In August 2014, attorney-mediator Andrew Tolchin started the “Texas Lawyers” Group, or TL Group, on Facebook. Four years later, right after the February 2018 Texas Bar Exam results were released, the TL Group reached a significant milestone, surpassing the 10,000-member mark, and as of this writing constitutes nearly 10 percent of the bar. Tolchin credits the TL Group’s success to the fact that the group “provides a comfortable environment where mentorship and camaraderie are the norm in the absence of the immediate pressures of clients and judges. A number of those who have a positive experience invite colleagues.”
The TL Group provides a forum for the discussion of cases, laws, scenarios, rulings, ethics, practice issues, legal trends, legal education, legal job openings, office space, referrals, and other related issues of interest to Texas lawyers. Tolchin confirms that the viewership statistics reflect readership in the many thousands of attorneys daily and well in excess of a million interactions between members across the TL Group and its affiliates.
Such an active group requires active and engaged administrators who devote many hours each week. Tolchin now shares the burden with Michelle Cheng and Jason Rowe. The administrators vet potential members to ensure they are Texas lawyers and mediate the flare-ups between members that occasionally occur. Ensuring that the membership is “lawyers-only” is an important aspect of the job. The TL Group is a “judge-free zone.” Literally. No judges allowed. Those who seek membership in the TL Group are required to provide their Texas Bar number so the administrators can verify that they are active members in good standing.
Often, to understand the TL Group postings, you must know your lawyer acronyms. There are lots of potential new client, or PNC, fact patterns posed to the collective legal hive mind; baby lawyer questions, or BLQ’s; descriptions of possible unauthorized practice of law, or UPL; and—ahem—opposing counsel, or OC, horror stories. Not to mention a multitude of referrals for all manner of cases throughout the state.
The TL Group now includes a suite of affiliated group offerings to meet members’ interests, including the Texas Lawyers Lounge and Politics for Lawyers, as well as practice area groups like Oil and Gas, Criminal Defense, and Probate. These groups developed organically over time as the need arose. For example, the Texas Lawyers Lounge (think the bar from Cheers) was created as a place for members to post personal stories and jokes so that these things could still be shared, but not overtake the professional content of the TL Group. The Lounge is host to “Meme Friday” where members spend every Friday (don’t be surprised to find this starting on Thursday) posting all manner of memes. Some Lounge events even extend beyond the virtual world. Last year, member Eugene Haller organized a Secret Santa gift exchange for those who wanted to participate. There are frequent calls to “show us your critters” in the Lounge, to satisfy the need to share pictures of beloved pets and barnyard animals. And everyone knows the most important questions are answered in the Texas Lawyers Lounge using polls. There are an endless number of entertaining polls to answer. Hint: always choose “Sierra Mist” as the answer.
Longtime member and frequent-poster Scott Rothenberg praises the TL Group because it facilitates lawyer wellness by providing a way for lawyers to interact with their peers. He believes that when this interaction rises to the level of mentoring, it raises the quality of service lawyers provide to their clients. Rothenberg also sees the TL Group and the Lounge as a way to ensure communication of information about the State Bar, to encourage debate and discourse among members, and to provide feedback to the State Bar.
Perhaps unique to the TL Group is what Tolchin refers to as “peer-reviewed mentoring.” The guidance and mentoring provided to the attorney posing a question to the collective is necessarily “peer reviewed” by those in the group reading alongside. The interaction is viewed by learned peers who may, and often do, comment. That is, members of the TL Group opine about whether the answers provided are right, wrong, or should be expanded upon. There are reactions to the responses, whether agreeing or disagreeing, and sometimes reactions and responses to the way in which members communicate their response to the poster.
The TL Group truly shines in its function as an information gateway with tangible impact. During Hurricane Harvey, members used the TL Group to mobilize their many resources. For example, when Keri Brown posted in the TL Group seeking additional lawyer volunteers at the George R. Brown Convention Center emergency shelter in Houston, 38 members immediately signed up. TL Group lawyers shared information about donation collections for relief supplies and provided community support for attorneys who had lost their homes or offices. Dale Felton became a go-to source when he selflessly shared caselaw and his experience about flood insurance claims and the TL Group became a repository for that shared knowledge.
Another value aspect of the TL Group is the presence of several lawyers who also happen to be court clerks. When a TL Group member experiences an e-filing struggle in Harris County, Harris County District Clerk (and lawyer) Chris Daniels is often tagged by another member and responds with instructions and help. Texas Supreme Court Clerk (and lawyer) Blake Hawthorne used the TL Group to spread the word about the beta testing of the new statewide court records access for attorneys.
Now reaching a new stage in its evolution, the TL Group recently was the first digital bar association to be listed and hyperlinked from the State Bar’s webpage listings of bar associations. The Texas Lawyers Group, by membership, is now the third largest voluntary bar association in Texas—after the Houston Bar Association and the Dallas Bar Association. As a bar association, the TL Group will send delegates to the annual Bar Leaders Conference this year in Austin.
Look also for TL Group administrators Tolchin and Cheng presenting “The Ever-Changing World of Social Media” at this year’s State Bar Annual Meeting next month in Houston.
Beth Crawford joined Practical Law as a senior editor writing Texas litigation content from Lone Star College System, where she was acting general counsel. Previously, she was litigation counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright, concentrating on commercial litigation and appeals. Before that, she clerked at the Texas Supreme Court and First Court of Appeals, where she later served as a senior staff attorney. She is also an adjunct professor teaching business law.