Lamont A. Jefferson
San Antonio Bar Association
August 2006 - Judicial Polls – Time to Revive?
Welcome to a new year bar year! The SABA fiscal year officially begins on August 1, 2006, which is the beginning of the term for all in-coming officers and directors. As I write this article, the ballots for the 2006-2007 slate of officers have not yet been tallied, but one thing is sure – we all owe Mary Doggett a huge debt of gratitude for her dedicated, fearless and effective leadership of the bar over the past year. SABA is a much stronger organization because of her tireless efforts. I am honored to follow in Mary’s footsteps (just don’t expect to see any Aretha) and genuinely proud to serve as your new president. I look forward to what I hope is an invigorating and prosperous year for all of us.
Should SABA sponsor a judicial evaluation poll?
It was announced at the July Board of Directors meeting that the District Courts Committee has recommended that SABA jointly sponsor a judicial evaluation poll with the San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. After a relatively short debate, the Board agreed to accept the committee’s recommendation for the fall of 2006, PROVIDED that the poll consists of a preference poll between candidates on the ballot, rather than merely an evaluation of sitting judges. The decision to conduct a poll of candidates significantly simplifies the polling process, and removes any argument about the legitimacy of the responses. After all, lawyers are voters, just like any other member of the public, and are free to express their opinion on who they would like to see on the bench. The reader is then free to give the poll results whatever weight he or she deems appropriate. A candidate preference poll also minimizes the possibility of incumbents being singled out in the polling process either by challengers, or by disgruntled litigants.
In off-election years, SABA will consider sponsoring a more complex poll evaluating the record and performance of sitting judges. Similar polls are already being conducted in Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and in the Rio Grande Valley. For some, the question of whether SABA should conduct such a judicial poll conjures up a broad array of bona fide issues of fairness and validity.
First, let us make no mistake about it – the primary purpose for conducting a judicial poll is to provide the electorate with information on which to base a vote. To the extent that a poll does not accurately reflect judicial performance (however defined) for any particular judge, the poll is counterproductive. On the other hand, even the most well-conceived and sophisticated poll is inherently subjective, both in terms of the questions posed and the interpretation of the results. A carefully crafted judicial poll offers some information for the public to consider and accept or reject in making its voting decisions. Given the restrictions imposed on judicial candidates by the Code of Judicial Conduct, gathering information from other sources, such as practicing attorneys, could provide valuable information.
If SABA decides to conduct a judicial poll during off-election years, how should it be designed? Should poll respondents be limited to those attorneys who have practiced before a particular judge? What does it mean to have practiced before a judge? Should responses be limited to an attorney’s “personal knowledge” about a judge? Should a respondent be precluded from relying on the assessment of other attorneys whom the respondent trusts and respects? Is it possible to measure and police whether respondents answered when they should not have? Should the poll include justice of the peace, visiting and appellate judges?
It is a risky thing to publicly articulate goals for all to see. Putting ourselves out there so that anyone can measure our success or failure may be intimidating, but it is also essential to meaningful progress. The science fiction author Robert Heinlein wrote, “In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” Under Mary Doggett’s leadership last year, SABA embarked on a policy of announcing and publishing a limited number of clearly articulated goals for each bar year. So, with a healthy fear of falling short, but confident expectations for achievement, here are the 2006-2007 bar goals as discussed during our first board of directors meeting:
Membership and membership services. Our first priority is to ensure that our current members are getting their money’s worth. It is imperative that we enhance and streamline the services that we provide to our members before we can effectively reach out and convince prospective lawyers to join. However, we firmly believe that there are significant numbers of lawyers who should be members of our organization but, for a variety of reasons, are not. Therefore, our goal is to increase SABA’s membership this year, both in absolute numbers and in the percentage of eligible lawyers in San Antonio and surrounding areas who are SABA members. We will identify that group of prospective members, explore what we can do to educate them on the benefits of membership, and invite their participation. Natalie Hall at Cox Smith Matthews, Inc. has graciously agreed to chair our membership committee and she will spearhead this charge.
Technology. As lawyers at my firm already know, I am absolutely in awe over the incredible potential that computer technology offers to all corners of the profession, and the Bar Association is no exception. SABA has made great strides toward upgrading and updating our computer systems and internet capabilities and we will continue that momentum throughout the current bar year. You may have already responded to an email request by SABA to identify skillful and responsive computer service providers. Our membership stands to gain invaluable benefits from these efforts, including the possibility of voting and polling online, accessing community message boards, and generally a more interactive website (sabar.org). Please let us know if you have any criticisms, comments or recommendations on this subject. Mark Unger, our computer guru and chair of SABA’s Technology committee, will usher in the long-needed upgrade.
Access to Justice. One of the highest callings of SABA is to continue to do our part to see that all segments of our society have equal access to our judicial system. In partnership with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, we will continue to encourage our membership to stay involved and participate in worthy efforts to provide legal services to indigent and underprivileged members of our community. Our membership deserves to be proud of the selfless giving that we have already collectively displayed in numerous ways, including supporting SABA’s Community Justice Program, participating in various Katrina relief efforts, and perhaps more importantly, in the quiet uncelebrated ways that we individually provide counsel and advice every day to those who cannot afford to retain us. For its part, SABA is committed to expanding the scope and reach of the CJP and your input and participation is vital.
INSTALLATION GALA. Please make plans to join us as we inaugurate our new board, kick off our newly stated goals, and celebrate our new Bar year, with an exquisite evening of Jazz and Wine Under the Stars at the historic Red Berry Mansion on September 16, 2006. It’s going to be a great time, so don’t miss it!
October 2006 - Installation Gala a Success!
We hope that you were able to attend SABA’s annual Installation Gala held at the Red Berry Mansion on September 16. Our sponsors came through with generous contributions and some outstanding wines, the music was impeccable and the Red Berry Mansion is a wonderful venue for a party (especially when the aroma of a chocolate fountain fills one of the floors). For many of those present, this was their first encounter with the Red Berry and we received numerous expressions of marvel and amazement that such a place even exists in San Antonio. The attendance was excellent and from where I was standing, all seemed to be having a very good time.
There is not much I can think of that I would rather do than hang out with friends, family, and colleagues from SABA in a relaxed setting with great music. The Court Jesters continue to provide unbelievable entertainment compared to any band, but their performance is all the more remarkable because they consist of full-time lawyers and judges. SABA is in your debt.
Thank you all for your support for the event, and a special thanks to the SABA staff and to Sherra Gan and the staff at Haynes and Boone who dedicated untold hours in pulling it off. Finally, thank you to Lisa Barkley for her imagination, creativity and able leadership in planning this year’s gala. Sorry Allan, but two years in a row is about all she can take.
By the time this issue hits your desk, you will have received SABA’s Judicial Preference poll. While the poll is not intended to be an endorsement of any candidate, it is intended to provide valuable information to our clients and to the voting public to inform their vote in the general election. In off-election years, we will consider conducting a more in-depth judicial performance poll to rate the performance of active judges on the bench. After canvassing our members and debating the issues, the Board concluded that conducting a judicial performance poll in election years is unfair and could provide misleading information to the voting public regarding the best candidate on the ballot.
Please stay tuned for significant changes coming to the SABA web site, www.sabar.org, in the next couple of months. We hope to offer upgrades that will allow our members to conveniently pay dues and other bar expenses on-line and with a credit card. We are also exploring options that will allow our membership the benefit of accepting credit card payments for legal services from your clients. If you have not visited the site in a while, you should check it out. There are useful links, informative member and association information and access to past issues of the Subpoena.
November 2006 - Helping in Dark Times
One week before writing this column, a SABA member tragically lost his struggle with himself. Such a loss evokes emotions in all of us that are not necessarily consistent: guilt, blame, anger, sadness, regret, nostalgia. Because we don’t expect it, and because we are stunned, we tend to think in terms of hindsight. After struggling with whether this is an appropriate topic for the space, I concluded that we cannot address a problem until we collectively shine the light of truth on it. Because issues of depression and mental health directly affect our profession, and we must do what we can to acknowledge and confront these issues.
We would be fooling ourselves to think that Jason is the only lawyer in SABA struggling with mental health, alcohol or substance abuse issues. He went through difficult times and many of his friends and colleagues were greatly concerned. There are other recent examples of talented and productive lawyers who died in the face of personal demons that were relatively unknown – J. Michael Bradford in Beaumont, Justice Mack Kidd in Austin, and SABA’s Kevin Warburton just last year. There is a constant stream of articles and publications commenting on the vulnerability of lawyers to depression and other mental health ailments. Our State Bar President, Martha Dickey, has made mental health for lawyers across the state a featured subject of her Bar year. The State Bar’s Texas Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) receives between 250 and 300 calls each month from across the state on its hotline (800.343.TLAP). The calls come from friends, spouses, family members and fellow practitioners. According to the staff of TLAP, most attorneys who receive its assistance are between the ages of 30 and 50 and are in solo or small firm practice. However, no one is immune from experiencing dark spells in their lives.
Dr. Jon Allen of the Baylor College of Medicine describes one type of depression as being the result of “stress pileup”—a lifetime of unreleased tension caused by a variety of factors. That sounds right to me. The stress that we feel is often the result of the actual or feared exposure to shame, embarrassment or humiliation. For lawyers in particular, public expectations for success, however that word is defined, are especially high and may be in fact unattainable. We stress most over our failure to live up to the expectations of loved ones, friends, partners, or others. All too often we define success in terms of material wealth. But wealth in that sense is certainly no panacea.
It seems to me that there are two undeniable truths that we tend to lose sight of in our darkest moments. First, however we define success, there will always...always…be times when we come up short. We’ve been to college and law school, and we’ve taken bar exams. We’re constantly used to getting measured and graded, and to competing. Second, regardless of how spectacularly isolated we feel in our personal struggles, there are many other good people who are sharing the same quiet struggle. The ability to cope well is what we all want. Some use the technique of asking themselves what is the worst thing that could happen to them as a result of some discouraging event or period of time. They are often able to place things in better perspective when they realize that the worst that may happen is getting fired, or paying a fine, or living with something that, when looked at straight in the eye, doesn’t seem literally like the end of the world. One other truth is obvious, given time and opportunity, even the most troubled soul in our midst has the potential to be healed, get well and be productive. Friends and loved ones desperately want to see our most depressed colleagues choose this route, even if they do not realize that it’s the right one.
SABA has been shaken, but reaffirms its commitment to doing what we can as an organization to assist those who find themselves enduring dark days. For every SABA lawyer who is struggling, there are scores of members who would like nothing more than to make a positive difference in their lives. If you are struggling—or if you know of someone who is—make a call, make a visit, reach out and make a difference. As Jason’s story proves, loving and extraordinary intervention by close friends and loved ones will not always be successful, but it can reverse or at least slow the downward spiral that lawyers too often experience.
Lawyer 2 Lawyer Mentoring. The Lawyer To Lawyer (L2L) Mentor Committee of SABA is composed of experienced lawyers who have volunteered to mentor attorneys with practice-related problems or questions not discussed in law school. These may include issues such as communication problems with clients, office management skills, professional and ethical issues, time management strategies, as well as specific issues related to that mentor’s areas of practice. Having attended one of their committee meetings, I can attest that the members of the committee are dedicated to the task and genuinely care about their mission. Please check out www.sabar.org for more information.
December 2006 - Thoughts on access to justice
“I think that [TRLA] is the problem because they’re supplying these people with the information and they’re telling them all about the Federal laws and everything. And, you know, it’s causing you some real serious problems.” Deaf Smith County Sheriff, quoted in Howard County Gault Co. v.TRLA, Inc. 615 F. Supp. 916 at 925 (N.D. Tex – Amarillo Div. 1985).
This quote from an actual First Amendment case appears on the opening page of the website of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (“TRLA”). It is a dramatic reminder of the power of knowledge and information. TRLA expends tireless efforts in serving the legal needs of low income clients. The organization was founded in 2002 as a result of the federally mandated merger of Bexar County Legal Aid, Coastal Bend Legal Services, El Paso Legal Aid Society, and Texas Rural Legal Aid. Alex Huddleston and I were fortunate enough to serve on the initial board of the merged organization as delegates from SABA. The current SABA delegates to the board of TRLA are Judge Karen Pozza and me. As a result of the merger, TRLA consists of over 110 lawyers, 150 support staff, and 20 offices stretching from Austin to El Paso, San Antonio, and Brownsville. David Hall, formerly the executive director of Texas Rural Legal Aid, has served as the able executive director of the new TRLA since its inception. Ann Zaragoza is the branch manager for the San Antonio office.
While the TRLA organization is impressive and has achieved remarkable victories for its clientele, it would be a huge mistake to conclude that because there is an organization dedicated to serving the needs of the poor, the problem is solved. The TRLA service area includes more than 2 million eligible clients in 68 counties in Texas, in addition to migrant and seasonal farm workers working from offices located in Weslaco, Laredo, Eagle Pass, Plainview, and Nashville, Tennessee. It is a constant challenge to secure the funding that is necessary to ensure that low-income Texans have access to justice and there are not nearly enough lawyers within TRLA to fill the needs of the community that it serves. As a consequence, one of the aims of TRLA is to provide a vehicle to allow private attorneys to devote a small percentage of their time to serve the legal needs of the indigent. If every private Texas lawyer took up the challenge, the good that we could collectively accomplish would be endless. SABA’s Community Justice Program (“CJP”) is an example of the remarkable success that can be achieved by combining the resources of TRLA with the efforts of a dedicated local bar program.
The holiday season is the perfect time to reflect on and be thankful for all that we have, and at the same time remember those who are not so fortunate. As lawyers, we are each equipped with the tools necessary to protect our own civil rights. But there are many in our midst who lack either the knowledge or the financial ability to effectively fend for themselves. One of our most noble callings as lawyers is to fill that need. By doing so we not only enrich ourselves, but we also serve an invaluable service to our community, to the civil justice system, and to the Rule of Law. Participating in pro bono representation is also a grounding experience. Many of us regularly serve clients whose lifestyles are shared by only the top 10% of the population. Most people simply cannot afford to hire us. Representing pro bono clients allows us to focus on a legal need, without being preoccupied with the economics of the cause. Many who volunteer are rewarded with the sense that their experience is really what inspired them to go to law school in the first place.
SABA is proud of our Community Justice Program and is committed to ensuring its continued success. But we need your help. The CJP now includes three clinics each month located at the Carver Community Center, St. Mary’s University, and the Wesley Community Center. We need to enlist the help of 20 lawyers at each clinic – that’s 60 lawyers per month or 720 lawyers per year. Our membership includes over 3500 lawyers, so this goal should be easily attainable. In the past, we have concentrated our recruiting efforts at large firms and organizations, but I would like to see a larger participation by small firms and solo practitioners. I know that the sentiment is there. Just this week, I was extremely gratified to receive a call from Kim and Harry Munsinger asking how they can help and volunteering to participate in a clinic.
If you share that desire, please call our CJP coordinator, Suzanne DeWalt at 227-8822 and ask how you can help. You will not be sorry and you may even get the chance to “cause some real serious problems” by informing a family of their legal rights.
January 2007 - Success and Balance
I was recently at an event that included a large number of St. Mary’s Law School students and professors. One of the professors was introducing his students to various lawyers in the group and asking the lawyers to impart words of wisdom that the students could benefit from in pursuing their careers. The group approached me and the question the professor posed was “What is the key to success in the practice of law?” My response, which I attempted to deliver in all seriousness, was “Define success carefully.” That answer left the professor less than satisfied, and the students looking confused. I got the feeling that they wanted (or at least expected), me to talk about hard work, long hours, dedication, perseverance, willingness to sacrifice, etc.
These attributes can, of course, lead to some level of “achievement” but not necessarily to “success” without a clearly articulated definition of that concept. In my mind, it is impossible to divorce personal success from professional success. As a result, achieving success requires visualizing goals and then maintaining balance in pursuing those goals. Too often we define success solely by the numbers: the number of billable hours that we log, the number of clients that we have, the number of hours we spend in the office, the number of dollars that we collect, the number of cases that we win. It was Albert Einstein who said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” When we just focus on numbers, we tend to lose perspective and fail to appreciate much of what makes our lives and our profession so meaningful: truth and justice, grace and beauty, honesty and integrity, wisdom and sagacity.
Defining success early in one’s career fosters a peace of mind that places the anxieties inherent in the practice of law in their proper perspective. Doing so requires taking stock of what is truly meaningful and important, both in one’s personal and professional life. The practice of law is time consuming and if we are not careful it can become all-consuming. The most fulfilled lawyers are those who take the guiltless time to coach their children’s sports teams, enjoy their families’ celebrations, and take time off for the pure fun of it. In the new year, we should all vow to make room for family, friends, and adventure in our personal definition of “success.”
Wishing everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year!
February 2007 - Current Events
These are fascinating times in our country’s history. We are at war in Iraq, we have declared war against terror, and the limits of our government’s authority to protect its citizens at the potential expense of our civil rights are being tested. Matters that are being debated at the highest levels of government include the responsibility of the President to make tough calls regarding the course of conduct for our military, and the appropriate role of the Congress in discharging its oversight duties. The judiciary’s scrutiny of over our government’s wartime conduct for constitutional muster has also recently been front and center. These are weighty issues with no easy or obvious answers. But at the heart of these matters are real men and women serving and fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The email from Lieutenant Christopher Knecht that is reproduced in this edition is an inspiring and uplifting message of courage, patriotism and hope. It is one result of the noble efforts of District Court Judge Michael Peden to support our soldiers fighting in Iraq. Judge Peden learned that some soldiers in a platoon were not receiving much needed communications from the home front and he sprang into action. He enlisted the assistance of the San Antonio Bar Association and the San Antonio Young Lawyers Association and, within days, saw to it that scores of handwritten cards, letters and care packages were assembled, packaged and shipped to these soldiers. Judge Peden also made sure that this was not a one-off effort by establishing and leading an adopt-a-soldier program designed to maintain frequent communications with our brave troops in harm’s way. Although pressed by a tight holiday deadline, our membership was more than up to the task. An email solicitation from SABA was met with a tremendous response from SABA lawyers of all stripes eager to help. Dave Evans of Langley and Banack lead the project for SAYLA and provided amazing organization in support of the task. The overall response of SABA is all the more remarkable given that we knew virtually nothing about this platoon of soldiers other than their names and the fact that they were serving in Iraq.
Lt. Knecht deserves enormous credit for the personal attention and care that he demonstrated for the soldiers under his command. It was Lt. Knecht who recognized that the young soldiers in his platoon needed something special to help them through the holiday season, and he made his concerns known to his friends and family in the states. After receiving what must have been thousands of communications, Lt. Knecht has been busy writing personal “Thank You”s to those who responded to the call. I received one of his notes, and I suspect that many of you did as well. The note concludes, “It is people like you who make us want to defend this great country of ours. Thank you for the reminder of why we fight. You are a True Patriot!”
Regardless of your attitude about the war in Iraq, about President Bush, or about Democrats and Republicans, all Americans should appreciate the incalculable sacrifice endured by families with soldiers performing their duties abroad. The opportunity this effort gave us to personally connect with a soldier fighting this war, albeit one with whom we have never met, has brought some of us perhaps a deeper connection to the reality of the war. Kudos to SABA and SAYLA members for heeding this call and playing a small but significant part in showing our tremendous gratitude for our courageous men and women in service.
March 2007 - Words: A vocabulary building exercise
Lawyers live and die by their ability to effectively communicate. Whether writing a letter, a brief, or a contract, plain, precise, and persuasive language is essential. The larger our vocabularies, the better chance we stand of conveying the exact message that we intend. As many of us do, I have meant for some time to expand my vocabulary by utilizing words that have not been a part of my normal repertoire. As someone once said, a new word is not truly yours until you have used it at least three times in everyday writing or conversation. So I thought that I would take this opportunity to incorporate a few words into this column that I have long intended to employ in my communications arsenal.
My quest for an expanded vocabulary is not just fleeting will-o’-the-wisp. Nor is it some idle taradiddle. No, this is a serious and committed endeavor and I will not cease until I have fully expropriated a sufficient cache of words to meet any written or oral attack with a riposte so effective that my antagonist will blanch in embarrassment. Admittedly, this endeavor is something of an instauration inspired by my obligation to submit periodic articles for SABA. But for me, the subject of rarely used but appropriately fitting words has always been particularly piquant.
The danger of using words for the first time is, of course, the risk of the dreaded catachresis – a faux pas that any keen grammarian would take great relish in exposing. The last thing I want is to find myself embroiled in a heated logomachy with a fellow member of the bar, accusing me of abusing the language, or committing some shameful verbicide. But this is not some desultory exercise in meaningless chatter. Expanding our vocabularies is useful not merely because it allows us to remain fresh and avoid the megrims. It also enables us to compose trenchant communications that more effectively cajole, instruct and impress.
Now some may critique this precatory effort as a sesquipedalian lark or worse, mere trumpery. But shorter words are not necessarily better words and, tragically, it is all too possible to be simultaneously loquacious and abstruse It is inefficient and ineffective to bloviate for sentences about a subject or concept, when a single word would convey the idea precisely. Those pertinacious and vacuous souls who wallow in their own pabulum and refuse to fully embrace the vitality of the English language are doomed to narrow and unenlightened thought. On the other hand, those who celebrate the full potential of the language will be rightfully seen as unusually fecund. The power of words is especially evident in the legal profession where every utterance is imbued with meaning, intended or unintended. Without a full quiver of apropos words, even the most logical argument can be received as eristic. The idea is not to communicate in such an esoteric manner that the reader is hopelessly lost. At the same time, requiring the reader or listener to cerebrate is not always pernicious; to the contrary, the exercise often hammers a point home.
I apologize in advance if anyone is offended by my apodictic tone and I trust that you will forgive any perceived peccadillo. But I am an avowed meliorist and the evolution of language plays a critical role in that optimism. For those who find themselves nonplussed by reading this column, may I suggest that you too subscribe to the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day at www.m-w.com.
April 2007 - Paesanos
In our hard charging and demanding profession, we appreciate escape. We look for opportunities to decompress, to un-stress, to free ourselves from confrontation and rivalry. Escape does not necessarily mean removal from anything having to do with the law. Sometimes, escape is most effective when it arises from interacting with judges and rivals in a non-stressed environment. For me, that escape has come from countless lunches, dinners and outings at Paesanos Restaurant. Intimidating judges, aggressive opponents, and demanding clients all seem to sort of lose their edge when they are sitting at the bar or at a table at Paesanos.
You need not have been in San Antonio long to appreciate that Paesanos is more than a mere place to eat. It is a San Antonio institution and an oasis from the daily grind. Like many, my first experience at Paesanos was when the restaurant was located on McCullough near downtown. Patti and I went for dinner and the place was packed. There was an obvious wait for tables, but there was no waiting list and you could not make a reservation. Instead, Joe Cosniac obliquely acknowledged our presence without offering the slightest clue about how long we might be in the packed bar before our table was ready. We stood simmering as we observed customers enter the restaurant and undergo a mysterious sorting process. Some were immediately escorted to a table, but most were consigned to our same fate of wait and wonder. Once we were finally given the nod and seated, the food was outstanding and the service impeccable – convincing us that the open-ended wait was an acceptable price to pay.
We became more frequent customers and the popularity of the restaurant increased. But mysteriously our waiting time diminished with each successive visit until the magic moment arrived when we were escorted past the throngs as soon as we arrived. We have remained loyal customers ever since.
Lunch at Paesanos has sometimes proven to be a prolonged, unexpected and unplanned escape. Those occasions were particularly dangerous when the restaurant was on McCullough. The décor was especially dark and those in the know would make a point to bring their sunglasses with them when they entered the restaurant, because leaving was akin to stepping out into the Aspen snow on a bright sunny day. You just never knew when you might be cornered by a judge, politician, client, or colleague and be made to share a glass (or two) of Joe’s chianti. Of course, those days were before blackberrys and cell phones, so we also were sure to keep stocked with quarters for periodic checking in at the office.
Joe’s move from McCullough to Lincoln Heights was especially stressful for us McCullough folks. The McCullough location was tried and true, extremely popular, and there did not seem to be any room for improvement. Besides nothing could match the charm and ambiance of the old location, so why risk the chance of failure (remember Nona’s?). Of course, the success of the new location has exceeded all expectations, both Joe’s and his customer base, proving that the attraction of the restaurant was more than the brick and mortar. Nearly all of the old McCullough customers have seamlessly made the switch to the new location and you are just as likely to have to succumb to an unplanned escape at the Lincoln Heights location. If you have not yet experienced the 1604 location, you are in for a real treat. The facility is absolutely beautiful.
But there is an indescribable sense of family and community that is unique to Joe’s Lincoln Heights restaurant with roots extending back decades. It remains one of my very favorite escapes.
May 2007 - Email
I have just spent the past 45 minutes of my life ridding my junk mail box of 4,972 emails received in a 7-day period on subjects ranging from Cheap Ink, to Cialis, Viagra, Ambien, Anatrim and Valium, to Las Vegas, hot stocks and getting wealthy quickly with no money or effort, to anything one could ever imagine about having sex, seeing sex, getting sex products and finding sexual partners. I then turned to my In Box and began eliminating the 3,750 additional unwanted emails that were polluting it on a different variety of topics ranging from bad jokes to golf deals to “chain” emails to travel specials. What impressive technological progress we have made. I have eliminated more junk mail in the past hour and a half than I could possibly have ever received from the post office in a 6-month period before the advent of email!
Email is one of the most revolutionary developments of our time. It empowers us with the ability of instant communication unimpeded by cost or geographic boundaries. With the ubiquitous BlackBerry (I am still resisting the urge to get one), we can now deliver and receive messages from wherever we are—no computer, fax machine or other work station necessary. We can answer clients questions, respond to inquiries from opposing counsel, schedule meetings with multiple parties or keep track of friends, family or colleagues with remarkable ease and efficiency. (On the other hand, it is an increasing cause of car accidents; and who hasn’t felt annoyed when their colleague, companion, friend, etc. has kept staring at his lap at any restaurant, bar or golf course at any time of the day or night, finding his BlackBerry more intriguing than our company.)
The advantage of email is the same thing that makes it so dangerous—its efficiency. The Send button is only an easy click away. In a split second, a lawyer can thoroughly embarrass, anger, insult, offend or obfuscate on a massive scale. There is no governor or “check” in sending email, like there is with a letter, or even a fax. The solemnity of actually applying a physical signature on a document serves as an effective “check.” With email, there is no “sleep on it,” so we act on the immediate emotion, often irritation, that is evoked from receiving a provocative email. It is the urge to deliver the rapid counter-punch that makes email so dangerous. Replying quickly can easily become the end game, rather than responding precisely.
The compulsion to get something out, combined with the cumbersome nature of typing with two thumbs, contributes to messages that are often unproductive because they are cluttered with confusing vocabulary, improper punctuation, and partial sentences that add little to the discussion, and may require the reader to spend so much energy trying to decipher the message that the point becomes lost. And the cascading effect of the impulsive message and visceral counter-punch can make effective communication impossible and quickly lead to misuse, misunderstanding and misguided and unnecessary confrontation.
Email definitely has its place and when properly used is truly an awesome tool with amazing potential for improving the qualify of life and the delivery of client service. But it has its limits. When one is attempting to educate, persuade or inspire, there is no more effective method than one-on-one, face-to-face, live and in person interaction. I believe that is why there is still such a thing as oral argument and is a reason why trial and appellate advocates will never become extinct. And it is also why I have resisted (so far) the temptation to succumb to peer pressure and join the BlackBerry Society. The problem with BlackBerrys is that while one is always “in touch,” one is also always “in reach.” For me, a little down time is therapeutic.
July 2007 - Brothers and Sisters in Law
SABA has always been blessed with siblings who are prominent members of the association. Judge Jim and Judge John Onion, Sol and Joe Casseb (no wise cracks), Pat, Mike and Tim Maloney, Roy, Jr. and Bobby Barrera, Mikal and Guy Watts, Christa and Carmen Samaniego, and Ed and Larry Kurth are a few names that spring to mind. Most (perhaps surprisingly not “all”) also know that Wallace, our chief justice, and I are brothers.
Brothers and sisters practicing law share experiences that others never get to enjoy. First, we all get the common questions: “How is he/she?” “Where is he/she?” ‘What is he/she doing” Chances are we have no idea, but we always offer a plausible answer. We also share the fact that, in spite of conventional wisdom, there is no sibling rivalry by the time you get to our station in life. We completely avoid the natural urge to compare our accomplishments against each other—instead, we relish and celebrate our sibling’s accomplishments. In addition, we are almost always confused for the other, even when we are not twins like Jimmy and Billy McDonough of Cox, Smith Matthews. Of course to each of us, there is nothing but the most vague family resemblance between us and our brother/sister. But to those who see you only occasionally, you are the spitting image of one another (unless of course your sibling is of the opposite sex like Melissa Fletcher and her brother Lawrence Morales).
You are probably asking yourself how anyone could ever mistake a younger, more handsome-looking Lamont for his biologically younger brother, Wallace. If so, you would be surprised to learn that not a week goes by without someone in our own community addressing me as “Chief.” This is a mistake that I rarely try to correct. After all, there are many more offensive ways that I could be mistakenly addressed. And anyway, why cause embarrassment and deprive some poor soul of that proud moment when they can relate to their friends and family members that they had a real live encounter with the Chief of the Texas Supreme Court (though they may later wonder why the chief appeared to be practicing law). But the real fun for me comes when Brother Wallace is mistaken for me, which also occurs remarkably often. Like the time in the very recent past that Wallace was passing through Love Field in Dallas accompanied by Justice Carolyn Wright of the 5th Court of Appeals (who happens to be black). A member of SABA (let’s call him Andrew) spotted Wallace, ran up to him, and said “Lamont! It’s so good to see you.” Wallace also overlooks such minor faux pas and tried to do so here when Andrew compounded the problem by asking, “Is this your mother?”
In an effort to prevent anyone else from making the same error, here are some characteristics that distinguish me from brother Wallace: Wallace is taller, thinner, and has more freckles. He drives a golf ball farther (though not with my surgical precision), but can’t live up to my prowess on the cowbell. Wallace has a decidedly mischievous streak, but he is also more thoughtful. He has been an independent thinker on the Texas Supreme Court since 2001. If you still need a distinguishing feature, consider this: I don’t have a single public school named after me—Wallace does. That’s right, on October 27, 2007, the grand opening will be held for Wallace B. Jefferson Middle School on Shaenfield Road in the Northside Independent School District. The school is nearing completion, and I had the opportunity to tour the facility just a couple of weeks ago. It is magnificent. I have never actually met anyone who had a public school named after them, but I could not be more proud that NISD thought it proper to recognize my brother for his life’s accomplishments by bestowing on him this tremendous honor.
This is my final President’s Message and I would be remiss if I did not thank Jimmy Allison and his staff for their invaluable support of SABA. Jimmy, Gabe, Liz, and Kim make an extremely effective team and their combined talents are amazingly effective. Our incoming president, Allan DuBois, and his board will receive the same level of impressive support from Jimmy and his staff as we have come to rely on. Speaking of Allan, please be sure to mark your calendars for this year’s Bar Installation Gala set for September 15 at the Pearl Stables.
Finally, I am most indebted to the membership of SABA for all of your support, suggestions and criticisms. There is no question that we have the finest bar association in the State of Texas in so many ways and I am proud to say that I had the opportunity to serve as your president.