Executive Director's Perspective: Reenergizing Yourself - By Melissa J. Schank

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Friday, August 24th, 2018

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

—Mahatma Gandhi

South Padre’s CLE events were very well attended this year. We had several members comment on how this has become a TCDLA tradition over the past ten years. The camaraderie that has built up over time cannot be replaced. Veteran attorneys still come to prepare or improve their presentations, while new attorneys enjoy the one-on-one interaction and conversation that build lifelong relationships. It is so meaningful when the attorneys take time on a personal level and share real-life experiences after the seminars each day. Bobby Lerma and Bill Trantham and their crew truly outdid themselves this year. The beach cookout was delicious, and all had a fabulous time. We thank them for their dedication to TCDLA and for the days’ time they dedicate in preparation to make this a unique tradition.

I had the opportunity to attend the Defenses of Executives in conjunction with NACDL this year. I was overwhelmed with the hospitality shown by each of the executive directors, as well as their willingness to share ideas. The creativity each state organization contributed was exciting and reinvigorating. I could not type fast enough. Speaking for TCDLA, the largest state association of criminal defense lawyers, I could brag on the many things we do well, but I learned so much more that we could try and other ways we could improve what we do. As each day went by, the juices continued to flow.

It was also very empowering to see that all of the executive directors except two were women. Discussions ranged from challenges associations face to marketing, technology, social media, staff, fundraising, and online CLE, to name a few. I felt energized by the guidance and mentorship many shared previously on the listserves, but to meet face to face and actually network during the day on a professional level—and then in the evening on a personal level—proved invaluable. Throughout the day and evening, we picked each other’s brains.

No one acted territorial or felt threatened: The group collaborated on ideas, exchanging documents, packets, and marketing material, as well as sharing insights on personal situations where maybe someone needed help or a pick-me-up. All in all, an overwhelming, great time. The group genuinely wanted each person who was an ED to be successful and were willing to help one another get there. A representative for NACDL affiliates also met with us to discuss how they could assist. We are looking forward to the upcoming year working closely with NACDL.

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The staff was very excited when I brought back five pages of to-do items. Already they had been meeting to brainstorm on our marketing efforts and different ways to reach audiences via social media. The new ideas were welcomed, leading to more staff inspiration. The creative ideas and suggestions kept coming.

Is this how you feel when you leave a TCDLA event? It should be our goal for you to leave with techniques you can implement right away or motions to use, other methods for you to employ and tailor to your personal style. Do you come back and challenge yourself to try something different, out of the box? Did you meet new colleagues who you did not know otherwise, or did you stay to yourself or with your clique? Did you see young or veteran attorneys sitting alone—then invite them to join you for lunch or start a conversation to find out more about them?

I returned home from the NACDL event reenergized, empowered, and reinvigorated, alive with new ideas—at work and at home. I always feel like there are not enough hours in the day to finish what I need to do without going overboard. I need a getaway to discover something new and challenge myself to climb out of my box. Getting out of the office for personal time or continued education refreshes me, a jump-start. It relieves my stress and helps with the work-home balance.

In August I was able to take a vacation without the kids and just relax. When I returned, the staff graciously surprised me with fresh flowers, which I love—flowers are one of those things that can liven up any room. The kids always think it is so odd I frequently buy myself flowers. There doesn’t have to be a reason, I explain to them. The staff also warmed my heart with a beautiful desk display. They are truly amazing. We are lucky to have them!

Another year has come and gone, and I am year older. Time seems to go so much faster now, and I wish I could slow it down. I remember wanting to be 16 to get my driver’s license, then 18 to get into the clubs, then 21 to drink legally. But then you find you’re an adult and the bills roll in—and you want things to slow down. Yet every year seems to pass faster and faster.

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I am thankful and truly blessed for all the opportunities and kindness I have been shown. I want to extend the warmest thank you for your big-hearted contributions I received on Facebook for our Texas Criminal Defense Educational Institution fund. I was overwhelmed by it. I am now a Fellow . . . Wait! Just in: a special new anonymous donation for $1,000! I am putting in the rest to become a Super Fellow! I am so excited to achieve this status! What a way to act as one, in unity. We can do so many things together!

In other news, TCDLA co-sponsored the Innocence for Lawyers CLE with the Innocence Project of Texas (IPOT). Course directors Gary Udashen, Mike Ware, and Allison Clayton all work endlessly throughout the year with IPOT. The staff was invited to attend the dinner presentations and listen to these exonerees. It always amazes me how their spirits are not crushed and they are not jaded. The staff returned and talked about how empowering the speakers were. If it were up to me, I would want everyone to hear their stories just once. IPOT was founded in 2006 to provide free investigative and legal services to indigent Texas citizens convicted of crimes they did not commit. Thirty-one states still have the death penalty, but I try to remain optimistic. I had the opportunity to listen to Rick Wardroup discuss his experience in a capital case, traveling to Huntsville when they executed his client. I hope he will share his story soon. I have been in Huntsville several times when people were executed, a surreal experience. Texas has had eight executions since January this year, compared to seven in all of 2017. These are grim statistics; I can’t say fewer is better.

Also new: TCDLA initiated a communication audit to review the Voice IP phone system, fax machines, internet connections, and speed in-house and on the website. The audit was performed by an independent consultant to review expenses and compare our systems with current technology and services available. While at one time VOIP was the service to select to avoid long-distance charges, many phone carriers now include limits of 8,000 to 10,000 minutes of long-distance calls. With more and more people using cell phones, they end user does not incur long-distance fees, making pay lines obsolete.

Technology is ever-changing. By the time you adopt the current model or learn the latest technology, the new version is released the next week. Are you up-to-date with the technology needed to represent your client effectively?

With that in mind, you might want to join us for a new CLE,  “Forensics, Phones, and Snitches,” held in Austin (Lakeway) September 13–14, 2018. Our course directors and the CLE Committee have put together a fresh new lineup. This is a must-attend seminar for every lawyer who defends serious felony cases. Learn how to decipher—and combat—the social-media and cellular evidence in your case. Learn how to deal with enhancement paragraphs, and, when all else fails, learn how to protect yourself from the inevitable writ. Hear from experts and lawyers who have successfully handled these types of cases. Get away to Lakeway! We have responded to our members’ comments on evaluations asking for seminars at venues with more amenities, selecting the Lakeway Resort and Spa for the September seminar and board meetings. Show your support for not only the new location but also the seminar.