Executive Director's Perspective: Making a Life - By Melissa J. Schank

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Saturday, April 28th, 2018

“I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life.’”

—Maya Angelou

I am overcome with joy and excitement and cannot type fast enough to capture all my thoughts and sensations. I am humbled by the Executive Committee’s vote of confidence in me, and I am truly honored to serve TCDLA as your Executive Director. I appreciate the overwhelming amount of support and encouragement I have received the last few months from our members. I have never felt so proud, receiving calls, texts, and emails congratulating me. I am devoted to TCDLA and admire each of those whom I have had the opportunity to work and serve alongside. I will continue to do my best to maintain TCDLA as the largest—and finest—state criminal defense organization in the nation.

With our leadership under the helm of President Moore and the incoming officers, TCDLA’s future is bright indeed. In addition to the officers, we have a 92-member board, 38 committees, and a legislative team, all working furiously throughout the year to improve and maintain our position in criminal defense. I encourage each of you to visit our website if you have not been lately and see who are now our officers, board, and committee members. We are continuously looking for ways to improve TCDLA, increase our visibility, and set new goals. To that end, if you have any suggestions, please send them to me, and we will reach out to the appropriate committee or department to implement those ideas complementing our strategic plan and goals. Your amazing staff is here to assist our members with any needs or requests as well.

TCDLA is a membership organization, here to serve our members in so many ways, all specifically for criminal defense lawyers. This includes providing superb continuing education through TCDLA and CDLP and the most up-to-date legal publications. But it also includes member benefits such as the Strike Force, the ethics hotline, the Voice, representation in the legislature and various organizations, and many more listed on our website. We are effective because of the personal involvement of our members, and together with our leadership, legislative team, and staff, we will remain strong. When we speak with one voice, we are a formidable force for justice.

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March has always been one of my busiest months. We have three large seminars we put on—the Tim Evans Texas Criminal Trial College, Mastering Scientific Evidence, and a board meeting (Anatomy of a Trial this year). All of these events take a massive amount of energy and work by the course directors, speakers, and staff. Each is truly unique, and all proved to be very successful.

This year at one of the Trial College dinners with faculty and attendees, I looked around at the group of more than 100 in attendance. The entire restaurant was servicing our group, and even with all hands on deck and advance notice, they were not prepared. I noticed several attendees become very frustrated waiting for their food or bill. But what truly amazed me was that the majority of the group utilized this time to network with other students and share what they had learned or discuss tools they used in their cases. As I walked by, a table would be asking faculty question after question. The stories and sharing were fascinating. I try to encourage all attorneys to come to the Trial College. It is an intense five-day training with attendance limited to 80. The relationships students build with the faculty are life-long. Throughout the students’ careers, they will be able to reach out to these faculty members and always receive a response. Tim Evans and Lydia Clay-Jackson definitely created an exceptional program and set the foundation. Kerri Anderson-Donica and Lance Evans have continued the tradition as deans.

With March already so busy, I try to take off the week of spring break each year to spend time with the kids. I love to travel—for work or pleasure. With the kids, it does not matter to me where we go. I like to go somewhere and wrap myself in a sci-fi book and not do much else at all. I’m told I’m very boring to be with on vacation. I want to go somewhere not Austin when the Austin City Limits Music Festival takes over town. As the kids leave one by one to go to college, I will regret not being able to take our spring-break trips. On Easter, another holiday I look forward to each year, we go to the park with family and friends, and we eat and play softball, volleyball, and kickball. Crack cascarones on each other then eat again. For me, a work-life balance is essential.

With Mother’s Day now approaching, I hope also to spend time with my mother, who lives out of state. I owe my work ethic to her and her steadfast determination. I remember her work­ing double shifts while she raised us. She was very good at saving money and prioritizing what was important. As an Asian mother, she was very hard on us at times and very direct. I remember getting so angry with her sometimes, and now I catch myself acting the same way with my kids and thinking, “I turned into my mom.” She molded me into who I am today and prepared me for what I’ve faced, both personally and professionally. She instilled in me what’s important in life: to be honest and humble and to work hard for anything I wanted. She never discouraged me in any direction I chose. She has always been open and honest and tried to share her experiences with me. Along with most young adults, I knew everything, of course, and had to learn the hard way. While it is still difficult for me to admit I am ever wrong, I find myself apologizing to my mom a lot the older I get. I would like to wish all the mothers a happy Mother’s Day and hope you get to do as much or as little as you wish!

As I travel to seminars and meetings, I look around and see we have so many generations in our workforce. We have baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, millennials, and then those born in the last ten years not yet labeled. I feel my youngest children lack the ability to communicate well since they are always texting. I still make them write thank-you notes—which they fuss about—but it is important to me. I try to instill in them my work ethic, and teach them the importance of their commitments and the need to be honest and humble. It scares me sometimes to think I am losing that battle.

To figure out how to successfully interact with all generations, I continuously read magazines on association trends and human resources and attend business continuing education. There don’t appear to be real boundaries where the lines are drawn. It seems that the young, Gen Y and millennials, start off with a high dependency on technology—i.e., texting and social media. Then they get into the workforce, and maybe their communication suffers because they’re not on the same page as the baby boomers or Gen Xers who are now their bosses. But in TCDLA we all work toward a common goal. The question, then, is how do we continue to all connect, grow, so that we can succeed as an association? I ask myself: Do I go above and beyond to include others who aren’t like me? Do you encourage upcoming members, offering your assistance, guidance, and support? We can do this.