State Bar of Texas podcast host Rocky Dhir sits down with the new president of the Texas Young Lawyers’ Association, Britney Harrison, to discuss her plans for the coming year. After running on a platform focused on empowerment, innovation, and education, President Harrison shares how these priorities remain at the forefront of her goals, even amidst new challenges brought by COVID-19.
Britney E. Harrison is an associate of GoransonBain Ausley in Dallas, where she practices family law.
State Bar of Texas
2020 Annual Meeting On Demand – A Conversation with New TYLA President Britney Harrison
September 1, 2020
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated contact to improve your law practice. With your host, Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hi and welcome to the State Bar of Texas podcast. Were you a student of History? I for one love learning about History, the people, the circumstances, the circular nature of the mistakes that our species has made over time. One thing I learned along the way though is that some of our greatest leadership moments have been read in crisis. George Washington crossing the Potomac, Abe Lincoln in the Civil War, FDR in World War II. There’s George W. Bush and his iconic bull horn moment and the days following the tragic 9-11 attacks. These are just a few examples, but rarely do we remember leadership born of tranquility. Sorry, Calvin Coolidge. I think it’s safe to say that leadership is tested when the chips are down and as we speak, the chips are not just down, they’re locked away. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, nationwide protests and lawyers facing a daunting legal market in the midst of the economic turmoil surrounding all of that. Britney Harrison has stepped up to all these challenges and taken on the mantle of leadership. June 26, 2020, the second day of the State Bar Annual Meeting on Demand, Britney was sworn in as president of TYLA, that’s the Texas Young Lawyers Association. She is the first TYLA
president to be sworn in remotely in the midst of a pandemic lockdown that will undoubtedly be only the first of many firsts for President Harrison. Britney graduated from UT Law and practices family law in Dallas and let’s find out what we can about looking forward to this coming year from our new TYLA President. Britney, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for being here.
Britney Harrison: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. So, let’s see. As we do this, you’re now in week two I think of your presidency. How’s it been so far?
Britney Harrison: I don’t even know what day it is at this point.
Britney Harrison: Really, really busy because as everyone knows, TYLA puts out a lot of projects and initiatives and so we’ve just been in planning mode, ready to go.
Rocky Dhir: You just mentioned TYLA’s projects. Can you talk about what some of those are for the uninitiator or say, the old folks like me who may have lost touch.
Britney Harrison: Yes. So, TYLA is the public service arm of the State Bar of Texas and so, what we like to do is put out programs that are for young lawyers, resources for young lawyers, also a lot of service projects. So, anything that’s going to teach the public about administration of justice, the rule of law, just learning about the legal system in general. So, we have a lot of law focused educational programs that teachers can use while they’re teaching which we’re trying to make a lot more virtually now so, because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall. So, we want to make sure we’re still being able to get the message to the students. We just don’t know what that format’s going to be just yet.
Rocky Dhir: And you know, speaking of this — this unprecedented time, I do want to take a moment to give a shout out to your immediate predecessor, Victor Flores, who had to navigate the very beginning of this whole pandemic challenge. So, you know, Victor, if you’re listening, we all love you for what you did, but do you think the role of TYLA president has maybe changed or evolved because of this situation and if so, how?
Britney Harrison: I think it has evolved, but real quick, I do want to say Victor led or basically, he gave me a very good example of how to go through this. So, I’m very fortunate to have had — to have followed his leadership. It’s just one of those things that they always tell you that the bar year you plan is not the bar you get.
Rocky Dhir: Right.
Britney Harrison: That’s definitely what’s happened right now. You basically just have to continue what the mission is of TYLA, but just work with what we have and do the best we can in the situation we’re in, but just keeping focused on what our goal and what our mission is.
Rocky Dhir: So, let’s talk for a second about maybe your platform. Let’s maybe compare and contrast. What was the platform you ran on and what’s the platform today now that you’ve taken office and everything presumably has changed from the time when you ran. I guess first of all, really, I guess the fundamental question is has it changed? And if so, then how has it changed?
Britney Harrison: So, when I ran back in 2019, my goals were empowerment, innovation and education. Those are still the three goals that I have for this year.
Rocky Dhir: Okay.
Britney Harrison: The innovation portion has definitely had to step it up a little bit more just because the way our board works is we generally have four board meetings where we get to get together as a board. We can’t do that anymore. All the in-person, all the bonding and things like that, that kind of help our board run, we’re not able to do these things. Everyone still just has the idea of helping the public and helping people out just in general and so we’re just having to do that in a different format. And i think that’s what’s helping us continue to do the work is because we still have the same mission, we just have to do it from a computer screen.
Rocky Dhir: You said there’s innovation we talked about. There’s empowering and then what was the third part?
Britney Harrison: Education.
Rocky Dhir: Education, all right. Now obviously, education is now going to be done online and a lot of us with children understand what that entails. Let’s talk about
Do you think the empowerment portion of it has shifted? Or has that changed now that — now that we’re not in person anymore? Is it — do we have new tools available to us now that maybe allow us to feel empowered more than we did earlier or have we taken a step back? Talk about empowerment for a second in the midst of what we’re facing now.
Britney Harrison: I think because we are having to do things remotely, we’re actually able to reach more people. So, when we’re doing our like road shows, TYLA road shows, we usually target those for certain geographic areas and only those are the ones that are really getting to benefit from those. But now, because we’re doing this remotely, we’re able to reach a lot of people without having to travel and then we’re being able to get people that you know, maybe out in the far parts of west Texas that it’s kind of hard to get out to in person. We’re able to reach some of those people that are out there and get them involved in what we’ve been doing in some of the bigger cities. And so, I think that we’re still empowering people, but we’re still giving more people opportunities to be empowered and become our future leaders. And so, because everything I do, I want to figure out, okay, for young lawyers, how can we give them opportunities to speak about issues in their communities, kind of in their local affiliates and reach out to the greater state in general. And so, that’s kind of what we’ve been able to do this time through Zoom and Teams and all those other kind of video conferencing platforms.
Rocky Dhir: So, the Zoom and the Teams, that’s helping you with reaching out to other TYLA members. But how does the membership engage with communities that many of which are underserved? They may not have steady internet connections, they may not have access to Zoom or Teams. How does that change in a pandemic situation like this?
Britney Harrison: So, that part, we’re still kind of evolving of what we’re going to be able to do. You know, in the past, before we had, you know, well, I shouldn’t say before the internet, but before internet was a little bit more prevalent in schools, a lot of things were made on videos like DVDs, things like that. So, we may have to explore kind of going old school on certain things like–
Rocky Dhir: Do they even make DVDs anymore? I’ve not been able to go to Best Buy in a while and I think Circuit City is not around.
Britney Harrison: But I’m thinking some people that may not have access to certain internet, they may still have some older technology in their — in their houses and so, we can put like one of our programs, our iconic women in legal history. We’re planning to roll that out to be an interactive website, but if we have to have some of those materials on hard forms like DVDs or something like that, we need to be able to have that flexibility and just see what’s easiest for students.
Rocky Dhir: Let’s talk about iconic women in legal history because you just — you just talked about that and I know you’ve talked about it not only during your campaign, but even once you took office. Talk about that project for a second and tell us — tell us what it aims to do, what’s it about and how does it really reach, say the non-legal community, if you will.
Britney Harrison: Yes, so I got the idea from the program with talking with our law focused education program through the State Bar of Texas. They conduct surveys and, you know, conferences with teachers around the state and they’re always asking what parts of things that are on the star test. Do you not really have resources to teach about or you don’t have time to teach about and what we were learning is part of the 11th grade curriculum, it talks about women’s roles in history especially within legal rights, civil rights. That story is often either rushed or completely disregarded for students and so there’s–
Rocky Dhir: Like Susan B. Anthony and then move on, right? It’s–
Britney Harrison: Essentially yeah, yes. We talk a lot about women’s suffrage, that’s wonderful. I’m a benefit of that, but in 1920, a black woman didn’t have the same rights that a Caucasian woman had. And so, there’s a continued history that is often left out and just not talked about and so what we’re focusing on is basically from suffrage going forward, what was the path and the role of women and providing a resource that just can — a teacher could just turn on the internet, click on our website and learn all these or the students can learn all these different pieces of history that are obviously on the test, but also just for their personal knowledge. And you know, I think people even outside of high school students will be able to benefit from learning about this history because frankly, I don’t remember learning it when I was in high school. And so, I think, you know, I’m always a proponent of everyone can continue learning throughout life and so yes, it’s aimed towards students, but anyone studying to become a U.S. citizen or just generally people that enjoy history could learn from our program. And it’s a free program that will be on the internet.
Rocky Dhir: Is the focus going to be on women lawyers or is it about women’s roles in advancing the rule of law, or is it something entirely different?
Britney Harrison: It’s kind of a combination of both. So, there are some–
Rocky Dhir: Okay.
Britney Harrison: —some, you know, famous lawyers that, you know, we can talk about, but there’s also just other women that helped get civil rights, helped, you know, with get some of the rights that we have as women today. So, it’s going to focus on just different women like the first supreme court justice, things of those natures. Women in congress, you know, people in Texas history. We just want to focus on those — the stories of those women and how they’ve helped shape our history.
So, not just lawyers, but just legal history in general.
Rocky Dhir: You know, it’s interesting that you’re — that you’re talking about history and trying to educate people on it. I’d like to hear your thoughts on what role you think, and by the way, I love history, so I ask this, you know, really from that perspective. What role do you think history plays in understanding how we navigate the present and the future, you know, because there’s some who say look, it happened in the past, you know, people’s rights were abridged and abrogated in generations past, but that’s not us today. And so, why do we need to learn them? What would your answer be? Why is history important for today’s environment?
Britney Harrison: A couple of reasons and to make sure we’re not repeating the history or going backwards in times because you know, just because yes, things happened in the past and are different now, it’s kind of shaped into a different format, but it still has the same issues. We’re still having issues with racism and it’s 2020. I mean, I’ve personally experienced racism and it’s 2020. So, things that happen to my ancestors are still happening in present day and we need to learn from the mistakes of the past to move forward in the present and be able to actually move forward and not repeat the same mistakes that have been happening for so long.
Rocky Dhir: Being with TYLA, obviously you’re coming at it from the perspective of the younger lawyers, which again, like I said, I no longer qualify. I’m not part of that cohort, but what do you think young lawyers and even lawyers at large can do to navigate, you know, all the challenges that — that we’re hearing about in 2020. So, between 2020 and 2021, during your presidency, what can we do as lawyers and what do you think your cohorts as young lawyers can do during these times?
Britney Harrison: I think as lawyers, we have a responsibility and we actually have kind of a privilege to effectuate change, you know, we can educate the public about what the law is, what it should be turned into and things like that. And so, I think as lawyers, we can educate people and also educate ourselves because there’s a lot, you know, starting conversations are difficult, uncomfortable especially about racism. That’s a hard conversation for a of people, but I think the tides have kind of turned a little bit and more people want to actually take action and I think as young lawyers, we can get that information out there as well as get out that action item because that’s kind of how a lot of lawyers work. Give me an action item so I can check this off my list. And so, I think that’s what we’re trying to do.
Rocky Dhir: In your interview for the July, August issue of the Texas Bar Journal, you tell the story of and I’m going to quote “You have a voice.” Now, I’d like to hear that story in your voice. So, can you tell that story?
Britney Harrison: Sure. I think it was probably my fourth or fifth year of practice and I just switched over, I guess fourth year, I just switched over to family law from being a commercial litigator and employment lawyer and I was at a firm where I didn’t feel like I really had a voice and I was kind of just buried and wasn’t able to really thrive. And so, I was getting ready for my first trial, again, fourth year, first trial, and I’m supposed to be a litigator. But I was getting ready for that first trial and I was working with John Jarrett. He was an Austin, I call him an Austin legend. He was, I mean, he’s amazing. He’s a — he’s a great trial lawyer and he worked with my firm very often and so, he was great on the custody side. My firm was known more for the property and so we worked really well together. And so, I was working with him and I was just really, really nervous about putting on my very first witness. I was like I’m a perfectionist, you know, I want to try to do everything right. I don’t you know, get objections, things like that and he was just telling me, he’s just like, just remember, you have a voice and then he said, ask a question like you deserve an answer. But the “You have a voice” part just really stood out to me. It made me think, yes, I actually do have a voice. I am good at what I do and I need to be able to use my voice. And so, it kind of was a little confidence builder for me and I wrote it down on a Post-it note. I actually kept that Post-it note for about two years until all the stickiness fell off of it.
Rocky Dhir: Right.
Britney Harrison: But before any big trial or big hearing where I was super nervous, I would always just write that down and keep it in my trial notebook and just looking at those words, it kind of just gave me that little boost of confidence. And so, what I took from that is I’m like — if I could benefit from just those four little words, so many other young lawyers can benefit from that and even when I like to,
you know, do career day things at elementary schools, I talk about the “You have a voice” story because I’m like the earlier children know that they do have a voice and they do matter, I think that boosts their confidence. So I like to carry that with everyone.
Rocky Dhir: Can you talk for a second about how exactly the concept of “You have a voice”, how did that effect your trial preparation or the way you put on the witness?
I’m trying to get inside your head in a sense and understand what that did in terms of– in terms of how you approached the case or how you approached the witness and the whole litigation process?
Britney Harrison: It changed the way I, like the manner in which I ask questions and just–
Rocky Dhir: Okay.
Britney Harrison: Like you could visibly see that I was more confident and you could hear in my voice that I was confident in asking my questions.
It deserve an answer to my questions because before that, I was more timid and just kind of asking it, kind of sounding apologetic about it when–
Rocky Dhir: Got you. Evolving there.
Britney Harrison: You know, you don’t need to be you and you need to just ask this question. It’s a tough question, but this witness needs to answer the question and you deserve to have an answer. And so, I think it just — it more just changed my mindset and gave me the confidence and it helped me through that trial, just remembering that little bit.
Rocky Dhir: You weren’t afraid to ask something uncomfortable.
Britney Harrison: Exactly.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. I like that. Well, that is all the time we have for now, you know. Britney, thank you for being here. I want to thank our TYLA president, Britney Harrison for joining us. Thank you so much.
Britney Harrison: Thank you for having me.
Rocky Dhir: 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 and make sure to follow all applicable orders for dealing with COVID-19 and please advise your clients and loved ones to do the same. This situation is ever changing. It is fluid and quickly evolving, so please, seek out legal counsel if you have a question. If you like what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple podcast, Google podcast or your favorite podcast app and until next time, remember, life’s a journey folks. I’m Rocky Dhir, signing off for now.
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