Posted in Announcements

Marking Milestones

D. Todd Smith

Eleven years ago today, I started the practice that became Smith Law Group LLLP. One year later, on the first anniversary of what was then a solo shop, I posted these words:

One year ago today, I departed big firm life to start my own appellate boutique—if you can call one lawyer a boutique! The result has exceeded my expectations in almost every way. While I am grateful for the opportunities I had at Fulbright & Jaworski and the excellent experience I obtained there, my current practice is a much better fit for my personality and work style, and it is also better for my family (although my wife would say that I don’t work any less). Special thanks to all the folks who have referred cases to me or hired me over the past year. Without you, I wouldn’t be posting this message.

Like most firms, we’ve gone through significant changes over the intervening decade. Appellate practice has changed a lot too, generally for the better. Electronic filing, e-service, CaseMail, and the new Attorney Portal have helped us take our practice digital. With my MacBook, iPad, Westlaw subscription, and a good internet connection, I can do my job from anywhere, making our big state seem a lot smaller.

As I write this now, in 2017, I’m more excited than ever about where we are as a firm, where we’re headed, and our ability to help litigators and in-house counsel solve their appellate problems—preferably before they arise.

Welcome Jeff Nobles!

Here’s one reason for my optimism: This week, respected appellate advocate Jeff Nobles joined us as a partner. Jeff is opening our firm’s new Houston office, expanding our coverage into a market we’ve had our eye on for years. Among other contributions, expect Jeff to share the insight and wisdom he has gained over thirty years of practice here on the blog.

As SLG enters its twelfth year, it seems appropriate to highlight Jeff’s arrival among the many good things we have going on. There’s more to come.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Dun.can.

Posted in Appellate Practice

It’s Alive! Revive Your Dead Motions and Defend a Favorable Judgment With a Proper Appeal

Maitreya Tomlinson

While relatively short, a recent Third Court of Appeals memorandum decision is rife with lessons for attorneys defending favorable summary judgments made on superseded motions. The dispute in Larivee v. Louis meant to center on tenant-landlord issues concerning a carpet’s condition. Unfortunately, especially for the appellant, the case’s procedural posture forced the Third Court to focus on superseded or “dead” motions and preserving appellate grounds. The opinion, however, provides lessons that can benefit other attorneys experiencing similar circumstances.

Continue Reading

Posted in Appellate Practice, Supreme Court Orders, Technology, Texas Supreme Court

How Dependent on Instant Online Data Access Are We?

D. Todd Smith

Try accessing any number of court-related websites right now, and you may be diverted to the following landing page:

Screenshot 2017-06-29 17.31.01
A Tuesday evening power outage took down Office of Court Administration servers, and OCA has had difficulty bringing them back up. Meanwhile, scores of lawyers across the state went into panic as they were unable to instantly access online dockets, CaseMail, or the Attorney Portal. (Are we getting spoiled or what?)

Never fear. The sites are reloading just in time for the Texas Supreme Court’s Friday orders. Just in case, OCA has set up a backup site at the usual address, Expect a long set of orders and several decisions tomorrow as the Court looks to continue its streak of disposing of all granted cases before breaking (soft of) for the summer.

Posted in Appellate Practice, Technology

Demystifying Appellate Law on The Law Entrepreneur

D. Todd Smith

Screenshot 2017-06-26 15.57.40Solo and small firm lawyers, if you’re into podcasts and haven’t checked out The Law Entrepreneur, you should. Maryland lawyer Neil Tyra has put together 69 episodes (so far) of great conversation with lawyers, tech consultants, and other professionals offering insight into the entrepreneurial side of modern-day law practice.

The main reason I know exactly how many shows Neil has aired is that he had me on as his guest for Episode 69, entitled Demystifying Appellate Law & Leveraging the Cloud. It’s available for download in iTunes or through Neil’s podcast website for anyone interested. Continue Reading

Posted in In-House Focus

How Outside and In-House Counsel Can (and Should!) Collaborate on Post-Litigation Lessons-Learned

Laura P. Haley


For much of my career as outside litigation counsel, I marked the end of cases with a celebratory client lunch or a sigh of “good riddance.” But when I went in-house with one of my clients, the end of each case was an opportunity to consider lessons the company could learn from the litigation. Now that I have transitioned outside again, at the conclusion of almost every case, l assist my in-house counterpart in developing and implementing lessons-learned. When in-house and outside counsel utilize post-litigation lessons-learned, the litigation cost becomes an investment in innovating the company’s operations.

Debunking the Cost-Center Myth

The current view of many (if not most) companies is that the legal department, and particularly litigation, is a “cost center.” Not only is this view wrong, it divorces the actual cause (i.e. contract review, negotiation, or execution errors, failures to follow HR policies or procedures, lack of internal audit controls) from its effect (litigation). As a result, the “cost center” view conveniently compartmentalizes the “cost” of a company’s errors in the oft-maligned legal department and prevents the company from identifying or correcting the actual cause. Continue Reading

Posted in Appellate Practice, Third Court of Appeals

An Evening with the Third Court of Appeals, 2017 Edition

Maitreya Tomlinson

Screenshot 2017-05-05 15.01.31Yesterday, the Austin Bar Association’s Civil Appellate Law Section hosted a program entitled “An Evening with the Third Court of Appeals” at Austin’s InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel. My firm, Smith Law Group, was among the event’s sponsors.

This event was a natural sequel to the well-received peek behind the proverbial curtain when the Court, months ago, opened its offices to host local attorneys at the “Breakfast with the Third Court of Appeals.” As usual, the event was well attended by the Court, its staff, and practitioners. The Third Court of Appeals has consistently engaged the legal community and events like this demonstrate this fact.

While primarily a chance to socialize with the Court, Chief Justice Jeff Rose gave some remarks and introduced his fellow attending Justices. The evening offered attendees a chance to informally interact with our judiciary. Thanks to my fellow Civil Appellate Section Council members and the Third Court for ensuring that this and other programs are well-attended and enjoyable opportunities to maintain connections in our local legal community.

Posted in Appellate Practice, Technology

[Tap…Tap…Tap] Is This Thing On?

D. Todd Smith

After a decade of blogging, I’m still amazed how one simple post can spin off new opportunities.

Back in November, I wrote about how I’m using my iPad Pro during oral arguments. As a direct result of that post, I was:

  • featured on iPhone JD (a site I highly recommend to anyone using iPhones or iPads in their law practices);
  • asked to turn the post into an article for the Texas Bar Journal; and
  • invited to speak to trial lawyers about going paperless at a traveling roadshow CLE.

More recently, legal tech consultant Brett Burney invited me to appear on his excellent new podcast, Apps in Law, to discuss iThoughts, the mindmapping app I mentioned in the post. I had heard Brett speak before and have a lot of respect for him, so I was happy to say yes.
Continue Reading

Posted in Appellate Practice

Bench Bar Beyond: The Future is Now

D. Todd Smith

Screenshot 2017-03-28 14.00.53The Austin Bar Association is accepting registrations for Bench Bar Beyond, its annual conference with the local judiciary. As the name and artwork suggest, the theme this year is futuristic; attendees are invited to explore topics and current trends in the legal profession that will impact our future as lawyers.

I’m slated to moderate two breakout sessions on appellate law. One will be a “dos and don’ts” discussion with Third Court of Appeals Justices David Puryear, Melissa Goodwin, and Cindy Bourland. The other is entitled Appellate Practice and Appellate Judging in the 21st Century and will feature Third Court Chief Justice Jeff Rose, Justice Scott Field, and Blake Hawthorne, Clerk of the Texas Supreme Court.

This year’s program, which is being cosponsored by the AYLA Foundation, will take place on May 12, 2017 at the Austin Country Club, site of the recently concluded WGC–Dell Technologies Match Play golf tournament. More than thirty judges across the local court systems have committed to attend. The full program and registration information are available here.

Posted in Appellate Practice

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Formal Bills of Exception

Maitreya Tomlinson


Appellate lawyers are the legal equivalent of a parent that you call to help navigate life’s uncertainties. In action, this means that appellate lawyers receive phone calls regarding obscure areas of law or rarely utilized procedures. The parent comparison suffers in that, unlike answering many parental questions, even well-seasoned appellate lawyers may have to research the question more deeply before dispensing advice. But either way, as parents or appellate lawyers, we know our input is important and we try to provide the best answer that we can.

Bill of Exception v. Offer of Proof

In that vein, lawyers have recently contacted me to ask about filing formal bills of exception. A formal bill of exception is a procedural device contained in Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 33.2. Like offers of proof, the Rule helps parties preserve, and demonstrate, harmful error by allowing them to supplement the record. Unlike offers of proof, parties file formal bills of exception when their trials are completed. After studying Rule 33.2 and making numerous inquiries, I realized that many lawyers have never filed a formal bill of exception. I also realized that many commentators merely recite the Rule’s language without discussing any gray areas or supplying insight into the Rule’s contours. Naturally, because many have not utilized Rule 33.2 and that the Rule’s plain language does not provide all the answers, there appears to be some confusion regarding formal bills of exception. Continue Reading

Posted in Appellate Practice, Oral Argument, Technology

More on iPads and Appellate Arguments

D. Todd Smith

Happy New Year!

After seeing my recent post on how I’m using my iPad Pro for appellate arguments, the good folks at the Texas Bar Journal asked if I’d like to publish a version of it in print. That version appears in the just-released January issue, an electronic copy of which is available here.

I’ve since received several messages from lawyers offering up how they use iPads and Mindmaps for argument. I’m encouraged to see others embracing technology in their preparation and presentation strategies. It’s affirming to hear that I’m not alone when I look at an old challenge a new way and try to change the way I do things for the better.

Readers may be interested to learn that Readdle, the company that developed PDF Expert for the iPad, recently released a new Mac version as well. I recently began testing PDF Expert 2 for Mac as an alternative to Adobe Acrobat and am very impressed so far. The killer feature is Readdle Transfer, which allows me to open a PDF on the Mac and the iPad simultaneously and sync edits made on either device instantly and without any conflicts that would require creating multiple versions of the document. When Readdle adds OCR capability and Bates numbering, the Mac version should give the considerably-more-expensive Adobe Acrobat software suite a run for its money among Mac-based law firms.