Due to State Bar campaigning rules I haven't been able to say anything about this on the weblog before now - all activity has to be on dedicated campaign internet and social media websites - but back in December my friend Tom Vick and I were selected by the State Bar Board of Directors' nominations and elections committee to serve as the two candidates for president-elect of the State Bar of Texas for 2016. We were officially nominated by the full board on January 21.
Our selection kicked off a 4 1/2 month whirlwind of activity preparing for the March campaign period (president-elect candidates can't campaign outside the office before March and can't campaign at all after March). Voting started April 1 and ended today at 5.
You hear that Texas is a big state, but you have no idea what that means until you try to cover the entire state in one month using only a pickup truck, the occasional flight out of Dallas or Houston, and the all-important brochure.
A word about the brochure.
The State Bar reimburses travel expenses up to a certain point for candidates, you cannot create any other campaign materials or take out ads - all you can do is hand out copies of a preapproved brochure that are a standard size. We design it and send it in for approval, and the Bar prints 10,000 gratis for us to use in the campaign, and mails copies of both candidates' brochures to all 100,000 Texas lawyers with their ballots. So the brochure is a big deal - you list your experience, honors and activities but because at this level all of that is assumed, you spend most of your space saying who you are and why you would do a good job as president-elect.
The pdf is attached here - Download Michael Smith for SBOT PE brochure - and the individual pages are reproduced here as jpgs. By far, the favorite picture was the one of the boys and I at Abbey Road. I was really surprised how many people recognized it, but more than one attorneys' office actually had a Beatles display. So it's apparently universally recognizable.
What you do during the one month you can campaign outside the office is ... office visits, office visits, and more office visits Our days were filled with visits to 6-10 law firms a day where a friend at the firm walks you through the halls.
Here's what a day's worth looks like in your briefcase when you start the day (I usually carried 400-500, depending on the city). You try to plan the office visits to fall in the same or nearby buildings to save time, since we only have 23 week days during the campaign period. For example one day I did nothing but the two buildings in the 1100 block of Louisiana in Houston all day long. The day before was mostly 1000 block. In general, it takes about an hour and a half to hit 100 lawyers, but before 10 am and during spring break you get better mileage. So guess what a 230 lawyer firm visit looks like?
During the visits you walk into each individual lawyers' office, hand them a brochure and talk to them briefly about your candidacy. If they're not in, you drop one in their chair. And then do that again up to 500 times a day (my top day was actually 529). I ended up with a couple thousand brochures left over, so that means I handed out about 8,000 during the 23 days of the campaign. That's about normal - you hit around 8,000 individual lawyers' offices in the 22-23 days of the campaign.
You also visit courthouses and prosecutors' offices (here Collin County with DA Greg Willis and Harris County Attorneys' office with John Odam and Julie Countiss ) and speak to bar groups from El Paso and Lubbock (on back to back days with a major thunderstorm in between in our case) to Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. And Austin, where I got my picture with the statue of my old policy development professor Barbara Jordan. I have aged since we took this picture with my parents at my graduation in ... well, let's not actually put a number on it, but BJ is now ageless.
We typically got five minutes each when speaking, but some gave us as few as two minutes. When they gave us fifteen, Tom and I just looked at each other and explained that we couldn't talk for more than five. Which made us very popular.
How Many Lawyers Do You Have to Go Through to Find a Jerk?
One of the nice things about the campaign is how appreciative people are of what the candidates are doing. They recognize that it is volunteer work (and really volunteer work for three years for the candidate that wins) and are very happy to have the candidates come by for a visit. I was told by numerous previous candidates that throughout the process, meeting around ten thousand lawyers, there would be only one lawyer that would be rude or discourteous, and astonishingly, they were right - not until the last week did I have a lawyer meet that definition, and even then it was on the phone, not in person. So the answer is 7,500. And karma has been invoked.
Most of the bar groups Tom and I did together - TYLA, Amarillo, El Paso, Lubbock, San Antonio, etc., which isn't unusual - some election cycles the candidates actually drive to events together, and Tom and I did share some flights. It isn't unusual for the bar board to pick candidates that know each other, and Tom and I did more than most - we were actually in the same Bar board class from 2005-2008 so we had worked together before, and it was good sending the signal that collegiality and civility are an important part of practicing law in Texas.
Hi, I'm the Kid From the Mail Room.
Austin was a fun visit for another reason. My first job out of college 30 years ago while starting graduate school was in the mail room at McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore in Austin. One of the Marshall lawyers I'd been working for, former State Bar president Franklin Jones, Jr. called his friend and fellow former State Bar president Lloyd Lochridge in Austin to get me a job so I could continue to sleep indoors while studying. So a high point of the campaign was going back to Mr. Lochridge's office 30 years later and asking for his vote - for State Bar president. If you ever get the chance to ask some of the same lawyers you delivered mail to 30 years earlier for their vote for State Bar president-elect, I highly recommend it. It was a lot of fun.
In Houston, I also got to swing by my publisher O'Connor's to speak to the editorial staff and relay how astonishingly prevalent their books, including the Federal Rules * Civil Trial federal court handbook that I have edited for eighteen years - are. Other than the corporate floors, they are ubiquitous. I can't remember how many times I explained that yes, the skinny young guy on the back cover of your federal rulebook is me. No, seriously.
On the Campaign Trail
Of course after 5 weeks of daily campaigning from city to city, law firm to law firm you get pretty good at the logistics. My Apple Watch always told me where I was supposed to be next and how many brochures I needed to have so I could avoid overloading my bag unnecessarily. I kept notes of who I visited and who needed brochures or needed a pdf version, as well as lawyers' ideas about different issues facing the State Bar.
Some mornings, as I was told would be the case, I'd wake up and it would be a while before I remembered what city I was in. I put a lot of miles on the truck, (but that's what trucks are for) and I learned to be a ninja packer - swapping out new bags and pouches when I changed cities so that I could live out of a rollaboard no matter how long I was on the road. (Think of the resupply operation in The Martian. It was a lot like that, but in a truck and no one was there to appreciate it but me. My fellow OCDers out there will understand).
As any campaign is, it's hardest on your family - I wasn't there at all for five weeks to get the twins up and to school, and Jamie was only able to spend spring break week with me on the road in Houston & Dallas (yeah, no spring break for the kids this year - we'll have to make it up to them this summer), but other than that, I was on my own. But Jamie was a big help because, well, she does this for a living. She's in her sixth four-year term as Harrison County Treasurer here in Marshall, so she knows campaigning and going door to door for votes. Actually, it's how we originally met - she left a door hanger at my parents' house during her first race and I thought she was cute so I wrote her a note and asked her out.
But back to the campaign. I tried a driver the first week in Dallas, but after discovering Uber, just didn't need one. (Thanks to Tom for pointing that out). The first week I took my Amazon Echo along for company in the hotel room in the evenings, but decided that was a little creepy, so after that I just hung out with my Kindle. (Which is not creepy at all).
I got the call this evening that Tom had come in first, and called him immediately to congratulate him. I know he'll do a great job for the Bar, and it has been a pleasure running with him. It is disappointing to lose, but I certainly learned a great deal during the process.
I learned that as professional and courteous as you think lawyers ought to be - they exceed your expectations in person. I hit 7,500 lawyers' offices essentially unannounced (I can do a great impression of the "I haven't got my shoes on" face that I saw so, so many times) and not once - not once - was I greeted with anything other than courtesy.
I learned - even with my visits restricted to mostly larger firms - that lawyers practice in a wide variety of environments, and that, as I'll post on in the coming days, those environments are changing. Law firms are changing locations and even if they stay, they are restructuring how they work because the model that they knew 25-30 years ago is gone. Law firms don't look like they did, lawyers' offices don't look like they did - even lawyers don't look like they did, act like they did, or expect what they did.
I learned that not many lawyers are involved in bar work, and few are even interested in the Bar that represents their interests to the wider world. We only got to 19% voter turnout on the last day of voting. That's regrettable, and hopefully that's something that can change. It's a shame that more lawyers don't identify with the Bar, because it does so much for all of us, and would benefit from our involvement.
But once again, I'm thankful for the opportunity and the experience, and honored to have been selected in the first place. It's been a great ride.