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A Few Words from the TYLA President-elect Candidates

Editor’s Note: During April you will be able to cast your vote for the next president-elect of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. We asked the two candidates, Sam Houston and John Shaw, a few questions, so you can get to know them better. Here’s what they told us: 

1. Why do you want to be president of TYLA?

Sam:  The legal profession is sometimes cast in a negative light, but working within TYLA has given me an opportunity to shine a positive light on lawyers and what we do. As the public service arm of the State Bar, TYLA is able to make positive contributions that are felt across the state. The organization produces projects that are valuable to lawyers, law students, and the public at large. We are able to do all of this work because the TYLA Board of Directors is full of members that are ready and willing to help and to serve. As president of the organization, I will have the unique opportunity to harness that energy and focus it on meaningful projects. I view being TYLA president as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will give me an opportunity to connect with young lawyers across the state and the nation to move our profession forward.

John:  I spent the first five years of my legal practice as a legal aid lawyer before moving into private practice. Although I am no longer practicing law in the public service arena, I still have a desire to be involved in public service generally.  TYLA, often referred to as the “public service” arm of the State Bar of Texas, focuses on (1) facilitating the administration of justice, (2) fostering respect for the law, and (3) advancing the role of the legal profession in serving the public. There is no better organization to facilitate my public service involvement than TYLA.  Having served as a director for two years and as treasurer this year, I have seen this organization do amazing things for both the public and young lawyers. Those amazing things have been accomplished by a group of officers, directors, and members of TYLA, who are dedicated to ensuring that the role of TYLA is fulfilled. I would love to have the opportunity to take my ideas as to how TYLA can continue doing the good works of the past, unleash the potential of TYLA officers and directors, and share in their success as we continue to meet our mission.

2. What do you see as the single greatest challenge facing young lawyers in the State of Texas?

Sam:  We should all be concerned about young lawyers and their financial prospects. It is no secret that the job market has been especially tough in recent years, with many recent law school graduates forced to hang out their shingle and others completely unable to secure a position requiring their legal degree. The crippling effect that law school debt and other education debt has on young lawyers compounds the problems associated with finding employment. In visiting with recent grads, I have been shocked to learn just how high the interest rates have risen in the past few years and how that has affected the minimum monthly loan payment. It can be staggering. As a result, even if a particular lawyer could secure a position in public service or a legal aid organization, he or she may not be able to take the position given the obligations imposed by law school debt. That is not a good result for our profession or the public in general.  

John: The single greatest challenge facing young lawyers continues to be a relatively tight legal job market. Too many graduates are entering the legal field and are forced to hang their own shingles and begin taking cases right away, oftentimes without any support, mentoring, or experience whatsoever. It has to be scary for them, and it is through no fault of their own. This problem is only compounded by the high student debt that they incurred while earning their law degrees.  TYLA has the unique position of both helping young lawyers transition from law school to the practice of law and ensuring that the general public receives quality legal work from young lawyers and has a positive perception of the legal system in general. I think that we have the ability to give young lawyers experience while helping them to limit their exposure to malpractice claims. This can be done by showing them how providing pro bono legal services can help them obtain the experience necessary to learn how to actually practice law while helping close the justice gap that is created by those who need legal services but cannot afford them.

3. Can you tell us a little about yourself, your legal practice, and about your previous involvement with the bar?

Sam:  I am a father, husband, nerd, and bar junkie. My wife and I have been married nearly 14 years, and we welcomed our daughter, Millie Hope, into our family last August. Even though I have a rather famous Texas name, I grew up in New Mexico. San Antonio is home now, and we couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in Texas.

I practice civil appellate law in San Antonio with a friend of mine, Nissa Dunn. We opened Houston Dunn, PLLC in January 2013. We handle traditional appeals as well as mandamus proceedings in appellate courts around the state. We also work with trial lawyers before a case ever finds its way to an appellate court, drafting motions, conducting legal research, drafting jury charges, and just about anything else to ensure that issues are being preserved for appeal. Before launching Houston Dunn, I worked as an appellate lawyer in a few firms in San Antonio. I got my start at the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston where I served as a briefing attorney after graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law.

Bar service is important to me. As a result, I have served as a leader in multiple bar organizations, both locally and statewide. I have been a member of the TYLA board of directors for five years, and currently serve as vice president. After serving in various offices on the San Antonio Young Lawyers Board of Directors, I was elected to serve as president of that organization. As far as my practice area is concerned, I chaired the San Antonio Appellate Practice Section and currently serve on the State Bar of Texas Appellate Section Council.

John:  I was licensed to practice law in 2007 after graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law. Out of law school, I spent five years with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT), an agency funded by the Legal Services Corporation. While there, I represented clients in a wide range of civil and administrative law matters. During the last two years of my time with LANWT, I created and supervised a program entitled Project HIRED (Helping Individuals Remove Employment Disadvantages). HIRED focused on the unique employment problems that people of poverty face.  

In December 2012, I moved into private practice with Whitaker Chalk Swindle & Schwartz PLLC, where I now practice commercial and intellectual property litigation, and focus on the business needs of businesses of all sizes. Although I don’t get involved much in the transactional side of their businesses, oftentimes I am tasked with helping a client weigh the pros and cons of litigation. When they are sued, I am with them throughout the entire process, from filing their answer to assisting with an appeal, if one is necessary.

I have been actively involved with the bar since becoming licensed. When we moved to Fort Worth in August 2006, we knew very few people. I saw the bar association as a way to meet other lawyers in Tarrant County. I joined the Tarrant County Young Lawyers Association (TCYLA), and I was eventually elected as a director and worked my way up through every leadership position that TCYLA has, finally serving as president in 2012. My bar involvement continued to the statewide level with TYLA when I was elected director of District 10, Place 2 in 2012. I served a two-year term and was reelected in 2014. However, in 2014, I was also elected by my fellow directors to serve as treasurer of TYLA, a position that I have served in for the last year.

On a personal note, I have been married for more than 10 years now, and my wife and I have a 5 year-old son who is the center of our universe. We absolutely love living in Fort Worth.

4. What is the best advice that you have been given about practicing law?

Sam:  You have to be flexible and learn how to roll with the punches. Life as a lawyer can be stressful, especially because there are so many things beyond our control. You will find yourself stuck with a case with bad facts. Rather than freak out, you should remember you did not create the facts. Your job as the lawyer is to work hard and be the best advocate that the particular circumstances will permit. This necessarily means that you will need to set realistic expectations for your client and for yourself. When I had an especially difficult appeal a few years ago, a supervising partner told me that “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Although we all would like to win all of the time, this advice gives me some comfort as I navigate difficult situations.  

John:  Someone once told me that “it is called the practice of law and not the perfection of law for a reason.” Since I didn’t have the time to ask his permission to share with you who that was I will withhold his name; however, suffice it to say that he has been practicing law for longer than I have been alive, and his words carried great weight in my book.

The reason that I believe this is the best advice that I have received is because we often think of ourselves as needing to be perfect. We have to give the right advice, we have to win every case, or we have to close every deal. Unfortunately, becoming lawyers didn’t take away the reality that we are still human. We will make mistakes, we will have a jury rule against our clients, and no matter how hard we try, we will not close every deal. But, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t do our job competently and to the best of our abilities. It is with every failure that we learn something new that may help us the next time. Letting the failures get to you though could easily make being a lawyer a terrible experience. 

5. What is some advice that you were not given as a young lawyer that you wish you had received?

Sam:  It is human nature to want to win. But it is important to remember that not everyone can win all of the time. This is especially true in litigation, where there are always winners and losers. With that, young lawyers should know that they are going to lose cases that they should have won and they will win cases that they should have lost. I did not fully appreciate the many uncertainties in litigation until a few years into my practice.    

John:  I cannot think of any advice that I wish I had been given that I was not given because I have been blessed throughout my career to have had some amazing mentors and friends who have consistently given me very good advice since very early in my career. However, I can tell you that I wish that I had taken some of their advice a little more seriously.         

Having a mentor is extremely important. Using that mentor relationship to benefit both you as the mentee and the mentor—who has agreed to help you out—is just as important.

My very first mentor is a fantastic lawyer and an even better man. However, as a young lawyer (working at Legal Aid while he was handling complicated civil legal matters and serving as a pillar of our local legal community), I couldn’t help but feel like that if I reached out to him for something, I was being a bother. That fear of being a bother caused me to not reach out as often as I should. And, my fear had nothing to do with his responses. He was always open to my reaching out and was always liberal with his time with me. But, I am sure looking back that my not reaching out probably caused my mentor to feel as though I didn’t desire the relationship. Although that could not have been further from the truth, having served as a mentor for several years now I can see how he would have felt that way.

Find a mentor, use that mentor, and understand that they are lawyers that are willingly giving of their time to help you. You both will only get as much out of it as you put into it.

6. If anyone wants to find out more about you, where should they turn?

Sam:  Having a name like Sam Houston, I am fairly easy to track down. My campaign materials can be accessed online and on social media. My firm’s website can be accessed at Of course, I answer my own phone (210-775-0882) and can be found responding to emails between writing appellate briefs. I’d love to hear from anyone who has any questions or ideas about how to advance TYLA. 

John:  You can find all of the information that you could ever want about me and my campaign by clicking here. I also have a Facebook page. You can also visit my professional profile page on my firm’s website.


Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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