What kind of tools could help you practice law in a healthy, sustainable way? With Texas’ diverse legal community in mind, the new www.texasbarpractice.com website is filled with resources to help any and all Texas attorneys practice law with ease. Podcast host Rocky Dhir talks with Sharon Sandle about the genesis of this newly launched site and its goal of giving lawyers greater success in all areas of legal practice.
Sharon Sandle is the director of the Law Practice Resources Division at the State Bar of Texas.
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State Bar of Texas Podcast
Practice Well! — Law Practice Resources Division Launches Its New Website
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 and welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast. So I’m glad that we’re talking now because I need to clear up a bit of confusion. Some people think that I work for the State Bar of Texas. And how do I know this? Well, it’s because I often get asked how much the State Bar pays me to host this podcast?
The answer is 0. I’m a volunteer. I’m not an employee of the State Bar of Texas. I do this hosting thing because as a Texas lawyer, I’ve come to realize that we have probably the best State Bar in the entire country. Sorry other 49 states.
What makes our State Bar so superlative? It’s the staff, seriously, it’s the State Bar of Texas staff. They’re amazing and I say this as someone who is not a staff member. Now, I get it, we are legal professionals. We need evidence, right? So you need evidence of my big assertion. So here’s the thing.
The centerpiece of my case-in-chief is not admissible, at least not yet, but it will be soon, very soon. It’s a new website by the State Bar’s Law Practice Resources Division that website is www.texasbarpractice.com, www.texasbarpractice.com. The website is dedicated to helping Texas legal professionals find the tools that they need to make their practices and frankly their days easier to navigate and more effective.
I got a sneak peek at a few of the pages of this website and I got to say now, I’m going to sound like a huge nerd here, I am truly stoked at the depth of this new site. It’s going to be super cool and here’s something else that’s super cool. We get to learn more about this website from the woman who helped spearhead its creation. Her name is Sharon Sandle.
Now remember, when I extolled the awesomeness of our State Bar staff. Yeah, well Sharon is a member of that group. She’s the State Bar Director of the Law Practice Resources Division, a position she has held since 2016. She’s been with the State Bar since 2005. So she has plenty of history of awesomeness and heck a lot of a street cred. But wait, there’s more.
She’s not just a staff member at the State Bar. She’s also an actual member. She graduated from UT Law and has dedicated her career to serving her profession from the other side. This also means that Sharon knows a thing or two about the practice of law and how to make it easier. So we’ve got yet another amazing resource right here at our fingertips as Texas lawyers. So without further ado, Sharon, welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast. Thanks for being here.
Sharon Sandle: Thank you for having me here.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. So I’m trying to think back and I think you might be the first official staff member to be a guest on the podcast. I think that’s pretty cool.
Sharon Sandle: That is cool and I’m surprised by that but wow what an honor.
Rocky Dhir: Well, I take that back. We’ve had Trey Apffel as the Executive Director, but he’s like a big muckety-muck and now, we’ve got one of the directors and so it’s actually really cool to have somebody who’s at the frontlines, working on some of the new stuff. It sounds like you guys have been staying busy during the pandemic. It’s no sleep for the weary.
Sharon Sandle: Yes, right, right. No, we’ve definitely been staying busy. I think at times busier than we’ve ever been. We were up and running about a couple days after the Law Center in Austin closed down. We had all of our staff working from home and we were up and running and didn’t really miss a beat. It was an interesting time because we were in the middle of working on this new website and so we had to drop everything for a couple of days, get set up at home and then just keep going with it.
Rocky Dhir: Well, okay. So let’s talk about the website here for a second. Its www.texasbarpractice.com, right, did I grab that right?
Sharon Sandle: Right yes.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. So now how long has this been in the making?
Sharon Sandle: We probably came up with the idea for it about a year ago. But in the making, it’s really been longer than that because what we tried to do with this website is we tried to think about all the questions that we had been getting from State Bar members about law practice management, all the concerns that we were getting from customers who buy the Texas Bar Books products. All the things that we had been hearing from Texas lawyers over the years kind of went into how we designed this website.
We tried to think really hard about what people needed and what people wanted for their practice, what would make their lives easier and then we tried to create a website that would do that. Although, the idea for it was really about a year ago.
There’s probably been at least a decade or more of work put into it in terms of the experience that we have gained in working with Texas lawyers over the years, but we came up with this idea about a year ago, and we really started working on it in January.
Rocky Dhir: I mean thank goodness that the domain name was available, texasbarpractice.com. How much would that have sucked if that was just taken?
Sharon Sandle: That’s true. We would have thought of something else but it was lucky that we were able to get that one yeah.
Rocky Dhir: Lawyers ice cream bars or something I don’t know, we would have found something else. But you said, you got feedback from a lot of Texas lawyers. So was this all based on feedback that came to you or did you go out and survey people to kind of figure out what types of things they’d want to see. How did you — how did you sort of compile the types of information that would be presented on the site.
Sharon Sandle: A lot of different ways. We have done focus groups over the years and that has helped us a lot. But we’ve also for a long time now, we’ve been tracking what kinds of phone calls and emails and questions that we get from lawyers who call us up or send us in a question or come to us with a problem and we look at that internally in the Law Practice Resources Division.
We’ve got — we have meeting ever month where we look at those particular questions and concerns that that we’re hearing about and then, we also have a Law Practice Management Committee and that Committee is also keeping track of what kinds of questions are we getting, what kinds of concerns are we hearing and then we try to tailor both the content that we come up with. But also we try to tailor the way our website works to kind of deal with those concerns.
Rocky Dhir: Well, all right, so we’ll talk about what’s actually going to be in the website just a couple of seconds because based on the preview that I saw, there’s going to be some cool stuff in there and so I want everybody to hear about this because I think they’re going to love it. But talk to us about the goal. We’ve already got our actual Texas Bar website. So what’s the goal of creating a separate and distinct website from our current one?
Sharon Sandle: Well, really the goal is that we wanted to create a website that lawyers could go to when they are looking for something to help them in their practice, we feel like lawyers in Texas, they want to have a healthy practice, they want to have a successful practice and there are a lot of things that go into that.
It’s not just the substantive resources like a book about pattern jury charges or a book about family law. But it’s also advice on how to keep your practice running, what kinds of technology should you be using? What kinds of securities do you need to have for your law firm? What kinds of billing practices make sense for you?
And so, all of those resources are useful for attorneys, and we wanted to put them all in one place. Before this website’s launch, there were really a multitude of different sites. There’s the Maine State Bar site, but there’s also a Texas Bar Books website where you can go to find books. There’s also a Law Practice Management website where you can go to find those kinds of resources, that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, makes a lot more sense to put them in one place and we’re hoping that it’s a place that attorneys will want to visit regularly because they’re finding things that are useful for them.
Rocky Dhir: Well, so it’s interesting because I know as a Texas lawyer, I’m someone who knows a lot of the folks that work at the State Bar and yet I find even I don’t know all the resources that the State Bar has to offer and I mean that’s kind of a confession on my part that I’m ignorant on a lot of that, but it sounds like maybe is this kind of tailored towards putting all the resources in one accessible place or does it go beyond that?
I mean kind of walk me through and also how does this differ from the actual Texas Bar homepage, so why would somebody come to Texas Bar Practice versus just going to Texas Bar?
Sharon Sandle: That’s a great question. And I think you’re absolutely right that one of the challenges that the State Bar has is that we really do so much. There are so many different programs, there are so many different resources and it can be really hard to find exactly what you need from the State Bar.
The Departments at the Bar span everything from membership and CLE and books and it can be kind of like a labyrinth trying to find your way through and I think that the State Bar’s website is great, but it is definitely a place where people go to do things like pay their dues and take a look at have I got my CLE credits for the year, things like that.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Sharon Sandle: We wanted to create a place that really was not so much what you need in terms of dealing with the State Bar and the regulatory aspect of the State Bar but more what would help you day-to-day practice law, what kinds of resources would help you create a healthy sustainable practice, something that you’re interested in because it’s going to help you out and without having to go through that labyrinth of the other really important resources that you maybe need every now and then but you don’t need on a day to day basis. So that’s really the idea.
Rocky Dhir: Now again, I cheated in a little sense because you gave me a sneak preview and so I was able to see kind of what’s in there. So I kind of know the answer to some of this but can you talk about what the site covers? I mean, I know there’s books and there’s how to start a practice and we’ll talk about some of those a little bit but can you give us an overview of what all is covered on the site?
Sharon Sandle: Sure. So when you first go to the homepage of the new site, you are asked to create an account. It’s a free account. It’s just a way for us to –
Rocky Dhir: Free.
Sharon Sandle: Yeah free account.
Rocky Dhir: We like free yes.
Sharon Sandle: It was just a way for us to — a lot of the resources there are specifically for Texas lawyers and we want to be providing this as a benefit for Texas lawyers. So within the site itself, you can do things like you can take a look at the Law Practice Management resources that we have. You can take a look at some videos that cover practice management topics. You can take a look at some articles that cover how to run your practice, how to create a technology plan, how to create a business plan for your practice.
You can also download some forms that again are free to use, then you can also go over to the Texas Bar Books portion of the site and take a look at some of the books and online resources that are more substantive, things like I already mentioned the pattern jury charges, but we have several practice manuals as well that can either be purchased in as hard copies or they can be purchased as an online subscription and then that subscription runs through the website as well.
And then one of the aspects of the site that I think is going to be helpful for folks who are interested in some of those subscriptions and some of our products is that you can manage your account through the website and that was probably from the Texas Bar Books side of things. The question that we had people calling us about more often than anything else was can I just go online and pay my bill and manage my account and we’ve tried to make that really easy to do.
Rocky Dhir: But that’s going to be on Texas Bar Practice. That’s not going to be easy on the texasbar.com site because again, you’re effectively keeping two separate accounts, right.
Sharon Sandle: Yes it is two separate accounts. And so the account on Texas Bar Practices is going to cover the resources like a subscription to the Family Practice Manual. And one of the other nice things about that is that your account can be linked to a law firm so that if the firm has a subscription to some of our materials, they can see in one place what attorneys are entitled to use those materials. They can add attorneys. They can manage the resources when an attorney leaves the firm.
So I think that is going to be really handy for people as well.
Rocky Dhir: Oh that’s interesting. So that way entire firms can buy a subscription. You’re not having to do it individually by attorney.
Sharon Sandle: Absolutely.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. Now I did notice the Guide to Starting a Law Practice which looked kind of interesting and I could see that being interesting especially for maybe for younger lawyers or I should say more newly minted lawyers who are looking to go out on their own. And so, then you even have a part on there about partner compensation. Did I read that correctly where you can figure out how to structure partner comp? I mean that’s — I mean talk about talk about waiting into murky waters. I mean, that’s a big issue at a lot of firms, but there’s actually going to be resources and ideas on how to structure partner compensation. Am I reading that right?
Sharon Sandle: Yes what we tried to do as I mentioned we’ve got Committee, the Law Practice Management Committee that’s the standing committee of the State Bar and what we try to do is really tap into the expertise of the members of that committee and asked them to either do a short video or to write about a topic that they feel like they’ve got something to say about and something that they think is important for lawyers.
And so that was one of our newer resources that came out of some of the recent work of the committee. I’m kind of excited about the fact that that now since the pandemic, one of the things that’s a little easier is to do things like record short videos just through Zoom.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Sharon Sandle: So it’s gotten actually easier for us to tap into the expertise of that committee and bring resources very quickly online.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah. Well, I got to say it kind of struck me as maybe gutsy the sort of talk about partner compensation. I mean, I don’t know how many other state or local bars are doing that but I know years ago, when I was looking into that very topic, it was kind of like and it depends and you talk to different lawyers and some people want to reveal, some people don’t about what they — how they do their partner compensation.
In some cases, it was an hour-long discussion because there were just so many different variables to it. But so to actually tackle that is interesting. So if you’ve got a couple of lawyers that want to start up a practice you’re giving them a guide on how to how to structure their relationship in a sense.
Sharon Sandle: Well, I like that you said it’s gutsy. I hope that this website is gutsy because what we found over the years is that people call us with difficult questions and they’re looking for some advice and although it is sometimes difficult. There’s not a clear-cut answer. I would definitely rather give go to our group of experts on the Law Practice Management Committee and say look, can you give folks something to go on, some kind of advise something that will help them at least get started.
Because otherwise, if we’re just putting up articles that everybody has heard before on topics that everybody’s familiar with, I don’t think it’s really going to be a place that people feel like they need to visit. Instead, I hope that they find some interesting topics and it gets some discussion going on some of these problems that aren’t really very easy to find an answer to.
Rocky Dhir: You also talk in the site about technology issues and I know that’s been another thorny kind of burned people saddles, especially lawyers who say look I don’t really know that much about technology, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with technology. I still like getting faxes. I mean there are people of different ends of that spectrum. So how deep will the site go in terms of technology? Is it going to actually recommend service providers? Is it going to say look given your firm’s size, you need to do X, Y and Z or is it more of a general overview? Can you talk to us about the technology side?
Sharon Sandle: Sure. I think that you’re right that technology is really a challenge right now and it keeps moving forward and I didn’t know what Zoom was a couple of months ago. And now, I am using it all the time.
Rocky Dhir: Will never forget.
Sharon Sandle: Will never forget now.
Rocky Dhir: 2020 never forget, yes.
Sharon Sandle: But you wonder what’s coming in 2021? There are always new opportunities. I do think that we have the capability to look at specific types of technology and to give people, maybe not necessarily a recommendation of this is exactly what you need. But at least the information to make a decision about whether a certain kind of technology is a good fit for their firm.
We are constantly hearing from providers who have new technology available that we look at both within the Law Practice Management Committee, but also internally within our division. So I hope that we’re going to be able to give some advice to folks and give them some ideas and go pretty deeply into technology because it’s such a big issue and it’s something that firms really struggle with.
I understand what you’re saying that a lot of people, they would rather not have to deal with a lot of different new technologies, it can be time-consuming and difficult. But hopefully we can give people some advice and something to go on.
Rocky Dhir: Well and as a subset of that, there’s also the issue of cloud computing which it’s interesting because as an observer of this, there was a time when I still remember maybe 5 or 10 years ago and people who say well the cloud is very dangerous. It’s not very secure and now we’re hearing well, no, you better put everything up on the cloud if you wanted to truly be secure.
So it’s like, we’ve got this total about face. It’s kind of like when I read on workout techniques or dieting techniques, I mean at one point they say don’t eat carbs and then they say no you need carbs, right and so it just, it flips. But you got a section in there on cloud computing resources. And so how deep is that going to go? I mean I think that’s to me personally, I find that very helpful because it’s one of those controversial topics at least from my view. So can you talk to us a little about the about the cloud computing side and what kind of inspired you to put that in there?
Sharon Sandle: Sure. Well going back to the Law Practice Management Committee, we had a chair of the committee a few years ago who was very interested in having a paperless office. And of course, if you’re going to have a paperless office, cloud computing is going to be a part of that. That’s going to be –
Rocky Dhir: Kind of have to, yeah.
Sharon Sandle: You kind of have to. And that kind of got the committee down the road of looking at it and as you said, it is controversial and there were committee members who thought that it was something that was really good. And then there were folks who were worried about the security and that conflict really helped the committee decide to go deep into the issue. And I think we do have some resources up there that that go pretty — pretty deep into the issue of security for cloud computing.
But like I said, things move fast, so this is not a static issue and I’m sure we’re going to be revisiting it and looking at it again because especially when you’re talking about security with technology what you find, I think a lot of times is that security one day is not security the next day. You’re constantly having to upgrade and find new ways to make your law firm secure.
But that’s something that I think we’re well equipped to investigate and to try to really bring some additional resources.
Rocky Dhir: So do you think you’re ready for the fairly frequent updates that you’ll probably have to make? I mean, it sounds like especially with things like cloud computing or with technology, there’s going to be what’s cool today is verboten tomorrow or just changes, it’s kind of like the world of fashion. So do you feel like you and your team are ready to be posting fairly regular updates to people so that that way the information stays fresh.
Sharon Sandle: Absolutely. Really that was one of the aspects of the new website that it maybe is more visible to those of us on the staff who are working with the back end of the website, but we did have that problem with our old website that although we wanted to keep the material fresh, it was hard to do.
And with the new website it is going to be a lot easier for us to really post fresh content very quickly and very easily and that’s the goal is for us to constantly have something new and interesting and fresh on the website so that you don’t feel like oh, well, I looked at that and I can leave for six months and it’s all going to be the same material. I’m hoping that attorneys find that every time they come back they find something new that’s helpful.
Rocky Dhir: What do you think of all the topics that you’re going to cover, because when you talk about law practice now, it’s no longer just knowing how to represent clients. It’s become so much deeper over the years. What do you think will be the most sought-after feature or maybe features of the site? I mean, obviously it may go in unexpected ways. But right now, what do you think people are going to flock to the most?
Sharon Sandle: I do think technology is something that people really care a lot about, partly because that’s really not what you learned about in law school, right, there isn’t or at least when I went to law school, there wasn’t a course in technology. So you kind of have to pick it up as you go. So I think that’s something that attorneys are always looking for.
There are a lot of — we get a lot of questions about just nuts and bolts issues of running a practice, things like how long do I have to keep client files? What are some of the requirements for security? What are some of the ethical issues of running the practice and so those are I think always issues that that people need information on. But then you’ve always got something that just comes up like the pandemic that we didn’t know we were going to be posting any material about how to run a law practice during a global pandemic and nobody thought that was going to happen.
And so, that’s now a big section on the website because that was something we just had to cover. So to a certain degree, we don’t know what’s going to happen and we need to be able to adapt when a topic comes up.
One other topic that we often have a lot of questions about is how to close the practice, and a lot of attorneys in Texas are and getting to the end of their career. We’ve heard a lot about the sort of tidal wave of baby boomers who are getting to the end of their career and they’re starting to think about what’s going to happen to their practice when they’re ready to leave the practice of law?
And so that’s a very frequent question and we’ve really tried to provide some guidance and give some resources on the website for that issue as well. We get a lot of questions about that.
Rocky Dhir: Now just to clarify, this site will not have CLE materials on it. That’s still going to be at texasbarcle.com. These are more practice tools that you use and you are not necessarily going to get CLE credit for reading about cloud computing and reading a guide. So am I correct there? I want to make it clear that this is not a CLE site, this is more of a practice resource site.
Sharon Sandle: Yes, right.
Rocky Dhir: So now, there were two words on the sneak preview that you gave me that kind of stood out, two words, and I wanted to ask you what you meant by it because it sounds like it’s got a double maybe a triple meeting but it says Practice Well.
Sharon Sandle: Right, right.
Rocky Dhir: So talk to us about this term Practice Well and what you mean by it?
Sharon Sandle: Right, yeah, we really did think very hard about that term, really our thinking there is that if you’re running a law firm, you want that law firm to be successful, you want to do a good job practicing law. So you want to practice well in the sense that your law firm is successful and it’s sustainable and you’re doing a good job.
But you also don’t want to be killing yourself practicing long. You want to practice well in the sense that it’s a healthy thing for you to do and a job that hopefully Texas lawyers enjoy as well as do because either they need to earn a living or they feel they have to do it. I think most attorneys they enjoy practicing law and they want it to be something that’s healthy and sustainable for them personally and fulfilling.
So Practice Well to me encapsulates both of those ideas that you have a successful sustainable practice that it’s also a healthy practice for the attorney and for the clients and as a business.
Rocky Dhir: So actually I had a third meeting in my head and so I thought –
Sharon Sandle: Okay, that’s good.
Rocky Dhir: Yes. Yes, so I thought it’s kind of like a well, like a water well, and so there’s like a well of information.
Sharon Sandle: Oh cool.
Rocky Dhir: So, you can kick people with one foot and do your best 300 impression, just be like this is Texas.
Sharon Sandle: Well, that’s great. I had not thought of that but that works as well. And so I’m really excited that there’s even a meaning I hadn’t thought of, so that’s great.
Rocky Dhir: Hey, we got a triple entendre. Now, when is the official launch date of the site? Like when does it go live? Do we know yet?
Sharon Sandle: Yeah, we do. September 20th is the date that we are going to launch, so it’s getting there.
Rocky Dhir: Okay, good, good. So hopefully by the time people are hearing this, by the time our listeners are tuning in it will be up and running and they can go straight to it and start delving into it and experiencing everything that that your team has worked so hard to prepare.
Now after September 20th, are you going to go like on a big vacation or once it goes live are you like look, mom is going to Vegas. I mean what’s going to happen?
Sharon Sandle: No, I don’t think I will, our website manager, we may need to send him on vacation because he has worked, Conor Jensen is our website manager, and he has a team of folks who’ve been working on this project as I said for months. And he’s worked nights and weekends and sometimes he looks pretty tired. So we may have to send him out off on vacation.
But no we’ll — we won’t abandon the site once it launches. We’ve got a team of folks who are excited to see the launch and to see people start using it, and there are a lot of tools behind the scenes that our staff is really excited about. There are a lot of things that we haven’t been able to do with our old websites that we’re going to be able to do with this one.
And so internally, we’ve got a lot of new toys to play with, so we’re not going to go on vacation. We are going to be playing with our new website and adding content even after the 20th, especially after the 20th.
Rocky Dhir: Well sure. It sounds exciting. I’m looking forward to September 20th, I’m definitely going to check it out and start playing around in there. So, let me just take this opportunity to thank you and your staff for this, for all the hard work and for the wonderful endeavor, this, it sounds like its pretty cutting edge. I don’t think — I don’t know how many other places you can go to find this. So again, thank you.
Sharon Sandle: Well, I hope everybody likes it and I hope we get a lot of feedback too because it’s not going to be a static thing. So I hope Texas lawyers will let us know what they like, what they want to see added because we should be able to do that.
Rocky Dhir: Well, we’re lawyers in Texas. So that’s two factors that will meet, you will probably get a lots of feedback.
Sharon Sandle: Probably will, probably will absolutely.
Rocky Dhir: Everybody will tell you what they think, absolutely.
Sharon Sandle: I hope so.
Rocky Dhir: But at any rate Sharon, I know we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg of everything you and your team have done but we are out of time unfortunately.
So again, thank you for being a part of the podcast and for giving us this preview to this really, really cool new feature; and again, of course, congratulations to you and your staff for creating this. Well done.
Sharon Sandle: Well, thank you. I really hope that everybody will check it out and we are excited about it.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. So and I want to thank you for listening in and tuning in and being a part of this as well and I want to encourage you to save www.texasbarpractice.com in your bookmarks and keep an eye out for the launch on September 20th.
And of course, above all else, please stay safe during these unusual times and make sure you 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.
And of course if you like what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple podcasts, Google podcast or your favorite podcast app. Until next time remember, life’s a journey folks. I’m Rocky Dhir signing off for now.
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