Message From the Chair
– Kristal C. Thomson
“The future influences the present just as much as the past.” –Friedrich Nietzsche
This time last year, everything was getting canceled and closed. It was a confusing, manic time, and many questions and unspoken fears plagued our world and communities. The future of our practice was unknown when I took over as Chair in the Spring of 2020. What I did know, is that our Section was ready for whatever lay ahead because of our past leaders, our belief in our mission, and our people – Texas Family Lawyers.
During the last year, I have had several people quip to me, “there’s the year you want and the year you get.” This euphemism is said arbitrarily to leaders as a comforting phrase when unanticipated problems inevitably arise. I have to say, it didn’t comfort me too much as I tried to navigate my way through a life-altering pandemic. This year wrought personal and professional upheaval that affected every family lawyer, every client, and every court. One thing that kept me focused amid the chaos was knowing that our Section did not achieve success overnight. Each year, we build on the last, with eyes focused on the future and the past’s memories and traditions pushing us forward. Through it all, the Family Law Section has not only met many of our anticipated goals, we also adeptly traversed the unexpected and unprecedented roadblocks. It is too easy to talk about the things we didn’t get to do this year. Instead, I would like to highlight the events and people that made this year bigger and better than what I thought possible last Spring.
In late March 2020, we organized one of the first state-wide Zoom trainings, which I moderated with Judge Miskel (Plano) and Judge Ferguson (Alpine). We also quickly created a section of our web page entirely devoted to the various court orders issued by the Supreme Court and elsewhere around the state. During that same time, Chris Wrampelmeir (Amarillo) and the Formbook Committee were drafting, editing, and publishing forms for use in virtual hearings. With the Supreme Court Emergency Orders in place, the motions and orders are not as necessary as we immediately anticipated. However, with virtual hearings likely to stay in some form or fashion, I expect these forms will be used routinely moving forward. In other words, the Section immediately embraced the new technology reality and produced tools our members need in this brave new world.
With more of our members working at home, the Texas Family Law Practice Manual, especially the digital version, was vitally important to family lawyers. In addition to the forms mentioned above, Norma Trusch (Houston) and Georganna Simpson (Dallas) kept their Committee on schedule to produce an updated manual. The update includes forms related to the new discovery rules. The Texas Family Law Practice Manual is yet another example of how our Section builds on past efforts while always looking toward family lawyers’ future practice needs.
The Family Law Section has a proud history of providing pro bono services, and we are particularly proud of our award-winning Pro Bono program. Lisa Hoppes (Hurst) and her Committee converted over to digital this year, just like everything else. It would have been easier to cancel our efforts and wait to resume our live courses. But Lisa isn’t the kind of person who takes the easy path. I am grateful to Lisa and her Committee for their efforts in continuing this critical work in the virtual world.
As I write this, we are right in the middle of another legislative session; perhaps the oddest session in a hundred years. The Legislative Committee finalized our Section’s legislative package on March 13, 2020, after seven months of meetings and hundreds of drafts. We had no idea what was about to happen to our world when these bills were drafted. As luck would have it, our 2021 legislative package’s primary focus was common sense changes intended to bring the Texas Family Code in conformity with our current case law – nothing complicated or practice-altering. In other words, a perfect legislative package for an imperfect year. The Section’s group of bills were approved by the Family Law Council in May and adopted by the State Bar of Texas in July. Special thanks to the Honorable Jack Marr (Victoria) and the Honorable Dean Rucker (Midland) for their leadership on the Legislative Committee. They led us ably in the “real world” for many years and continued to do so seamlessly in the virtual world.
Judge Rucker pulled double duty for the Section this year as he also chaired the Judiciary Committee. This Committee was created to maintain the strong working relationship between the Family Law Section and the Texas Judiciary. This year, Judge Rucker and his Committee had to review and assess hundreds of Court Orders from the Supreme Court to district and county courts, review and opine on wholesale changes to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and monitor the success (or lack thereof) of virtual hearings. Judge Rucker is recognized throughout the state for his service to our profession. I am profoundly grateful that he continues to give a considerable amount of his valuable time to Texas Family Lawyers.
HISTORY & ARCHIVES
This year, the Section also took the opportunity to gather and digitize historic family law materials, documents, and pictures. The Council’s history is synchronous with Texas jurisprudence considering that past Chairs and Council Members were involved with the Marital Property Act, the first Texas Family Code, and other significant legal milestones. I am so pleased that Lon Loveless (Dallas) has spent his time archiving these items for our future leaders. We are making plans to have some of the materials viewable on our website so the public can see for themselves the significant impact family lawyers have had in our communities.
As we reflect on our past accomplishments, we simultaneously look forward to our future endeavors. I leave this Council knowing that Texas Family Lawyers are in the hands of extraordinary leaders. Jonathan Bates (Dallas) will take over on June 1, and I cannot wait to hand the gavel over to him. Jonathan is a calm and thoughtful leader – precisely what we need as we continue to maneuver through the pandemic world. Joining him on the Executive Committee are Joe Indelicato (Houston), Chris Wrampelmeier (Amarillo), Anna McKim (Lubbock), and Lisa Hoppes (Hurst). I am not exaggerating when I say that our Council is led by the best in Texas. With these future leaders and the strong foundation built by our past leaders, I am confident that the Family Law Section will continue to grow and thrive. In addition to all of the highlights I mentioned above, the Council maintained a rigorous schedule, minimized expenses, and maintained membership levels. Each Council Member made the Family Law Section a priority this year, despite all of the many hurdles thrown in their way. Serving as your Chair will always be one of the greatest honors of my career. I am humbled by the work, grateful for the trust you placed in me, and forever changed by the opportunity of a lifetime.
Always and Sincerely,
Kristal C. Thomson
*This message originally appeared in the Spring Section Report.