted the search committee to interview the seven finalists in open meetings. But no other member of the search committee wanted the open interviews. Longley didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Apffel has also been on the bar’s board of directors, its executive committee and its legislative policy committee. He served on the Commission for Lawyer Discipline and is a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and an associate of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Apffel must wind down his legal practice and expects to start as executive director toward the end of 2017 or beginning of 2018. Until then, state bar general counsel John Sirman will serve as interim executive director.

Apffel replaces Michelle Hunter as executive director. She retired on Aug. 31 after nine years at the helm of the state bar and two decades on its staff.

Texas Lawyer spoke with Apffel about why he wanted to be executive director, what he hopes to accomplish, and the challenges he’s going to face. Here are his answers, edited for clarity and brevity.

Texas Lawyer: Why did you want the executive director job?

Trey Apffel: I wanted it because during the year I was president, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to get out and talk to lawyers about their law practices and about what the state bar does for them. Shortly after that, Michelle Hunter was contemplating retirement. It’s just one of those things that started tugging on me and I started giving it serious thought and discussion with my family. I decided to apply.

TL: What are some top things you want to accomplish?

TF: I want to open more lines of communication with our bar, and by opening communication, I think we can strengthen old relationships and establish new relationships which will lead to transparency and trust between the bar and its members. I also feel like I bring to the table a lot of relationships already in place through my bar work—not only with lawyers, but with specialty bars such as Texas Trial Lawyers and ABOTA. Also, with the courts—the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals—also the Legislature, through my work on the Sunset Bill.

TL: What are some of the challenges you’ll have to overcome?

TF: Some challenges I think we have right now is an “us-against-them” mentality. I don’t want it to be that way; it doesn’t need to be that way and shouldn’t be that way. I think through our communication efforts and relationship-building we can move beyond that type of internal conflict. I want to quell that internal conflict. I want to do it the right way: People have questions; we want to answer them. If people don’t like the way we’re doing something, I want to be open to constructive criticism. If there’s a better way to do it, we want to study the alternatives. I’m going to be open-minded. We want to focus on customer service: 100,000 lawyers need to know we are working for them. I intend to do that. I want to get out in the legal community and talk to lawyers, talk to lawyers’ associations and specialty bars—let them know what we do, how we do it and why we do it.

Follow Angela Morris on Twitter: @AMorrisReports.