January 2020 – An ‘Outsider’ No More
Welcome to 2020! I am honored to serve as the 111th President of the best Bar Association in the country. In this, my first column, I’d like to share with you how I got here and also demonstrate how the Dallas Bar can do great things for you the way it has for me.
I am a third-generation Dallas native. I grew up in North Dallas and graduated from Hillcrest High School. After first attending SMU and then graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a finance degree, I chose law. I graduated from the University of Texas Law School in 1980.
After working at three different firms, I joined Randy Johnston and Bruce Budner at their commercial litigation boutique in 1987. In the early 1990s, we decided to handle legal malpractice claims on behalf of plaintiffs. No one else was doing that work in Dallas, and there were very few lawyers around the country handling those cases. We knew that representing plaintiffs against lawyers would not make us popular with other lawyers, but we felt it was wrong that injured clients could not find legal representation.
Randy and I continue to practice together today. We have been law partners longer than my wife, JoAnn, and I have been married. While our practice has changed and grown over the years to include malpractice defense, ethical consulting, fee disputes, expert witness engagements, commercial litigation, employment law, and appellate matters, we are still best known for handling legal malpractice claims for plaintiffs. As such, we are still considered outsiders to some in the legal community.
Because of that, I always assumed I would never be involved in Bar leadership. How wrong I was, and what a testament to the openness of the Dallas Bar Association.
From the time I was a baby lawyer, I loved visiting the Belo Mansion and attending the Friday clinic. It was a great way to meet other lawyers and learn about a new area of law while having lunch. These were the days before the Pavilion was built, and the parking lot was very small and tree-filled, such that if you got the last spot, you needed a car wash by the time lunch was over. Over the years, the Dallas Bar has grown to more than 11,500 members, but the spirit of community and camaraderie has not changed.
Despite my worries about being an outsider because of handling plaintiff malpractice claims, in 2005, I learned about an opening on the board of the Tort and Insurance Practice Section. Randy had chaired the Business Litigation Section and encouraged me. I got the position and moved up through the leadership ranks to eventually become Chair of the Section in 2011. I have since chaired several other Sections and Committees. I have also had many opportunities to put on CLE presentations on ethical issues, malpractice avoidance and numerous other topics. Simply put, I was and remain passionate about Bar work, and have had many opportunities to participate. I never thought about saying no, because I love doing the work and being part of my community at the Belo.
As a Board member, I was honored to serve as Co-Chair of the Equal Access to Justice Campaign with 2019 DBA President Laura Benitez Geisler. That was truly the most rewarding job I have had with the DBA, and it spurred a desire to help those who cannot reasonably afford a lawyer to help them navigate the legal system.
It has been an amazing and awesome 9-year journey from the time I was first elected to the Board to becoming your next President. I cannot describe all the benefits of bar service, but it has, among other things, helped build my law practice through the relationships and referral sources I developed along the way, and it has made me more social and a better speaker. Bar service can enhance the personal and professional lives of all our members, regardless of experience, goals or ambitions, whether it’s a solo practice or Big Law. If you raise your hand, you will be called on.
In addition to membership in our Sections and Committees, the DBA offers mentoring opportunities, a Community Day of Service, the DBA Home Project and the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program.
At the DBA, we want to be inclusive and to meet you wherever you are in your career. Therefore, one of my objectives this year is called Project 2020. The goal of Project 2020 is to look ahead five years and determine what we need to do to ensure that we remain the best Bar Association in the country. By the time you read this column, there will be an emailed simple and easy-to-answer survey in your Inbox. Please take a few minutes and answer this important survey for us by January 10. The more input we get from members, the better we can plan for our future. We will also seek guidance from the Sections and Committees and our Sister Bar Associations. This will be a group effort.
I hope that my DBA story reinforces the notion that there are no outsiders at the Dallas Bar. For those of you who question what Bar service can do for you, my advice is to try it– wade in and find something that interests you. I predict you will find your passion, which will empower you and the community at large. We are the Dallas legal community and together we will make our profession and this city a better place. I want your advice. So, please, reach out to me with your ideas and suggestions. I want to hear from you!