Deans Debate Future of Law Schools

Four distinguished law school deans held a lively discussion about the future of law school education before a capacity crowd Thursday at the State Bar Annual Meeting. Roger Cossack - who is participating in his eighth consecutive Annual Meeting! - moderated the debate, which was part of the Future of the Profession CLE. The panel included Ken Starr (pictured, left) of Pepperdine Law School, Larry Sager of the University of Texas Law School, John Attanasio (pictured, right) of Southern Methodist University, and Brad Toben of Baylor Law School. The hot topic was the rising cost of law school education. All agreed that tuition is too high but that there are no easy solutions. Increasing scholarship budgets and providing loan forgiveness programs help, but "most law schools are vitally tuition dependent," said Starr, adding that alumni associations need to get "radically interested" in this issue. Toben raised the issue of law schools' dependence on the U.S. News & World Report rankings, perceived as all important by many prospective students and law firm recruiters. "Too much money is being spent to get better rankings," he said. Sager added that the system makes it difficult for schools to view students holistically rather than as a number because the ranking focuses on how much schools spend per student. "That's a huge variable," said Sager.

Author Popular at Annual Meeting

Professor Richard Beeman, author of Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, spoke on his book before a packed audience Thursday afternoon at the State Bar Annual Meeting that included several current and former State Bar leaders, such as 2007-08 President Gib Walton, as well as Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Justice Harriet O'Neill. After a lively Q&A session, Beeman signed copies of his book, which was very well received, judging by the long line.

Roger Cossack on Being a Legal Analyst

During his presentation this morning at the State Bar Annual Meeting in Dallas, Roger Cossack, the legal analyst for ESPN and an Annual Meeting regular, said he learned how to be quick with a quip while working for CNN and ESPN. That skill came in handy this morning when a DVD -- the A/V portion of the presentation -- was a little late in arriving. Joking that he would lock everyone in the room until they had seen the video, Roger then proceeded to entertain a SRO audience with the story of his transition from criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles to fledgling legal analyst for CNN. The O.J. Simpson trial proved the catalyst as he found himself giving quotes about the trial to the media. He then ended up in an interview with Ted Koppel. "I didn't know anything about the case!" Roger admitted. "But all they wanted to know about was California defense law. That I did know!"

At that point, with the missing DVD in place, Roger used it to show images of how lawyers are portrayed in the movies and on television: "Lawyers are viewed as entertainers." A lawyer doing legal analysis is no different, said Roger. "When I became a legal analyst for CNN during the O.J. Simpson trial, I was unclear on what they wanted me to do because no one had ever done it before." Because he was comfortable talking to juries, he knew he could do the same for a broader audience and convey the legal terminology and concepts in a way viewers would understand. But at first he was admittedly a little "bland" and tried to stay strictly neutral. "I have been on network TV for 15 years now and I've learned legal analysis has to be entertaining -- and I'm not as neutral as I used to be. I will take a stand, get outraged about cases." In his work for ESPN, Roger said the Duke lacrosse team case stands out for the important lesson it taught him. "I came down hard on the team. I believed these students were outta control, but within a week, it was clear there were problems with the case. ... I should have gotten wary at that point. I should have started asking questions earlier. That's at the heart of what a legal analyst does. People believe what I say as an analyst. That's a heady responsibility."

Random Profile - Mark Williamson, Dallas

For Random Profiles, we randomly pick one of our 80,000-plus attorneys, call them, and do a Q&A. We've found that every Texas lawyer has an interesting story. Will yours be next?

Best thing about being a lawyer: Winning custody for pro bono clients.

Who is your favorite on-screen or literary attorney, and why? Paul Newman as Frank Galvin in The Verdict - a great film about personal redemption and winning the right way.

The best piece of advice ever given to you and by whom: “You can always make new friends, but you can’t make old friends.” – my father

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Nominations Sought for Leadership SBOT

The State Bar is seeking nominations for the 2009-2010 class of LeadershipSBOT, which is designed to prepare lawyers for leadership positions in the legal community. Click here for a nomination form (PDF), which must be submitted by July 1, 2009.

In the Winner's Circle!

The Tarrant County Bar Association hosted its fundraising event, “The Tarrant County Derby,” at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie in May and came up with a big winner! Getting into the Kentucky Derby spirit, some of the 150 attendees — both ladies and gents — participated in a Parade of Hats contest in between enjoying, and hopefully winning on, the races and dancing to music from Johnny D and the Doo Wopps. The ladies’ hat contest winner was Jessica Graham and the men’s winner was Cary Schroeder. “We had a great time,” said Planning Committee Chair Lori Spearman (pictured fourth from left), who credited committee members Lindsay DeVos, Shannon Sears, Tracy Wilkinson, Lydia Dews, Karmen Johnson, Nancy Gordon, and Casey Dyer for putting together such a successful and fun event. Koons, Fuller, Vanden Eykel & Robertson co-sponsored the event.

Seeking a clerkship? Look no further

Texas appellate lawyer Dylan Drummond, an associate with Kane Russell Coleman & Logan, PC in Houston, tells us that the Clerkship Notification Blog (CNB) is now active for the 2009-2010 hiring season. Drummond is editor-in-chief of the blog, which was founded in 2005 by Yale alumna and currrent Kirkland Ellis attorney Katherine McDaniel as a clearinghouse for clerkship information. Anyone can post messages regarding which judges around the country are seeking or have hired clerks.

Clerkship information is broken down by court type and grouped by state or territory. The blog also includes advice on transitioning from private practice to clerking and information on post-clerkship career options.

Another Texas lawyer, Mani Walia, now a clerk for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, is managing editor of the CNB.

Federal judge's book comforts kids with jailed parents

U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. GilmoreIn 2008, U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore (pictured) asked a classroom of 50 girls in Houston whether any of them had a parent in prison. Every one raised her hand.

“70 percent of children who have incarcerated parents are later incarcerated themselves, says Gilmore. “They see that as their path.” As a judge, she had seen first-hand how incarceration and its collateral damage tears families apart.

Judge Gilmore and her friend, psychiatrist Dr. Janice M. Beal, realized there was not a tool to help these children through their feelings of isolation, anger, fear, sadness, and guilt. These children are often under the burden of keeping a family secret, when in fact they should be talking about their feelings. So Gilmore and Beal self-published a coloring book, “A Boy Named Rocky,” as a therapeutic resource for schools and counselors to help realize they’re not alone or to blame for their situation.

The book tells the story of Rocky, whose mother is in jail, how this affects him, and how he finds help. The last page of the book is a form letter than kids can fill out and send to parents in jail to express their feelings. Parents are asked to write back and accept responsibility for their actions.

Gilmore and Beal have distributed more than 7,500 copies of the book, which are used by every Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Texas and many schools, churches, and prisons.

For children, just talking about their situation is a huge relief. “When they hear the story, a lot of kids say, ‘This is my story! This is my story! Nobody’s ever told my story before,’” says Gilmore. “They’re happy to know they’re not the only ones dealing with an issue like this.”

Judge Gilmore related the story of a respected deacon at her church who came up to her, crying, after a reading of the coloring book. “He told me the book dredged up feelings he hadn’t had in 50 years,” she said. “His father was in prison when he was a child and it was only his mother’s grit and determination that kept him out of trouble himself."

In addition to a sequel to “A Boy Named Rocky,” Judge Gilmore is working on three books about adoption, inspired by her own adoption of a son.

For more on the book, visit www.4theloveofkids.com

Editor’s note: We learned about this story in Texas Bar Circle, our exclusive network of Texas lawyers. Join today and share your story at www.TexasBarCircle.com

Scumbag Billionaire: Dallas legal pros entertain, for a cause

"Scumbag Billionaire" is the title of the 24th Bar None variety show, where Dallas-area attorneys, judges, paralegals, and other legal professionals prove each year that the legal profession has plenty of humor and creative talent.

This year's show runs June 17-20 at the Greer Garson Theatre on the SMU campus. All proceeds benefit Sarah T. Hughes Diversity Scholarships at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, for which Bar None has raised more than $1.1 million over the years.

For tickets, visit BarNoneShow.com

Check out these videos of past Bar None performances: