The American Bar Association’s 2015 Midyear Meeting came to Houston this month, and it wasn’t hard to find Texans in prominent roles.

Texans were speakers and award recipients during the concurrent meetings of the ABA and several related groups, including the National Association of Bar Executives, the National Conference of Bar Presidents, and the National Conference of Bar Foundations.

State Bar of Texas President Trey Apffel helped open the bar presidents’ conference by welcoming the leaders to Houston and explaining the city’s nicknames, including Space City, Bayou City, and H-Town.

“But Houston is also known by another name, the Big Heart,” Apffel said, referring to the moniker earned after the city housed Hurricane Katrina evacuees in 2005. “And it’s that spirit of service that guides the State Bar of Texas and local bar associations like the Houston Bar—as I’m sure it also guides each of the organizations represented in this room today.”

Apffel also promoted professionalism and ethics in the law during a keynote address before the National Organization of Bar Counsel, a nonprofit group whose members enforce ethics rules that regulate lawyers’ professional conduct in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

“A fellow Texas attorney once said, ‘Ethics and professional responsibility should be of paramount concern to all lawyers,’” Apffel said. “‘Given the public’s skepticism of lawyers, the conduct of every attorney reflects on the profession.’ Practicing for more than 30 years as a trial lawyer has taught me the importance of being ethical in all situations.”

Other event highlights appear below.

Spirit of Excellence Awards

Former State Bar of Texas board chair Kim J. Askew, a partner in K&L Gates in Dallas, was one of four attorneys to receive a 2015 Spirit of Excellence Award from the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. Other winners were former ABA President Robert J. Grey Jr. of Richmond, Virginia; Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California; and Kevin K. Washburn, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Click here to stream video from Askew’s speech, and look for a printed version in the March issue of the Texas Bar Journal.

American Lawyers Alliance Awards

The American Lawyers Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes understanding of the legal system, honored three Texans during its 2015 midyear awards luncheon.

Carolyn Clark of San Antonio and Phyllis Dent of Houston received 2015 Outstanding Individual Volunteer awards, while Lucy Harrison of Longview received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award. State Bar of Texas President-elect Allan K. DuBois and his wife, Pam, presented the awards.

The organization also presented ALA Auxiliary Support Program Awards to 12 local or state auxiliaries from across the country, including the Houston Bar Association Auxiliary and the San Antonio Bar Auxiliary.

Book reception and presentation

Former State Bar President Richard Pena of Austin and co-author John Hagan spoke at a reception celebrating their book, Last Plane Out of Saigon, which chronicles Pena’s experiences as an operating room specialist in the Vietnam War.

Asked what readers should take away from the book, Pena said that wars have consequences. “Fifty-eight thousand Americans were killed in Vietnam; 3.1 million went to Vietnam,” he said. “I have always thought that their story needed to be told.”

Click here to read the ABA Journal’s coverage of the reception and here to read a Texas Bar Blog Q&A with Pena about the book.

Also, read an excerpt from Last Plane Out of Saigon in the September 2014 Texas Bar Journal.

Diversity forum

State Bar of Texas Immediate Past President Lisa M. Tatum of San Antonio and Houston attorney Benny Agosto Jr., chair of the State Bar of Texas Hispanic Issues Section, spoke at a forum on how to prepare bar associations for diversity and inclusion.

Tatum said two keys to success are to make diversity a mainstream conversation within an organization and to implement a detailed action plan. Progress is possible even if you can’t afford a full-time staff member devoted to the efforts, both speakers said.

Alternatives include coordinating with other bar associations or finding established programs you can duplicate. “If you don’t have the budget, that doesn’t mean you cannot have the function and the wherewithal to get things done,” Agosto said.

Legal initiatives for veterans

Former State Bar director Travis Sales, a partner in Baker Botts in Houston, participated in a panel discussion on veterans’ legal initiatives, highlighting programs such as the Houston Bar Association Veterans Legal Initiative and the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans. Another former State Bar director, Jo Ann Merica, special counsel to McGinnis Lochridge in Austin, joined HBA Executive Director Kay Sim and others in representing Texas during a meeting of the ABA Coordinating Committee on Veterans Benefits & Services.

Other Texans at ABA

Justice Douglas Lang of the Fifth Court of Appeals and Dallas attorney Mark Sales, both former State Bar directors and former Dallas Bar Association presidents, led a workshop on how metro bars should play a role in mentoring new lawyers. Bree Buchanan, director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, spoke about raising awareness of lawyer assistance programs. Amy Turner, State Bar human resources director, spoke on a panel about creating a “harmonious rhythm” with staff, and Lowell Brown, communications director, was one of four panelists discussing creative ways to welcome and engage new members.

Visit the State Bar of Texas Flickr page for an album of photos from the conference. 

Pictured from top, left to right: ABA President William C. Hubbard joins Karen Apffel and State Bar of Texas President Trey Apffel at the Spirit of Excellence Awards presentation. State Bar Immediate Past President Lisa M. Tatum congratulates Spirit of Excellence Award winner Kim J. Askew of Dallas, a former State Bar of Texas chair. Former State Bar President Richard Pena of Austin and co-author John Hagan discuss their book during a reception.