Celebration and Rededication
Inaugural Address given on January 19, 2013
As many of you know, each year the incoming bar president has a theme for his or her presidential year. My theme for the coming year is to “CELEBRATE”—starting now—the outstanding achievements and activities of our great bar association and its amazing members. Second, I would like all of us to REDEDICATE ourselves to the good work that we do day in and day out, especially in the area of providing legal services to those less fortunate in our community.
What do we have to celebrate? Well, where do I begin? I recently attended a program at Belo that was focused on the many opportunities for lawyers to serve our profession and the community through involvement in bar association and other volunteer programs. Aaron Tobin, who is a member of the DBA Board, made a presentation about the many benefits and volunteer opportunities offered by the sections and committees of the bar and its sister organizations. Those committees and sections are made up of DBA members like you and me. As I listened to him talk about the services that Dallas lawyers perform, I felt a tremendous sense of pride in what we do.
To start with, the sections of the bar, and to a lesser degree the committees, provide year-round CLE programs for free to all Dallas Bar members. We take this for granted, but believe me it is unique to local bar associations. As I indicated last month, most if not all other local bars charge their members for CLE. Our bar committees oversee and perform other programs which benefit our members and also sponsor numerous programs which benefit the community. Those programs include a host of mentoring activities, not just for students but also for lawyers. Even though we, as lawyers, may be adversaries in the courtroom and in board rooms, through the bar we work together for the common good of the profession and community. We should all be proud of our accomplishments and we should never take them for granted. That is why I want to take time this year to celebrate this good work and to rededicate ourselves to continuing, expanding and improving upon these services.
In my view, one of the most important things we do as lawyers is provide pro bono legal services to those less fortunate in our community. Those of you who know me well know that pro bono work is my real passion—they don’t call me the “queen of pro bono” for nothing. As has been quoted so often “for those to whom much is given, much is required.” As lawyers we are generally very fortunate—personally and professionally. But not everyone in our community has the same opportunities and advantages that we do. The recent statistics of the ever growing number of people living in poverty in North Texas proves that. While I am sure people get tired of hearing me say that “we hold the keys to the courthouse” —it is true—we do. Without our willingness to provide pro bono legal services to the poor, they would be denied the benefit of our legal system, denied the benefit of justice. That is not acceptable—not to me and it should not be acceptable to you. We pride ourselves on our professionalism and we should. But if justice is denied to a large segment of our population, we have failed. We should not be proud; we should be ashamed if we allow this to happen.
The good news is that a great many Dallas lawyers and non-lawyers give generously of their time and talents to provide legal services to the poor. Many of those people are here tonight. I would like to recognize a few of them and celebrate their accomplishments with you. We do not have time to mention all of the people who do such great work, so please forgive me if I do not call your name. You know who you are and you should be proud of all you do to serve the community.
First, I would like to recognize the staff of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP). DVAP is a joint project of the Bar and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas which provides access to legal services to the poor through its legal clinics and programs. DVAP recruits and trains lawyers like you and me to take pro bono cases in areas of law outside our usual areas of expertise. They mentor and guide us through those pro bono cases. In other words, DVAP makes it easy for us, as volunteer lawyers, to do good things.
I want to give special recognition to DVAP staff member Chris Reed-Brown. Chris is not a lawyer; she recruits attorneys to do pro bono work. In fact, Chris recruited me to do pro bono work when I was first licensed to practice law in 1986. For more than 25 years Chris has recruited hundreds and hundreds of volunteer lawyers to do pro bono work. There is no telling how many people have been helped as a direct result of her work. Alicia Hernandez, another member of the DVAP staff, also deserves special recognition. Before becoming the Director of DVAP, she was a staff attorney and managing attorney for Legal Aid. Alicia has spent her entire career in public service.
Rebecca and John Greenan are two lawyers who have also devoted their personal and professional lives to helping those less fortunate. John is with City Square, which is an organization that provides a variety of services to the homeless and the working poor in our community. He works on affordable housing projects as the Executive Director of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation. Rebecca is currently on the staff of the SMU Dedman School of Law where she helps identify and provide opportunities for public service projects for SMU law students. Long before joining SMU, Rebecca also worked as a staff attorney for Legal Aid and she has served on the board of Legal Aid of Northwest Texas for many years. Rebecca and John are currently devoting much of their time, talent and personal resources to solving the problem of homelessness in Dallas.
I also want to give a shout out to Diane Couchman. Diane is an outstanding litigator. She spent many years at Akin Gump but she is best known (at least to me and others in the legal aid arena) for her pro bono work. She is relentless in her commitment to providing legal services to the poor. We call Diane the “princess” of pro bono. She is younger than me or else she would be the “queen” of pro bono instead of me.
Another non-lawyer who deserves recognition is Sam Prince. Sam has been the Director of Development at Legal Aid of Northwest Texas for over 10 years. There is no one more passionate and devoted to the cause of providing legal services to the poor than Sam—especially to women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Sam is a true hero.
I could go on all night about lawyers and non-lawyers who are committed to pro bono work. Lawyers, like Anne Shuttee, Dawn Fowler, Mandy Childs, Amanda Todd, Gary Kennedy, Regina Montoya, Jeff Cohen, Bill Holston, Kathy Kennedy, Lisa Blue Baron, Diane Sumoski, Michael Hurst and all of the past chairs of the Campaign for Equal Access to Justice, and all of the past presidents of the Dallas Bar Association (all of whom have been devoted to providing legal aid to the poor). There is one more person, however, that I would personally like to publicly recognize for his dedication to providing legal service to the poor. That is Joel Winful. Joel is the immediate past chairman of the board of directors of Legal Aid of Northwest Texas. In his capacity as chair, he spent an untold number of hours this last year, at great personal sacrifice of his family and his practice, working on matters related to Legal Aid and to the delivery of legal services to the poor. Joel, and so many others whose names you may or may not know, fulfill their ethical obligation and moral commitment to the profession by dedicating themselves to pro bono work so that everyone, not just the fortunate few who can afford it, get access to our system of justice.
So you see that we have a lot to celebrate, but I would suggest that it is not enough. DVAP still turns away almost 50 percent of those who seek help. We have to change that. It is not a job for a few dedicated souls. It is a job for all of us. So I challenge each of you to dedicate or rededicate yourselves to service to the profession and the community, especially to those less fortunate. How can you do that? You can join a committee or section of the bar, you can get involved in a community service project through the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers, the DBA Community Involvement Committee, the DBA Pro Bono Activities Committee or other organization; you can volunteer at a DVAP clinic or take at least one DVAP case. Taking just one case may only take a few hours of your time, but it could literally change the life of someone less fortunate and it will make our community a better place for all of us.
Again let me say that I am honored and proud to have the opportunity to serve the Dallas bar as its President. I will do my best to serve the organization and you, its members. I look forward to celebrating your successes and the successes and accomplishments of the bar this coming year and to working with each of you to rededicate our efforts to service to our clients, our profession and the community. Together we can and will make a difference.