The fourth of nine public education hearings on proposed changes to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional took place Sept. 2 in Tyler at Traditions restaurant. About 20 people attended, most of them lawyers. Click here to listen to a recording of the hearing.

The hearing began with introductions by State Bar of Texas President Terry Tottenham and moderator Roland Johnson, immediate past president of the State Bar. Tom Watkins, who chaired the committee that oversaw drafting of the rules, then gave a presentation that detailed several of the proposed changes. He emphasized that the proposed changes would bring Texas disciplinary rules in line with those in other states, which is important, he said, because of a growing trend toward multistate practice. He also pointed out that the proposed rules would provide more guidance to attorneys facing potentially touchy questions by giving more clear direction on how to handle potential conflicts (for example, in representing multiple parties or entities under Rule 1.07). Watkins said that by providing additional direction for attorneys the proposed rules would also provide much stronger protections for clients because the proposed rules are clearer about how attorneys must obtain informed consent on potential conflicts.

While none of the attendees signed up to provide formal public testimony, Watkins’ presentation did generate discussion:

  • An attendee said he thinks it is helpful that the proposed rules better address representation of multiple parties.
  • Tyler attorney Rick Wilbanks observed that it seems the rules are moving away from the old adage that attorneys should “avoid even the appearance of impropriety” and instead are carving out exceptions which allow attorneys to do things that might appear unethical. Tom Watkins agreed that over the years the “appearance of impropriety” standard has been removed from the rules, but said that rather than allowing unethical behavior the rules are much stronger and more refined. Proposed amendments, Watkins said, remove a lot of the “middle ground” which can lead to uncertainty and thus to problems.
  • Beau Sinclair, also an attorney in Tyler, asked how well the proposed amendments balance public and lawyer interests and uniformity, which Watson had described during his introduction. Watkins said he could not measure the degree of balance, but that he feels there is much more of an emphasis on uniformity, more public protection in terms of informed consent, and more ways for lawyers to protect themselves where there is no way under the current rules.

Also attending the hearing were Texas Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright, Commission for Lawyer Discipline member and former State Bar President Guy Harrison, and State Bar District 2 director Ricky Richards.

Public hearings will continue this week and next in Dallas, Corpus Christi, McAllen, San Antonio, and Austin. Attorneys who attend will receive one-half hour of ethics MCLE credit. Click here to comment on the proposed amendments and click here for details on the proposals and the process