Austin Bar Receives Texas Bar Foundation Grant

The Texas Bar Foundation has approved a grant request for $10,000 from the Austin Bar Association. Since its inception in 1965, the Texas Bar Foundation has awarded more than $15 million in grants to law-related programs.  Supported by members of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Bar Foundation is the nation’s largest charitably-funded bar foundation. This grant will allow the Austin Bar to produce training videos to equip volunteer attorneys in better assisting self-represented litigants at the Travis County Law Library and Self Help Center.

Due to a judicial mandate by the judges of Travis County in 2015, all self-represented litigants in the uncontested docket must go to the Travis County Law Library and Self Help Center before presenting their cases in court.  Many of the over 600 people per month who visit the Self Help Center are the working poor of Travis County who can’t afford the services of an attorney, but also can’t qualify for free legal aid.  These people often fall through the cracks of our legal system. The Austin Bar stepped in to fill that gap by creating the Self Represented Litigant Project. Volunteer attorneys assist the staff reference attorneys at the Self Help Center in answering questions and filling out forms for such things as obtaining occupational driver’s licenses, divorces, landlord tenant issues, and name changes. 

The courts have seen a dramatic rise in self-represented litigants in recent years as well as an increase in family law cases due to the surge in Travis County’s population.  The Austin Bar recognized these trends and created this project so the citizens of Travis County could have access to the best possible legal representation for resolving their legal issues quickly and efficiently, regardless of income.

According to 261st Civil District Court Judge, the Honorable Lora Livingston, “Access to justice should not be limited only to those who can afford it.  Justice for ALL citizens is what we, as Americans, expect, demand, and deserve.  It is what our county is based upon.  We, as members of the legal community, are constantly working on ways to improve access to justice for all citizens.  The Austin Bar’s Self-Represented Litigant Project is designed to improve the lives of the citizens of Travis County by providing first-class legal services to the working poor.  But it’s only a beginning.  We must do more, help more, and provide more, to those who need it most.”

The grant funds will be used for videos to create a more streamlined training program for the volunteer attorneys.  Each type of case has specific forms that must be filled out properly in order for a judge to sign off on the case.  Training the attorneys on how to fill out these forms and how to assist someone through the uncontested docket will allow the volunteers to walk in the door knowing what to expect and how to help the greatest number of people.  The trained volunteers can then take the majority of the more common cases, allowing the managing attorney and the reference attorneys to spend more time with those patrons who have more complicated legal issues requiring more time to assist.  The quality and efficiency of legal aid provided to all will be greatly increased.

Dickinson Wright PLLC Adds Intellectual Property Attorney to the Firm’s Austin Office

Dickinson Wright PLLC has announced the hire of attorney Alison D. Frey has joined the firm’s Austin office.

Frey focuses her practice on intellectual property law. She regularly advises clients on trademark matters, including trademark clearance and protection, policing, rebranding, licensing and global brand protection strategies. Her practice includes management of domestic and international trademark portfolios across a myriad of industries. She regularly represents clients before the U.S. Trademark Office and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, and has led numerous international trademark disputes executed before foreign administrative and judicial bodies.

She also counsels clients routinely on copyright, domain name and Internet issues, including the handling of domain name disputes. She has extensive experience in the drafting and negotiating of software and technology licensing and development agreements, joint business venture agreements, consulting agreements, manufacturing and production agreements, and Internet related agreements.

Frey is a member of the International Trademark Association, the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the Austin Intellectual Property Law Association, and the Texas State Bar Association. She received her B.A. from The University of Texas at Austin and her J.D. from Tulane Law School.

Nation’s Largest Men’s Divorce Law Firm Hires Associate Attorney Coleen Kinsler in Austin Office

Cordell & Cordell, the nation’s largest domestic litigation firm focusing on representing men in family law cases, recently hired Associate Attorney Coleen Kinsler in its Austin office at 301 Congress Ave.

Kinsler joins Cordell & Cordell, which has more than 200 attorneys working in more than 100 offices across the United States, after previous stops at places like the Morgan Law Firm and Prescott Legal.

Kinsler received her JD from The John Marshall Law School.

Ethics Opinion Nixes Use of Verein Names in TX, But Firms say ‘Business as Usual’

By Karen E. Rubin, of Thompson Hine LLP

As we’ve predicted before, the increasing globalization of high-level legal practice continues to create questions about forms of legal practice – in particular, vereins, a structure aimed at letting firms based in different countries operate under a unified brand. Mega-firms Fulbright & Jaworski (subs. req.) and Dentons have faced motions to disqualify centered on such structural issues, and now a Texas ethics opinion issued last month questions whether lawyers in the Lone Star state can use a verein name on pleadings. (Hat tip to Dan Bressler and the Law Firm Risk Management blog for alerting us to the opinion.) Five AmLaw 100 firms affected In Opinion 663, the Texas Professional Ethics Committee concluded that under the state’s Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, Texas lawyers in an organization such as a verein “may not use the name of the organization as their law firm’s name on pleadings or other public communications” unless all the names are those of current or former lawyers in the Texas firm or a predecessor firm.

According to an article in Texas Lawyer, five firms on the AmLaw 100, which lists the highest-grossing U.S. law firms, are Swiss vereins that include Texas lawyers, including DLA Piper, Baker & McKenzie, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright and Squire Patton Boggs.

The Committee based its opinion, which is advisory, on Texas’s Rule 7.01(a), which unlike the analogous Model Rule on firm names, expressly bars lawyers from practicing under a “a firm name containing names other than those of one or more of the lawyers in the firm,” (except for deceased/retired lawyers’ names or names of predecessor firms).

The Committee’s analysis used a hypothetical Texas firm formerly named “Smith Johnson,” that has joined an “international verein” and become known as “Brown Jones Smith.” The Texas lawyers in the verein would be violating Rule 7.01(a), said the Committee, because “there has never been a lawyer in the Texas law firm or any predecessor firm named Brown or Jones.”

In addition, like the analogous Model Rule, Texas Rule 7.02 prohibits “misleading” firm names, and the Texas Committee concluded that the use of the “Brown Jones Smith” name would also be misleading, by creating “the appearance that all lawyers in all the law firms that are in the verein are members of a single law firm when in fact they are not.” The firm’s statements about its composition in advertising disclaimers don’t diminish the misleading nature of the communication, the Committee said.

Be careful what you ask for?

According to Texas Lawyer, the Texas Committee issued Opinion 663 in response to an inquiry from Robert Newman, who is of counsel with Norton Rose Fulbright (a verein with Texas lawyers), and a former chair of the Committee. Asking for an advisory ethics opinion, and then getting an adverse one, is always a possibility, although even an adverse opinion at least tells you where you stand, ethically speaking. But the reactions of the current Committee chair and the mega-firms contacted by Texas Lawyer are interesting, and indicate that it will basically be business as usual for the firms, notwithstanding the (advisory) opinion. The Committee chair said that “Literally nothing is going to happen” unless someone files a grievance against a lawyer for using a verein name, which he said would be a “rare” occurrence.

For their part, two firms contacted by Texas Lawyer — Norton Rose Fulbright and Baker & McKenzie — said they do not plan to make any changes as a result of the ethics opinion. The magazine quotes the managing partner of Baker’s Dallas office, who said “We’ve been practicing in Texas as Baker & McKenzie since 1986 and plan to continue to do so.”

Whether this ethics opinion will resonate with bar regulators in other jurisdictions, and whether it will generate some disciplinary cases remains to be seen. Also interesting is the Texas committee’s view that the law firms in the verein are not members of the “same firm,” which might have a potential impact on analyzing future conflict of interest issues, among other things. Stay tuned for further developments.

For more on Karen, visit http://www.thompsonhine.com/professionals/rubin-karen

Austin Judge’s Order Keeps Boys Out of Girls’ School Restrooms For Now

(The following is reprinted with permission of GWU Public Interest Law professor John Banzhaf)

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Austin, Texas, has reaffirmed an earlier order which prohibits the federal government from forcing public schools to permit anatomical boys from using the girls’ restroom based solely upon their claim to feel female, and made it clear that the prohibition, which is applicable to all genders, applies nationwide.

In making this ruling, the judge did not decide the key underlying issue – whether Title VII and Title IX require that persons must have unfettered access to restrooms contrary to their genitalia if they claim to be transsexual – but rather based his decision upon what public interest law professor John Banzhaf identifies as an important administrative law requirement.

Generally, before a federal agency can promulgate directives requiring entities outside the federal government to do or refrain from taking certain actions, these proposed rules must be published in the Federal Register, and the public must be permitted a reasonable period of time to comment on them.

During that period, mandated by the Administrative Procedures Act [APA], all members of the public are entitled to submit legal, factual, policy, and other arguments in opposition to the proposal, and the agency is then required to address all such major concerns, says Banzhaf, who teaches Administrative Law.

If this requirement had been observed, opponents would have argued very strongly that when Congress voted to prohibit discrimination based upon “sex,” the statute applied only to sex based upon external genitalia, not to whatever sex or gender a person claimed he thought he was at any particular time.

Opponents probably would also have argued that, if the law does in fact apply to transsexuals, any remedies must balance their interest is using restrooms with which they are most comfortable not only against the privacy interests of girls and women, but also very real concerns about sexual assault and even rape – especially if persons with penises can enter female restrooms based solely upon their own claims.

In other words, the concerns about assault are raised not primarily about transgender males, but rather about non-transgender males who would now have a legal defense if found within a female restroom.

Finally, those who object would probably have suggested that the restroom needs of transgender students can be accommodated by insuring that there are enough single-user or other all-gender restrooms, and that it is therefore unnecessary to force schools to permit students with penises to use female restrooms.

If the agency had permitted opponents to make these arguments before it acted, and if the agency moreover would have had to provide a reasoned legally valid explanation as to why it had rejected all these arguments, the outcome might have been very different, says Banzhaf.

In any event, if the APA had been followed, the resulting rule would almost certainly have been appealed, and a court would then decide whether the agency acted properly in rejecting the arguments.

Interestingly, both sides in this controversy – which pits the interests of transsexuals to use the restrooms with which they are most comfortable against the interests of girls and women not to have anatomical males free to use their restrooms without even any proof of their transgender status – seem to have overlooked an obviously win, win, win solution, says Banzhaf.

Banzhaf has won over 100 gender discrimination legal actions, supported LGBT rights, and criticized the North Carolina statute for requiring even transsexual people who have completed sexual re-assignment surgery to use restrooms corresponding to the genitals they were born with but no longer have.

Prof. Banzhaf cites an experimental all-gender multi-user restroom now being tested in his law school which not only satisfies the interests of both sides, but – unlike another proposed remedy – does not require the often-difficult and usually-expensive construction of many new single-user restrooms.

It also satisfies the needs of transsexuals as well as transvestites – those who dress in a manner inconsistent with their anatomical sex – to be able to have ready access to conveniently located restrooms without having to declare any particular gender preference or identity, while at the same time insuring that girls and women will not find anatomical males (transgender or otherwise) in their female restrooms.

What his law school has done, says Banzhaf, is simply to re-designate what was formerly a typical men’s restroom – with 3 urinals, 1 toilet in a stall, and 2 wash basins – as an all-gender restroom.  Since the percentage of students who are transsexual is very small, most of the time this converted room simply functions as any other male restroom would, with many men able to urinate at the same time using the urinals.

However any person – including not only transsexuals, but also transvestites, men who are simply bashful, have shy bladder syndrome (paruresis), etc. – can enter this restroom without exposing their genitalia or identifying with any particular gender, and relieve themselves in the privacy of the stall.

Because typical women could even use this stall toilet if time is short and the lines at the nearby women’s room are too long, both F2M and M2F transsexual students can relieve themselves in the room’s stall-enclosed toilet without revealing anything about their anatomical or identity gender, notes Banzhaf.

Since in most buildings matching male and female restrooms are usually located close together, this tactic would open up almost half of all restrooms to transgender students, and seemingly comply with the directive that transgender students not be forced to use single-seat restrooms if other students need not do so.

While such a system would occasionally expose typical male users to an anatomical female in a restroom, most men seem unconcerned about any potential privacy invasion and, unlike the reverse situation, have little real fears about suffering sexual assaults or rape from anatomical females, Banzhaf notes.

So this approach – converting all or at least most male restrooms into all-gender restrooms – may very well provide a quick and easy way to comply with the new federal directive, and do so without adversely affecting transsexuals, nor typical girls and women concerned about privacy and sexual assaults.

Ultimately, all of these important legal questions, along with the issue of whether there is sufficiently strong evidence of congressional intent to preempt state law, and override specific state statutes on this very issue – as there are in North Carolina, for example – to require states to surrender their power to make determinations which have traditionally been left largely to state and local authorities., says Banzhaf.

Lloyd Gosselink Announces Addition of Two Associates

Lloyd Gosselink Rochelle & Townsend, P.C. has announced the appointment of two associates – Jamie L. Mauldin and Lauren S. Marti.

Mauldin joins the firm’s Energy and Utility Practice Group and focuses on administrative law in the area of public utility regulation. Her practice involves the representation of municipalities and utilities before the Public Utility Commission of Texas, Railroad Commission of Texas, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the State Office of Administrative Hearings.jamie-mauldin Prior to joining the firm, Mauldin worked as an attorney in San Francisco, California representing labor interests in front of the California Public Utilities Commission regarding a wide variety of matters including rate cases, policy rulemakings, and permitting proceedings. Mauldin received her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center and her B.A. from Vanderbilt University. She is a member of the State Bar of Texas, the State Bar of California, and the Austin Bar Association.

Martin joins the firm’s Litigation and Employment Law Practice Groups.Martin is a trial lawyer with experience defending clients in commercial, employment, and insurance litigation. Her practice focuses on representing clients in all phases of litigation, including mediation, trial and appeals. In addition, Martin is licensed before the United States Patent and Trademark Office and counsels clients on a broad range of patent and trademark matters, including intellectual property portfolio management, brand protection and infringement litigation in the oil and gas and emerging technology spaces. Martin received her J.D., with honors, from the lauren-martinUniversity of Texas School of Law where she was chair of the Board of Advocates and won a national mock trial championship. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from Texas A&M University. After law school, she clerked for the Honorable Judge Cathy Cochran of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She is a member of the State Bar of Texas, the Austin Bar Association, and the Austin Young Lawyers Association.

Elizabeth Monteleone Joins Austin Office of Winstead

Elizabeth Monteleone has joined the Austin office of Winstead PC as an associate in the corporate securities/mergers & acquisitions practice area.lizmonteleone_1_pr

Her practice focuses on corporate and transactional matters, primarily in the context of venture capital financings, public and private offerings, mergers and acquisitions, and general corporate counseling and representation. She represents purchasers and sellers in public and private mergers, stock and asset acquisitions, divestitures, joint ventures and strategic alliances.

Monteleone received her J.D. summa cum laude, from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 2014. Prior to graduating law school, she worked for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the first international tribunal to try terrorism as a distinct crime.

Munck Wilson Mandala Opens Austin Office with Three Partners

Law Firm Munck Wilson Mandala has opened an office in Austin.  The 50+ law firm’s new office will be led by Munck Wilson partner Michael Rodriguez and currently has two other partners, Jennifer Jasper and Michael Noe.  The new Austin office will provide legal services in domestic and international patent protection and litigation, copyright and trademark enforcement, corporate law, and other legal services to benefit technology clients, entrepreneurs and startups.partners_lobby2

Rodriguez is a member of the firm’s intellectual property section, concentrating his practice in all areas of intellectual property with an emphasis on patent and trademark preparation and prosecution.  He has represented businesses in the construction, electronics, energy, retail, restaurant, telecommunications, pet-care, vehicle manufacturing, and defense industries.

Rodriguez worked as a senior engineer with TXU before entering the legal profession and has experience prosecuting and defending reexaminations in a variety of technical areas including power electronic devices, computer software and semiconductor devices.

In addition to an engineering background, Rodriguez served as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves, receiving numerous commendations for his actions during active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He is the co-founder of Service Never Ends, a non-profit organization focused on providing continued community service for veterans and he was recently accepted to the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class of 2017.  Rodriguez received his J.D. from the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law with honors and holds an electrical engineering degree from Texas A&M University.

Since she began her practice in 2000, Jasper has litigated cases across various industries and subject matters. She has tried and appealed cases in state and federal courts throughout Texas, and she has successfully argued before the Texas Supreme Court.  Her experience includes patent and trademark litigation, complex commercial litigation, appellate law, and the representation of professionals (JDs, MDs) before various licensing boards and agencies.

When she is not practicing law, Jasper is an adjunct professor, teaching a seminar on legal writing for litigators at the University of Texas School of Law.  She is a member of the State Bar of Texas, the Austin Bar Association and the Texas Bar Foundation.  Jasper received her J.D. cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center and she also holds an M.A. in communications from Texas A&M University.

Noe’s legal practice focuses on preparing and prosecuting hundreds of U.S. and foreign patents.  He has represented clients in a wide spectrum of different technologies, including building products, roofing, siding, drywall, insulation, ceilings, trim, decking, fencing, solar, performance plastics, abrasives, technical fabrics, ceramic materials, disk drives, pipe systems, renewable energy, tools and software for hydrocarbon exploration, geothermal energy, fluid dynamics, materials science, medical devices, automotive, aviation, aerospace, industrial machinery, nanotechnology, agriculture, irrigation, kitchen and entertainment products, pet products, consumer products and many others.  Noe also has a strong track record of taking patent applications on appeal before the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences.

Noe is admitted to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office and he is a member of the State Bar of Texas.  He received his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center and he holds an M.B.A. from Texas Tech University.

More info  on Munck Wilson Mandala can be found here:  http://www.munckwilson.com.

Carlos M. Zaffirini, Jr., Appointed to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation Board of Directors

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, the largest state grant funding source of civil legal aid in Texas, has announced that Carlos M. Zaffirini, Jr., of Austin has been appointed to serve on its board of directors. The Supreme Court of Texas appointed Zaffirini to a two-year term expiring in August 2018.

Zaffirini is President and CEO of Adelanto HealthCare Ventures, LLC, a health care finance consulting company in Austin, Texas. Zaffirini, a graduate of the University of Texas McCombs School of Business and UT School of Law, is a member of The University of Texas Chancellor’s Council Executive Committee and the Boards of Directors for the Austin Symphony, People’s Community Clinic, Hispanic Alliance for the Performing Arts, Anti-Defamation League and Mental Health America of Texas. He is active in philanthropic organizations including the Texas Access to Justice Commission, South Texas Food Bank, Rio Grande International Study Center and the Champion of Justice Society, where he created the Carlos Sr. and Senator Judith Zaffirini Access to Justice Initiative, which pays for Texas bar exam review courses for low-income law students that commit to increasing access to justice for low-income Texans.

“We are pleased to have Carlos Zaffirini join us as we work to ensure access to justice for all Texans,” Richard L. Tate, chair of the board of directors of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, said. “His experience in helping disadvantaged Texans will be invaluable to the board as we provide legal aid organizations throughout the state the resources for basic civil legal services.”

The Supreme Court of Texas created the Texas Access to Justice Foundation in 1984 to provide funding for the civil legal needs of poor and low-income Texans. The Foundation annually awards grants to more than 30 nonprofit legal aid organizations throughout the state that help struggling Texans in matters involving employment, housing, domestic violence and family law issues.

The Texas Supreme Court also reappointed Joseph Barrientos of Corpus Christi, Lamont Jefferson of San Antonio, and Jon Levy of Austin to the Foundation’s board of directors, each for a three-year term.  Becky Baskin Ferguson of Midland and Terry Tottenham of Austin have also been reappointed to the board by the State Bar of Texas.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation is the largest state-based funding source for civil legal aid in Texas and has awarded more than $480 million since its inception. The Foundation board of directors consists of 13 attorney and public members, seven of whom are appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas and six by the State Bar of Texas.

New Article Published about Rideshare Industry and DUI Statistics

As California state lawmakers struggle to outline regulatory jurisdictions, insurance requirements, prevent redlining, and improve worker and rider protections within the ever-expanding rideshare industry, it’s easy to lose sight of ridesharing benefits for all California motorists. A new Monder Law article examines arrest data from the Department of Motor Vehicles and presents an unbiased analysis of DUI arrest numbers from 2008 – 2013. The data shows that DUI arrest rates decreased for six consecutive years in a row, and the article explores the relationship between the rideshare industry and reducing the number of impaired drivers. Uber has released several studies claiming that it reduces DUI rates, but there are few non-branded studies available. file0001530747196

California is home to Uber, Lyft, and Google headquarters. While San Francisco was the first battleground for ridesharing regulations early on, ultimately the State of California was friendly to the rideshare industry. That progress did not put an end to the State’s involvement, as class-action lawsuits and appeals continue to complicate matters. Monder Law Group hopes to serve as a voice to encourage lawmakers to continue to be an ally and leader to the rideshare industry as it grows.

“Now that Google is set to launch Waze Carpool in San Francisco, lawmakers and businesses must not stand in the way of ridesharing companies who can help keep impaired drivers off of the roadways,” said Attorney Vik Monder. He added, “As the technology develops and grows, the ridesharing industry is set to reach the largest segment of the population who are most likely to be arrested.”