Rudy Metayer and Erich Birch, members of the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors, sit down with Rocky Dhir at the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting to talk about bar initiatives. They go over the new investigation on transparency at the bar, addressing the fear regarding immigration bond hearings at the U.S. border, and ways the bar is helping lawyers struggling with mental illness and addiction. Stay tuned to hear about TLAP and TOJI, two programs directly targeted towards helping Texas lawyers.
Rudy Metayer has represented both public and private entities in hundreds of cases on a plethora of matters worth millions of dollars. He is also an estate bar director for the State of Texas Bar Association.
Erich Birch has over twenty-three years of legal experience primarily in the areas of environmental, administrative, and contract law. He is an estate bar director for the State of Texas Bar Association.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting 2018: This Year’s Bar Initiatives
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice with your host Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hi there. This is your friend Rocky Dhir coming to you from the State Bar of Texas Podcast.
I had a question. I had a burning, burning question that I think maybe you might want to know the answer to. That is what exactly does our Bar leadership do? What do they do all day? We’ve got State Bar directors, we’ve got the State Bar presidents, we’ve got this whole apparatus, and what exactly are they doing for us?
So, you know what, I decided we’re going to find out. We are not going to sit here and just pontificate. We are going to find the answer. So, you know what, I decided we’re going to go straight to the source. I dragged a couple of guys right from the hallway.
Erich Birch: Literally dragged.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, we’ve got them handcuffed to their chairs, over here, okay? This is serious stuff, and now they don’t get to go until they talk. We’ve actually got a latte waiting by the side and tell them, look, this thing is going to get cold, if you guys don’t answer our questions.
So, what I did was, I went and got Rudy Metayer and Erich Birch, two of our State Bar directors. Rudy is from Pflugerville and I remember Pflugerville, Rudy, because my high school once — I think it was a girl’s soccer team made it to state and it was in Pflugerville. So, Pflugerville was all over, our school. We all knew about Pflugerville. We had a big bus ride down.
Rudy Metayer: Yeah, obviously, I have a deep and affectionate love for Pflugerville, right?
Rocky Dhir: Hey, it’s a great place. Pflugerville was amazing and we got Erich Birch from Austin, two of our State Bar directors, thank you guys for being here. And by the way, you know how I got them here. We’re at the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting 2018. So, we’re in Houston, we’ve got me, a Dallas boy, we’ve got a Pflugerviller and an Austenite. I hope I even said that correct.
Erich Birch: You did. You got it right.
Rocky Dhir: Did I get it right?
Erich Birch: Uh-huh.
Rocky Dhir: Okay, on Austenite. Okay. Well guys, thank you both for being here.
Erich Birch: Well, thanks.
Rudy Metayer: Not a problem.
Erich Birch: Thanks for dragging me over.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, absolutely. I hope I didn’t bind those cuffs too tightly.
Rudy Metayer: It’s a little uncomfortable. I’ll let you know. It’s okay.
Rocky Dhir: But, answer our questions and it’ll be over soon. And if you need to talk to a lawyer, we’ve got plenty of them. They are all running around this.
Erich Birch: This is my lawyer right here next to me.
Rudy Metayer: Well, he’s also cuffed to his chair, so this is interesting. This is kind of the cuffed helping the cuffed.
Okay, so guys, tell us what are some of the initiatives that the State Bar is working on, and as directors, what do you think is new and exciting for us?
Erich Birch: Well, I can tell you the most exciting thing that came out of the Bar meeting maybe in the last day or so for me my standpoint was the Bar has decided to hire an agency that’s going to investigate transparency at the Bar. There’s been a lot of discussion in the past year about Bar transparency and they were actually a couple of working committees to look into transparency. Those expired by their terms, by the State Bar rules as of the end of the president-elect’s term.
So, what the Bar decided to do is to hire a neutral agency Winstate or Winston is the name of the firm but it was vetted by a lot of those folks at the State Bar and they are going to be looking into that over the year, because there’s just been a lot of talk about transparency and we’ve started broadcasting the State Bar meetings now live.
Rocky Dhir: So it’s kind of a C-SPAN type thing; it’s online or —
Erich Birch: I’ve been in the meeting so I haven’t had a chance to go out and look at them why they are doing that. So, I’m not exactly sure how they were.
Rocky Dhir: Interesting, okay. So, transparency, Eric, is what you’re finding to be maybe the newest most exciting thing does.
Erich Birch: I think it’s exciting from the standpoint, it’s been such a topic of discussion that I’m happy that a neutral party is coming in to try to address the question once and for all. So, there’s been a lot of discussion at the last few Board meetings about this issue and there’s a lot of strong feelings on both sides, and so, I think to see the Board get a neutral party to come in and look at that issue is going address a lot of questions, and hopefully, kind of put this to bed for the future and they’ll look at the transparency and also make recommendations if changes need to be made.
Rocky Dhir: Wow, and Rudy, what about you? What’s kind of got you excited about? Where the State Bar is going?
Rudy Metayer: Well, I think, one of the things that I’m pretty excited to see you regarding the Bar is in fact that we’re going to be addressing issue that is a hot topic in this country right now, which has to do with the credible fear and immigration bond hearings going out the border. No matter whatever political ideology you have right there, everyone agrees that you need to know your rights and issues, concerns regarding what’s happening there and it’s great to see the Bar trying to go ahead and work with those entities involved there to make sure that people are able to go ahead and help them, in particularly lawyers, who are specifically focused to go ahead and make sure that people understand their rights and understand the issues, concerns and work together to find to see if we can find a resolution in this matter.
Rocky Dhir: Have you noticed the members of the Bar? Have they gotten behind this initiative or has there been some resistance? What’s been your experience on that score?
Rudy Metayer: Good question. We just left the swearing-in of our new 138th President, the State Bar of Texas, Joe Longley.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Rudy Metayer: And when he announced this is being part of his initiatives, he got a roaring response from the crowd.
Rocky Dhir: Wow.
Rudy Metayer: And that’s the part where at times particularly in this day and age we see ourselves divided in a variety of issues and variety of concerns, but one thing it seems like constantly we as Americans can agree on, is that, when it comes to community, when it comes to kids that we could focus and work together, and that’s what I see the Bar doing right here.
Rocky Dhir: Wow. Now, Erich, have you seen the same type of universal positive reaction to this initiative?
Erich Birch: Yeah, I sure did, just as Rudy mentioned today doing the State Bar luncheon when the president-elect — or he is President now.
Rudy Metayer: He is President now.
Erich Birch: As of yesterday he’s President, Joe Longley, and he mentioned that and that was probably the loudest reception that he got.
Rocky Dhir: And this was people from all walks of life and all parts of the political spectrum?
Erich Birch: Lawyers, from all walks of life.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, sure, lawyers from –
Rocky Dhir: Lawyers are mammals, right?
Erich Birch: Yes, they are. Most. There’s a few reptiles I have met.
Rocky Dhir: There is a few of us that are even sentient. It’s pretty, right? So, you’ve got lawyers from all walks of life and all across this political spectrum, agreeing on this issue to try to address.
Erich Birch: Exactly.
Rocky Dhir: What’s going on at the border?
Erich Birch: That’s the part where you look at things. We had Mattress Mack come speak this morning, addresses our breakfast.
Rocky Dhir: And please remind us, who is Mattress Mack?
Erich Birch: Mattress Mack from Gallery Furniture, right here in Houston, Texas, who went ahead and spoke about what he did regarding his own furniture stores during Hurricane Harvey to make sure he was able to shelter people, provide them food, provide them water.
Rocky Dhir: We remember that story, it was making national headline.
Erich Birch: And something that he said really rings true and it’s something that’s stayed with me since his speech, is that, people want to know that you care. People want to see people do good, people want to see their community involved; and, that’s exactly what lawyers want to do. Even as a young kid my parents explained to me the legal freshman’s role when it comes to civil rights, it comes to specific issues in this country.
The thing that you kept on rallying around is that lawyers do good, lawyers go ahead and make sure that those people who don’t have their voices heard are hurt. Lawyers are the ones who are on the front ends trying to make sure that when things need to be addressed in a fashion that frankly a lot of people may not be well-versed and they’re there standing on the fires.
And you keep hearing that over-and-over again and you see that, in our practice, you see that when you walk around here, we’re on this floor and you see all these lawyers involved right here, you see that in what they do in their communities. It’s not only heartwarming, but it’s also inspiring.
Rocky Dhir: I want to play devil’s advocate for just a second, okay, and maybe look at another side of this. So, we’re talking about lawyers wanting to help people and I personally don’t disagree with you. I think everybody wants to help; but, there’s a couple of issues that appear to be holding some of us back on that score. One is some of those lawyers younger and some like me that are not so young, who maybe are having trouble finding the careers they want. The jobs outlook is not what it used to be, so we’ve got that issue.
The second issue is that of mental health and addiction and there seems to be more focus on that, but is that kind of holding us back or is that something that we need to be addressing and what is the Bar doing to help on those scores?
Erich Birch: Well, I have an answer to that, that I think the two or they sound like different answers but I think they are really related.
Rocky Dhir: Okay.
Erich Birch: One of the speeches that I gave today was, a panel discussion was on the pitfalls and perks of private law practice of solo and small firm law practice.
Rocky Dhir: Are you a solo practitioner?
Erich Birch: I am kind of a solo law practitioner.
Rudy Metayer: Kind of.
Rocky Dhir: Kind of?
Erich Birch: Yes, I know that’s hard too.
Rocky Dhir: Do you crowdsource your word? Is this what —
Erich Birch: No, I have two law partners who are fantastic, really smart, but they have totally separate practices and also their level of work because they have other obligations. One is, a mother, she’s raising her kid, wants to devote a lot of time to that, so there is not as much time as we went spent — all three spend together.
So, in a large part I’m a solo lawyer. I kind of bring you the work that I would work on, but I have folks that help me out. But, I’ve been given this speech with the State Bar for probably as long as I’ve been a lawyer, just as a solo lawyer.
Rocky Dhir: Wow.
Erich Birch: Ever since I first started doing this, I went solo in about 2000 and one of the first speeches I gave was the seven things to look for when you’re going into solo law practice, and how to know when you’re ready.
Well, one of the things I learned doing all of that was, you hear often about lawyers are not happy with their lives.
Well, if you break that down you’ll find out that the level of satisfaction with the lawyers’ practice has a big part to play in that, and sometimes, I think there’s a misfit for where lawyers are.
For example, I worked for a law firm for about seven years and at the end of the seven years I was almost ready to go back. I’m an engineer before I became a lawyer. I was almost ready to go back to become an engineer. I was not enjoying the practice of law.
For a number of reasons I spoke, including my wife was a big advisor on this, she said, why don’t you go out and perform your own practice? I went out and I would say within 30 days I was the happiest as a lawyer I had ever been as a lawyer.
Rocky Dhir: And just making that change?
Erich Birch: Yeah – well, I found out a lot of the frustrations I had as a lawyer were not with the practice of law, it was working in a law firm. Now that’s for me, that’s not for everyone.
Rocky Dhir: Right, of course.
Erich Birch: We’ve got a lot of folks who love it, but for me that was the frustration. So, I went out and I’ve been practicing as a solo/small firm lawyer now for 18 years, and I still love it, still enjoy it a whole lot. I mean, there is a lot of other frustrations with being a solo practitioner so when you get into the other side of this, the mental health issue and those things, first off, the Bar has got multiple initiatives.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, you want to tell us about TLAP.
Rudy Metayer: TLAP is a program that we have through the State Bar of Texas where the issues that you were speaking about regarding substance abuse, regarding mental health; frankly, it’s pioneered in a lot of ways to make sure that we’re on the forefront of all those issues. You had an opportunity as a lawyer, if in fact that you personally feel that you can go ahead and benefit your program before you started a program, at the same time you can also anonymously go ahead and refer other lawyers that you see may be suffering from depression, may be suffering from a variety of different issues to the program.
Personally, I’ve had a couple of very dear friends who have been involved in that program and it saved their lives.
Rocky Dhir: That’s good to know. That’s very good to know.
Rudy Metayer: Yeah, especially as a country now that we’re focusing more on the mental health aspect as much as the physical aspect when it comes to people, it’s wonderful to see again, well, here’s credit 12:05 do, the Bar being on the cutting edge about these things and Texas Bar realizing the importance of that.
Rocky Dhir: How does our Bar stack up nationwide, do you think? And I know we’re bias because we’re all Texas lawyers; but, have you had a chance to see how other bars do it? How far ahead of the curve we are?
Erich Birch: I have not been actively involved in that, maybe Rudy has more information, but I know that our Bar, one of the things I love about our Bar is that they are constantly trying to be the best at whatever it is that we’re engaged in. The Texas Bar is constantly canvassing the other bars in the country to find out where they stand, what they’re doing, and you may have heard the TOJI program, the Texas Opportunity Justice Incubator.
Rocky Dhir: That was Frank Stevenson’s initiative.
Erich Birch: That’s Frank Stevenson’s program and that went from — we didn’t have a program like that two years ago to now we’re the largest in the country of 75 different programs. We were the largest in the country after two years and that was an awful lot of going around the country, finding out what everyone else is doing, taking the best and doing it here in Texas.
So, I don’t know all of the details of the TLAP program. One of our former Bar presidents was very instrumental in getting that initiative gone two years ago.
Rudy Metayer: Allan DuBois.
Erich Birch: Allan DuBois, right.
Rudy Metayer: Well, I will say this is that Erich alluded to it and it’s true, is that, we’re constantly, and again, just like you said, we’re Texas so everybody and everybody, no, I am not going to say that, but what I’ll say is that in all sincerity we’re a leader in the Bar in this nation, and we’re cutting edge in a variety of issues.
I’d say for example, even TYLA. TYLA went ahead and worked regarding community policing program before community policing ever became a hot topic and they won a national award for it.
When we’re talking about having an incubator program, when we’re talking about what we’re doing regarding innovation regarding service to our veterans. Texas Veterans has become a national program that’s officially now in 50 states. We are the ones who originated that many years ago when we said, wait a minute, these people, men and women, go out here and serve our country and there are other battle lines for us to have our freedom. The least we can do is go ahead and figure out ways to go and provide legal service form and help them out in the aspects that we can, that we have the skill-set to do so.
Rocky Dhir: So, that started here in Texas?
Rudy Metayer: Yeah.
Rocky Dhir: That is very cool, very good. Now maybe, just maybe, I’m hoping that we’ve got somebody listening, maybe just maybe we have a future Bar leader listening in, who says, you know what, I want to get involved and I want to help propel the Bar even further along the forefront of the law nationally and internationally; for that person, who is listening. Number one, how do they get involved, and number two, can they contact either one of you to get involved?
Erich Birch: We could be going for the next hour on this one, I know, especially between Rudy and myself but —
Rudy Metayer: You guys are a little shy though, I don’t know.
Erich Birch: Yeah, well, I’m going to try to break out of that and open up a little bit.
But, I started my first Bar Committee, I think was in the late ’90s, and I think it was opportunities for minorities in the profession, and I was on that committee a number of years, and the main reason I was on it, was because I was interested in the issue, promoting minorities in the State Bar.
Then, I got onto the Law Practice Management Committee, and the reason I got onto that is because, like I said, I started my solo practice in 1990, I worked very closely with the State Bar Law Practice Management Committee and preparing to go out on my own. Apparently, I prepared more than anyone that the Bar had ever run into before and they asked me to start getting split.
Rocky Dhir: So that’s your run-in?
Erich Birch: Yes — well on how to be prepared, so I got into that committee and it’s like one thing led to another and I’ve been on so many Bar committees, I’ve been in sections, I’ve been a section president for the Alternate Dispute Resolution section, and then finally, was invited to run as a section representative for the State Bar.
Rocky Dhir: Has putting all that time and effort in, has it helped your practice?
Erich Birch: Let’s see, you have to define help your practice.
Rocky Dhir: As it made you a better lawyer, have you learned things from it, you been able to appropriate into your practice.
Erich Birch: IT absolutely has made me a better lawyer. When you said, help my practice, most lawyers thinks in terms of return on investment.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, no — I see where you’re going, but no, I just help you even as a person.
Erich Birch: And I do want to talk about that part a little bit later, but no, as a person now my mentality and part of the reason I became a lawyer was I wanted to help people and early on when I went to law school I kept thinking helping poor people, helping people who were having family issues, those sorts of things.
Well, as I got close to my graduating from law school I realized because I’m an engineer, did my best and highest use as a lawyer was actually not abandoning all those years of being an engineer and going to an area that really didn’t have a lot of experience, and so I ended up as an environmental lawyer.
Rocky Dhir: Okay.
Erich Birch: So, part of the reason I started getting actively involved in the Bar was because, now I can do some of the things I originally wanted to do without necessarily being the lawyer who’s helping like, you know, services to the poor or some of the other things that I feel very strongly about, but here I get to be on committees, on boards, I help give the Board direction and how those services are provided.
So, it has been extremely rewarding to me as a professional and as a person to be part of the Bar, and I don’t think it was until I got onto the Board of Directors two years ago now that I really recognize the deep commitment the Bar has to helping the people of Texas with legal services and helping lawyers provide those legal services.
Unbelievable, I don’t know how it could be any better than what the Bar does. And when I say, “What the Bar does?” I mean, Rudy and me also, Rudy and I spend unbelievable amount of hours going to Board meetings, being on committees and sorts of things that the more you learn about it, the more you want to help. So, it’s been extremely beneficial and took to my private practice.
Rocky Dhir: So, Rudy, how do you make the time for all this? Because, Erich, just talked about the countless hours you both are putting in. So, how do you make time for all that and still maintain your law practice? And if my intelligence is correct you’re also on the Pflugerville City Council.
So, you’ve got all this stuff going on, you’re either not sleeping or you’ve figured out how to increase the day by an extra eight hours.
Rudy Metayer: Yeah, I was about to say, we all agree that there’s 32 hours in the day, right?
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, that’s sure.
Rudy Metayer: People ask me that often and I say this, balance, balance, balance, you’ve learned in life, you have the 18/20 rule that 80% of the work done in the world is done by 20% of the people.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Rudy Metayer: If you want something done, give it to the busiest person, because they’ll figure out a way to do it, and particularly as a lawyer, you get a really, really good job in understanding a mindset of how to go ahead and prioritize things and how to balance things and schedule things. And, I’ll be frank, if I didn’t have an unbelievable, paralegal, if I didn’t have an unbelievable legal assistant, but I have an unbelievable wife, and how I go about my day, how I got to go to business, take care of my family, taking care of my practice, take care of the Bar, take care of the city, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today. But I will say that the legal career, the training, the mindsets, they get you organized enough for that. I’m not some, a guy who’s — that’s my personal opinion, it’s amazing how I do these things.
I think that often or not I tell people around look, hey, if I can do it, you can do it too. And, it’s amazing how a lot of the things, particularly when we talk about the Bar and the Bar practice, you heard what Erich said. You asked him a question about how did he get involved, and you saw the evolution of him getting involved in the Bar or something that interest him, and he turned entwine and made it into his career path and work from there and integrate from there. That’s what the Bar does a lot of the stuff is. You can ingrain, you can take with you into what you do in your practice, it makes you a better attorney.
It’s like you listen to these podcasts. If you really want to go ahead and get our idea, then I say, cutting edge and what you’re doing when you’re practicing law, you’re going to go ahead and pursue those things, look at these aspects, listen to a podcast, look to smart people, who know what they’re doing, older and wiser mentors who have done it all, and it will tell you what they’ve done well and what they haven’t done well, utilize that information right there and go from there moving forward.
Rocky Dhir: How can future Bar leaders that are listening in, how can they contact you or contact somebody to get more involved and to maybe get some direction on?
Erich Birch: Well, I’ll give them Rudy’s phone number right now.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Erich Birch: 867-5309, right? We are good, okay, right. No, there’s so many opportunities to participate in the Bar, I mean, it starts at the local Bar levels. I mean, most cities have local bars.
Rocky Dhir: City county bars.
Erich Birch: Yes, and get involved there, start off the simplest things just by go to the silly meetings. I mean, there are meetings, usually, there’s sub-sections of the bars or meet, just show up. And for any lawyer, that’s not doing that, they are missing out on a huge marketing opportunity because whether lawyers recognize it or not, most lawyers in private practice get their clients from other lawyers.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Erich Birch: Because how many times have I gotten a call from someone who says, hey, I’ve got this real family law issue and I go, well, I don’t do family law, but let me give you one of these three guys’ names sort of three women’s names that do this same practice.
Rocky Dhir: Great point.
Erich Birch: So, a lot of it comes from referrals, where do I get those names because I go to the local Bar, I meet these people, I ask them what do you do and I said, I’m glad you gave me that, you do a defensive driving, DWI, I’ve been looking for someone to add to my list so that whenever I get that call for someone looking for DWI defense, I’ve got a name to give them.
Rocky Dhir: That’s a really good point.
Erich Birch: So, I mean, that’s where I would start.
Rudy Metayer: Well, I’ll answer directly and I’ll give Erich’s number now. So, I mean, I’m at the Law Firm of Chamberlain McHaney and if somebody’s interested in contacting me, I encourage you. Shoot me an email at [email protected].
Rocky Dhir: Easy enough. They can maybe get involved in and find out how to, I guess, ignite their law practice with a little bit of local bar initiatives.
Rudy Metayer: Everything that – listen to what Erich had to say right there as well, he’s a perfect example of that happening.
Erich Birch: Yeah, and just because I’m not going to let Rudy outdo me, I’ll give you my email address also, it’s rudy —
Rudy Metayer: It has to be yours, it gives me a made up email address.
Erich Birch: No, it’s [email protected], and anyone can send that. By the way, if I don’t respond immediately, I’ve a very aggressive spam filter, so try it a couple of times when they’ll get through.
Rocky Dhir: Sure. Well, this has been fascinating. I’ve really enjoyed this. I thank you guys for coming by and talking to us and sharing your insights about the Bar, where it’s going, getting involved and your stories. Thank you guys for your service to the Bar and for coming and joining us today.
Rudy, Erich, thank you both.
Erich Birch: Oh, Rocky, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity and appreciate you all dragging us over, and when do we get the cuffs off?
Rocky Dhir: Patience y’all, patience. We have to go off the air first because otherwise you’re going to hear the clanking and that’s kind of dissonant up here. It creates cacophony in their ears. I’m thinking about our listeners.
So, look, if you want to get in touch and get involved in the Bar, we really encourage you to give some thought to this. State Bar of Texas is doing a lot of great things, as you can see. We’ve got some very capable leaders at the helm, some very dedicated men and women, from all walks of life, who are all trying very hard to continue this tradition of excellence. So, get involved, we encourage you to get out there.
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Guys, the Bar is going places and we’re going places with it, and I thank you for joining us as we learn more about this journey, because after all, life is a journey and I thank you for tuning in.
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