Time to meet your candidates! On March 10, Joe Escobedo and Cindy Tisdale participated in a live, virtual forum hosted by Rocky Dhir. Get to know Joe and Cindy as they share their priorities for the State Bar of Texas and answer audience questions.
Register to join their next live forum on April 5!
Joe Escobedo is a partner at Escobedo & Cardenas, LLP, in Edinburg, Texas, where he devotes his practice to tort litigation and mediations.
Cindy Tisdale is a small firm attorney in Granbury, Texas, where she dedicates her practice to family law. She is also Of Counsel with Lynch, Chappell & Alsup in Midland.
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Rocky Dhir: This podcast is brought to you by LawPay.
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: Hello, and thank you for tuning in. My name is Rocky Dhir. I am the CEO of Atlas Legal Research in Dallas and a proud member of the State Bar of Texas. I’m also honored to be the host of the State Bar of Texas Podcast. You know, it always cracks me up when lawyers say that there’s no right or wrong answer to something because as Texas lawyers, we often have clients coming to us expecting a definitive answer.
And so well, we often equivocate albeit with good reason sometimes. Every year at this time is one of those times. There truly is no right or wrong answer because we, as Texas lawyers, have to vote for our next president-elect and the folks at the State Bar, they make our jobs really hard because they give us exceedingly qualified candidates and give us a real conundrum. Some would call that a rarity in modern democracies not knowing who to vote for but hey, I digress. We have a good problem here in the State of Texas.
Well today, we will aim to make your job as a voter a better informed one even if we don’t make it any easier to make your choice. So with that, welcome to the first of two candidate forums for the 2022 State Bar of Texas President-Elect Election. I’m joined by our two superlative candidates, Cindy Tisdale of Granbury and Joe Escobedo of Edinburg. Both have been conducting campaigns to become the next president-elect of the State Bar of Texas and this forum ladies and gentlemen is an opportunity for Texas lawyers to meet their candidates.
Now, it’s no secret we’ve been in the middle of a pandemic and in this pandemic era, it’s been difficult for Cindy and Joe to conduct the traditional in-person meetings in our respective cities that we’ve all been used to but we’re excited to be able to offer this virtual forum so thank you for joining us. Among other topics today, we’ll be asking the candidates about the practice of law, the governance of the State Bar of Texas and those of you watching can submit your own questions by using the Zoom Q&A feature. We’ll get to them as time allows because forum will be one hour and we want to get through as many questions as we can.
So candidates will have up to two minutes to answer each question. Candidates, you got your two minutes. And we’ll start with introductions. Joe and Cindy, would you each take about a minute to introduce yourselves? And this is Texas. We still do believe in chivalry so Cindy, we’ll start with you.
Cindy Tisdale: Thank you Rocky, appreciate it. And hi Joe, hood to see you again. We are both in Lubbock yesterday. So I’m Cindy Tisdale, I’m a family law attorney in Granbury. I’m also of counsel with a firm in Midland, Lynch, Chappell & Alsup. So, I take a lot of cases out in Midland. It’s only a four-hour drive, not that big of a deal. I’ve practiced for 27 years and the vast majority of that is in family law. When I started my practice, I started right after law school. I work for the District Attorney’s office in McLennan County and I did their civil docket, CPS work, protective orders, things of that sort. Went into private practice in 1997 and I’ve been a solo practitioner since 1999.
You know, I’ve got to say a little bit about my family just so you know me and who I am. I have a son that is a 2L at Baylor Law school. I don’t know if he’s following in my footsteps but he’s decided to be a lawyer. I have a daughter that she is 21 and a junior at TCU in nursing and I’m very proud of both of them.
I want to thank everybody involved with this program here because I think it’s important that people vote. We have the right to vote. You should vote and I would love to see our numbers go up. I will not get into questions later. I’m not going to get in too much of my background because I’m sure Rocky is going to ask us about that. But I want to thank you all for the opportunity to run. I am privileged and humbled beyond belief and so honored to be here. Thank you.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. Thank you, Cindy. And Joe, your turn. Tell us a little a bit about yourself.
Joe Escobedo: Thank you. Thank you, Rocky for allowing me to be here and from setting this process up. As Cindy mentioned, we were in Lubbock yesterday which for those of all that know where Edinburg is and where Lubbock is, that’s really far away which means I have to get up really early today to get back to my office to be able to do this, but I’m happy to be here.
My practice is in Edinburg, Texas primarily a tort litigation practice. I also do some mediations approximately for 33 years. Started off as an insurance defense lawyer then left that. After about five years, became a plaintiff’s lawyer. I now — plans lawyer and do some defense work as well. And I do have a mediation practice. I’m very active in mediation practice which at some point when I stopped having fun as a trial lawyer, I’ll become hopefully become a full-time mediator.
I’ve been practicing for 33 years, been married for 33 years or going on 33 years which makes it really nice to remember how many years you have been married. If you get married in the same year, you’ve got a license. I have two wonderful daughters and four wonderful grandsons and a granddaughter on our way. We are very excited about that. And, you know, as far as experience with — I’ll talk more about that in a minute. I served on the board of directors as a director and as a chair. I currently serve on the Board for the Texas Bar Foundation and am a commissioner for Texas Access to Justice. Extremely proud and humble to be here as well and very excited too to answer these questions today.
Rocky Dhir: Well, Joe, and thank you for that first of all. Let’s talk to each of you and Joe, we’ll start with you about, why the heck do you want a serve as president of the State Bar of Texas? It’s a lot of hard work so why do you want this job? And if elected, what would be your priorities?
Joe Escobedo: So, that’s probably the single most popular question that Cindy and I are asked every time we enter a lawyer’s office or just go to some conference. A little bit about myself to put that in perspective, I come from very humble beginnings. The joke in my house growing up with my mom and my dad was, my mom would say that she was the smartest of the two because she went to fifth grade, my dad only way to third grade. But what they liked in education, they more than made up in the values that they instilled in myself and my sisters and I’ve taken those values to heart.
And so, basically the true answer is and it might sound a little cliché but this profession has given me everything that I have including my lovely wife. We met. I was in law school, she was an undergrad. And just running for this position, it’s a natural progression, you know. Somebody asks you, “Hey, why don’t you run for director?” And you say, “Okay.” “Hey, why don’t you run for charity?” You say, “Okay.” “Hey, why don’t you interview to see if you can be for president-elect?” So there is some of that but the reality of it is, the truth answer is it’s just my way of giving back.
As far as the question relating to what would I do as president-elect and we can talk this a little bit more when we talk about the issues. But to me, the single most important issue is our ability to keep our self-governance. I believe that the Bar is at a crossroads right now and that is an important issue, the most important issue which I believe we need to keep. And I was talking to a young lawyer yesterday in Lubbock and he’s like, “We need to get rid of the Bar.” I said, “Well, what are you going to replace it with?” And he didn’t really have a good answer for that. And I think as a Bar, we need to do a better job though.
I asked him, “Who is your director? Why don’t we talk to him about some of your issues?” And he had no idea who was director was. So as a Bar, we need to reach out to our constituents better. But to answer your question, the single most important issue as I see it, if I were to be lucky enough to get this position is to keep our ability to govern ourselves. We do not want somebody else governing. We do not want somebody else dealing with us or dealing with grievance issues against us. We want lawyers to govern lawyers and that’s what I believe the single most important issue is facing the Bar today.
Rocky Dhir: Cindy, what about you? Why the heck do you want this job and what do you think are the most important issues that would face you as president?
Cindy Tisdale: That’s a long question and I agree with Joe. Everywhere we go, that’s the first question anybody ask is why do you want this job? And either people congratulate us or they give us condolences one way or the other. But why I want this job? To be perfectly honest with you, I like helping lawyers. I have, if you look at my years of service, I have served in just about every role that you can in the Bar. I love being a lawyer. I love practicing law and I hated that other attorney don’t love the law as much as I do and love practicing law. I am a solo practitioner. I understand the issues of having to make payroll every month, of having to run a business every month, of doing your volunteer service and still actually trying to practice law and do that.
You know, I think the State Bar should help make our jobs easier and that’s the role of the State Bar in my opinion. And that’s what I want to do. You know, we help people. I help people in times when their marriages are ending. We have other lawyers helping people upon the death of a loved one, on an estate issue or helping companies or helping an accused of a crime or helping prosecute that accused in helping society.
So in all ways, we’re all helping people. And the State Bar, they should in turn help lawyers to help make your job easier to help those people. And that’s what I want to be a champion for. I want to be a champion for lawyers and helping you in your job.
The second part of that question was the important issues facing the Bar.
Rocky Dhir: The priorities, yes.
Cindy Tisdale: Yeah, priorities. I could not agree more with Joe. Our first priority is maintain our status as an independent self-regulating Bar. I can’t imagine the consequences if we’re not. Who wants to be ruled by the legislature or an agency? Who wants no benefits from your Bar? And more than likely, all of your Bar dues to go up and pay more money. You know I gave a speech one time and just a little aside and it was on what the State Bar does for you. I’ll never forget, it was in Midland. And there was a gentleman sitting at the back, arms crossed, scowl on his face and I picked him up. I said, “You, I want to ask you at the end of the speech if I taught you anything about your Bar you didn’t know.” He was like, “You got it, you’re on.”
So I gave my speech and at the end I asked him. I said, “Did I teach you anything about your Bar you didn’t know?” And he set there for a second. He said, “You know, you actually taught me a lot.” The Bar does a great job of communicating. We need to do a better job. We can’t make people open their emails but getting that one-on-one communication with lawyers, letting them know what their Bar does, I think that’s a big issue.
So the McDonald case, I’m not going to go through all that but that’s the most important thing we’re looking at. I think communicating with our members and making sure it’s direct concise communication with our members is also an important thing that the Bar is facing and needs to do.
Rocky Dhir: And actually, I wanted to turn next. We’re going to switch gears a little bit because we have a question from the audience. And so, I wanted to turn to that and give you guys a chance to answer a direct question from one of the voters. So, here’s the question is that, you know, the State Bar of Texas, we have a website that allows us to post ads for lawyer candidates, for job openings. And this particular person says, “I’ve used it several times. Why is it so expensive? Can we consider lowering the fees so we can get lawyers who are seeking a job to get more postings from Texas law firms?” So let me give you guys a second to kind of digest that. Cindy, we’re going to go with you first and give you a chance to maybe tackle that question.
Cindy Tisdale: Absolutely. Good question. My gut reaction is absolutely why not look into that. Again, if the State Bar is to help lawyers, I understand that Texas Bar Journal costs money to publish. And I’m not going to talk about the budget right now because I’m not in that position to know about that and I don’t know how much it cost. But if there’s any way that we can help lawyers and if that is decreasing the cost of an ad to help find lawyers and find employment for lawyers then that’s definitely something we should look at.
I was asked the question on this campaign tour with Joe of slashing our budget. We need to slash our budget of at least 5% 10% and my answer was respectfully, no. If there’s programs out there that help lawyers like this program then we should be doing everything we can to help those lawyers. And if there’s something though out there that doesn’t work then that’s where we should be slashing. Is that something that we should look into is reducing the cost of putting those ads out for employees and for attorneys to find employment? Absolutely.
Rocky Dhir: Okay, perfect. Joe?
Joe Escobedo: Yeah, absolutely agree with that. And in fact, we looked into this when I was on the steering committee of the Texas Minority Counsel program which is part of a fantastic program that the Bar puts together. When I first heard about this particular problem, we do need to fix it. One of the ways we can fix it — so I completely agree with you to fix it. One of the ways we can fix it is, we need to get these potential employers to subsidize that part of the process. That’s what’s typically done you. When you hear these commercials for things like indeed, you have these big employers or pretend this case would be law firms or it could be, obviously could be corporations as well.
If lawyers are contemplating going in house, we need to look into getting them to subsidize that service so that it does not cost the Texas lawyers. It’s not an exorbitant amount of money to use that service. It’s a wonderful service. And as one of the wonderful services that the Bar provides, and I’m so happy that the person that asked this question is aware of the service, but we do need to lower the cost. And one of the ways that we were looking at to do in that and we need to institute that is we need to guess perhaps one of the ways is to get the potential employers whether they be law firms or whether they be companies to subsidize that because they’re getting the benefit of that as well.
Obviously, the benefits that they’re getting is they’re getting a lawyer, a very qualified lawyer as a new employee. So absolutely agree. It’s a wonderful service that the Bar provides but to the extent that it’s an exorbitant amount of money, we need to do everything we can to lower that and I’m sure that there’s other solutions that we can look into that but perhaps one solution is to get the employers to subsidize some of that amount that right now is being charged to put Texas lawyers. So yes, absolutely agree with that.
Rocky Dhir: So, here’s the good news from my vantage point is, you guys both seem to have a great relationship with one another. Yes, your opponents in this race but there seems to be a lot of mutual respect which is always wonderful to see. And there seems to be some convergence in which you agree on terms of things that you think need to be addressed and resolved. One of the questions we’re getting though is to distinguish yourself from your opponent. In other words, what position do you hold on a particular issue concerning the Bar that differs from the position of your opponent? So let’s talk about maybe where there may be some differences of opinion respectfully of course. So Joe, we’ll start with you. What do you think is something that you would differ from Cindy on?
Joe Escobedo: I mean certainly on the larger issues, I think you’re going to see a convergence of opinions. I mean, when it comes to issues like self-governance, when it comes to issues like access to justice, I think the reality of it is you’re going to see that convergence of opinion because number one, seeing our friends and we have similar backgrounds when it comes to the Bar and we also know how important it is to be careful in whoever is going to be leading this Bar going forward, how important it is because as a result of the McDonald decision, which I’m sure will be part of the question, we need to be just very careful.
So I’m trying to answer your question as far as particular issues that we really do diverge. I don’t know if there is and I’m being very particularly honest, very honest. I mean I think that where we differ a little bit is, I think my basic support is a little broader than hers but that’s not really difference in issues. I think we’re going to be the same in some of the issues. I’m struggling to think of one where we really, really disagree. We’re both, I believe we’re going to be on the same page when it comes to certainly on the self-governance. You already heard both of us talk about that. And I think we’re probably both going to be on the same page when it comes to access to justice. I’m a big supporter of access to justice. Well, I’m sure that’s going to be a question that’s going to come up.
Rocky, I know I don’t think I really answered your question and it was a really good question but I don’t know if there’s really any big issues that — there’s certainly not big issues. There might be little issues here and there that we disagree on but I think that’s the honest answer that I give you.
Rocky Dhir: Cindy, what about you?
Cindy Tisdale: And that’s a great question. I think Andrew asked it and that’s a good question. You know, the problem with the campaign and the way it runs is, we don’t have a debate. So Joe might have some beliefs of where the Bar should go that I don’t know about and vice versa. I can tell you, I know Joe’s been a leader in the Bar but so have I. My history of leadership, I’ve been chair of the State Bar Board of Directors. I was chair of the Texas Bar Foundation. I’ve been chair of the family law section. I’ve been chair of different family law organizations but you know, as far as leading attorneys and helping attorneys, this is one Bar. I am a family lawyer. I’m not in this just to help family lawyers. I’m in this to help every attorney. That’s the job of the president to be the state, the face of the Bar, and the Bar is made up of 108,000 plus lawyers. And isn’t that astonishing? 108,000 lawyers. I know. That’s insane.
And so, do we have differences of opinion? We talked about access to justice or Joe did. I believe that every attorney should help out and that is our duty is to help our community. Absolutely. I don’t know Joe’s opinion on this so I’m not saying this is his opinion but I also don’t think it’s the Bar’s position or place though to mandate someone, donate their time and do pro bono work. I think it’s amazing when we do but I don’t think it should be mandated. I’m a member of the pro bono college. I do pro bono work but that’s my personal decision to make. And again, I’m not trying to say that Joe thinks otherwise because again, unfortunately under this kind of dynamic that we’re doing, we don’t have debates of what the differences are in our opinions.
So I think if someone wants to look at our differences, I know we both have our resumes all over the internet and Joe and I have both put ourselves out there and being accessible to attorneys and we’ll answer any questions. But I think you look at our past and our leadership capabilities and what we’ve been interested in in helping lawyers and that’s where you’re going to see where we’re going to go in the future.
Rocky Dhir: It’s interesting. You both brought up the McDonald litigation and the self-governance. So, you know for catching everybody up, that case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and we’re actually waiting to see if the court will take that case. Now, Cindy we’ll start with you. Have you been following that litigation? And what are your impressions about the implications for the State Bar of Texas from that particular case?
Cindy Tisdale: Absolutely I’ve been following it. I think every attorney should be following it because it’s dealing with our future. It’s dealing with our livelihood. It’s dealing with what we are. And for those of you that don’t know, Rocky kind of explained it a little bit, but the State Bar was sued under several different theories. It went to the court. The State Bar was granted summary judgment, went to the Fifth Circuit. They remained(ph) it on a few issues that the State Bar has come into compliance. That’s a thumbnail version. The other side filed a petition for cert with the U.S. Supreme Court. The State Bar has filed its brief. Everything has been done. We’re just waiting to hear from the Supreme Court. So that’s kind of the thumbnail sketch of the background.
The difference is if the plaintiffs get their way and we’re no longer a mandatory Bar, you have to sit and think what’s that going to look like? You might be sitting out there going, “Oh, well good. I don’t have to pay Bar dues anymore.” Our Bar dues are $235 a year and it hasn’t been raised in 30 years. Let that sink in. What other organization hasn’t raised dues or rates in that amount of time? And let’s look at the benefits attorneys get. I’m not even going to go forward but let’s look at fast case and they just started the new program where you can get the briefs. That alone is worth $235 a year.
The problem is if the plaintiffs win and we’re no longer a mandatory self-regulating Bar, we do not have self-discipline. We do not have self-regulation. There’s going to be another agency out there that’s going to be regulating us, disciplining us, running us, deciding how much our dues are. If the sections will be voluntary at that point, will no longer have any State Bar sections, there’s a lot of things that are going to trickle down if that happens. And for those of you thinking that not be a good idea, I want you to really think about the consequences if that happens.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. Thank you, Cindy. And Joe, what about you? Tell us about your impressions of McDonald and what it means moving forward?
Joe Escobedo: Sir, and I agree with Cindy, we certainly haven’t following it and I suggest that every Texas lawyer read it. I suggested that to that young lawyer in Lubbock that I was having that conversation with you. He have not read it but I sent him a copy of it. And it’s important because we have now — McDonald was a lawsuit by three Texas lawyers against the Bar because they don’t like the fact that the — and it’s a mandatory Bar. We have an integrated Bar. Everybody has to be a member obviously. And I completely understand that some people may have issues with their Bar dues being used with something they disagree with.
But what we now have is in the McDonald incision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, we have essentially a roadmap as to what the Bar needs to do to make sure that we’re only dealing with matters that are germane to the practice of law. And that’s why I suggested everyone read this opinion of the — one of it for example access to justice. That’s one of my issues. I believe and I certainly and we’re on agreement on this. I don’t think that pro bono hours should be mandated. But I certainly believe that it’s something that should be an interest to all Texas lawyers that not only those people that can afford our retainers or to pay our hourly fees should be able to access lawyers.
And if you look at the Fifth Circuit opinion and McDonald relating to access to justice, it very much said that to the extent the Bar is supporting access to justice activities for helping low-income Texans that attach as legal services that that is germane. So they also talked about the Bar’s diversity efforts that that was germane. Then there were issues obviously where they held that it wasn’t germane. And so now the Bar has a choice given the Fifth Circuit court opinion.
What do we need to do? And the court sets out three choices. I only like the first one. And that’s what the Bar is doing because I believe in a mandatory Bar. I believe in an integrated Bar. I believe that it benefits Texas lawyers. It benefits Texas courts and it benefits the public to have an integrated Bar.
So, we have a choice and the choice that the Bar is doing is we’re basically focusing on what is germane and if anything is not germane, the Bar’s just not going to get involved with it. So we have a roadmap and I think it’s important to use it, completely understand that there’s a writ of cert before the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court has asked for briefing. I understand this Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals may not be the end of the road but it still provides, as of right now provides a pretty good roadmap and that’s why I believe that every Texas lawyer should read it because it’s important to be able to keep our right to self-governance to understand what that opinion holds.
Rocky Dhir: Before we continue our conversation with State Bar president-elect candidates, Cindy Tisdale and Joe Escobedo, we’re going to take a break and hear from our sponsors.
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And we’re back with our two State Bar of Texas president-elect candidates, Cindy Tisdale and Joe Escobedo. Joe, you bring up and actually Cindy, you have as well, this issue of what the State Bar should and shouldn’t mandate. And so, this question of having a State Bar, the regulation of State Bar and what it can and cannot or should and should not mandate. Let’s talk for a moment about diversity, equity and inclusion and what role you believe the State Bar should play and can play when it comes to the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion. What should be mandated, what shouldn’t be and what role can the State Bar play in kind of helping Texas lawyers through that. So Joe, we’ll start with you and then Cindy, it’ll be your turn. Joe?
Joe Escobedo: Sure. As far as mandates, and I don’t think there’s ever been a discussion about any particular DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) mandates by the Bar. But I do think that it’s important to realize that the Fifth Circuit and McDonald clearly held that look, we understand that some people might have a difference of opinion when it comes to the Bar’s diversity, equity, inclusion efforts but they found in McDonald that it was germane to the practice of law. And let me just be very, very upfront. I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for diversity and inclusion efforts by the Bar, by the university that I went to, by the law school. And I’m here because of those efforts and I think a lot of lawyers are where they are because of those efforts. So I laud them. I think that there’s something that should be applauded.
And we have some wonderful diversity inclusion. I was on the steering committee for the Texas Minority Counsel program. It is a wonderful program that the Bar puts together. And every time we had our conference every year, I left that conference just really feeling that we had done so much good for Texas lawyers. So that’s my position on diversity, equity, inclusion. Again, completely understand the McDonald decision might not be the end of the road on that issue but right now, the law that we have in front of us is the McDonald opinion and it clearly states that the Bar’s DEI efforts are germane to the practice of law. And so, I believe that the Bar should continue those efforts.
But as far as any kind of mandates, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten into those kind of mandates. And just lastly, I’ve been speaking of a lot of law firms, a lot of large law firms and all those large law firms have DEI principles in their firms. It’s a good thing for law firms and for the Bar to be more inclusive. I mean, that’s certainly my opinion.
Rocky Dhir: Cindy, how about you? DEI and the State Bar. What are your views on the role the State Bar should or can play when it comes to that issue?
Cindy Tisdale: Sure. Of course, it’s important. The State Bar should not mandate implicit bias training. The State Bar should not mandate CLE on DEI for attorneys.
But is it important for attorneys to have that training? I think so. I mean, it’s important as personally but the State Bar, that’s not the business of the State Bar is to mandate it. Absolutely, I agree with that. If you look at, for example, the Jalynn Turner in Dallas or the Mexican American Bar Association. There are some great leaders, attorney leaders in all of these organizations. Why aren’t we tapping into those organizations? Why isn’t the State Bar trying to tap those leaders and get them involved in the Bar? You know, I think that could be a good pop line for lack of a better term but there’s great minority leaders be it all over Texas and we just have to tap into that.
But again as far as the efforts of the State Bar is concerned, I know now we have a director at large instead of minority director, things of that sort, and the State Bar has had to change that kind of the things we do. But if you look at the mission statement of the State Bar, the last line is the State Bar is to promote the diversity, the administration of justice and the practice of law. Okay, I don’t know how many attorneys are on this webinar but probably every single one has a different definition of what that means. And I have my own definition of what that means that we promote diversity in the administration of justice in the practice of law. Joe might have a different definition.
I think honestly that’s going to come down to the Supreme Court. The Fifth Circuit right now says that’s germane, that’s within our realm or the Bar’s realm is to do that and to maintain that diversity. We’re going to have to see what comes down from the Supreme Court but again, it’s something that should be encouraged but not mandated.
Rocky Dhir: Here’s maybe a way to look at a different question when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion from a totally different angle and that has to do really with the TYLA. So for those of us lawyers, nobody’s ever surprised when I tell them I have aged out of the TYLA. It never shocks anybody. But for those of us who practice longer than 12 years or are no longer members of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, Should we be allowed to vote in TYLA elections? What are your thoughts on that? Cindy, let’s start with you.
Cindy Tisdale: You say should we vote?
Rocky Dhir: Should we be allowed to vote?
Cindy Tisdale: We should be allowed to vote if we’re not — I think the rule down is or another rule is you have to be practicing 12 years or less to be a member of TYLA. There’s no age requirement. I don’t think so and I’ll tell you why. The TYLA, we’re looking at attorneys, young attorneys. Now, they might not be young in age, there might be attorneys that have gone back later in life but young attorneys and those young attorneys are going to be the voice for other young attorneys. If we look at the State Bar Act, it dictates who’s going to be on the State Bar Board and it specifically states that the TYLA president-elect, president and immediate past president are on our board. We have no choice. That’s it.
But TYLA, I think if we have to open it up and those TYLA representatives have to be voted on by the entire State Bar, that’s going to change the face of TYLA. That’s going to make things put so much burden on them to campaign, to listen to all of us, things of that sort. And TYLA, let’s get real. They are the workhorse of the Bar. I don’t know if you look at their website, if you read what they’re doing, they are the absolute workhorse in the service arm of the Bar and they do so much good for us. You look on their website. I don’t know if you have looked on it recently. Go look. You’re going to be amazed at what all they do and what good they do.
And the problem is, younger attorneys did a voice on our Bar, period. And if you put a three-year lawyer against a 30-year lawyer running as director, that 30-year lawyer is automatically going to have more contacts, more colleagues. Who do you think is going to be able to reach more attorneys? A three-year lawyer or the 30-year lawyer? And I think young lawyer should have a voice on our Bar Board.
Rocky Dhir: Thank you, Cindy. Joe, what’s your view on this? Should lawyers who have been practicing more than 12 years be allowed to vote in TYLA elections?
Joe Escobedo: No, it would be my view. It seems like this is a solution in search of a problem. I completely agree with Cindy as far as TYLA. When I was on the board, I would watch and when I was chair of the board as well, when I would watch the TYLA president and president-elect come and give their reports, I was exhausted just listening to them.
They are the service arm of the Bar and they do incredible, incredible work. If I have the honor to be present-elect, I will support TYLA as it is structured today. The adjustment was recently made to the 12 years practice that takes into consideration I think compensates for perhaps lawyers that have some second careers and start a little later than somebody that went straight to law school. But the structure as is dictated by State Bar Act is the structure that we have today. It is a structure that the board approved. TYLA leaderships deserves a place on the board. I would not support any change to that as far as older lawyers that have been able to run for TYLA positions to challenge younger lawyers.
Again, I think it’s sort of a solution in search of a problem. The way we have it right now works really, really well and those young lawyers or the leaders from the TYLA provide an incredible service to the board as well. The work they do while doing the reports and the work they do on the board, the big board, not just their board. The TYLA has their own board but the work they do on the Board of Directors is incredible. So, no, I would not be in favor of what the question proposes.
Rocky Dhir: Let’s switch gears for a moment and talk a little bit about ethics and grievances which is another big aspect of what we do as a State Bar. One question that’s popped up is about the burden of proof and the standard for grievance procedures. Now, currently in Texas, the burden of proof is on the Commission for Lawyer Discipline and it has to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. So Joe, we’ll start with you on this question. Do you still agree with the preponderance of the evidence standard or should we be going to a different standard? Maybe clear and convincing or something else? So let’s maybe talk about that grievance procedure and what do you think about that burden of proof and that that standard?
Joe Escobedo: Thank you, Rocky. I think the standard is appropriate. Moving to a clear and convincing standard. I mean, as Texas lawyers we’re familiar with that standard. It’s a standard that in Texas, it is essentially for gross neglect. And I think that if you change the standard, you may provide or may cause a chilling effect on the grievances that are filed. But first, let me back up. Obviously, if somebody has a grievance filed against them, those grievances should be taken very seriously. The biggest reason why people have a grievance filed against them is because they’re not answering their calls or not answering their emails or whatever contact they have with their lawyer.
The biggest reason why that grievance may get granted is because that same lawyer doesn’t respond to the grievance committee. So there needs to be some procedure. I don’t want Texas lawyers losing their ability to practice. If they’re not answering calls for their clients and then additionally not responding to the grievance committee, there might be some underlying problems. So I’m in favor of having some kind of a program. We have a program right now where if somebody’s — the client is filing a grievance, there’s a program. There’s a system with a process. We need something like that for lawyers that are going through the process because it can be a complicated process.
But the question relating to the increasing the standard, that’s actually been considered. It’s sort of whether or not a grievance issue is quasi criminal. And so, there’s a case out of the Fifth Circuit called (00:39:14) State Bar of Texas that said classifying a minor disciplinary sanction as a quasi-criminal in nature that didn’t make any sense. And so, that’s related to the issue that you’ve asked. I would not be in favor of increasing the standard to a clear and convincing standard. I do think that we need to be exact in this process. I do think that we need to make sure the Texas lawyers have the assistance that they need if there is a grievance against them but I would not be in favor of increasing the standard.
Rocky Dhir: Cindy, how about you?
Cindy Tisdale: I’m in favor of increasing the standard. Short answer. You just answered the question now. So that’s what we tell our clients and our witnesses, right?
Rocky Dhir: You have not been sworn in so I don’t know. I feel like I need to administer an oath.
Cindy Tisdale: Honestly, the system works. The system works as it is. I don’t want there to be a chilling effect on grievances. Part of the State Bar’s mission is to protect the public also. If you look at the grievances — you know, I’m on the Board of Disciplinary Appeals right now. Last year, there were a little more than 7,000 grievances filed. Of those, only about 27% were upgraded. So that’s about 70% were dismissed outright on a preponderance of evidence. It is dismissed by the CDC. Of course a complainant can then appeal that to BODA. And last year, about a little over 20% was, they appealed it. And of those, BODA only sent back a reversed 8%.
If you look at all those numbers, what that tells me is the system is working. The system is working at preponderance of the evidence. The system is working with our current system of how they file grievances and how the public files grievances. And I think if we try to upsets danger beyond a reasonable doubt or anything clear and convincing evidence, I also don’t want to have a chilling effect to where we’re not protecting the public and not doing that arm of our mission statement.
Rocky Dhir: So, let’s maybe talk about a related topic and that has to do with what the actual ethics itself. Right? So there’s a grievances but then before you get to the grievance stage, you want to make sure that as a lawyer, you’re doing everything correctly. One of our participants has complimented the State Bar Ethics hotline and I concur. It’s an excellent service. So Cindy, let’s start with you. Could you tell us as president, would you expand that program? Would you increase its efforts? Would you do more to publicize it to lawyers especially new lawyers? So let’s maybe start with you Cindy and then Joe, I’ll give you a chance to weigh in on that as well.
Cindy Tisdale: Well, I have to say, I’m not beyond BODA and I’ve been on the local grievance committee. I’ve served in several positions. I still use the grievance hotline and I do. I do quite often to be honest with you because I sit there and I read the rules and I read the opinions. I read everything else. And as attorneys, we get inside our head a little bit too much and I want just another opinion. Of course the grievance hotline does not give you an answer but they guide you. They show you the rules. You get to go through, make sure you’re not missing anything.
I think it’s an excellent, excellent opportunity for lawyers. If they have questions about conflict of interest let’s say just for example that the hotline can guide them through that, should it be expanded? I am in favorite of it being expanded honestly. To be perfectly honest, I need to look at the numbers. How many calls do we get? How long does it take for a callback? Because usually, you call, you leave a message and you get a callback usually within a day. Is there a need to expand, add more people to that about getting the word out to other lawyers? Absolutely.
You know, I can’t say for sure that the grievances would go down if more people and more attorneys knew about the hotline but could it save a few attorneys from a grievance, it very well may. Is it something we can put the grievance hotline phone number at the beginning of every CLE, just to put it up there so people know about it? That doesn’t cost the Bar anything to do and it might get the word out. So I think it’s something to look into.
Rocky Dhir: Joe, how about you? What do you think about this particular topic?
Joe Escobedo: I think it’s an excellent service as provided by our Bar to our lawyers. As far as expanding it — the only complaint that I’ve heard about it recently is that, there seems to be a little and maybe pandemic related, I would have to study it, but the complaint I heard recently from a number of lawyers was that there was a little bit of a lag in the response. So perhaps we need to look at that. Do we need to get more people involved in it or get working on that? We need to look at that. We definitely need to publicize it more. I’ve used it. My partner uses it and friends of mine use it but we need to publicize it more and I have seen it publicized in CLEs but we need to be more — more Texas lawyers need to know about it.
As far as expanding it, I would be in favor of that if we find out, if we study it and we find out that there is a lag or an unreasonable lag in the response time. That is to me, everyone else that I know that has used it has given a very high marks.
The only complaints that I’ve heard about it recently is that the response time seems to have gotten longer. Again, I’m being honest. I have not looked at if that is perhaps been caused by COVID. I know obviously the Bar staff. A lot of them were remote and maybe some of them still are. I understand. But as far as expanding it, I definitely would especially we study it and we find out that the response times could be a little bit improved. It is a wonderful program and I think all Texas lawyer should at one point in time, if they ever need it, it’s there. And I do think that it would save lawyers from potential grievance if they just use that as that service.
Rocky Dhir: Perfect. Now, Joe, let’s go back to the topic you both talked about earlier and that is access to justice. We’ve touched a little bit on it but let’s talk about specifics. What do you think the State Bar and individual lawyers can do to ensure access to justice for all Texans? And perhaps as a predicate, why is access to justice important? Why should we as lawyers care? So why is it important? What can we do about it?
Joe Escobedo: Well, it’s important because besides obviously protecting lawyers, we’re supposed to be protecting the public. And the reality of it is, it’s just there an increasing amount of the public that cannot afford to hire a lawyer. So, the problem has changed recently. There used to be we need to encourage lawyers to do pro bono work and we still do. And I mean, encourage. You’re not going to hear anything for me as far as Bar mandates of pro bono’s, pro bono hours but we need to encourage that. I mean large law firms encourage their lawyers and perhaps even mandate but that’s a different thing. They can do that. So we need to encourage lawyers to do pro bono work.
But the other thing that we needed to note is that the problem has changed a little bit. We now have the non-represented litigant that just finds itself in the court system and I see them all the time especially in the era of Zoom hearings and there they are and they don’t know what they’re doing. Obviously, they’re not lawyers and they’re not represented and the system slows down. So we need to figure out what’s the best way to deal with the non-represented litigant. It’s a fine line. I am not in favor of basically taking business from Texas lawyers who are having a hard time as it is and to come up with some kind of forms or to just be able to solve the problem.
We have to study the problem. It is a fine line. The Bar should not be taking business away from Texas lawyers. But it is important to note that the problem has changed recently. It’s not so much. We just need to encourage lawyers to do pro bono work. There aren’t enough lawyers to do all this pro bono work. There’s so many non-represented litigants now. It’s important to me on a personal level because I have seen growing up the way I grew up what can happen when those in power can take advantage of those that have none.
On a personal note, it’s very important to me that the poor people in Texas have access to justice and we need to figure out how to deal with the fact that the problem has changed. It’s not so much, we just need to encourage pro bono which we need to do that. We always need to continue to do that. We need to figure out how to deal with just the increasing numbers of non-represented litigants that are in the system right now and are having an impact on the court system because they just don’t know what they’re doing obviously. They’re not lawyers. So it’s something that’s very important to me. But that one issue we need to study it and do something about it.
Rocky Dhir: Cindy, how about you? What do you think we can do as a State? Well, first of all, why is it important? Is it important? And why is it important? And then, what can we as a State Bar and these individual lawyers do about the issue of access to justice? Please give us your thoughts as well.
Cindy Tisdale: Absolutely. Thank you Rocky. You know, we have to make sure we understand and maintain the difference in self-represented litigants. There are those self-represented litigants that are indigent and can’t afford attorneys and there’s a whole another aspect of self-represented litigants that can afford attorney, they just choose not to hire one. And so, all I’m going to be talking about are the indigent, self-represented litigants because you know what they say about an attorney who represents himself, right? He has a fool for a client. And it’s kind of the same thing. If you can afford an attorney and choose not to do so, I’m not here to help you. That’s not my job.
If you cannot afford an attorney, I don’t agree with putting a form in front of them and having them fill it out with no legal representation as to what it means. What is a joint managing conservatorship versus a sole managing conservatorship? Those types of issues. If you look at what the State Bar has done, probono.texas.org is a website that the State Bar has set up and basically what it does is you can take a pro bono case through that probonotexas.org. And guess what? You get free malpractice insurance if you take it through probonotexas.org through your local legal service provider. And that’s tremendous because I know a lot of attorneys and me, I do pro bono work, is that a concern that then my client is going to come back and sue me for malpractice or file a grievance or do whatever? Of course it is. You take a case through that and you get your free malpractice insurance.
As an attorney, and I have said this before but I’m going to say it again, it’s up to each of the individual attorney but I think part of our mandate as lawyers is to help our community. And one thing the family law section has done that I am so proud of and I was chair of this committee, we have a pro bono CLE committee. What we do is we go throughout Texas and put on CLEs throughout the year. It’s a full day of CLE and it’s free. You get free CLE in return for taking two pro bono cases through your legal aid service provider. Period.
We have placed thousands of indigent litigants that need help with attorneys to help them and that has been an amazing thing. I would love to see the Bar expand on that a little bit and I’m not — trust me, I’m not saying the Bar should be doing that and giving away all CLE but I’m saying could we expand on that a little bit and say, “Okay, if you’re willing to take these cases and represent indigent litigants then the Bar will help you out in some way in doing that.” I think it’s something that needs to be looked at but I’m very proud of the family law section for doing that and I think it’s something that the Bar can look at and see if they can try to expand on or help in the future.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. You know, I got to give a shout out to all of our participants. They’re asking some fantastic questions. I had a bunch of oddball questions I was going to ask and they’re asking some actual really substantive ones. So congratulations to both of you for getting an opportunity to address some real life questions from some actual participants.
This next one, I think is an excellent question and it has to do really with looking to the future of where law practice is. Some states have been toying with this idea experimenting and letting paralegals maybe do certain types of representation. We’re letting out of state lawyers come in and represent to some degree. Do you believe it’s important to maintain the current rules that allow only Texas licensed lawyers to represent parties or do we need to open that up either to non-lawyers, paralegals or lawyers out of state. So Cindy, let’s start with you on that question.
Cindy Tisdale: You asked kind of two questions. As to the first one, should we keep our rules that only Texas attorney should represent Texas people. Absolutely. I am not a fan. I’m not in support of allowing non-attorneys or paralegals or anybody else to do legal work. We went to law school for three years or more or whatever it happened to be to learn the laws. So okay, this paralegal is going to come in and do my job and take away money from Texas lawyers and take away our business and not really know what they’re doing. They may know kind of the basics. Here’s how you calculate child support. This is how you do this. They can’t give legal advice and that’s what people need when they’re in the middle of litigation is legal advice. I am not a fan. I am not in support of expanding that rule in allowing non-lawyers or paralegals to take jobs and business away from Texas lawyers. And I also think that would really harm the public and allowing non-lawyers to represent them.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. Fair enough. Cindy, that was your response. Joe, what is your view on that same question?
Joe Escobedo: Absolutely. I hate to say that it’s the same but it’s the same. I mean, that’s a very sound view. I’m a very proud member of the American Board of Trial Advocates and BODA and Texas BODA has taken a very clear view on this. To quote grumpy(ph) where again, it’s just not sound policy. We go to law school, we get our education and we have this experience and that’s just the way it should be. The system works really well right now.
There are other underlying reasons or there’s some underlying factors that’s driving that policy of allowing non-lawyers to practice law.
We’re allowing non-lawyers to invest in Texas law firms. And you’re seeing it in other states. I am not in favor of seeing this in this state. I think that only Texas lawyers should represent clients in the state. And so, I would definitely come out as against that proposition.
Rocky Dhir: I think looking at the time, we have time for maybe one more question. And on this one, it’s a big question but I might be a little bit tougher in terms of just kind of keeping the time low so we can make sure we stay within the promised one hour. So if I cut you off, no offense candidates. When you’re wielding all that power as president, please don’t get mad. I’m just kidding. So Joe, we’re going to start with you on this one. In your opinion, what do you think — you know we talked about a number of issues today during this hour-long panel but what do think is the most important issue facing the Texas legal committee that we haven’t mentioned, that we haven’t talked about and that you think ought to be talked about. So, Joe, let’s start with you.
Joe Escobedo: Okay? Well, it’s certainly been implied but I think the biggest issue that’s facing the Texas lawyers hasn’t been specifically addressed. It’s just apathy. They’re just not interested in the Bar. I do a lot of mediations and I just — informal polls during the mediations that I ask lawyers, “Do you participate in State Bar elections.” And they’re like, “I can do that?” “Yeah, you kind of can. It’s easy. They send you an e-mail.” I said yesterday, we’re in the Lubbock Area Bar Association. I said, “It takes you longer.” At least it takes me longer to do my daily Wordle than it does to vote for a president-elect of the State Bar. We just need to get Texas lawyers engaged.
The Bar provides them wonderful resources and it provides them an opportunity to meet lawyer from throughout the state. It results in work. I promise you it does. It might not be immediate but it results in work. And besides that, you just get to make friends all over the State of Texas. I think everyone can tell that I love Texas lawyers. I love the lawyers in general. I love talking to lawyers. Ninety nine percent of my friends are lawyers. So I think with the one of the biggest problems that we have that’s facing Texas lawyers that we need to deal with is we need to get them involved.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. So apathy is Joe’s answer to that question. I just don’t know that I care enough about apathy. I’m kidding. Okay, Cindy, what is your answer?
Cindy Tisdale: It’s something that’s facing Texas lawyers that we haven’t talked about but I think the elephant in the room is our mental health. Attorney’s mental health, addictions, things of that sort. We have a great program in TLAP and I wish every attorney knew about it. I wish every attorney knew that even if they could not afford rehab that there’s a trust available with funds for to pay for them. But especially coming out of this pandemic and I don’t know about all of you watching and listening but being self-isolated was tough. It was tough on me. It was tough on just about everybody I knew.
And with attorneys, we have such a high incident of suicide and addiction and alcoholism. And because this is a tough job, we do. We live other people’s problems and other people’s lives all day and then trying to leave that at the office is tough. And I would really like to concentrate more on helping lawyers especially coming out of this pandemic to recognize and help their mental health if they have addictions, things of that sort. But that’s something I see facing our profession that we haven’t talked about that I think is very, very important.
Rocky Dhir: Okay, so mental health. Ladies and gentlemen, you know I told you this would not be an easy choice. These are two fantastic candidates. They’re supremely qualified and I’m sure we could talk for much longer but I’m looking at the time and unfortunately our time today has come to an end. So I’d like to thank the two candidates for their participation. You guys have been absolutely amazing. I’m looking forward to either one of you ascending the throne and leading us. And to all the participants, you guys have been great. Those of you who have been posting questions, you guys are rock stars. Thank you all.
The second virtual candidate forum is scheduled. It’s going to be noon central time on April 5. We encourage you to attend that as well. You can register at texasbar.com/election. And as a reminder, voting in the State Bar and TYLA elections begins on April 1 and ends on May 2.
No excuse, you got over a month. Attorneys may vote using a paper ballot or an electronic ballot. Be sure to check your junk folder in your email because sometimes that e-ballot can get caught up in your junk mail folder. And again, I want to thank you for tuning in and encourage you to stay safe and be well. If you like what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple Podcast, Google Podcast or your favorite podcast app. Until next time. Remember, life’s a journey folks. I’m Rocky Dhir, signing off.
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