Last night, The Texas Lawbook and Association of Corporate Counsel’s Houston chapter hosted its fifth-annual Houston Corporate Counsel Awards, honoring in-house lawyers for their 2022 achievements in many areas. I had the privilege of profiling two outstanding recipients of the diversity and inclusion award: Amy Blumrosen of Baker Hughes as well as Hewlett Packard Enterprises’ legal department (Rishi Varma and Jude Andre). Their acceptance speeches made me think about how far the legal industry has come in diversity, equity and inclusion but also how much more work there is to be done.
Fortunately, part of the proceeds raised from last night’s awards event seeks to address DEI head-on by benefitting ACC-Houston’s Street Law Initiative, which works to bolster the diversity pipeline in the legal profession by exposing diverse high school students to career paths in the law.
Proceeds from the event will also benefit the Texas Lawbook Foundation, which funds this column and everything else we cover on the pro bono, public service and diversity beat (and also allows us to take our work on this beat outside of the paywall so that the information reaches as many people in need of pro bono services as possible). I’d like to give a special thanks to several generous contributors: Baker Botts, Eleox General Counsel Becky Gottsegen, DistributionNow General Counsel Raymond Chang, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and GC Rishi Varma/Asst. GC Jude Andre, Baker Hughes and global litigation counsel Amy Blumrosen, and the Hon. Levi Benton.
Further down in today’s column is another shout-out to a law firm that has supported the Foundation, and The Texas Lawbook in general, from the beginning.
The Latest Charitable Happenings
— Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, a nonprofit provider of pro bono legal services in the Austin area, has received a $20,000 grant from the Texas Bar Foundation to continue its work representing low-income survivors of domestic violence, empowering them to end their abusive relationships, begin the divorce process and pursue custody and child-support orders to protect their children. Other civil legal issues VLS helps clients with include bankruptcies, evictions, debt collection and consumer fraud. VLS offers in-person clinics in North, Central and South Austin. For those outside of those areas, VLS offers a legal advice phone clinic.
— Baker Botts announced Thursday that corporate partner Carina Antweil has been named as the external pro bono general counsel of Communities In Schools of Houston, continuing the momentum of the firm’s three-decade relationship with the nonprofit organization. CIS of Houston is the largest provider of campus-based counseling and other support (including academic support and community resources) to students in need throughout the Greater Houston area. Antweil is the fifth GC from Baker Botts to serve this position. The first was current Fifth Circuit Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, who was in the firm’s trial department for many years. Antweil’s term is at least three years and the external GC role has been exclusively filled by lawyers from Baker Botts. In the way that law firm lawyers sometimes serve as external GCs to their corporate clients, Antweil will still maintain her regular practice at Baker Botts.
For 30 years, Baker Botts has provided board-of-director services and financial support for CIS of Houston annually. And for 31 years, the firm has provided a legal internship program developed by partner Bill Kroger that works with at-risk high school students in Houston. To date, it has provided paying summer jobs to more than 800 students, many of whom have worked at Baker Botts.
“I am delighted to join the great leadership team at [CIS] of Houston to help guide such a critical organization in our city,” Antweil said. “CIS of Houston provides vital on-campus support to students facing myriad challenges, including bullying, anxiety, mental health struggles, community violence and poverty, and I can think of no better cause than supporting the students and future leaders of our city.”
— Next Thursday, the Houston Bar Association will honor roughly a dozen lawyers at its annual dinner for three separate awards: the Justice Eugene A. Cook Professionalism Award, the Justice Ruby Kless Sondock Award and the HBA President’s Award.
The Cook award will go to U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas and Yetter Coleman partner Regan Simpson. The award was created by past HBA president Warren W. Harris in honor of Justice Eugene Cook, the principal architect of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed adopted by the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1989. It is the HBA’s highest award for professionalism.
The Sondock award will go to Locke Lord partner Ann Ryan Robertson. The award was created by past HBA president Benny Agosto Jr. to recognize exceptional achievement for women in the law. Ruby Kleiss Sondock was a trailblazer in the legal profession as the first woman to serve as a Texas Supreme Court justice and was also the first woman district judge in Harris County.
The HBA President’s Award, selected by current HBA President Christopher Popov, will go to co-chairs of the HBA Law & Media Committee for spearheading various programs that provoked thoughtful, substantive discussion about important topics, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the state of voting laws in Texas, recent court cases touching on the Second Amendment and NIL (name, image and likeness) issues. The committee will host a program on big tech and free speech on May 20.
The award will recognize the leadership of six co-chairs: Dean Leonard M. Baynes of the University of Houston Law Center, Michelle Morris of South Texas College of Law, Professor Elsa Random of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Professor John Greil of the University of Texas School of Law, Daniella Landers of Womble Bond Dickinson and Christopher Tritico of Tritico Rainey.
Separately, Popov will present another HBA President’s Award to Anne Chandler, the former executive director of the HBA’s pro bono legal services arm, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, as well as HVL Chair David E. Harrell.
“Anne has been such a phenomenal force in driving HVL’s mission to connect those in need of legal assistance with volunteer lawyers,” Popov said. “Under her stead, HVL has significantly increased and improved its services to thousands of Houstonians. David has been a fantastic partner in these efforts, guiding the instrumental efforts of HVL’s board to execute on this critical work.”
At the dinner, Popov will also be recognized for his achievements while leading the HBA in the 2022-2023 year, and he will pass the gavel to the incoming HBA president Diana Gomez, who will be the HBA’s first Latina president in the organization’s history.
— Last but not least, I would like to thank Vinson & Elkins — and especially Harry Reasoner and Keith Fullenweider for the firm’s recent extremely generous donation to the Texas Lawbook Foundation. V&E has been an instrumental supporter of The Lawbook ever since we launched in November 2011 out of the first floor (proverbial basement) of the townhouse of our founder, Mark Curriden. We’ve come a long way since those early days —in subscriber growth, in staff and in substance of our coverage, including launching this new beat — and we truly could not have done any of it without V&E’s support.
Fullenweider, who is chair of V&E, said the firm decided to contribute to the Texas Lawbook Foundation because it aligns with the firm’s core beliefs that “everyone should have equal access to justice to legal aid and opportunities to succeed, regardless of their background, race or gender.”
“As an organization, Vinson & Elkins recognizes the importance of giving back to our communities and creating a truly inclusive and thriving society,” Fullenweider said. “That’s why we are proud to support the Texas Lawbook Foundation and its efforts to share the stories and highlight the numerous successes of legal aid, public service and diversity and inclusion throughout the state. Vinson & Elkins believes that by working together as an industry we can create a better environment where everyone feels valued and respected. Our donation is another part of our commitment to doing our part to make this a reality.”
Below are some other recent efforts made by V&E supporting pro bono, public service and diversity:
- In January 2022, V&E made a $1 million commitment to the University of Texas Pipeline Program, which is dedicated to supporting aspiring lawyers from underrepresented backgrounds.
- The V&E pro bono practice supports a diverse and unique pool of clients, including assisting Holocaust victims in the U.S. with obtaining restitution from the German government and representing U.S. veterans and active-duty military personnel with legal matters. V&E lawyers spend 30,000 hours per year on average on pro bono legal services, and also contribute significant financial resources.
- V&E awards a number of diversity fellowships to the brightest law students at top U.S. law schools. Each fellow receives $25,000 and a summer clerkship position in one of the firm’s U.S. offices.
- Finally, V&E has donated $100,000 to support the work of organizations advocating against racial discrimination and other forms of injustice in the U.S. — The Bail Project, Equal Justice Initiative and the National Bar Association.
Reasoner is one of seven board members of the Texas Lawbook Foundation. He also is the chair emeritus of the Texas Access to Justice Commission.