State Bar President Cindy Tisdale and Texas Young Lawyers Association President Laura Pratt were sworn in at the annual meeting in Austin this June. Rocky Dhir sits down with both to discuss their plans for their presidencies in the coming year. Cindy shares her intention to study AI, focus on civility, and continue to develop more wellness tools for Texas attorneys. Laura discusses TYLA’s focus on public service, her plans to improve and update previous TYLA projects, and her developing website devoted to helping young people with everyday “adulting” topics.
Cindy Tisdale is a board certified family law attorney and 2023-24 President of the State Bar of Texas.
Laura Pratt is a commercial litigator at Sprouse Shrader Smith PLLC and 2023-24 President of TYLA.
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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 welcome to another episode of the State Bar of Texas Podcast. We are recording live from the bar’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas. This is your host, Rocky Dhir. Joining me now, we have two very special guests, our new leaders for 2023-2024, we have State Bar President Cindy Tisdale and TYLA President Laura Pratt. Welcome.
Cindy Tisdale: Thank you, Rocky. Good to be here.
Laura Pratt: Hi, Rocky. Thank you so much for having me.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. Now, look, before we get started on the year ahead and what to expect, tell us a little bit more about yourselves beyond just your bar service is huge, but tell us where you work, what you do, and what brought you here. So, Cindy, let’s start with you.
Cindy Tisdale: I’m a family law attorney, a board certified in family law. I’ve been practicing oh, dare I say it? 28 years.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, man.
Cindy Tisdale: I have an office in Granbury, Texas. I just joined Goranson Bain Ausley, so I’m also starting a Fort Worth office in all my spare time, and I have two kids, if you want to go there. My daughter’s about to graduate from TCU for nursing, and my son graduates in July from law school.
Rocky Dhir: Law school. Okay —
Cindy Tisdale: Law school, I know.
Rocky Dhir: That’s bad parenting. I get it. I understand. I get it completely. Well, we’re glad to have you with us. Laura, tell us about your journey.
Laura Pratt: So I live in practice in Lubbock, Texas, but originally I’m from East Texas, so I left all the trees for very flat high plains. I am a commercial litigator at the law firm of Sprouse Shrader Smith in Amarillo. So as a product of the COVID pandemic, I am a remote worker at least four days a week.
Rocky Dhir: Nice.
Laura Pratt: Yeah, it’s a pretty sweet gig, especially for me because another part of my life is I’m a mom to three, my husband’s an educator, and so it works really well with our schedule for me to be kind of more around during after school activities while he’s doing stuff for his school. I have been involved kind of with bar service for the better part of the past decade as kind of they’ve become my law family. So stepping into kind of this leadership role was a natural transition for me and something that I’m just really passionate about sticking with and doing the best I can with kind of this new opportunity.
Rocky Dhir: So let’s Laura maybe talk about that to kind of get us started. What prompted you, compelled you or whatever word you want to use there? What kind of got you inspired to get more involved with bar service? I’m assuming you did some local bar stuff as well, but what prompted you to go there? Because so many times, lawyers get busy with their day to day lives, and they don’t think they have time for it, but obviously you’ve made time for it. So tell us a little bit about that.
Laura Pratt: So actually, I am the first lawyer in my family. I come from a family of a bunch of educators, scientists, and engineers and so when I went to my parents and said, I think I want to try law school, about my second year in college, they kind of gave me blank stairs and what does that mean?
Rocky Dhir: Where did we go wrong?
Laura Pratt: Yes, exactly. So honestly, when I came out of law school, I didn’t really know what I was doing. But for my local bar and my involvement with the state bar, I don’t think I would have had the professional success that I did, because I found a lot of mentors and friends and colleagues that kind of came alongside me and said, “hey, here’s the way you do this or do you want to come to the courthouse with me?” And out of that process, I had some really incredible mentors that kind of shared the value of bar service and how those connections can benefit you both professionally and personally. And like I said before, the bar, both my local bar and my involvement with TYLA and state bar has kind of really become my law family. And there are some pretty incredible people that I’ve met along this journey that have continued to encourage me and support me at every juncture. And so it makes it really easy when you’re given such a great opportunity if you have people in your corner that are saying, “go for it” and, I mean, one of those people is on this call, and I’ve taken a lot of wisdom and knowledge from Cindy and watching her, how she does all the juggling as a lawyer and a mom.
And those are the people that I want to be around. Those are the people that I want to learn from and bar service provides an incredible opportunity for that.
Rocky Dhir: And speaking of Cindy, you said she’s been one of your mentors. Cindy, would you echo those? Was this the same thing for you? Was it really a place to go find mentors or what got you involved in bar service?
Cindy Tisdale: Mine was a little bit different, Rocky. I started off in the sections. I started off in the family law section. I was asked to be on the council, and I did the council and loved that work. Then I was asked to be on the executive committee and worked my way up to president of the family law section. And so I started my bar service through the sections. After that service, oh, that ended that was in about seven years ago or so. I had a phone call from Tom Vic. I don’t know if — I’m sure everybody probably knows Tom, so I had a phone call from Tom Vic and Tom said, “well, Cindy, do you want to run for director for the state bar board for your district.” My first question was what’s that and what’s involved?
Rocky Dhir: Right, absolutely.
Cindy Tisdale: Now this again, I take that back. This was back in probably 2009 or so and so he called and I said, “sure, let’s go, let’s do it” and the reason I said yes, though, is because honestly, I love my job. I absolutely love what I do. I love this profession and if I have an opportunity to give back, I need to. It’s given me everything, it’s given my family everything. So thankfully, I ran unopposed for that position, and I was director and my third year as a director, I ran for chair of the board, won that thankfully unopposed, and that kind of kicked me off on the regular bar service. So that’s kind of how I got my start, but it was through the sections.
Rocky Dhir: So let’s talk about initiatives because you guys are both at the very start of your respective presidency. So Cindy, let’s talk about the state bar as a whole. You’ve got a legacy you’re following here of some tremendous initiatives that your predecessors have put into place. What’s kind of on your checklist for being state bar president? What are you trying to accomplish?
Cindy Tisdale: Sure and as I’ve said, I’m the 9th woman president of the state bar and the third in a row, so I have some big stilettos to feel. First and this has already begun. I started put together a work group to study artificial intelligence and the impact it’s going to have on our profession, on our judiciary, and then the ethics of AI and how we use it. So that’s already been assembled, that’s already been approved by the board of directors because I don’t know about you, but I know how to spell artificial intelligence and that’s about where it ends. So this work group is people much smarter than I am that are in this area so they can study it, come back to the board with recommendations, if any, and tell us how to move forward.
So that’s one. My three, I call them goals, initiatives are like, I’m going to do this if the pandemic taught me anything, I can have those initiatives, but God has other plans and it derails everything, right? so I have goals. One of my goals is sounds kind of simple, but it’s so important, especially to solos, and that’s having a centralized location for vacation letters.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, wow, yes, very much yes.
Cindy Tisdale: When I get a new state bar meeting or something, I have to send it to 50 different places and everything else. So we’re looking at having a centralized portal that everyone’s able to upload their vacation letters. All the courts have access to it, and it’s just kind of a one and done. Makes it much easier for lawyers.
Rocky Dhir: State and federal both? State and federal?
Cindy Tisdale: I’m working on state. Good luck be getting anything through federal system, but I’m working on the state system. So that’s one. The second is just I don’t know if you’ve watched Ted Lasso. I am a Ted lasso fanatic, and so I am kind of bringing Ted Lasso into my year, civility. Civility, there’s one episode. Every choice is a chance. So every choice I make during this year is the chance to do the right thing for lawyers. And I think we can all take that into our practice, into our lives. Every choice we make is a chance to do the right thing. So we’re going to be talking about civility a lot this year.
Then the third is a little bit different take on lawyer wellness. TLAP does wonderful, great things, and I’m a big supporter of TLAP. As attorneys, we deal with a lot of secondary trauma. We take on our clients’ trauma, we take on everything and I don’t want to take up a lot of time, but about three months ago, a client called me, a former client, finished up his case in the fall. His wife was filing for divorce and I said, “okay, will you owe just a little bit of money from last time. Pay that, call me. Next week, let’s get you on the books and start talking about it” and instead of doing that, he made the decision to pick up his gun and kill his wife and kill himself in front of the kids.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, wow, man, okay.
Cindy Tisdale: Yeah and I don’t mean to take that route on this conversation, but it’s very important because, especially as family lawyers, that’s not the first time it’s happened, and it won’t be the last of my practice. But even if it’s something like that attorney is going through or an attorney is going through a personal divorce, putting a parent into assisted living, all kinds of things, it might not rise to the level of a depression or you need kind of that help. Now, TLAP helps with just counseling too, but I want to kind of bridge that gap. I want to say counseling is to kind of get you to the other side. So we’re looking at a wellness app. We’re also looking at discounts for just regular counseling services and kind of to help attorneys get through that secondary trauma. So those are my goals for the year. Sorry I took up a lot of time, Laura.
Rocky Dhir: No.
Cindy Tisdale: But I’m a passionate about all of those.
Rocky Dhir: And very worthy goals. Okay, Laura, you got to follow that. So let’s hear what you got.
Laura Pratt: I have learned it is okay to follow Cindy. She’s amazing. So anything I can take from her is a win.
Rocky Dhir: Just follow her into battle, that’s all.
Laura Pratt: Yes, that’s pretty much it and I’m happy to go into battle with you, Cindy, anytime. So, as you’re aware, Rocky TYLA is the public service arm of the State Bar of Texas. That means we assist with fulfilling the public service components of the State Bar of Texas mission and with that kind of in mind, our focus is very intentionally in the space of what can we do to help our lawyers and then what can we do to help their communities? And that kind of spans the whole spectrum of starting all the way back to when students are in school and just thinking about a career in law to somebody that’s been practicing 50 years. And so with those kind of things in mind, we always approach the year with kind of our continuing projects, the things we do every year. But then I’ve got a lot of things that I’ve tasked my committees with in different public service arenas.
So when I go back to my list, I think by my last count, we’ve selected over 20. I think it’s actually closer to 30 now. Different past State Bar of Texas and TYLA projects that need either updating or an expansion component or they need translating into Spanish, or they just need a refresh. And so those projects, they’ve been incredible for decades. People have been using those resources, but now we want to look at them and say, okay, how do we make them better, and how do we make them more accessible to both our lawyers and the general public? I have kind of taken the approach of, we don’t need to reinvent something that’s out there already doing good, but we need to make sure that it’s saying the right things and reaching the right people.
Rocky Dhir: You’re removing the line that says, fax us at the following number.
Laura Pratt: Exactly. Well, and there’s something to be said of we’ve got to, as a bar, be able to as technology changes, kind of keep up with it. I mean, I love that Cindy is looking at AI. We just had a litigation meeting this week about how we can use AI and litigation, both in an ethical and practical way. And so it’s things like that that I think the state bar is really good at doing for its members in a space that, “hey, we’ve got to be looking at it before it becomes a problem and before it becomes an issue.” My kind of signature project in partnership with the Texas Bar Foundation is to create this comprehensive website on adulting. I did some research prior to this year.
Rocky Dhir: Adulting not adultery.
Laura Pratt: Yes.
Rocky Dhir: Yes, let’s make sure. Unless you’re just trying to send more work to Cindy, adulting.
Laura Pratt: Cindy does not need more work. I promise her.
Rocky Dhir: Not this year, at least. Yes. We’re keeping her busy.
Laura Pratt: I did this research before while I was putting together my grant request to the Texas Bar Foundation and it’s something like 80% of the college students that were surveyed felt like they didn’t have a good grasp of basic life skills that they need to function as an adult.
Rocky Dhir: They’re not the only ones.
Laura Pratt: Yeah, exactly. There’s so many like, I don’t want to call them pitfalls, but there’s things that when you get the notice in the mail, “hey, you’ve got to renew your car registration” and you’ve never done it before, how do you go about it? And trying to put together a comprehensive website that says, these are the most common legal rights and responsibilities that you get when you turn 18 and here’s the resources for helping you navigate. The idea for the project actually comes from when I first started being involved with my local bar association. We would go into public schools every spring and every fall, and we would give these presentations about this very topic. And so this is just another way that we can kind of make those resources more accessible because if the pandemic taught us anything, it taught us how to pivot.
Giving teachers or giving students or just giving the general public “hey, if you’ve got a question about voting rights — if you’ve got a question about voting rights, then here, go to this website” and not only do we provide the information, but we also give you links to all the other state bar and TYLA projects that have been specifically designed for voting and so it’s a great way to network all of our existing projects in a way that more people can find what they need and the answers to the questions they have.
Rocky Dhir: Wow. Okay, well, you’re both going to be very busy in the coming year. We’re running a little short on time, so we got time for one last question for each of you. But this is a fun one. A year from now when your presidencies are over and you get the best job in the house, which is immediate past president, what’s the first thing you’re going to do to go celebrate? Laura, we’ll start with you.
Laura Pratt: Well, I’m kind of looking for the summer after I’m even done with immediate past president because we have plans, because I have to put a lot of family stuff on hold, but we have plans to take a family trip to Italy.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, nice.
Laura Pratt: Yes. I love adventuring with my family. We’ve lived overseas for a little bit. My kids all have passports, and I would love to kind of get that time back with my family in a way that we could just do something to celebrate it all together and so, yeah, that’s what we’re looking at doing.
Rocky Dhir: Going to Italy. Okay, Cindy, beat that.
Cindy Tisdale: I can’t but I’ve also learned I can never beat Laura and the TYLA and their energy, because my first thought when you said that, my first thought was sleep.
Rocky Dhir: See, and that’s me too. I guess I’m there with you.
Laura Pratt: Take a nap.
Cindy Tisdale: Take a nap. No, honestly —
Rocky Dhir: With no alarm clock.
Cindy Tisdale: Yes and all the shades pulled so the sun doesn’t wake me up but no, I mean, as far as something planned, I’m sitting here listening to Laura going, oh, I need to get something planned. Honestly, I hope in a year when I look back, I don’t have plans, but I want to just look at all of the people I’ve met. Just even so far this year as president elect, I have made so many good friends in going across Texas and meeting lawyers, and it just makes me smile. I know you can’t see me, but just thinking of all of the contacts and connections I’ve made with people, that to me is the best part of this president gig that I’m doing, is those connections and those people. So, no, I don’t have plans for immediately afterward. Maybe I can go with Laura and be her nanny on her trip.
Laura Pratt: I would love it.
Cindy Tisdale: But that’s all. Hopefully, I just want to look back on the year and hopefully I’ve accomplished something and we’ve accomplished something to help lawyers in this state, and that’s my goal.
Laura Pratt: Well said, Cindy. Well said.
Rocky Dhir: Well, the state bar is in the very capable hands of two amazing women, so we’ve got a great year to look forward to, but it looks like we have reached the end of this program. I want to thank our guests for joining us today. Thank you, Cindy, Laura, for being here.
Laura Pratt: Thank you.
Cindy Tisdale: Thank you, Rocky.
Rocky Dhir: Now, if we have listeners, and I hope we do, I hope we have listeners, but if we have listeners who wish to get more involved, either at the state bar level or at TYLA what’s the best way for them to reach out. Cindy, is there is there an email address or can they reach you? Where do they go?
Cindy Tisdale: Absolutely, yes. Email me personally. It’s [email protected] and email me. I will do my best to try to find somewhere to plug you in. We love to have volunteers from all over the state and in every area, so reach out to me if you have any questions or want to volunteer.
Rocky Dhir: Fantastic. Laura, how about you? What’s the best way?
Cindy Tisdale: Same. Shoot me an email. My personal email is [email protected]. Email me or call me 806-349-4709. I would love to hear from anybody that wants to get more involved.
Rocky Dhir: Fantastic. Okay, well, guys, before we close it out, I want to thank our listeners for tuning in. Couldn’t do this without you. If you like what you heard, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or your favorite podcasting app. I’m Rocky Dhir, your host. Until next time, thanks for listening.