Real Estate Team Joins Norton Rose Fulbright in Austin and New York

Norton Rose Fulbright announced that Joshua Bernstein, an experienced real estate lawyer, has joined the global law firm’s Austin and New York offices as a partner. Norton Rose Fulbright has also hired associates Emily Jung and Katie Van Dyk, who worked with Bernstein at his previous firm, Greenberg Traurig LLP.

Bernstein advises clients in both development-related real estate transactions (including acquisitions, dispositions, sales and leasing, and land use) and in real estate finance and private equity matters (including joint ventures, debt and equity financing, and fund formation). His experience encompasses all asset classes – including single-family and multi-family residential, industrial, office, retail and hotel – with particular experience in senior housing. Bernstein also regularly provides valuable insight with respect to the structure and formation of complex condominiums for both financing and sale of commercial, residential and mixed-use projects.

Gardere Adds Winters to Austin Office

Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP has announced the addition of five new attorneys, including one, Majorie Mastin Winters, to its Austin office.

Winters joins the firm as senior counsel. She brings more than 13 years of expertise to a practice that supports corporate growth, international expansion and acquisitions, while protecting startups and emerging businesses against legal risks. Winters will be heavily involved in Gardere’s Venture Capital and Emerging Business Group and will counsel entrepreneurs in matters related to formation, structuring, intellectual property protection and financing

Austin Law Firm Bolsters its Practice and Expands into Washington D.C. Area

Pirkey Barber PLLC, an Austin-based trademark and copyright law boutique, has announced that the law firm of  Vold & Williamson PLLC has merged into the firm adding, talented trademark and copyright professionals as well as establishing a new Pirkey Barber office in the Washington, D.C. area. 

The principals of Vold & Williamson, Tara Vold and Paul Williamson, “are experienced and accomplished lawyers, who share Pirkey Barber’s passion for trademark and copyright law as well as its strong commitment to providing excellent client service,” according to the firm.

Vold & Williamson focuses its practice on U.S. and international trademark clearance, portfolio management and protection, and advertising, unfair competition, and online brand counseling.  Its attorneys represent companies in trademark, domain name and copyright dispute proceedings in Federal District Courts, before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and in domain name arbitration proceedings.

Norton Rose Fulbright Promotes Three Attorneys to Partner

On Jan. 1, Norton Rose Fulbright promoted 12 lawyers to partner in the United States, including three in Austin.

Two of the attorneys reside in the intellectual property transactions and patent prosecution practice group. They are:

Tamsen Barrett concentrates her practice on intellectual property matters, which include domestic and foreign patent prosecution and strategic development of patent portfolios. Based in Austin, Ms. Barrett also has significant experience with the preparation of non-infringement, invalidity, patentability and freedom-to-operate opinions and provides due diligence review of intellectual property to companies and investors. She earned her JD from the University of Pittsburgh and her BS from Iowa State.

 Eagle Robinson, who is experienced with healthcare-related regulatory issues, focuses his practice on patent litigation and transactional matters. He represents clients in federal district courts and before the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board. Practicing in the firm’s Austin office, Mr. Robinson’s transactional work includes negotiating joint-development agreements and patent licenses as well as guiding patent risk management strategies and patent portfolio development. He earned both his JD and BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Oklahoma.

The remaining attorney focuses his practice on life sciences and healthcare:

Benjamin Koplin concentrates on life sciences and healthcare regulatory and anticorruption compliance and defense. He handles internal and external investigations and defends his clients in federal and state false claims suits. He designs corporate compliance programs to address global regulatory, privacy and anticorruption issues and creates software to provide cross-system insight into his client’s and their matter’s data. He practices in Norton Rose Fulbright’s Austin office and received his JD from Harvard University Law School and his BA from Boston University.

Richards Rodriguez & Skeith Hires New Attorneys

Richards Rodriguez & Skeith (RRS) has announced the hire of Daniel Riegel and Adriana Lopez-Ortiz as partners.

Riegel previously practiced complex commercial litigation at a large international law firm in Washington, D.C. and clerked for the Honorable Colleen Kollar-Kotelly at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. At RRS, Riegel will focus his practice on commercial litigation and employment law.

Lopez returned to RRS from the Rio Grande Valley area, rejoining the firm’s business and transaction group.  Her practice centers on all aspects of general business counsel, including entity formations, contract and lease negotiations, and commercial real estate issues. In addition, she works with lenders to complete the documentation of commercial business loans and assists lenders through closing.

Austin Attorney Cautions Consumers that E-Cigarettes Come with Unique Risks

Austin personal injury lawyer Chip Evans is concerned about products that come with dangerous, unintended consequences. Specifically, rechargeable cigarettes have recently been gaining attention less for their alleged ability to help curb nicotine addiction than for their tendency to explode. Originally projected by Bloomberg Industries to outsell traditional tobacco cigarettes by the year 2023, these popular vaporizers have been implicated in numerous fiery incidents across the country.

“The use of rechargeable batteries has grown exponentially since the rise of portable devices,” observed Evans. “From cell phones to tablets, laptops to cordless screwdrivers, Americans are increasingly plugged in. The explosions tied to charging vaping products is a good reminder not to let our guard down. We have to be careful any time electricity is involved.”

E-cigs are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which fuel the cartomizers that heat the liquid “e-juice” and transform it into breathable vapor. The batteries can be charged through a variety of methods, including standard electrical outlets, personal charging cases, and USB ports. If charged too quickly (possibly through a power source that was not designed to handle it), the battery can overheat, vaporizing the combustible lithium-ion electrolyte and creating an explosion. Most commonly caused by overcharging, overheating can also stem from short circuiting, internal cell fault, puncturing, and external heat.

“When a battery fails, the e-cigarette’s shape and construction can make them behave similarly to pipe bombs or flaming rockets,” remarked Evans. “Some vapers have been hurt when the devices rupture into pieces. Other individuals have been harmed when flames shoot out of the device. This can happen at any time — while charging, using, or just plain sitting inert. E-cigarettes have spontaneously burst into flames in people’s pockets, melting their clothes to their skin and resulting in serious burns. They have exploded in people’s faces leaving them with burns, broken teeth, facial fractures, blindness, broken fingers, and extensive scarring. They have caught fire in people’s vehicles, allowing only seconds to react and increasing the likelihood of an accident. The issue is so important that earlier this year, the TSA permanently banned battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices including e-cigarettes, e-cigars, and e-pipes from checked baggage and from being charged or used onboard an aircraft.” Evans referred holiday travelers to the TSA’s blog for more details.

Deputy Commissioner of Texas Department of Insurance Legal Division to Join Mitchell Williams Insurance Regulatory Group

This February, Stanton Strickland, Deputy Commissioner of the Legal Division at the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), will join the Mitchell Williams Insurance Regulatory Practice Group in its Austin office.  Strickland’s departure from TDI caps 21 years of public service with the agency.

Strickland joined the Texas Department of Insurance in 1996 as a member of the Financial Counsel Section and was named Section Chief in 1999 to lead the team in providing legal counsel to the TDI Financial Regulatory Division.  He also served as the first Deputy Commissioner of the TDI-Division of Workers Compensation Legal Services Division.  There, he and his staff provided legal support to TDI-DWC in its efforts to implement the 2005 legislative overhaul of the Texas Workers Compensation System.

In his current position of Deputy Commissioner over the Legal Division, Strickland manages a staff of 45 lawyers and other professionals.  He and his staff advise and support all areas of TDI on a wide range of regulatory matters including licensure, examinations, holding company transactions, receiverships, policy form and rate filings, rulemaking, agency contracts, and public information requests.

Strickland also represents TDI at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and other insurance regulatory meetings.  He has served on a team of multinational regulators evaluating observance of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors insurance core principles and the Technical Subcommittee focused on information sharing among international regulators as part of the EU/US Dialogue Project.  Within the NAIC Strickland has served on various task forces and groups charged with working on issues including lender placed insurance, principle based reserving, and surplus lines.  He currently sits as a member of the Cybersecurity (EX) Task Force and the International Insurance Regulatory Cooperation (G) Working Group.

Strickland earned a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University and his J.D. from South Texas College of Law in Houston.  As a long time Austin resident, he places high value on community service and has made time to serve as president of the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods and the Robertson Hill Neighborhood Association and was recently appointed by the Board of Trustees of the Austin Independent School District to serve on its Bond Oversight Committee.

Center for Reproductive Rights Sues Texas to Stop Latest ‘Unconstitutional’ Abortion Restrictions

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed new litigation against the state of Texas over “unconstitutional” new regulations that mandate the burial or cremation of embryonic and fetal tissue that results from abortions, miscarriages, or ectopic pregnancy surgery – regardless of the woman’s personal wishes or beliefs. The politically-motivated rules are designed to restrict a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortion by increasing both the cost of reproductive health care services and the shame and stigma surrounding abortion and pregnancy loss, according to the Center. The lawsuit demands that the state halt implementation of regulations finalized late last month by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The final rules “disregard widespread objection from medical organizations, legal experts and others who argue that these unconstitutional new restrictions offer no public health or safety benefit.” The regulations – first proposed just four days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision in June – “are in direct defiance of the high court’s ruling, which held that restrictions on legal abortion cannot impose burdens on a woman’s right to access abortion care without providing any legitimate, medical benefit.”

Cybersecurity Attorney and Former State of Texas Chief Information Security Officer Edward Block Joins Gardere

Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP has announced the hire of information security expert Edward H. Block as a senior attorney in its Austin office. Mr. Block joins the Firm from the Texas Department of Information Resources, where he served as the chief information security officer (CISO) and the cybersecurity coordinator for the state of Texas.

With more than 20 years of experience in the cybersecurity arena, Mr. Block primarily focuses on the effects of emerging law on personal privacy at the state, federal and international levels. He has assisted and managed technical teams performing all aspects of information security work, and has developed information security policies, standards and guidelines that balance protection of information assets with legal and functional requirements.

Mr. Block joins Gardere’s highly regarded litigation practice and is a member of the Firm’s internet, eCommerce and technology team, as well as its cybersecurity and privacy legal services team. Mr. Block will work closely with the Firm’s government affairs team on cybersecurity law and regulation, as well as collaborate with the corporate practice group to evaluate parties’ security postures, policies and procedures in mergers and acquisitions to ensure an integrated approach to addressing security risk during the transition. In addition, Mr. Block will assist clients with establishing security, breach and disaster recovery polices and will counsel on cyber insurance issues, including evaluating policy compliance.

“Eddie’s unique background in information security will be an enormous asset to our clients in navigating their evolving cybersecurity needs and challenges,” says Kimberly A. Yelkin, executive partner in Gardere’s Austin office and chair of the government affairs team. “We are thrilled to welcome Eddie to the team.”

Prior to his time at the Texas Department of Information Resources, Mr. Block was a senior product security engineer at Polycom Inc. and was the information security officer for the Employees Retirement System of Texas. He is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Information Privacy Manager (CIPM), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). Mr. Block earned his undergraduate degree at Loyola Marymount University and his juris doctorate at St. Mary’s University School of Law.

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.