Kristal Thomson | An Exclusive Look Into The Family Law Section Of The State Bar of Texas

Today, we’re excited to welcome Kristal Thomson to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Kristal practices family law at Langley & Banack in San Antonio. She is Board Certified in Family Law and specializes in divorces with complex or high net worth estates and complicated custody issues. She received her JD from St. Mary’s University School of Law.

Kristal is currently wrapping up her term as Chair of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas. Today we are talking to her about her year as Chair and all they were able to accomplish during an unprecedented time, as well as:

  • The key benefits of membership in the Family Law Section
  • CLEs provided by the Section
  • The Family Law Section committees—what are they and what do they do?
  • How to get involved in the Family Law Section
  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Kristal Thomson: You and I both know and all the good lawyers know that compromise is where all the joy is.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, your source for the latest news and trends in family law in the state of Texas. Now, here’s your host attorney Holly Draper.

Holly Draper: Today we’re excited to welcome Kristal Thomson today to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Kristal practises Family Law at the law firm of Langley & Banack in San Antonio, Texas. She’s board certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and her practice focuses on divorces with high conflict with complex or high net worth, estates and complicated custody matters. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas in 1999, and her JD from St. Mary’s University in 2002. Kristal, the current chair of the family law Council of the State Bar of Texas, and as a member of the American Academy of matrimonial lawyers, the Texas Academy of Family Law specialists, the Texas Family Law Foundation, and numerous other legal organizations. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Kristal: Thank you for the invitation.

Holly: So why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about your background?

Kristal: Well, you was a very kind introduction, you know about my education. I work in a large, large firm now in San Antonio, about 60 to 70 lawyers called Langley and Banack. But there’s only about six of us that practice full time Family Law, I think five of those are board certified in family law. But prior to that, for most of my career, I worked at a very small firm, it was only me and my two bosses and mentors who eventually became my law partners, they were two of the best in the state of Texas, Cheryl Wilson and Beth Pennypacker. And so I was kind of fortunate that timing and opportunity met at the same time I was unmarried, I had no children. And so I was able to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week and no one cared. I wasn’t missing anybody and no one was missing me. So they basically, I mean, I just poured myself into it. And they were extremely generous with their time. And my first five to seven years of practice for basically just a crash course and complex family law is very, very fortunate in that respect.

Holly: So how did you get started in family law? What made you go that route?

Kristal: Um, actually, I worked when I was in law school, I love working and going to school at the same time, even though they try and talk you out of it. But I worked for a solo practitioner here. I think he just gotten sick of his family cases. So he passed those phone calls on to me and honestly, it was kind of love at first sight. I enjoyed it. I know a lot of people don’t. And they don’t like that advice part. But it was something that just really resonated with me. So from day one from first phone call, I knew I wanted to be a family lawyer.

Holly: So how would you describe your current practice?

Kristal: Um, you kind of described it a little bit in the beginning, I do complex issues, whether it’s custody or property, I find and you probably know this, that if you want to be in the courtroom, you have to do custody cases and complex issues in custody, because most property case you don’t see a lot of those being tried on final merits. I mean, it’s just when you have complex property issues, I feel like those generally get worked out. If you want to spend some time in the courtroom, you got to take custody cases. So I enjoy the property law side of it a whole lot more than the custody law, but I also enjoy being in the courtroom. So you know, you know this and all family lawyers know this most cases settle. I mean, I think the stats, they’re throwing around our 85 to 90%. But I would say for my own practice, just because of the type of cases that are referred to me, I probably have mine settle about 70% of the time.

Holly: Yeah, I always tell clients when there’s a lot of property dispute going on that, look, if we’re gonna have a trial over this, you’re just gonna have a smaller pie to split at the end.

Kristal: So that’s right. That’s exactly right. I mean, that’s, I think that’s why it especially I find this to be true, the more there is the fight over the less of a fight there is you. You know as people feel secure, you don’t generally see those things and at the courthouse, unless there’s just a really, really complicated issue. But I think that’s very rare with property cases these days.

Holly: Yeah, I’m kind of the opposite of you. I would much prefer the custody case to the property case.

Kristal: Well, I mean, they’re just hard they’re a lot more emotionally involved. And you know, I love a good one every now and then but when they kind of pile up, I can just tell from my own psyche that it’s it’s getting overwhelming doing. You know, if I have really, really hard custody cases back to back to back, I can see it in my demeanor and how I feel and how my health is so if I can spread them out. I feel really good about them, but sometimes they get really jammed up together and it takes a toll.

Holly: So do you do any appellate work or all litigation?

Kristal: I don’t. And we do have a board certified. We have two board certified appellate lawyers who do only family law here in the firm. And so sometimes I will just look at some of their briefs just because I’m a geek, and I love doing the family law side of it, and then knowing the cases and working on the case law, but I don’t really do appellate work.

Holly: So you just are wrapping up your year as chair of the Family Law Section of the State Bar. Right?

Kristal: Correct.

Holly: So obviously, this was a year unlike any other due to COVID. But what can you share, just share a little bit about your experience in leading the Family Law Section.

Kristal: You know, it definitely was not the year I had expected, obviously, for everyone. And I started with section leadership very, very early in my career and being chair, something I wanted. I didn’t make a secret of that I this is something that I knew I wanted for my career that I wanted to do. And I worked really hard and for a lot of years to achieve it and and a lot of planning and preparation goes into your chair year and you start as the Secretary and you know, move up like in all organizations, but almost the whole time you’re planning things for the year that your chair projects, things of that nature.

And so I was scheduled to take over from Chris Nicholson, in May of 2020. But like everyone else in March of 2020, we were very uncertain about what we were going to do, how we were going to handle votes, how that take, you know that transition was going to happen. But, you know, we made it work, I just had to make up my mind that I was even though it wasn’t the year I plan, there was still a lot of work to do for Texas Family Lawyers, and we just did it. Just like everyone else, you just put one foot in front of the other and you start walking across unchartered territory. But I mean, we were able to finalize our legislative package, we amended our bylaws, we did zoom trainings for Family Lawyers, we converted all of our CL E’s into webcast, which is commonly known advanced Family Law is the largest CLE in the nation.

So you can imagine taking that and turning it into a webcast for the first time ever and the you know, 60 year history of the section was was more than we had planned. But we made it work. It was no small thing. And, and we updated our family law practice manual. I mean, we accomplished all of this in a year where we couldn’t be in meetings in person. And so I’m very proud of what the council did this year. And all the volunteer work, I mean, on top of everything else that everyone was going through, right. I mean, we were all struggling with illnesses and school issues and work and school issues. And what we’re going to do, and the fear factor is going on with everything. But, you know, my council members, and the volunteers still got it together and did the job that we said we were going to do this year. So I’m really, really proud of them.

Holly: Yes, I was really impressed with everything that I saw happening with the Family Law Section this year, it was very, very well organized, and were able to pivot really well to make it happen in spite of everything that was going on.

Kristal: Thank you, I appreciate that.

Holly: I imagine there are a number of lawyers out there who join the family law section by checking the little box when they’re applying for their state bar dues every year. But beyond that, they’ve never really taken advantage of what the Family Law Section has to offer. So what do you think are the key benefits of the Family Law Section that members need to know about?

Kristal: I think the first obvious one is the toolkit. And that publication is edited every year by Gary Nicholson, Chris Nicholson and Steve Naylor. And normally sales if you if you just wanted to buy it off our website or one of the CLEs, it sells for about $110. But for your $40 membership fee that’s just mailed out to you in April. And this is a funny thing. We get a million questions about this all the time. Your toolkit is mailed at the end of your membership here. So if you sign up in 2020, you don’t get your toolkit till the following April/May of 2021. But inevitably, there’s always people asking about that. And it has to do with that knowing how many members we’re going to have before we pay the price to get it published and mailed out to everyone.

So if you if you join in 2020 you won’t get your toolkit till 2021. And that’s just a common question. I you laugh at that, but I probably got no less than 400 emails about that this year. So if anybody’s listening in to my chance to kind of explain that to send the message on, but we also do a quarterly section reports that I think people often overlook to their peril because every quarter we summarize all the family law cases that came out including federal cases There’s also extremely interesting articles from both from CPAs. From immigration attorneys about overlap between immigration and Family Law, sometimes criminal law attorneys, some appellate stuff. And so there’s some excellent articles in there. There’s case law summaries.

Every year, we also print the bibliography, which is a summary of all the CLEs from the past 10 years or so by author and by subject. And over the course of my practice, I found that it’s it’s easier to use and probably a little bit more accurate than the Texas bar CLE search function. So if you’re going to look for the trust article that Richard Orsinger did, in you know, 2014, advanced family law, and the bibliography will summarize everything he’s done, or they’ll summarize everything anyone’s done on trust issues and family law. So I find that public, those are two publications that we put out to our members that people just kind of put in the I’ll read later category. But I mean, they’re invaluable. If you go through and read them every quarter, there’s so much information there. It’s it’s CLE at your fingertips.

Holly: So where do we find the bibliography? I’ve never seen that before.

Kristal: When you get the emails from us about the section report, there is a password in there. And it’s a really weird password, I can’t even tell it to you at the top of my head, I have to go back and look for it. But if there’s a members download section on the website, where you can go in there and download all the section reports probably from like the last three years, the last few bibliographies. And the legislative reports that we do, obviously, every odd year after the legislative session is over.

Holly: It seems like a lot of family lawyers that are at bigger firms can easily plug themselves into roles within the family law section because they have mentors or partners within their firms who know how to make that happen. What advice would you give to solo or small firm lawyers who are not sure how to get plugged in?

Kristal: So for me, this is a funny question. And I get it a lot. And I’ve had to, you know, what I will say is actually the council itself is made up of more solos and small firm lawyers and big firm lawyers. And if you did a breakdown, for example, on advanced Family Law, I bet you’d find the exact same thing that we have way more majority of solo and small firms. Sometimes we have big firm lawyers like me, where I can say, technically I work at a big firm 60 or 70 lawyers, but only five or six of us do Family Law.

So it’s not, I would be considered a big firm lawyer. But I think that’s funny, because I don’t, it’s not your typical big firm. Anna McKim is another one who works in Lubbock, technically at a big firm, but I think she’s the only family lawyer there. So I think if you go and you look at the breakdown, and you really look at who’s involved, you’ll see that there’s a tremendous amount of variety. And actually, the big firm lawyers is way smaller than the other lawyers that are representative of other types of practices. But it’s just a matter of perspective, right?

I think the big firm lawyers have marketing teams, and they’re better at letting everybody know on Twitter or Facebook when they’re speaking about x, y, or z. So it just feels that way. And obviously, it’s a perception that’s been generated over many years. But the reality is, we’re made up of way more. So those in small firm lawyers than we are big, firm lawyers. And actually, the council has a nepotism law, we by bylaws can’t have more than two lawyers from the same firm and they can’t overlap by more than one year. So we can’t even by by our own authority papers, we can’t even have more than one lawyer from a big from the same firm.

Holly: So what exactly should people do if they want to get plugged in? And I know you mentioned that it was your goal to be the chair and you started working your way up through leadership positions. You know, for a young lawyer or somebody who just hasn’t been involved so far. What are the first steps that they should take?

Kristal: Well, I mean, the first step is just ask. There’s always work to be done, almost always, but you kind of just have to know going in that the first jobs you’re going to be given are not glamorous work. I mean, I started volunteering in the section in 2004, I think is when I started and it’s silly, and I gonna say silly because it’s important to the work that we’re doing but you know, setting up the section booth to sell publications at the event. That doesn’t just appear people go in on Saturday or Sunday before advanced even starts and start opening boxes and carry.

It’s it’s stuff that that miniscule, but, you know, on Sunday mornings, we put stickers on your name tags that say you’re in the section or whatever the case may be. And you know, it just sounds really silly, but every single moment is an opportunity to meet somebody who doesn’t work in your jurisdiction. Who does know you who’s never met you before. And that’s where I’ve formed some of my greatest friendships is doing some of that, what I’ll call grunt work that I just raised my hand and said, I’m here to volunteer, and they said, okay, and put me to work. And, you know, at the end of the day, when you see people in Section leadership, these are people who enjoy doing volunteer work.

And that’s, that’s not for everybody. And I get that I have often people will come to me and say, how did you get this position? What do you do? And I explained to them about the amount of non paying work that I’ve had to do over the course of my career. And at least 70% of the time, they will look at me with their eyes glaze over and say, oh, that’s nice and walk away. It’s a lot of work. And it’s not for everybody. And I completely get that. And so you first you got to decide that that’s something you’re willing to do not just for your career, because that certainly does come. But just because it’s something you enjoy doing.

And it’s you enjoy meeting the people and being with the people because honestly going and opening a boxes, even some of us who started off section work doing it that like in 2004, even as a past chair, I guarantee you, I’m going to be up there Sunday morning, opening boxes with my friends, because it’s just something that we enjoy doing. And you just start to, you start to realize that there’s other people who are just as goofy and silly as you are who enjoy opening boxes, not because it’s opening boxes, but because of the people you get to do it with.

Holly: So you’ve mentioned a couple times the family law Council. What is that? And how is it connected with the Family Law Section?

Kristal: Good question. So obviously, like you were saying, you just tick a box saying you want to pay your $40 to be in this section. And I think there’s some 40 or 50 odd sections now at the State Bar, you can be in just about anything that is your specialty. I like to say we’re the largest single issue bar section at the bar, because the the two largest are litigation, which obviously Family Lawyers are litigators as well. And then what we call the reptile section in which a real estate probate trust lawyers, well, real estate lawyers will tell you they’re not probate and trust lawyers trust lawyers will tell you they’re not probate lawyers. But yet somehow they all got to get lumped into the same section.

The third largest section is the Family Law Section. So we’re the largest single issue section of the bar. And every section of the bar is has a governing body, most of them, if not all of them call their governing body a council. And so the section which has, you know, a little over 6000 members currently is governed by the family law Council, which has 31 members and officers that that run it. And so all of the section work is generally run by the Council, through committee work mostly and whichever volunteers want to help with those with that committee work.

Holly: So being the chair of the Family Law Section is different than being the chair of the Family Law Council.

Kristal: Yes, and no, I mean, technically, I am the Chair of the section, but I was elected. Well, I was elected by the whole section. But as you know, as you’ve probably seen, not everybody goes to those meetings, they are public, they’re open for anyone to come in and vote and happens, our annual meeting for Family Law happens at the end of the first day of marriage dissolution. So I think if you talk to higher up members of the State Bar, they’ll laugh at the Family Law Section, we’re a little bit more maverick, we don’t necessarily fall in line neatly with what all the other sections are doing with the State Bar. And there’s a proud history and tradition for that that’s a much longer podcast, but we kind of govern ourselves in a lot of ways. And and and mostly it’s different than how the other sections of the State Bar do it.

But for us, we don’t go to annual meetings really where all the other sections are doing their year end work. We do all of our year end work, including our annual meeting at marriage dissolution, which always happens in April, except for in 2020. So at the end of the first day of marriage dissolution, we have our annual meeting, which all section members are invited to attend, I bet you can guess how many actually attend. But technically, all of the council members and officers are elected by the entire section. The notice of that vote goes out and in the section report that I was mentioning earlier, and that’s an email to every section member. And so even though you’re working up through Council, we are technically the representatives of the entire section.

Holly: So you mentioned a little bit ago about different committees within the council. What types of committees do you have?

Kristal: Oh, we have a ton, so I’ll use this opportunity to say that the mission of the Family Law Section is to promote the highest degree of professionalism, education, fellowship, and excellence in the practice of family law. So we’ll do anything and everything that matches up to that mission that we have. And I know we’re going to talk about this a little bit. We have an appellate section, we have a legislative committee, we have a pro bono committee, we have a history and archives committee, because we’re really proud of our history and family law and the leaders we’ve had before us and what they’ve accomplished and family law.

We have a committee that works on that section booth selling the publication’s, we have a publications committee, and our long standing ones that we’ve had forever our appellate and legislative committee, which just legislative bills, and we’re going to talk about that a little bit. And our Texas family law practice manual, obviously something we’re very proud of, and very committed to but that was probably one of the first form books ever created for the practice of law. And that’s what Thomson Reuters takes and uses in their pro doc or whatever.

But that’s drafted by members of our committee, it starts with the section with the council and we work in conjunction with Texas bar books to get that printed. And we have a CLE committee that works with the Texas bar, we work in conjunction with the Texas bar CLE to put on advanced Family Law, marriage dissolution and new frontiers and advanced child skills. And so we work really closely with Texas bar CLE to do those. So we have a ton of committee work. And that is how we get most of our stuff done.

Holly: So other people on the committee strictly limited to council members, or our general members of the Family Law Section on those committees as well?

Kristal: There are general members of the I mean, pretty much anybody, obviously, we would require you to be a section member to pay your $40. Because I think that’s only fair. But we have lots of people who that is their entry into Council and council work is to work on a committee, we have a lot of people like we just explained who are at their firms who want to help but they can’t be on Council. And because we can only have one member of their firm at a time. And so they contribute just by working and toiling in the committees. And I respect that even more because they know that it can’t be on Council, but they’re still showing up to volunteer and put their time in for Texas family lawyer.

So anybody who’s a member can serve on the committee, you just have to let somebody know that here’s my interest. Here’s what I want to do. And and, you know, is there space for me. And there may not be in that particular year, the committee makeup changes from year to year. And there are reasons why people are put on some committees reasons why some people leave sometimes there’s just not space on a particular committee until somebody who’s been a long standing member decides it’s time to retire from that committee. But we try and accommodate everybody who wants to volunteer because I guarantee you there’s there’s something to do.

Holly: So one of the committees is the appellant Committee, which I’m intimately familiar with due to CJC. And the appellate committee having filed an amicus brief there. Is that group limited strictly to filing amicus briefs are other things that they do?

Kristal: Yes, so our appellate committee only files amicus briefs. It’s one of the few committees we have that have a strict set of rules. And for example, as you’re probably aware, we don’t take a position on the factual disputes of the case ever. It would just have to be one particular legal issue. And usually it’s a procedural one of sorts that we’re interested in. But if there is a council member who is somehow an interested attorney on the case, they are we do the Chinese wall thing. They’re prevented from being involved in the discussion or the vote. We only take up issues in the Supreme Court.

And then basically the structure is somebody notifies the appellate committee chair, which that is Mary Evelyn McNamara out of Austin, currently. The chair takes it to the entire committee for a vote to see if we’re even interested in the topic. If we are then we take it to the full council all 31 members to see if it’s okay, if we pursue that. Then the brief is drafted, again, usually by volunteers, people who are not paid for any of this work. And then that brief is vetted by the appellate committee and voted on and then it’s voted on again by the you know, Executive Committee. So there’s a lot of work that goes on to that a lot of a lot of eyes looking at it to see if it’s of interest to us. And some of those rules come from again, just State Bar policy because we still have to follow the rules at the State Bar.

So our involvement is is pretty rare. I would say that we’ve done since I’ve been on Council, maybe three or four amicus briefs. So it just depends on the issue. But it there’s still work pretty hard as a committee because as you can imagine, we get lots of requests, and everybody on the committee has to go through the request, look at the case law provide their opinion, that kind of thing. So it’s a lot of work. But it’s a lot of work that unfortunately doesn’t usually result in anything other than looking at a request and denying it. And most of the requests are denied, I would say.

Holly: Do they normally wait until a case gets to the full briefing stage to take any interest?

Kristal: Not necessarily. And but yeah, I think that a lot of times when we decide not to look at the issue, it’s because they’re not in full briefing. And we would be willing to relook at that if if they were, sometimes it’s an issue that that we believe is so important that we kind of start to get involved early on, maybe form some ideas, but generally, I would say, yeah, we want to wait and see a full briefing is going to be required before we get involved.

Holly: Another one of the committees you mentioned was the legislative committee. And I know you’re also a member and board member of the family law foundation. How were those two connected?

Kristal: Okay, really good question. Because I’m no longer a member of the Board and the founder of the family law foundation. The foundation was started in 2001. Prior to that, all lobbying was done on behalf of family law. Those was, again, volunteer lawyers who are willing to take out a few months of their of their career and go up and just hang out in Austin and lobby for it. And these were just lawyers, these weren’t trained lobbyists. And at the end of the day, you know, that like, basically those people get ignored. They don’t know the function names, they’re not spending their whole year figuring out who the representatives are, the senators are and how everything works there. We weren’t getting really fired, just sending volunteers down to Austin, a few months every other year. So in 2001, the foundation was formed.

And early on, there were lots of people. And let me also preface this by saying as a section, we can’t lobby for or against bill. We’re prevented from doing so by the State Bar. So that was also an issue where the section chair the section members couldn’t go in and say this is what the Family Law Section was, we weren’t allowed to by our State Bar rules. And so early on, when the foundation was formed, you would have seen a lot of the same leadership on both organizations, we learned probably, I’m going to lose the time period, now, probably five or six years ago, an issue came up. And we did some research on it, we were told by the state bar that if you are a voting council member, your officers insurance wouldn’t protect you if you’re going over to lobby as a as a family law foundation member.

And so we just found that for two reasons. One, we didn’t mean the same people doing the same things over and over again, it was good to get some more diversity and let people work on that board and this board, but to just so there was that separation of church and state, we prohibited anybody who’s serving on council from serving on the foundation board. So they are now two distinct organizations run by two completely different boards. Obviously, by necessity, we speak with each other. I mean, you can’t go in and say we represent Family Lawyers, without talking to the Family Law Section that represents over 6000 members. But for the most part, the foundation is their own board, and they make their own decisions about things. So what the legislative committee of council does, we start and we will start in August of this year at the end of every legislative session.

So in August of every odd year, we start drafting our legislative package. And we start by looking at what passed and failed in the last legislative session and whether or not we want to carry any of those bills again, or try again, because, you know, some legislation fails or passes on flukes just they didn’t make it to committee time ran out whatever the case may be. So we look and see what the political climate was and whether or not we want to carry any of our previous sessions bills. And then we just sit down as a big committee and we start talking about things that judges had brought to our attention that other lawyers had brought to our attention, things that we’ve experienced in our own practice that just don’t seem right and the family code that needs some fixing, and we start in August of every odd year and start figuring out where our priorities are.

And then the volunteers start drafting and we spend the next 10 months drafting and redrafting, editing, voting, all of that. And so in this in the spring of the even year, this is how long it takes. And at the at the last meeting of Council, the legislative committee presents their their proposed bills to the council and the council votes those up or down, the ones that are approved by Council, it goes to the state bar’s legislative committee, and they vet those and we have to show up and answer their questions about why we’re drafting certain things or why we want certain things.

And then the legislative committee votes on those bills up or down, and then the ones that pass that committee go to the big state bar board, and that state bar board votes those up or down. So it’s a it’s it is a lengthy process. And we start in August of 2021, for the 2023 legislative session. So it’s a lot of work. And then once the State Bar passes it once we’re done drafting and everything’s approved, the legislative committee literally wipes their hands of it, and sends it to the foundation and says, please go get our bills passed. And what happens after that is up to the foundation.

Holly: Okay, so we’re in a legislative session now when we’re recording this, and I’m sure that the foundation has been very active in recent months. I went and testified as to a couple of bills this year was the first time I’ve ever gone, it was very interesting process to witness for the first time. And on the bills that I was there to testify about the lobbyist for the family law foundation was actually on the other side. And it was very interesting, you know, I testified about the bill as written. But then to see afterwards how the side I was on and the side the foundation was on would negotiate. And the bill took on a completely different form. Over time as they tried to reach a compromise. I thought that was really interesting. I’m curious to know, is it just the lobbyist involved in making those revisions? Or does he go back to the foundation or to the Family Law Section?

Kristal: Honestly, lobbyists do what lobbyists do. I’m like you, I’ve testified multiple times. And I still get like, I mean, wide eyed when I see how things are happening or why they’re happening or the process is so incredibly confusing. And it’s not hard to realize why the foundation was created in the first place. Because as just regular Family Law practitioners who spend most of our lives doing what we do every day going down there is just it’s a completely different world with a completely different language and procedure. And so I will say that, that the lobbyists that work for the foundation do make the phone calls and ask, you know, for the advice, and they still, they’re like lawyers, right? They take their direction from their client. But then how the lawyer does it afterwards, I know what my client wants. Right.

But how I do it might be very confusing to my client, the procedure in which I do it or how I talk to opposing counsel or which motions I file are in my purview. But I know what they want. And that’s what I’m going to go try and accomplish. And I think it’s very, very similar with lobbyists in their pockets. They know what their client wants and how they do it is those kind of a mystery to me. But they do work very closely with their foundation board. And this year at the president, that foundation is Charlie Hodges. And so I imagine that that the phone calls that Charlie takes are daily if not three times daily during the legislative session.

Holly: So for attorneys who want to be involved in the legislative process, you recommend they get plugged in with the foundation or with the section or both?

Kristal: I mean, you got to ask about both, like I said about the legislative committee is one of our long standing committees. So that’s a difficult one to get on. There just has to be an opening. And we’re we’re the drafting side of it, which is what I enjoy more Honestly, I have had to go down and testify. And I don’t mind it, it’s just not my favorite thing. My favorite thing is in the eyes and the teeth and the writing, and that kind of thing. And that committee is pretty long standing and it’s a little difficult to get on. And it’s because the turnover is rare. I am honestly just asked, this was not a normal legislative year, and a normal legislative year. What the foundation does is ask for volunteers who want to testify asked for volunteers who want to do what’s called a bill analysis because obviously, we know the sections bills and everyone kind of working in legislative session knows what the section bills are.

But there’s 1000s of bills filed so it’s completely volunteer. Chris Meyer runs, runs the process, but what he does is he keep cold out of everything fine. He pulls out anything that has anything remotely to do with family law, puts the bills up on this website that we use and then assigns the bill to a just a volunteer lawyer who does a bill analysis on it for the whole foundation and it’s again, a huge process, I guarantee you, they’re not going to turn away volunteers. And because there’s, you know, maybe 40 or 50 people doing which would could have hundreds of people helping us with, honestly. And it’s just looking at all the other bills filed by other people. All the everything that wasn’t a section because we only have what, six or seven section bills, but they’re on our on our bill analysis web page, I think there were 500 that we had to look at. I mean, it’s significant.

Holly: Oh, wow.

Kristal: Yeah, just to see if that how that language would impact us. And whether we needed to be for or against it, or just completely ignore it, which there are some you just completely ignore it, because they’re not that impactful. But that that’s what the foundation does. For Texas Family Lawyers, the amount of work that’s put into it, I don’t even think people realize how beneficial that is. But they would obviously take volunteers. And I will just say this. And when you do get involved in situations, like the legislative process, you definitely want to make sure that you have a thick skin because there are arguments, I mean, there. It’s not just we all believe the same thing.

We don’t we have different ideas. In our practice, we have different ways that we think the code should be looked at, or different ways that we interpret certain case law and there are fights. I mean, there are real fights. But that’s how the process works. That’s how you get to consensus. We are you we discuss people are critical of your work that you’ve drafted or critical of your opinion, when you say I think we should support this bill or not support this bill. And it gets looked at by a set of 50 or so is a brilliant lawyers who just may have a different opinion than you. That’s okay. That’s what we want, we want to vet it. But at the end of the day, a vote comes down, we decide as a group after very, very loud discussion. And then that’s what we do, we don’t then break off and say, well, I didn’t agree with it. So now I’m gonna go for my own lobby thing.

We you wanted to be a part of this process, your voice was heard, and I keep tweeting every time I’ve been voted down is not it’s not enjoyable process. But it’s a fair process. And it’s a democratic process, and all the voices are heard. So if you lose your vote, you lose, you still go support what they’ve asked you to support as a group, your other choice is to not be a part of the group. And that’s fine, too. I mean, that there’s no problems with that. But I don’t want anybody to walk away thinking you have to believe a certain way to help with lobbying, I don’t, that would not be beneficial to us at all. We want different points of views, but you have to be willing to lose, too.

Holly: It was one of the things that I really took from my experience down testifying in Austin and the subsequent negotiations that happened was how much more friendly and willing to work with each other these people on opposite sides were than what I expected them to be. You know, as a, as a regular person in society watching political fights, you think we’re never gonna agree on anything. And so it did give me a lot of hope to see, you know, the organization that brought me in working with the lobbyists from the foundation and trying to come to a solution that everybody could live with.

Kristal: Well, I think you’ll see both right, good lobbyists are like good lawyers, and we can fight fairly, right, we were going to have a disagreement, we’re gonna, we’re not going to always have the same opinions and you go into court, and you do the best you can. But that will never stop us from negotiating with opposing counsel. And you and I both know, and all the good lawyers know that compromise is where all the joy is, you know, it never feels good. You don’t win everything, neither side wins everything and you prepare your clients ahead of time, it’s not going to be everything you want, and it’s not going to feel great. But it was so much better than the alternative. Right?

And I think the lobbyists are the same way. The good ones know that compromise is is what is most beneficial to the most amount of people and I think they work really hard behind the scenes to do that the politicians have to be this voice that everyone hears in public but I think you know, the lobbyists behind the scenes, there’s a lot of them here just trying to accomplish a compromise for the benefit of everyone. And just like us in our practice, sometimes they’re successful and sometimes the stubborn people kind of prevail, but I do think you’re right. I think they try very hard because it’s it’s better for both of their clients.

That something of a compromise get offered, then everyone just say no, we’re gonna we’re gonna just go see how it works with everyone cuz you can’t be sure of how those votes are going to happen, you can’t be sure of even small things like that. Some legislative process snafu isn’t going to ruin everything for you. It’s just the same as telling people fine, let’s go to trial. You may be confident on your facts or how you think a court may rule, but you get in there and witness doesn’t show up, or this evidence isn’t presented, or you know, something happens, and it’s it never goes the way you think it’s gonna go. So compromise is always the best option, even in the legislative process.

Holly: All right, so we’re just about out of time. But one question I like to ask all of my guests is, if you could give one piece of advice to young lawyers, what would it be?

Kristal: Well, obviously, I’m biased, right? It’s gonna be getting involved with with your section, get involved with family law groups. I mean, you know, we don’t just have this section. And we have the Texas Academy of Family Law specialists, if you’re board certified, we have the American Academy of matrimonial lawyers, we have the foundation, every some of the strongest lawyers I met were leaders in their own local organization, their support their family bar associations, where they are in Dallas and Houston, Austin. So there are so many places in which a family lawyer can make their mark and meet new friends.

And yes, all of it is referral sources. Of course it is. And that’s good for you. But I, I think in the long run, if you’re really interested in giving back, it will be noticeable, I can’t tell you, it’s pretty easy and obvious to pick out right away, who is there for simple resume building and self promotion, versus who is there to really give back to an organization or to give service to Texas Family Lawyers. And, and it’s just, if it’s something that’s in your heart that you really want to do, I think that you will benefit tremendously from it. Because mostly because of the people you get to work with. And I’ve never seen any one of them. They were my friends for so long before they were referrals versus if a referral comes from it and great, but it’s never been the primary reason. And those things will just work organically for you, right?

I mean, you don’t have to go and say I’m Kristal, I’m really good at family law, send me your cases. You go in and you do the work and they see that you’re competent, they see that you’re prompt, they see that you do what you say you’re going to do. I mean, it’s really just that simple. And you know, the people that you get to work with are worth every non glamorous unbillable moments of of work that you get to do. But I would say this as a last thing. And and this is what I keep talking to young lawyers about when somebody presents you with an opportunity, even if it scares you, but especially if it scares you. Just take it. I will absolutely never forget till the day I die.

The first legislative committee meeting that I went to, I walked into a room with Ken Fuller, Joe Jenkins, Brian Webb, Jack Mar, Lynn Keyman, Dean Reckor, Heather King. I mean, you like you name it, just people I’d watched it advanced family law and that I knew were way above my paygrade. Like I it was one of the scariest rooms, it’d be they those people have forgotten more law than I even knew at that point. And so just to sit and listen to him and be in the same room was just, it was a masterclass and family law. And I cannot imagine my life or my practice. If I just said no to the opportunity, because it scared me there was somebody who believed that I could do it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have put me on that committee. I maybe didn’t believe in myself so much as they believed in me.

But I took the chance. And as scared as I was, I did it. And I am a much better lawyer today because I didn’t walk away from that scary opportunity. And so I think there will always be times like that in your career, whether the first time they asked you to speak at Advanced Family Law, you know, being on a committee with people, you know, just no more than you all of that will happen to you. And you just have to be brave enough to say I’m not going to let it scare me away and do it because you will definitely be a better lawyer at the other end of that.

Holly: I think that is excellent advice. Thank you so much for joining us today. I think it was a lot of great information for all the family lawyers out there and really appreciate it.

Kristal: Thank you for having me.

Voiceover: The Texas Family Law insiders podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law Firm. We help people navigate divorce and child custody cases and handle family law appellate matters. For more information, visit our website at

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