For the first time ever, the State Bar of Texas is hosting its annual meeting entirely online! Host Rocky Dhir talks with Reginald Hirsch and Ron Chichester about what this virtual conference will look like and a sneak peek of the presentations and speakers planned for attendees.
Register here: 2020 State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting On Demand
Reginald A. Hirsch serves as CLE chairman of the Computer & Technology Section of the State Bar of Texas and practices family law in Houston.
Ron Chichester practices technology-related law in the Dallas area and is a past chair of both the Computer & Technology Section and the Business Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
What to Expect from the 2020 State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting On Demand
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: I have to admit something to you. I am guilty, guilty of pride. Some consider pride to be a sin, others say it’s an omen, but I just can’t help it. I am proud to be a Texas lawyer and let me tell you why.
Now, please bear with me here, every year our State Bar Annual Meeting features a track called the Adaptable Lawyer Track which dedicates itself to helping lawyers evolve their practices to meet an ever-changing world. Rumor has it that our State Bar is one of the first, if not the first, State Bars to have such a program. I think that’s pretty cool.
Just a few weeks ago, on the May 2020 episode of this podcast I sat down with David Slayton, the Administrative Director for the Texas Office of Court Administration and the Executive Director of the Texas Judicial Council. I learned that Texas issued Zoom passwords to every judge in the state, putting Texas atop the vanguard of states addressing adjudication of justice in the midst of COVID-19. I urge you to check out that episode with David, it’s fascinating and it will make you proud too.
Finally, just a few days ago I learned something else. As you probably know, the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting for 2020 was scheduled for June 25th to 26th in Dallas, my hometown. I was psyched for it, then COVID hit and the lockdown started and alas our beloved annual meeting had to be canceled, but remember, Texas is the home to the adaptable lawyer and to a state full of adaptable judges, we can’t just sit still and let circumstance get in the way. No, if we cannot work through a problem, we work around it.
Meet Reggie Hirsch. He practices family law in Houston and is a thought leader on technology and the law and currently serves as the Institute Director of the State Bar’s Computer & Technology Section. The State Bar approached Reggie and other Section leaders and asked them to truncate the annual meeting and make it virtual, and by the way, they had a very short time to make this happen.
For those of you old enough to remember think Smokey and the Bandit, except legal and sitting at a desk. Reggie and the other Section leaders came through for us. The State Bar Annual Meeting has been adapted into a virtual format. It will take place as scheduled from June 25th to 26th and it will come to you this time.
Reggie had some help in pulling off this feat. He had access to some excellent speakers. One of those is Ron Chichester, a Past Chair of the Computer & Technology Section who practices technology related law which makes sense because Ron holds degrees in aerospace engineering.
Reggie and Ron are both here today to tell us about their role in this new Annual Meeting On Demand, how it came about and what we can expect when we attend it.
Reggie and Ron, welcome to the podcast. Thank you both for being here.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Thank You Rocky.
Ron Chichester: Thank You Rocky.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. So Reggie, tell us a little bit about this virtual annual meeting idea, when you were approached about it what was the whole concept and what went through your head when they said hey, we are going to make this virtual?
Reginald A. Hirsch: Well, I went back and looked at what we had done previously and we had a number of volunteers come forward very quickly and we put together a total of five programs totaling over well four hours in total. And so most of our speakers had either previously presented or volunteered and it actually came together very quickly.
Rocky Dhir: So you are saying you don’t get that much credit.
Reginald A. Hirsch: No, I don’t.
Rocky Dhir: I was going to ask, how did you decide which programs to include in this because presumably we had like two-and-a-half days of programming before and now you are saying it’s basically four hours, how did you sort of curate that?
Reginald A. Hirsch: Well, we had a quarterly meeting and there were a number of volunteers and we discussed topics, topics that had previously been very popular, 60 by 60 apps, which is 60 apps in 60 minutes, and obviously Zoom was a big consideration because most lawyers are now having experiences with it, both good and bad, and then Ron volunteered to talk about alternatives to video conferencing. And we added online notarization to assist lawyers in the Adaptable Track. And then finally we got around to privacy issues, which I think is very important using video conferencing and cloud based programs.
So we had a number of volunteers. My job was really just to organize the speakers and the topics, get approval from the State Bar, which worked hand in hand with us and it just happened.
At times Rocky, it was like herding wet cats, but it all worked out.
Rocky Dhir: Well, normally at the annual meeting because we are all in a conference room together, they are dry cats, so I guess it was — you have had some experience herding dry cats so these were wet this time.
Reginald A. Hirsch: That’s correct.
Rocky Dhir: Now, walk us through the time frame, I mean how much time did you have to put all this together?
Reginald A. Hirsch: We probably put this together with Patricia McConnico in probably 17 days.
Rocky Dhir: That does not surprise me about Patricia. I could see her getting everybody to put this together in 17 days. She is a phenomenal resource for the Bar.
Also if you could talk to us a little bit about the Adaptable Track for those that are unfamiliar.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Well, the Adaptable Track was created to provide from the technology aspect, which is of course our Section, the Computer & Technology Section to provide lawyers with tools that they can use readily. As you know, the State Bar is composed primarily of small practices, not major practices and so our focus was to put on either in their office or at their desktop or on their iPad, whatever device they are using, tools that readily will make the work of law more economical and more efficient.
Rocky Dhir: So that’s the Adaptable Track. Now, you have obviously had Ron Chichester as one of the people that’s been helping you through this and Ron, you have been on the podcast before, I have interviewed you for Texas Bar TV. So one thing I can say with a pretty high degree of certainty is that you were probably pretty active in all of this planning. So what part did you play?
Ron Chichester: Really more just making suggestions about what to talk about. Also, I have a solo practice myself and in the same position as much of the Bar, which is obviously smaller practices as well. So knowing all of what I was going through and what other people that I know are going through, other fellows, solo practitioners and such, so it wasn’t really hard to figure out what they needed and so we simply put it all together.
Rocky Dhir: I know you are one of the speakers, tell us about your topic and why it’s important, what we can learn, just kind of walk us through a little bit.
Ron Chichester: Well, the practice of law is changing rapidly and we are becoming more integrated, but also more virtual, if you will, in the sense that we are doing more online than we were before. This is not going to change. What has happened before or up till now is probably going to be a permanent part of our practice.
So with that in mind, my particular presentation was about how an attorney would do a virtual presence on the Internet for an extended period of time, meaning years, and how to do it without breaking the bank, how to do it in a reliable and also ethical way so that you make sure that you practice safe encryption on the net, if you will, and exchanging files and stuff with your clients rather than through the mail or in person. And all the different elements that you would need to go through and have a presence on a shoestring budget, preferably no more than about $5 per month.
Rocky Dhir: Well, now, walk us through it, and I don’t want to give away everything that’s in your topic for annual meeting, but you mentioned the ethics of bringing so much of this online and I know that’s been an issue. I know there are services that shall not be named that have had some issues come up with privacy, cyber hacking, so on and so forth. Do you think that those issues have been addressed by those providers or are they still out there and how concerned should attorneys be about the ethical implications of those?
Ron Chichester: The reason I was doing the open source stuff primarily was one because of the cost issue but two, because they are more attuned to the ethics issues than other major providers. And I am sure like the file sharing or file uploading, file storing service that we all know and love or don’t love, they go through and they make backups, as they should; the problem for an attorney is you the attorney don’t know what got stored where and if the client wants the data destroyed, you can’t certify that it actually was destroyed.
If the attorney has their own virtual server and they are using the software that I described and the client wants to destroy, the attorney would be in perfectly good situation of saying and certifying to the client that the data was destroyed.
And so the attorney essentially as I say, try to find a company — if you have to use a company, find a company whose business model is such that it’s easy to be ethical. So there are service providers for virtual machines who don’t backup unless you pay them and since you don’t pay them, they won’t back up and then you don’t have the concern about trying to find out where all the data was squirreled away. You say I want the data destroyed, I want the server destroyed, boom, it’s gone and all the data along with it, and there is really no hope to get it back because they can’t because you didn’t ask for a backup and you didn’t pay for it.
Rocky Dhir: Okay, so here is what’s going through my head and Ron, Reggie, I would like either or both of you to kind of jump in and weigh in on this, when you were describing Ron all these — just the summary you just gave, I was able to grasp probably about 80-90% of it because I do work with a certain amount of technology, but I can see there being a lot of lawyers who just — they are unfamiliar with what is a virtual server, how does all this work. Are these basics, if you will, and I don’t say this to try to insult anybody, but for those that are not familiar and are trying to learn about this, is the Adaptable Track going to cover those kinds of basics, define for people what all that means, and if not, where can they go to kind of get a primer on how all this works?
Ron Chichester: At the end of my presentation I mention that if there was enough feedback the Computer & Technology Section can have step-by-step guides on how to do all of these different things, how to get a virtual server. I in my presentation list 20 different companies that provide virtual servers, so there is plenty of stuff out there. Normally these are step-by-step guides.
But I think to your point Rocky is that lawyers are going to have to start learning some technology. If they don’t they are going to be at the mercy of providers whose business model is to bankrupt them ultimately and also from the ethics issues. So lawyers are going to have to get more savvy about technology and there is just no way around it.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Well, and I would also add, as I am sure Rocky and Ron know, our Section, or perhaps you don’t know, our Section was instrumental in getting Comment 8, the Rules of Professional Responsibility requiring or commenting that technical proficiency is one of the professional duties a lawyer now has, and when we put this program together privacy was a big concern; in fact, we dedicated an hour to the privacy issues related to cloud and video conferencing.
And I am also reminded to add that the focus of this entire track was COVID-19. We were recognizing we were in a special circumstances and that what probably also initiated some of the discussion we had is that we were finding that many of our clients and prospective clients by virtue perhaps of having children at home were utilizing some of the video services that we are now talking about. And so the initiative for change which Ron spoke about and about it being long-term, I agree, this is not a unique phenomenon that will pass after COVID-19 hopefully resolves.
Rocky Dhir: So do you think this is part of the new normal? In other words, has COVID-19 forced lawyers to finally embrace these new technologies or do you think we are going to go back, once this all kind of eases, assuming it eases, are we going to then go back to the way things were and maybe revert back to fax machines or something? I mean what are your thoughts on that?
Reginald A. Hirsch: Yeah, I think we are — I call the new normal abnormal, but I am concerned that it’s probably going to be normal.
Ron Chichester: I would pity the attorney who thinks they can go back, who would give up the potential for getting more clients through online mechanisms than not.
Rocky Dhir: When you say you pity the attorney, you are starting to sound a little bit like Mr. T, Ron, I will tell you. I am going to start calling you Mr. C, you are going to be Mr. C. I pity the attorney.
Ron Chichester: Once attorneys realize that they can access more clients or find more clients this way, I cannot imagine that they would give that up.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Well, and I would also add Rocky, that in our conversations with the judiciary there is kind of a split among lawyers about this technology, some resistance, that’s not surprising, but the judges seem to indicate that — in fact, I heard a presentation last week by a judge who said her experience with, for instance, video conferencing was lawyers were better prepared, perhaps because it was shared on YouTube, because that’s how the transmission of live docket calls and live proceedings are and that she felt that the economy of time was better utilized in terms of presentations.
So if you look at the trifecta, you have got lawyers, you have got clients and you have got judges, so that trifecta seems to be embracing to some extent technology and probably going to be in the near future and probably the future a tool that most people are going to be having to either train themselves or learn about. I think the initiative is going to come from all three areas.
Rocky Dhir: This is an interesting dialogue, because I know a lot of judges are discussing the use of video conferencing and how effective it’s been. Do either of you think that we are going to see the days when we have jury trials, full jury trials that are online or is that a step too far?
Ron Chichester: No, that’s not a step too far. In fact, I think there is — because of what’s going on now it is going to be fairly natural that there will be even more integration later, and that type — remember the old marketing guru and I can’t remember who it was, but he was in a meeting and he said — he put the product on the wall and it was a drill and he says, is this your product, and the people said, yes, it’s our drill. And he says no, that’s not your product; your product is a hole in the wall.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Ron Chichester: People don’t want to drill and unfortunately many people don’t want a lawyer. They want a judge’s order signed or they want an agreement signed, they want something like that. And so we have to keep that in mind that they don’t necessarily need us and to the point or to the level that things can get integrated faster and get the correct information put before the judge so that the judge can make a decision, that’s the point. And so if it means putting something before the judge electronically that was different than before, I think that’s going to happen.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Well, and we also had, who is one of our speakers on Zoom, with Craig Ball, Judge Miskel, who did as far as I know one of the first summary juries.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely, it was a one day summary jury trial or summary adjudication.
Reginald A. Hirsch: That’s absolutely correct. And so we are hearing that other jurisdictions are attempting that. Now, a summary jury for non-lawyers and I don’t know if there are non-lawyers listening to the podcast, is not actually giving a final verdict in the case, but it’s an opportunity for lawyers to see what 12 or 6 individuals might think about their particular case, so it’s called a summary jury.
There were a lot of comments about that presentation; both positive and some that had some concerns. I think if you were to ask the Trial Bar Rocky, my expectation is they would not like to see Zoom jury trials, they like the personal contact, they obviously like the courtroom. There have been some questions about examination of witnesses where you are only seeing videos.
So I am not so sure the evolution of jury trials is near term, but as you and I and Ron know, technology changes so quickly that we may have virtual presentations become the norm in the next four or five years.
Rocky Dhir: Let’s talk for a second about events like the annual meeting, kind of bringing it back to this event that you guys are spearheading, if you will, putting together a new type of annual meeting that’s online. Do you think after having worked on this, what are your takeaways, do you think this is going to become the new normal, do you think people are going to want to have in-person meetings or is there going to be some kind of hybrid as we move forward?
Ron Chichester: I would liken this to the evolution of music. Remember we used to buy those big vinyl albums and there were tracks on either side and it was always difficult to switch from one track to another. I used to DJ actually back in those days and so I —
Rocky Dhir: I would pay to be Bill and Ted and be able to go back in time and watch you be a DJ Ron, I want to see this.
Ron Chichester: Yes, but I had to have two turntables, that was the only way to do it, but the thing is now we don’t buy an album, we buy a song and eventually we are going to be buying snippets.
So the chunk of information that we are after is going to be atomized further and these different proceedings and stuff are going to be atomized further. I mean the Computer & Technology Section is an excellent example. We used to have a journal. We used to publish a journal, but as many Sections are finding people don’t read articles in journals anymore. I mean very, very few do them.
People spend an enormous amount of effort getting these long legal beautiful papers by the way that people aren’t really interested in reading the entire thing, they are only interested in certain segments of it for certain ways, and computers are allowing us to go in and pick out and cherry-pick those certain segments in certain ways and leave the rest.
And so what’s going to happen at the annual meeting is that people are on demand, instead of having to go to the meeting and see all those different vendors and everything else, they are going to go in and they are going to get this stuff on demand and they are going to take and pick out the stuff that they want and leave the rest.
Rocky Dhir: But you are talking about information, snippets of information. Let’s talk for a second about experiences. At least for me, I know that when I go to the annual meeting, it’s not just about what I learned. It’s about who I get to see and there are a number of people that I consider to be friends who I only see at the annual meeting and I sort of feel like I’m at a sense of loss for not being able to see them this year in-person. Let’s talk about that. How do we bring that experience? Is there a way to replicate that, and if it’s not then does that mean that there needs to be an in-person component to some of this?
Reginald A. Hirsch: One of the experiences that we have at live CLE is the socialization and the opportunity after a presentation have discussions with our friends or meet new people and have a thought process or even approach a speaker about a question that we have. And so I’m more inclined to believe that we’re going to probably have a hybrid process, Rocky, in response to your question because for many lawyers that is an opportunity to renew and make new friends and professional associations. And I think that would be a missed opportunity if we went virtual totally, certainly we experienced in the six to eight weeks we were locked down here at Houston and still to some extent the opportunity to visit even in the courtrooms lawyers that we have used to see on a daily basis that we’re just not in contact with anymore.
Ron Chichester: Yeah, I’ve been saying for years now that technology has the — it’s just like your cell phone, people are staring at your cell phone so much, especially younger people, and they’re sitting next to each other looking at their cell phones. They’re not doing the personal interaction, and I think that’s very unfortunate. I think they’re missing out, but by the same token through the phone, they’re reaching out to many more people in a different way.
So I think there will be less human interaction in the future, which is unfortunate, it’s a loss especially for those of us who are older, but it’s not something we can stop, and that’s just from the sheer expense this COVID-19 is just a harbinger of things to come in the sense that air travel is going to become more expensive and just traveling together as fewer people travel the unit cost, if you will, of traveling is going to go up.
Those types of changes are going to affect how easily we can get together. The phones and other technologies are a stopgap measure, but they won’t replace what we will have lost. But if you talk to much older people, they will say there’s a lot that’s already been lost. I right now since I’ve been evading COVID-19, I’m in a much smaller town, I’m out in a country and it’s in an enclave where there’s about 50 people in a three-mile radius and their get-togethers are — when they get-together they sing, they do things, they keep an old style of living together. They still have Facebook, but they still keep it together that way and they have a real community, and I don’t get that when I’m in Dallas, I get that here, but it’s like stepping back in time 30, 40 years.
So it’s not like it will go away. There are still the pockets of togetherness in the old-fashioned way. It will just be more rare.
Rocky Dhir: Now, Ron, kind of to digress a little bit, at these get-togethers in your small town, are you the DJ?
Ron Chichester: No, actually they think I’m from another planet because I know so much about technology and law, philosophy and everything else, but I can still relate to them.
Rocky Dhir: So, Reggie, can you — you touched on a little bit earlier, but can you maybe walk us through some of the other topics that the adaptable track will cover.
Reginald A. Hirsch: We start with a presentation with Craig Ball, who I’m sure you know, Rocky.
Rocky Dhir: Oh Sure.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Well-known.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely.
Reginald A. Hirsch: And Judge Mystal to talk about what is called Upping Your Game in Zoom, which is really an hour presentation which covers all the basics. But as well as it being skills, we felt that that leading topic was to be important for our listeners and viewers because it has become kind of the de facto utilization by our trial courts and also our clients in many cases.
Ron, as we’ve talked about is obviously going to do the ethical video-conferencing and more with virtual platforms Joseph Jacobs out of Dallas is going to speak on online notarization. He actually spoke I believe at the Legislature on online notarization, and we think that’s important too because it’s oftentimes particularly during the lockdown getting notarizations on documents was difficult if not impossible with a real person.
And then we have a presentation, Will Smith and Elizabeth Rogers and Lisa Angelo out of Houston on privacy issues related to video-conferencing and cloud-based programs, which is an area that I have a particular focus on as well and I have just talked to them about their presentation, they thought it went very well, that’s also an hour.
And then finally we lead with our 60 apps by 60 minutes ahead. Michael Kern is Chairman of that and just a number we had actually, a total of eight speakers on that and that has been one of our very popular presentations, in fact, at the annual meeting for the last couple of years, we’ve had it presented twice because we filled the room more than once. So that’s kind of the overall.
Again to emphasize, Rocky, all of these topics were chosen as enhancement for lawyers in with a focus on COVID-19. We wanted to give them the tools, the resources and presentations, that would be meaningful during this current environment situation we find ourselves in.
Rocky Dhir: Well, it’s funny you mentioned 60 apps in 60 minutes. I am tickled to hear that that’s going to be on the program. I remember a few years ago this is before 60 apps in 60 minutes became the legend that it is. I mean it was gaining in popularity. I was speaking and as I was speaking I saw the room start to really fill up, and of course, because I’ve got the ego that I do, I thought people were finally hearing far and wide about this brilliant speaker and I thought everybody was coming in to hear me. And then I find out they’re all there for the act that followed immediately after me was just 60 apps in 60 Minutes. I mean, it really is a fantastic program.
So I think, for a lot of folks they’re going to want to tune in to see what the latest and greatest technology is in their gadget. So I’m glad we’re doing that.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Yeah, it’s like a lightning round.
Rocky Dhir: It really is and it leaves you wanting to know more about each of these apps. So it’s just a fascinating topic. So I’m glad we’re doing that.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Well, thank you, we look forward to the presentation also, I think even our council members will be probably and section members will be looking at that hour presentation.
Rocky Dhir: Tell us about how this was all kind of collated, is this going to be live on Zoom? You guys had used the past tense when referring to having recorded some of this, so that kind of raised a question for me.
Reginald A. Hirsch: It’s all in the can now, the State Bar was kind enough to facilitate Zoom presentations and recording pure just like your podcast, they’ll be editing it probably eliminating the hmms and the ahs and go with presentations and I’ve got to give credit to Paul and the AV at the State Bar. They just do a wonderful job. I’m sure when you’ve been presenting it, and Ron and I know they really stepped it up.
Rocky Dhir: They are top flight. It’s like sci-fi, these guys are able to pull off magic, it’s amazing.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Yeah, if you ever get a chance at the State Bar in Austin to walk in and see the audio/video equipment, it looks like a TV station, it’s just the best. I remember one of the early presentations we did, probably five or six years ago with the iPad, we were having difficulty, and the next time I went in the studio they had an overhead camera which allowed people to see what your presentation was. They don’t miss a beat. They have been a tremendous resource, and I want to complement them publicly if that makes it on the podcast for their service to the State Bar.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, absolutely they are absolutely top flight, and a lot of times that’s one of things I am going to miss about an in-person annual meeting is being able to see the State Bar staff. The staff is just — I don’t think most lawyers realize what an amazing staff we have at the State Bar of Texas. So we’re very lucky.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Yeah and I think all of us had probably spoken out of state, and I think, Ron, I don’t remember whether you were with us in Louisiana for the presentation, for the Louisiana Bar, and while it’s an excellent Bar Association it’s like the Rolls Royce here in terms of what our CLE presentations and the support we get from State Bar staff.
Rocky Dhir: Okay, and guys, by the way, I have got a little bit of intel, which I’m happy to share with you, this just in. I have got the registration link for the annual meeting, it is apparently texasbar.com/annualmeeting, and in case you’re furiously trying to write this down, don’t worry about it, it’s actually in the show notes, in the episode description when you open up your podcast app. So just check there. All you have to do is click it and you can go straight to the registration page and get registered.
Reginald A. Hirsch: Thank you, Rocky, and if we have time, I just went to the link and wanted to indicate the cost is $150 if I might —
Rocky Dhir: Oh vow.
Reginald A. Hirsch: That you just provided us. So if you think about all the CLE that you could obtain, that’s a very reasonable price.
Rocky Dhir: 150 bucks. Okay. Well, look, this intel is changing rapidly, this feels like the election of 2000, we’re learning new things on the fly.
So, yep, thank you Reggie for sharing that; and guys, again, it’s been a pleasure having you on here; and of course, I want to thank you for tuning in.
And before we sign off I want to remind you to please stay safe. Make sure to follow all applicable orders for dealing with COVID-19 and please advise your clients and loved ones to do the same. The situation is changing fluidly and rapidly, so please seek out legal counsel if you have a question.
If you liked what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or your favorite Podcast app.
Until next time, remember, life is a journey folks.
I’m Rocky Dhir, signing off.
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