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13 Questions with Sarah Keathley

1) Who or what inspired you to want to become a lawyer?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a lawyer. My father is a lawyer and my grandfather was a lawyer. I remember some of my youngest memories are with my father preparing for trial, working on cases. He would bring in a box of documents–with those pieces of paper, he would begin organizing the chaos. From time-to-time through the course of the case, I would get to be at the office with him or be around him when he was making phone calls, and he would start to connect the dots between the witnesses or the clients and solve a problem. To me was very compelling. I really was impacted by my father’s ability to help people–to solve problems. I have always enjoyed solving puzzles, and to me looking at what my dad did was solving puzzles. As I went to school, then began working in law offices practicing law, I began to understand that he was able to figure out what the legal issue was and figure out how he could solve the problem and ultimately help people.

2) What has been the most enjoyable part of practicing law for you?

Again, back to what I learned while watching my father. Most of the cases that my father worked on dealt with individuals that were either involved in civil litigation or had criminal cases. I could see that the people my dad was helping were very upset–they were very scared and they were really looking for someone to help them. And that impacted me and that’s what I’m doing now or try to do now, help people. I want my clients to know that I care about them and that I will do my best to help them. Working with families and helping them navigate through the absolute worst time of their lives is very rewarding. I also found mediation to also be extremely rewarding, but when I was exposed to collaborative law I believe I discovered the best way to solve a family dispute and work with a family in their transition.

3) When and why did you decide to become involved with the State bar?

By working in our local bar association and attending the annual State Bar Leaders Conference, I’ve met the staff of our state bar of Texas and elected state bar directors from our area. I had the opportunity of knowing our previous district to director, which is Judge Diane DeVasto. When she was ending her term, I was able to talk to her about the requirements of the job what it entailed. And it just sounded like a really wonderful opportunity to continue my work, not only for my local bar association, but also for the other 16 counties that are in district two.

4) In the time that you’ve been on the board is there something that you are particularly proud of?

The last two years have been a time of transition for our State bar of Texas. There has been a strong initiative for us to be aware of our finances and make sure that we’re being fiscally responsible with the money of the State Bar of Texas, including greater transparency. We want to make sure that all lawyers have the opportunity to be included–not only the decisions that the directors that we’re making for our constituents, but also that anybody who wants to get involved in any capacity, whether it’s on a committee, serving on a task force or even running for State Bar Director.

5) What have you particularly enjoyed about being a director on the State Bar of Texas?

I have certainly enjoyed getting to know the employees and the staff of the State Bar of Texas. It has been an absolute delight to see these hardworking individuals, what they do for all of us–all the lawyers of the State of Texas. I’ve enjoyed meeting all of the other directors and making lifetime friendships with these individuals because of the hard work that we’ve done, including spending many hours in committees and our directors’ meetings. I have traveled throughout the State of Texas and met lawyers through our speaking events as well as when we have had State Bar meetings throughout the state of Texas.  It has been a wonderful opportunity actually going out to the lawyers and the communities where they’re practicing, disseminating information and hearing back from them about what they need and then often time bringing resources to them to help them.

6) What’s the most important thing for a director to understand?

It’s important to go first to our mission statement: The mission of the State Bar of Texas is to support the administration of the legal system, assure all citizens equal access to justice, foster high standards of ethical conduct for lawyers, enable its members to better serve their clients and the public educate the public about the rule of law and promote diversity in the administration of Justice in the practice of law. One of the most important things is to understand that you represent the lawyers, your district and the mission of the State Bar of Texas–we are responsible not only to our district but to the entire State Bar of Texas membership.

7) Are there some challenges of being a director of the State Bar of Texas?

The main challenge, being from a small law firm, is the amount of time that my job duties as a director takes from my law practice and time with my family. As directors, we are assigned to committees and the majority of the time that we spend is in this various committees and then we also have time speaking across the state and attending full meetings.

8) How have you addressed some of those challenges?

Well, I have a very understanding law partner, who also happens to be my husband. He picks up the slack quite a bit of the time, and the other lawyers in my community have been very understanding when I’ve had to reset matters because I have to be out of town, normally traveling to Austin. I just try to balance my professional career.

10) What are some of the benefits that State Bar of Texas offers that are underrated or not well-known?

We have rolled out a new group health insurance plan for firms that have at least two lawyers in the firm who are not related. It has very competitive rates and that’s an outstanding benefit.

In addition to group life insurance, we also have free accidental death and dismemberment which offers $10,000 worth of coverage that is available to any member of the State Bar of Texas.

The other biggie is we have scholarships available for all of our continuing legal education, whether it’s live or by webinar along with scholarships available for all State Bar of Texas publications.

And one of the most important benefits we have is the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program. Texas Lawyers Assistance Program allows attorneys to anonymously call the TLAP hotline and seek help themselves or report concerns they might have about another lawyer, a law student or a judge. In our smaller communities like where I practice, our local bar members work very closely and regularly with the same cast of characters so a lot of times we will know if there’s been some type of tragedy that a lawyer has faced, maybe a death in the family, or other significant life circumstance has occurred that has caused that lawyer to suffer from depression or addiction. But sometimes there can be a problem where the lawyer needs more help—in a case like that, we have the ability to call a number, report our concern and remain absolutely anonymous while the experts, who are volunteers, then go to work, to reach out to the lawyer or law student or Judge in need and provide support or even resources to help that individual through whatever they need.

11) How can lawyers make the most out of their membership in the State Bar of Texas?

We have a website–texasbar.com. On this website, you can actually go to your personal bar page or go to the members’ benefit section and find a list of everything from discounts for office supplies to software to travel expenses. Or, if you just call the state bar and ask for information about members’ benefits, then you will be routed to a live person who will gladly help you.

12) What is an example of what the State Bar of Texas offers as service to the public?

We have a law related education (LRE) department; they help with our schools K-12 by providing law related education–basically civics education. Many school districts have taken most of their civics education out their curriculum, but at the SBTO, there’s a whole department that’s devoted to civics, providing law related education materials to the schools. I know that my children have benefited from these resources in their education experience.

13) What else do you want to see the State Bar of Texas directors accomplish?

I would like to see if there’s some way that we could use the resources of the State Bar of Texas to bring the district director to every region or to the county in their district to meet with the lawyers who practice there. We are doing quite a bit now by email publications or emails, but it seems to me that the best networking is done one on one. I would like the SBOT directors to be able to personally connect with all the lawyers who aren’t lucky enough to have the Denton County Bar Association or The Dallas Bar Association and the Harris County Bar Association in these smaller communities.