Austin Bar, State Bar, Others Establish Free Legal Assistance for Central Texas Flood Victims

Serious rain and flooding can trigger a variety of legal concerns including denials of insurance claims, problems with a landlord or mortgage company, price gouging, and replacing important legal documents.  The State Bar of Texas, Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA), and Austin Bar Association can help navigate those issues so Central Texans receive the support they need to recover.

The State Bar of Texas has established a legal hotline at 800.504.7030 to help people find answers to basic legal questions and connect them with local legal aid providers following the recent flooding.  The hotline, answered in English and Spanish, is intended to help low-income persons affected by the disaster.  Residents can call and leave a message at any time.  People who qualify for assistance will be matched with Texas lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help. For additional resources, visit www.texaslawhelp.org.

TRLA’s Disaster Assistance Hotline is also available to offer assistance to flood victims at 866.757.1570.  The hotline is staffed Monday through Friday and features a voicemail system that allows callers to leave their information to receive a call back from a TRLA staff member as soon as possible. Additional resources for homeowners can be found at www.trla.org/centexfloods

Members of the Austin Bar Association are also working to organize relief efforts.  If you are an attorney or paralegal who would like to volunteer with a legal hotline or to help at a free legal clinic in Hays, Bastrop or Caldwell counties, please contact Amy Welborn, awelborn@chmc-law.com.  More details about volunteer opportunities will be available soon.

Greenberg Traurig Expands Its Austin Presence

The international law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP has recently added two attorneys — Janis E. Clements and Alan W. Hersh — to its Austin office.

Clements, an associate in Greenberg Traurig’s Austin office, focuses her practice on commercial litigation, antitrust, complex business litigation, patent litigation, licensing, and energy and natural resources law. She earned her J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law, her M.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and her B.S. from Texas Christian University.

Hersh, an associate in Greenberg Traurig’s Austin office, focuses on litigation and has handled asset purchase negotiations, lien and land restrictions on client holdings, immigration issues, and criminal appeals. Prior to joining the firm, he was an attorney for the Third District of the Texas Court of Appeals. Hersh received his J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law and his B.A. from The University of Texas.

High Scourt’s Ruling to Impact Texas Workers’ Compensation Claim Remedy Process

In re Crawford & Company is a stunning decision by the Texas Supreme Court that could have serious ramifications for injured workers in the future.

“This particular case may cause some serious ripples with regard to the Texas Workers’ Compensation claim remedy process,” points out Perlmutter & Schuelke partner and Workers’ Compensation attorney, Brooks Schuelke. The court stood firmly behind the concept of exclusive jurisdiction for the Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation Act to respond to and deal with all processes in any investigation, even outside the claims system, settling or handling of a claim. This also includes any events that allegedly exist outside of the claims system.Schuelke

The statement of claim read like a laundry list and included failure to provide notices relating to coverage, denial of benefits, delay of benefits, misrepresentation of coverage, insurance fraud accusations, negligence, intentional fraud and misrepresentation, emotional distress, malicious prosecution, deceptive trade practices, breach of contract and violations of the Texas Insurance Code.

The case began when Glenn Johnson sustained critically serious injuries on-the-job in 1998. Plaintiff Johnson and his third-party administrator (Crawford & Company) had many disagreements over the years regarding their handling of his claims, the scope and the rights to certain benefits. Johnson also sued Crawford & Company, et al., alleging that for a period of ten years, they “engaged in a battle plan to delay, discourage and deny benefits.”

In this case, the Johnsons were not seeking recovery for injuries sustained in the accident. Instead, the Johnsons were arguing that Crawford & Company’s conduct in handling the claim and failing to settle the claim in a reasonable manner caused the Johnson family to incur additional losses and injuries.
The interesting thing about this particular case is that the Supreme Court expanded the intent of the existing legislation, rather than limiting it per a prior decision in Texas Mutual Insurance Co. v. Ruttiger, 381 S.W.3d 430 (Tex. 2012). “The Court stated whether or not the Act applies ‘does not depend on the label of the cause of action asserted,’ but rather damages not related to benefits under the Act are to receive the same rigorous analysis as if the unrelated claim were a part of the claims-settlement process,” Schuelke explains.

The decision appears to give workers’ compensation insurance carriers a free pass in how they handle claims. No matter how poorly they treat claimants, engaging in conduct which most assumed was prohibited by existing law, the decision seems to give carriers protection.

“If this decision survives, there is a chance it may end up being used in other jurisdictions; a move that may change the face of workers’ compensation law across the U.S. If you are struggling with a workplace injury claim, make sure to connect with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney with experience in this area to determine your legal rights,” adds Schuelke.

Slack & Davis Attorney Appointed to Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in Community Health Systems Data Breach Litigation

Slack & Davis attorney Paula Knippa was selected to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the Community Health Systems data breach litigation, a consolidated class action pending in the Northern District of Alabama before District Judge Karon O. Bowdre against Community Health Systems, Inc. (“CHS”), which owns and operates 206 hospitals in 29 states throughout the country. The action alleges that CHS failed to implement and follow basic cybersecurity procedures, rendering patients’ sensitive information, including their names, addresses, credit card numbers and social security numbers, accessible to hackers and financial predators such as identity thieves.paula_knippa2012_web

Co-lead counsel Karen Riebel and Jeff Friedman appointed Ms. Knippa to the Committee, where, in addition to assisting lead counsel in determining the course of the litigation, she will spearhead, together with James Terrell with the Alabama law firm of McCallum, Methvin & Terrell, P.C., the legal research necessary to prosecute and prevail in the lawsuit against CHS.

Ms. Knippa noted that “One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in this lawsuit is the perception by some courts that just because your personal information has been stolen, doesn’t mean that you actually have an injury. But we shouldn’t require consumers to wait until the worst has happened—that is, their identities have been stolen or their credit has been compromised—before they can hold those responsible accountable for exposing them to what is an unacceptable risk of harm. Right now, my priority is to ensure that the court understands that the harm to our clients as a result of CHS’s negligence is both real and immediate and that they are entitled to compensation for and protection from that harm.”

Read more about the lawsuit.

TEX-ABOTA Plans James Otis Lecture Series for September 17, 2015

TEX-ABOTA, the Texas Chapters of the American Board of Trial Advocates, will commemorate Constitution Day 2015 with the fourth James Otis Lecture in the chambers of the Texas House of Representatives at the State Capitol. The program has been a tremendous success with students, teachers and TEX-ABOTA members.

Students from across Texas may be nominated by a teacher, relative, neighbor, administrator or friend to attend the day’s event, to be held on Wednesday, September 17, 2015. That is actually Constitution Day in the United States.

Dr. H.W. Brands will be the keynote speaker. Dr. Brands will talk about his new book, “Reagan: The Life”, to go on sale May 12, 2015.  Each of the students will be given a copy of the book to read before the event.

Dr. Brands is an American educator, author and historian. He has authored 25 books on U.S. history and biography. He is the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History and a Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned his Ph.D. in history in 1985. His works have twice been selected as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

Attendees will meet at the Texas Capitol (1100 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701) at around 9:00am. (SCHEDULE SUBJECT TO CHANGE)

Students will then take guided tours of the House of Representatives and the Senate Chambers, in three groups.

After Dr. Brands’ presentation, there will be a lunch at the historic First United Methodist Church just across the street from the Capitol, where Dr. Brands will sign his book for the students.

The group should be adjourned by about 3:00 p.m.

For more information on the organization, visit http://www.tex-abota.org/

Here is the tentative agenda:

Program for the Day

9:00 a.m. Students arrive and register

9:30 a.m. Tours of the Capitol (in 2 groups)

10:45 a.m. Students are seated on the floor of the House

11:00 a.m. TEX-ABOTA and ABOTA representatives speak to the students

11:05- 11:10 0r 11:15  ABOTA Foundation and efforts with Youth

11:15 Introduction of Dr. Brands

11:15 Dr. Brands addresses the students 

12:00 Head to Fellowship Hall at the First United Methodist Church (walking distance)

12:15 Lunch (sandwiches) is served

1:00 Certificates as a James Otis Lecture Scholar presented
to students

1:45-2:00 End of program, students released then or at 3:00 p.m.

Husch Blackwell’s Energy Team Continues to Expand, Adds Second Austin Attorney

Husch Blackwell has announced the hiring of Patricia A. Sherman Bruce to the firm’s Austin office. Joining as a Senior Counsel member of the Energy & Natural Resources team,

Sherman Bruce has experience assisting oil and gas companies with real estate-related matters, such as obtaining division orders and agreements related to driveways and streets crossing gas pipelines. Prior to joining Husch Blackwell, she served as an associate with Austin law firm DuBois, Bryant & Campbell (2006-2015). While there, Sherman Bruce negotiated and drafted real estate contracts, drafted easements, restrictions and real estate loan documents, negotiated loan documents and formed limited liability companies and partnerships for land acquisitions and developments. Her work with energy clients included negotiating with and advising oil and gas companies on matters relating to easements, pipeline development and division orders. Sherman Bruce also previously served as in-house counsel for LandPlan Development Corp. in Frisco, Texas (2005-2006), as closing attorney and senior vice president of Republic Title of Texas Inc. in Dallas (1997-2005), and as claims counsel and vice president of Fidelity National Title in Dallas (1995-1997).

Sherman Bruce received her J.D. from Baylor University School of Law in Waco, Texas (1995), and her B.B.A. in Marketing/Management from Baylor University (1991).

Citi Private Bank Provides a Snapshot for Legal Industry Growth in Texas

What follows are some data points for law firms in Texas for the first quarter of 2015, courtesy of Citi Private Bank. The results are based on the surveys of seven Texas firms.:

Revenue: +4.6%

Ranked 4th out of 8 regions in revenue growth

Saw a greater growth rate than the industry average of +2.3%

– Demand: -0.03%

Saw the smallest decline in demand of the 6 regions that reported declines in demand

Lawyer Rates: +3.7%

Ranked 3rd of 11 regions in rate growth, following NE (+4.1%) and SCA (+3.8%)

Greater growth than the industry average of +2.8%

– Total Lawyer Headcount: -0.1%

Saw the least decline in total lawyer headcount of the 3 regions that reported reductions

– Equity Partner Headcount: -2.7%

Reported the largest reduction of equity partner headcount amongst the 4 regions that saw declines

– Productivity: -0.8%

1 of 7 regions to experience a decline in productivity

Slightly higher decline than the industry average of -0.6%

Productivity declined as the reduction in total lawyer headcount did not offset the decline in attorney hours (-1.0%)

Expenses: +1.5%

Lowest expense growth amongst the 10 regions that reported growth

1 of just 3 regions to see revenue gains outpaced total expense growth

Expense growth was primarily driven by an increase in compensation expenses (12.2%) as operating expenses declined by 6.6%

  • One note to make is that this region had a firm that saw a 21% increase in compensation expenses due to timing of their increased bonus payouts. Without this firm, the region would have seen just an 8.7% increase in compensation expenses and a total expense decline of -0.1%

Total Inventory: +4.2%

Tied for 6th in inventory growth, though slightly trailed in the industry average of +4.6%

Driven more so by an increase in AR (+5.8%) as UBT grew just 2.8%

The collection cycle lengthened 4.2%, exceeding the industry average of +1.6%

Comparison to first 3 months of  2014

Texas managed positive revenue growth, only a marginal decline in demand, and an increase in total inventory. These factors, combined with a lengthened collection cycle, could foretell positive collections momentum for the first 6 months of 2015.

An Interview with Austin Attorney Amy Emerson

Amy M. Emerson, a partner at Allensworth & Porter, has been selected for our interview feature this week.

Specializing in governmental immunity issues, she has represented clients in complicated contract disputes, constitutional suits, bond-validation suits and construction matters.AAEAAQAAAAAAAALJAAAAJDhhOTg3NTJjLWZlNDQtNDkzMy1iNGQyLTJjNmYzMGY3YTdlMw

Emerson graduated with a B.A. from Southwestern University in 2003 and received her J.D. with honors from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law in 2007.

What follows is the interview.

Question: What was the biggest influence in you becoming a lawyer and why?

Answer: I went to high school in Christoval, Texas — population 422.  I don’t think a single lawyer lived there, but some pretty great teachers did. One noticed my loud mouth and encouraged me to join the debate team. I took that advice and with the help of some great coaches, ended up winning two state championships. I also found that I loved analyzing a question and then arguing my position, so I decided to make it my career.

Q: How would you describe your practice?

A: I focus on problem solving. My legal specialty is trial and appellate law, and I’ve primarily worked with governmental entities on a broad range of issues. Most recently, I’ve focused on construction-related disputes. Being a trial lawyer doesn’t mean I spend all of my time in a courtroom. Lawsuits arise out of problems — a disagreement over a contract, a plant that doesn’t work right — and my job is to find a way to get that problem solved for my client. My knowledge of the legal process is one of the tools I use to make that happen.

Q:  What do you like most about this area of law?

A: I like continually learning something new. The subject matter of each case is different, and I have to learn a lot about it in order to advocate. Thanks to my career I’ve gotten to learn about everything from cloud-seeding to wastewater treatment. It’s constantly a new adventure.

Q: What do you like most about practicing law, specifically in Central Texas?

A: I’m the first native Texan in my family — my parents are Yankees. Growing up in a small West Texas town, I fell in love with the culture and the people in Texas, and although I’ve traveled throughout Europe and lived in London, I always found myself drawn to Texas. Central Texas offers both a small-town feel and a diverse culture, so it’s a win-win for me.

Austin Attorney Secures Settlement Between Family of Soccer Player Struck by Lightning and Defendants

(Editors’ Note: What follows is an excerpt from Sports Litigation Alert.)

The family of a boy, who was struck by lightning after a soccer practice on a Central Texas field, who reached a settlement with the owner of the facility and the leagues responsible for his team.

Alex Herrman, a 4th grader, was warming up with his teammates for a practice on August 26, 2014. It reportedly wasn’t raining when a lightning bolt came out of the sky and struck Herrman and two other players. Herrman was reportedly struck in the stomach. CPR was administered immediately by a bystander. All three players were taken to Dell Children’s Medical Center.file0001295951359

Roger and Jadwiga Hermann, parents of Alex, sued in Travis County District Court, naming the Field of Dreams (a facility owned by the Lake Travis Youth Association), the South Texas Soccer Association and the Capital Area Youth Soccer Association as defendants.

The Hermanns claimed the defendants did not meet the industry standard of having lightning detection equipment in place.

Over the winter, Austin attorney Adam Loewy, who represented the Hermanns, told the media he was “confident the insurance companies involved in the lawsuit will do the right thing and help this child.”

That confidence was rewarded in “a spirit of remarkable cooperation by all parties,” noted Loewy. “The money will go to Alex’s continued care. … The settlement will leave a legacy in Alex’s life.”

Energy Attorney Marianne Carroll Returns to Husch Blackwell’s Austin Office

Husch Blackwell has announced that Marianne Carroll has rejoined the firm as Senior Counsel. She will once again work with the firm’s Energy & Natural Resources industry team, primarily advising clients on electricity regulation matters.carroll_marianne

Carroll previously served as a Husch Blackwell partner until December 2013, and practiced with predecessor firm Brown McCarroll LLP for several years prior to its combination with Husch Blackwell in June 2013. She brings more than 30 years’ experience representing clients in the electric power industry, providing regulatory and legislative counsel, and has been actively involved in numerous rule-making proceedings and contested cases before the PUCT and ERCOT on behalf of the independent power industry.

In 2011, Carroll received the Gulf Coast Power Association’s Power Star Award for making significant contributions to the advancement of competitive energy markets. In 2013, she received the Ernest E. Smith Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Texas Journal of Oil, Gas, and Energy Law, recognizing her as a “distinguished attorney who has made significant contributions to the oil, gas and energy industry.”

Carroll received her J.D. from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law (1981), and her B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Texas at Austin (1968).