Lawyers’ Committee Statement on U.S. Supreme Court Upholding Race Conscious Admissions at University of Texas

The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed yesterday the Fifth Circuit’s decision upholding the race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas as constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.

For the second time in three years, the Supreme Court reviewed Abigail Fisher’s challenge to the University of Texas’s holistic admissions policy. The university’s admissions system is unique in that most of its undergraduates are admitted through the state’s Top Ten Percent law, which admits any student graduating from a Texas high school in the top 10 percent of their class. The remaining offers of admission are determined through a combination of an applicant’s Academic Index (SAT scores and high school academic performance) and Personal Achievement Index (a holistic review of several factors including race).

“Today’s decision affirms that the pursuit of racial diversity among our nation’s colleges and universities remains an important goal in our democracy,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Court’s ruling recognizes that the narrowly tailored and well-constructed race-conscious admissions plan utilized by the University of Texas satisfies strict scrutiny.  At a time when college students across the country are demanding that their administrators do more to address the legacy of discrimination on campuses, the Court’s ruling underscores the importance of pursuing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.”

In today’s 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court confirms that pursuing the educational benefits of diversity remains a compelling state interest. The university’s consideration of race as one of many factors involved in the evaluation of candidates was found to be sufficiently narrowly tailored because it articulated measurable and concrete goals, such as ending stereotypes and preparing students for a diverse workforce.    The Supreme Court recognized that the “University  of  Texas  at  Austin  has  a special opportunity to learn and to teach” and noted that the school “now has at its disposal valuable data about the manner in which   different   approaches   to   admissions   may   foster   diversity  or  instead  dilute  it.”  The ruling makes clear that such plans satisfy the scrutiny of the Court and should be subject to a continual process of evaluation to ensure their effectiveness.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) has a long history of supporting higher education admissions practices which offer equitable educational opportunities to all students. The Lawyers’ Committee submitted an amicus brief in this case in support of the University which emphasized the importance of racial diversity on college campuses.

Considerable research shows that race-neutral admissions policies would fail to achieve meaningful levels of racial diversity at the University of Texas. Racial diversity, especially in the classroom setting, is critical in today’s global economy and increasingly interconnected world. Exposure to diversity builds creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. It also diminishes implicit and explicit biases among people of differences in communities, schools, and the criminal justice system.

“One need look no further than some of the recent unrest on our college campuses across the county for a reminder that race continues to have relevance in today’s society,” observed Brenda Shum, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee. “Today’s decision reinforces a growing body of research that shows that positive campus racial climate is essential to realizing the educational benefits of diversity on campus. We appreciate and support the university’s ongoing efforts to attend to the historical legacy of exclusion that has shaped its campus climate through its nuanced admissions policies which include race as one of many factors.”

Austin Attorney Participates in Legal Victory

Beck Redden Associate Chris Cowan was part of a winning legal team that recently secured a victory for clients Statoil ASA and Fargo Acquisition, Inc.Cowan_Chris_sml

On June 17, 2016, the Austin Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in favor of the clients, vacating a class certification order.

The case, Brigham Exploration Co. et al. v. Boytim et al., involves Statoil’s 2011 acquisition of  Brigham Exploration Company.  Immediately following the announcement of the acquisition, a group of  Brigham shareholders filed a purported class action, alleging claims for breach of fiduciary duty against  Brigham’s board of directors and aiding and abetting that breach against Statoil, Fargo, and Brigham.

The appellate court vacated the class certification on the ground that the class was not sufficiently defined because it included numerous shareholders who lacked standing.  The case has been remanded for further proceedings in the trial court.

Texas Legal Launches Producer Program; Agent and Broker Opportunity to Sign Clients for Legal Insurance, Earn Healthy Commission

Texas Legal, the nonprofit that has been offering legal insurance to Texans for 40+ years, today announced its Producer Program to allow agents and brokers to easily offer TDI-regulated legal insurance plans to clients. Agents and brokers who enroll in the Texas Legal Producer Program have a new way to differentiate themselves, and an opportunity to earn healthy commissions ongoing, all by ensuring Texans have affordable legal support from approximately 500 Texas lawyers in the Texas Legal network.  For more information and to sign up, please visit http://texaslegal.org/producers/

“We are so proud of all we do to make sure Texans have access to quality and affordable legal support that OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAprotects themselves and their families from the massive costs that can accrue with legal issues,” said Jim Buck, president, Texas Legal.  “Our new Producer Program will help our trusted services get into more hands more quickly.  Our legal insurance connects Texans with a network of approximately 500 lawyers who can service specific legal needs whether wills or estate advice, identity theft or bankruptcy, family issues such as divorce or custody, or civil defense or misdemeanors.”

For agents interested in offering Texas Legal insurance to their own clients, whether individuals or companies, they simply complete the form at http://texaslegal.org/producers/ and work with Texas Legal for approval and onboarding.  Agents can quickly begin to offer legal insurance to clients and earn competitive commissions for their own business.

Financial Benefits Services, LLC, a Dallas area benefit consulting firm, has been working with Texas Legal to extend legal insurance offerings to its clients.  “Texas Legal is amazing to work with.  The organization was set up by the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Legislature decades ago and is the trusted, preferred service to connect Texans to the lawyer they need, when they need.  In fact, Texas Legal is the only legal insurance provider governed by the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), which in our eyes – and yes of our clients too – is very powerful.   The Producer Program is easy to activate, having legal insurance is a great value-add we can extend to our clients, and every plan we sell becomes a new revenue stream for us,” said Richard Peace, State Manager, Financial Benefits Services, LLC.

Agents who are part of the Texas Legal Producer Program sign up individuals or group members for TDI-regulated legal insurance plans that deliver comprehensive legal protection at an affordable price.

Subscribers to the plan gain access to the huge Texas Legal attorney network of lawyers across Texas who address a wide variety of legal challenges.  Agents receive regular competitive commission checks and also benefit from thorough Texas Legal go-to-market support, from joint marketing to deal support.

“There is only one preferred provider of legal insurance as selected by the State Bar of Texas, only one provider with a TDI-regulated legal insurance plan,” said Scott Shapard, executive vice president of Employee Benefits, Higginbotham, a Fort Worth based insurance broker that services all of Texas. “We guarantee our clients across Texas the very best insurance, and Texas Legal fits that bill.  Now, they’ve made it even easier – and more profitable – for us to extend these benefits to our customers.”

Third Meeting of Austin Managing Partners Forum Announced

The third meeting of the newly formed Austin Managing Partners Forum (MPF) will take place on Thursday, June 30, 2016 at Winstead, PC. MPF, an initiative developed by the Austin Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators, provides networking and educational opportunities for managing partners from diverse practices and offers a sense of increased community among Austin law firms.

Each meeting features a different speaker and discussion topic. During this session, speaker Erika Swanner, Founder of Booth Cyber Group, will address the importance of cybersecurity and the impact a breach can have on a company, as well as current policies in the works and emerging cybersecurity trends.

More details follow:

Date: Thursday, June 30, 2016
Time: 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Drinks and light hors d’oeuvres will be provided.
Location: Winstead, PC. 401 Congress Avenue, Suite #2100, Austin, TX 78701.
Parking: Parking garage is located on 4th Street. Tickets will be validated.

If you are interested in attending, please RSVP to Teresa Ferguson at 512-795-8686 or tferguson@slackdavis.com.

Austin Firm Part of Class Action Filed Against Uber & Lyft for Violating Federal Employment Laws

The Austin law firm of Slack & Davis, LLP, has joined forces with a San Francisco law firm to file dual class action lawsuits against technology ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft, respectively. Attorneys Michael L. Slack and John R. Davis of Slack & Davis, LLP will serve as lead counsel along with attorneys from the Brandi Law Firm in the lawsuits.

The suits allege that in shuttering their respective Austin, Texas operations, Uber and Lyft violated federal employment laws, and specifically the Worker Adjustment, Retraining and Notification (“WARN”) Act. The WARN Act requires that employers give employees notice before effectuating either a “plant closing” or “mass layoff” as those terms are defined in the WARN Act. Unless an employer gives satisfactory notice, employees are entitled to up to sixty days’ back pay and benefits pursuant to the statute. Uber and Lyft each claimed to have had more than 10,000 drivers in the Austin area, according to quotes from corporate representatives for both companies.

“Lost in the political theater surrounding the Uber and Lyft versus Austin City Council battle was the real-world effect on the thousands of Austinites who suddenly lost their incomes when Uber and Lyft abandoned Austin,” said Michael L. Slack of Slack & Davis, LLP.

John R. Davis of Slack & Davis, LLP added that “Uber and Lyft have already earned notoriety for an ‘above the law’ attitude, and their continued commitment to disregarding this country’s employment laws is both troubling and extremely harmful to the very people whose efforts have made Uber and Lyft billion-dollar companies.” Davis pointed to an example of when Uber ran a personal attack ad against Austin City Councilwoman Ann Kitchen, claiming in its app that Ms. Kitchen wanted to “impose 19th Century regulation on 21st Century technology.” Davis, noting the irony, remarked: “In fact, it is Uber and Lyft that wish to impose 19th Century labor regulation on 21st Century employees.”

Despite the statements in Uber’s and Lyft’s Terms & Conditions that drivers are independent contractors and not employees, multiple federal courts have weighed the evidence and concluded that Uber’s and Lyft’s drivers are in fact presumptive employees under applicable law, according to the attorneys.

 

Austin Bar Notes Memorial Service for Karen R. Johnson

Karen R. Johnson, President of the Austin Bar Association from 1985 – 1986, has passed away. karen

A memorial service is planned for Monday, June 13, at 1 p.m. at St. David’s Episcopal Church, 301 E. 8th Street. A reception will be held immediately following at the Austin Club, 110 E. 9th Street.

In January, the Austin Bar had the priviledge of awarding Karen the Distinguished Lawyer Award.  Click here to view the video shown in her honor at the 13th Annual Austin Bar Foundation Gala.

Rachel Giani Joins Austin Office of Winstead

Rachel S. Giani has joined the Austin Office of Winstead PC as Of Counsel in the Corporate, Securities/M&A practice group.RachelGiani1_pr

Giani provides legal counsel on regulatory matters and statutory construction to companies that engage in the business of insurance and she advises corporate clients on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and other related legal matters.

She brings over nine years of experience working with the Texas Department of Insurance where she previously served at a director level, managing a team of attorneys and staff who provide legal assistance to the Department’s Financial Regulation Division, one of the largest insurance and financial regulatory programs in the world.  Giani received her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law with honors.

Austin Bar Seeking Attorney Volunteers for Veterans Clinic

10653537_10152859467538990_1898819128704717451_nThe Austin Bar Association is seeking local attorneys who would like to volunteer for the “Free Legal Advice Clinic for Veterans that will be held June 13 from 1:30 to 4:30 at the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic at 7901 Metropolis Drive.

The Association offers free legal advice to military veterans and their families on a monthly basis at the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic. Attorney volunteers will provide brief, legal advice.

Go here to volunteer: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1muAoGHMapmmi54gpGTNo9vcrjrtksWC48RILTH41E0Q/viewform?c=0&w=1

Brown Recognized in Chambers USA for Legal Work in Healthcare Industry

Fletcher Brown, a partner in the Austin office of Waller, has been honored by Chambers USA in its 2016 edition for his work in the Healthcare Industry.

Waller’s overall healthcare practice – comprising more than 100 attorneys across numerous practice areas – also received national recognition.

“We are honored to have so many Waller attorneys acknowledged by Chambers because this recognition is based on independent interviews with both our clients and our peers at other firms,” said Waller chairman Matt Burnstein. “The depth and breadth of talent at Waller is underscored by the fact that attorneys from each of our four offices and across 11 practice areas have been recognized by Chambers.”

Butler Snow Expands Austin Office with Hire of Attorney

Butler Snow has expanded its attorney base in Austin with the addition of attorney Gary W. Davis.

“Texas is an important strategic market for the firm and we believe this team will position Butler Snow for even further growth there in the future. They will certainly strengthen our existing finance, bankruptcy and restructuring, and product liability practices but also help attract others seeking the unique culture of teamwork our firm offers,” said Donald Clark Jr., chairman, Butler Snow.

Davis is a first chair trial lawyer with experience and expertise in product liability litigation and commercial litigation, focusing on the motor vehicles, aviation, medical equipment, agricultural,  construction and industrial equipment industries. He has been recognized by Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Davis is admitted to practice in Texas and Colorado. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and his Juris Doctor from the University of Texas. Davis is a member of the International Association of Defense Counsel.