HBA expands veterans clinic

Each Friday, the Houston Bar Association’s Houston Volunteer Lawyers provide free legal advice in all areas of civil law to veterans and spouses of deceased veterans at the Michael DeBakey VA Medical Center. Thanks to a grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, beginning in July, the clinic’s operating hours will expand to 1 to 5 p.m. The funding will also allow an additional staff attorney to join the project.

“We are incredibly proud of our Veterans Legal Initiative,” HBA President Laura Gibson said in a press release. “Now, thanks to the Texas Bar Foundation, the VLI will be able to assist even more of our nation’s heroes and better their experience overall.”

The VLI began in 2008 and now serves more than 2,500 veterans annually. For more information, go to hba.org.

Houston lawyer raises more than $100,000 for charity bike ride

The morning after severe thunderstorms and hail caused the first phase of the BP MS 150 charity bike ride to be canceled, cool and clear skies kicked off day two of the annual event, which is typically a 180-mile trip from Houston to Austin. Because of the weather on Saturday, participants started on Sunday at the mid-way point. For the fourth year in a row, Houston lawyer Stephen Susman was the top fundraiser out of approximately 13,000 participants, bringing in $118,009. He was part of his firm Susman Godfrey’s team, named “Swift Justice,” which has raised more than $1.1 million since it started participating in the event 10 years ago. The BP MS 150 is organized by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society South Central Region and raises money for research into the chronic central nervous system disease that is estimated to affect more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

Above, from left: Nicholas Kuhn, Stephen Susman, and Harry Susman pose before the start of the BP MS 150 charity bike ride. Photograph courtesy of Dan Shih.

This year was the sixth and last BP MS 150 for Susman, whose wife has asked that he throw in the towel at the age of 74. Because he was the top fundraiser the previous year, he completed the 2015 ride wearing the No. 1 bib.

“It was exciting to do so with all my friends and colleagues from the firm. But it was a special privilege to cross the finish line in Austin with three generations of my family, and I thank Harry and Nicholas for doing this with me,” Susman said of his son and grandson joining him.

Raising a total of more than $225,000 this year, Swift Justice had several top 100 fundraisers, including Jonathan Ross, Trey Peacock, and Terry Oxford. Last year the team was one of the top 10 fundraising groups, collecting more than $250,000.

Several other Texas law offices participate in the BP MS 150, including Gray Reed Law, Norton Rose Fulbright, Mostyn Law, McKool Smith, Gardere, Patterson & Sheridan, and more. For more information on the event, including details on how to form a team for next year, go to BP MS 150's website. Information on multiple sclerosis is available at the National MS Society’s website.

Free legal clinic for veterans scheduled for March 14

A free legal clinic for veterans will take place on Saturday, March 14, at the Galveston VA Outpatient Clinic, 3828 Ave. N, Galveston 77550. During the event, which will run from 9 a.m. to noon, volunteer lawyers will be available to assist veterans and spouses of deceased veterans with any area of law, including disability and veterans benefits, family, wills and probate, consumer, and real estate and tax. If ongoing legal representation is needed, veterans who qualify for legal aid will be assigned a pro bono attorney to handle their case.

The clinic is co-sponsored by the Galveston County Bar Association and the Houston Bar Foundation’s Veterans Legal Initiative. The Houston Bar Foundation also sponsors weekly Friday afternoon clinics at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center from 2 to 5 p.m. on the first floor. For more information, go to hba.org.


TYLA's free bilingual legal clinic scheduled for Saturday in Houston

This Saturday, the Texas Young Lawyers Association is hosting its Know Your Rights/Conozco Sus Derechos! free legal clinic from 9 a.m. to noon at the Mexican Consulate in Houston. Attorneys will be available to meet one-on-one with clients at no cost, and presentations will be given—all in Spanish—on a range of pertinent issues, such as family law (divorce, custody, alimony), criminal law (assault, drunk driving), immigration (deportation, repatriation, President Obama’s executive order), and consumer law (notaries, sales and leases, debt collection violations).

A Spanish-language informational video on the event is available on YouTube.

The Conozco Sus Derechos event has its roots with the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association, which TYLA has been working with to expand the goal of educating Latinos throughout Texas about their legal rights.

“Knowing one’s rights in these areas is instrumental to giving them a voice in the community,” said Aaron Capps, a Dallas attorney and director on TYLA’s board who has been involved with the project. “As the service branch of the State Bar, this is something we strive to accomplish every day for all community members who feel lost, unrepresented, or unheard.”

More information on the event, including details in Spanish, is available on TYLA’s website.

UH Law Center hosts CLE

Legal professionals will speak on grand juries, policing, use of force, and civil rights, among other topics, during a CLE event at the University of Houston Law Center this Friday. The program is part of a free series of CLE for alumni and is open to other attorneys in the greater Houston area. Attendees will receive four hours of credit, including 1.5 hours of ethics credit. The program will take place from 1 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. in room 144 BLB of the Law Center. To register and see a full list of speakers, go to law.uh.edu/cle.

Firm's new office showcases a modernized Texas Lawyer's Creed

When the firm of Shipley Snell Montgomery recently moved its office to a historic downtown Houston building, it hired local architects at Mayfield and Ragni Studio to give the new space an affordable yet meaningful design. While many law offices across Texas take on a traditional décor, with chunky wooden bookshelves, oversized leather chairs, and framed artwork, Shipley Snell and the designers went a different direction—by implementing some tools of the lawyer’s trade and doing so in a modern way. This included hundreds of old law books used for a custom reception desk, several law journals stacked and tied with a belt and buckle to form an end table, and life-size words taken from the Texas Lawyer’s Creed—“A lawyer owes to a client allegiance, learning, skill, and industry”—painted on the walls throughout the lobby and meeting rooms.

Photographs courtesy of Mayfield and Ragni Studio and photographer Eric Laignel

According to the MaRS design brief on the Shipley Snell project, “In all, 495 books dating from 1904 through the 1980s were carefully arranged, with the oldest having their binding visible and the newer receiving one of a series of dye treatments along the visible page edges. A mathematical model was developed to derive a rational pattern of color variation and the books were each hand dyed and sequentially numbered prior to being pressed into rows forming the facing of the reception desk.” MaRS designers who worked on this project included Kelie Mayfield, Erick Ragni, and Becky Harrison.


We asked firm partner Joel Z. Montgomery a few questions about the office design and how the attorneys and staff like it so far.

Whose idea was it to use the Texas Lawyer’s Creed on the wall, why was this particular line chosen, and what purpose does it serve?

After our architects floated the concept of the “writing on the wall,” we all spent hours brainstorming what to say. We went through various famous law-related quotes from literature and movies, but nothing really jumped out at us. Finally, we seized on the notion that the writing would be in our reception area, where we meet our clients—so let’s remind everyone exactly what we owe clients and what clients can expect from us: allegiance, learning, skill, and industry. Because the mural spans the reception area and several conference rooms, it’s not obvious what it says. This sparks dialogue and invites us to emphasize in a personal way that we take very seriously our obligations to our clients.


Was there any apprehension to do a design that differs from the traditional law office?

Given that we were moving into a historic building, we felt that it was almost imperative that we balance out the traditional feel of the exterior with a more contemporary interior. The more open, modern office concept highlights the building’s great historic touches, like the stone window ledges and interesting angles, while de-emphasizing the lower ceiling heights and smaller windows. From the standpoint of who we are as lawyers—a litigation boutique—we rely heavily on technology, but we are very intentionally “old school” in our responsiveness to our clients and the level of professionalism we bring to our work. We think our offices reflect that.

What do you and the other attorneys and staff like most about the space design and its functionality?

Our office layout encourages teamwork and collaboration without going overboard to the point of distraction. As attorneys, sometimes our best work is done talking through case strategy together; other times, we need to put our heads down and draft briefs and court papers. Our offices have great collaborative spaces without being so “open concept” that the lawyers can’t work.

What has the response from clients been?

It’s been universally positive. Even clients with a more traditional taste in design have been very complimentary of the combination of “old school” and “high tech.”

Harvest Celebration raises more than $668,000

The Houston Bar Association, Houston Bar Foundation, and Houston Bar Association Auxiliary hosted the 65th Harvest Celebration on Monday, Nov. 17, raising over $668,000 for pro bono efforts. More than 1,000 Houston Bar Association members and guests attended the event, which honored area law firms, corporate legal departments, and individuals who are providing pro bono services to Houstonians.

Bar Leaders Wrap-up

The 2014 Bar Leaders Conference, held in Houston on August 1-2, was filled with speakers and presentations aiming to strengthen, inspire, and celebrate local bar associations—all while participants earned CLE credit.

Each day, attendees could choose from a diverse selection of panels, with topics ranging from Law Related Education and Access to Justice to mentoring and Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans. Also offered were roundtable discussions that encouraged participants to share their own experiences and ideas on successful—or struggling—local bar initiatives and suggestions for improving State Bar efforts to connect with and support local leaders.

The weekend ended with a western-themed party that featured casino games and more than 60 door prize baskets provided by delegates. Details on select panels are provided below.

General Session Luncheons

Kicking off the Bar Leaders Conference, Vicki Clark, owner of Building the Capacity of Organizations, took the stage during Friday’s general session luncheon to give the audience tips on how to strengthen and inspire a bar association to increase its impact. “The only way your association is going to grow is if the members change,” Clark said, touching on her presentation’s theme of making bars “mission driven and member focused.” Below: Vicki Clark delivers the Local Bar Leaders Conference keynote presentation on servant leadership.

Clark explained that methods of leadership are always evolving and that servant leadership—which turns the traditional hierarchy pyramid upside down, placing management heads at the bottom of an organization chart and members at the top—makes members more likely to participate in and contribute to the association. She emphasized the importance of delivering transformative experiences to members, valuing people who are different, building a sense of community, nurturing the spirit of fun and allowing members to relax and be themselves, and not just “passing out marching orders.”

Saturday’s lunch took a “Lunch & Learn” format, allowing attendees to network at their tables while eating. Following the meal, Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva M. Guzman presented pro bono service awards to several local bars.

Breakout Panels

These sessions brought in experts to cover a range of topics from igniting an online presence and running an effective meeting to cross-association collaborations and lawyers as lifeguards. During Law Related Education sessions, panelists provided insight into the classroom projects I was the First. Vote for Me! and Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay!. Attendees heard practical tips for presenting material to students and saw examples of videos and teaching techniques that are used during the lessons.

At a Saturday session titled, “TYLA: Building Uncommon Leaders,” small-sized and recently formed young lawyer groups were encouraged to reach out to prospective members by utilizing the county-by-county information kept by the Texas Young Lawyers Association. Other conversations focused on the possibility of raising the age limit for young lawyer associations to ensure that effective members remain active and pass on their success while transitioning to the “Big Bar”; preventing the loss of members with children by hosting family “fun days” and events for kids to meet members of the judiciary; the importance of reaching out to law students; and how young lawyer associations should work with the area’s local bar association.

Roundtable Talks

The Bar Leaders Conference Roundtables offered valuable opportunities to brainstorm successful strategies and solutions to common hurdles. Attendees shared experiences from their successful community service projects, and also offered suggestions for others interested in completing similar projects. Examples of events ranged from chili cook-offs and fun runs to Habitat for Humanity workdays and will-drafting events.

Participants also exchanged ideas on how to deal with challenges that certain initiatives present. One local bar that was having trouble attracting veterans to its free legal clinic was advised to focus on holding such events at the most appropriate location, due to the transportation issues that many veterans have, and also to consider reaching out to local veterans organizations and nearby veterans health care facilities. Another bar association located in a rural area of Texas expressed difficulty in fundraising; an urban association replied with a suggestion that they hold local CLE seminars for the legal community, which reportedly helped it raise thousands of dollars to use on service activities.

Crow begins Houston Bar Association presidency

M. Carter Crow assumed the office of president for the Houston Bar Association on May 15 during the group’s annual dinner meeting at River Oaks Country Club. Crow, partner-in-charge of the Houston office of Norton Rose Fulbright, succeeds David Chaumette to lead the nation’s fifth largest metropolitan bar association.

A member of the HBA Board of Directors since 2007, Crow has served as chair or co-chair of a number of the organization’s committees and programs, including Administration of Justice, Judicial Polls, Gender Fairness, Law Week, and Habitat for Humanity. He is past president of the Houston Management Lawyers Forum; served as a member of the Children’s Fund Inc.; and is an elder at Christ the King Presbyterian Church.

Crow earned his J.D., with honors, from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.


Houston attorney reportedly becomes one of the longest practicing maritime lawyers in U.S.

The open waters that surround the comforting stability of the continents are considered by many to be powerful, plentiful, and unpredictable. Seas and oceans have their own unique set of commerce, issues, and visitors—from oil drillers and fishermen to recreational boaters and pirates—and thus are governed by highly specialized maritime law. Houston attorney Arthur Schechter knows this code well, having represented the seafaring for 50 years. On April 27, 2014, Schechter—who is a partner in Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris—celebrated this career milestone, which makes him one of the longest practicing maritime attorneys in U.S. history, according to a statement by his firm.

Also referred to as admiralty law, maritime law is complex, not widely taught in American law schools, and known by few U.S. attorneys. It covers matters related to shipping, navigation, insurance, canals, recreation, and more. Maritime law also provides that sea vessels are under the legal jurisdiction of the country whose flag they are flying based on a substantial relationship.

Although Schechter did not set out to practice in this area while a student at the University of Texas School of Law, maritime law soon found him. He worked with maritime clients, learning the intricate legal system surrounding various labor and employment benefits—such as workers compensation—and how these differed for longshoremen versus deep-water seamen, such as off shore workers who were injured in foreign waters while working for American companies.

Over the past five decades, Schechter said that the practice of maritime law has, in certain ways, changed considerably, including a diminished sense of collegiality. “There have also been some substantive legal changes,” he said.

Still, Schechter has continued to enjoy helping people, which he said is the purpose of the law. Among his past clients are the National Maritime Union, individual foreign seaman, the Indian Seaman’s Union, and the Pakistani Seaman’s Union. “The practice of maritime law,” said Schechter, “has been extraordinary as it has permitted me to handle cases arising all over the world and to work with many different social classes of plaintiffs who were also, in many instances, speakers of languages foreign to us and who suffered injury and damage in environments foreign to us. The cases and the clients were always fascinating and frequently humorous because of other cultural differences. I can honestly say that I loved the practice and felt that, no matter what kind of story was heard on a given day, human nature would always provide some surprise just as soon as I became convinced that I had ‘heard it all.’”

Houston firm sponsors scholarship to encourage text-free driving among teens

The Houston law firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend is bringing attention to Distracted Driving Awareness Month by sponsoring its second annual Text Free Texas Scholarship Contest. The team of personal injury attorneys has noted their firsthand experience of how devastating one text can be.

Sophomore, junior, and senior students at El Campo High School, Lee High School, Waltrip High School, or Eastwood Academy in the Houston area are eligible to enter the contest by submitting a 150-word (or less) pledge to not text while behind the wheel. Pledges can be submitted by posting them on the law firm’s Facebook or Google+ pages. In May, Abraham Watkins will select the four top entries (one from each school), and the winners will each receive $250.

For more information, go to abrahamwatkins.com.

Program to help attorneys handle pro bono tax cases

Attorneys can learn how to handle a tax controversy case, audit techniques and procedures, and other helpful information at a free CLE program Feb. 7 in Houston.

Houston Volunteer Lawyers, together with the Houston Bar Association Tax Law Section and the Texas Young Lawyers Association, will present “How to Handle a Pro Bono Tax Case” from 8 a.m. to noon Feb. 7 at South Texas College of Law.

The program will also teach attorneys when and how to litigate a tax case, the use of administrative appeals, and innocent spouse/injured spouse relief.

Attorneys who attend the seminar and accept a pro bono tax controversy case from Houston Volunteer Lawyers between Dec. 1, 2013, and Feb. 7, 2013, will be eligible to win an iPad, courtesy of Stratos Legal, that will be given away at the seminar.

Read the agenda and register here.

Houston attorney Benny Agosto Jr. to address South Texas College of Law graduates

On Dec. 14, personal injury attorney Benny Agosto Jr. will deliver the keynote address at the commencement ceremony of his alma mater, the South Texas College of Law in Houston.

STCL graduates can learn from Agosto’s personal story, particularly as they prepare to take the Texas bar exam and enter a less-than-prime job market. Although Agosto’s parents had no more than a sixth grade education, they instilled in him the value of hard work and a good education. He was recruited by Houston Baptist University for his soccer skills and went on to graduate from college, obtain his law degree, and have a successful law career.

Additionally, Agosto established the Mexican-American Bar Association of Texas Foundation in 2006 and in 2011 served as the president of the Hispanic National Bar Association. Earlier this year he received the Peter Torres Jr. Community Service Award from the State Bar Hispanic Issues Section and the Litigation Counsel of America’s Peter Perlman Service Award.