Attorney at Law Magazine Dallas publisher PJ Hines sat down with Mark Lassiter to discuss Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association’s mission and what they provide to their community.
AALM: Is there an interesting story behind the founding of your association?
Mark Lassiter: DCDLA was founded in 1949 and is the longest continuously operating criminal defense organization in the country. It was founded to create a way for attorneys to pool their resources and share their respective knowledge with one another to better achieve justice.
AALM: How would you encourage a young lawyer to become involved in their legal community?
Lassiter: I would tell them first and foremost to start meeting other lawyers who are in the practice area they want to pursue. The best way to do that is to join an association those lawyers participate in. In the case of criminal defense work in Dallas County, that would be DCDLA. Then there will be events, CLEs and other activities in which you can get to know the other lawyers and start learning from them.
AALM: How frequently does the association offer CLE events? How much do they cost?
Lassiter: DCDLA holds a CLE seminar on differing topics every month on the third Thursday of the month in one of the courtrooms in the Frank Crowley Courthouse. They are free CLEs with only a nominal fee for lunch. On top of those, DCDLA also does several CLEs every year regarding immigration and ethics. This is extremely beneficial to attorneys as it will fulfill the State Bar CLE yearly requirements and also fulfill Dallas County CLE requirements to take appointed cases.
AALM: What are some exciting events coming up?
Lassiter: Every year DCDLA hosts no less than seven great events. We host a happy hour every quarter with complimentary beverages and appetizers. In the spring we have a charity golf tournament and raffle. In the summer, we have an ethics CLE at the racetrack. At the end of the year, we host a casino Christmas party as a thank you to the entire staff of the courthouse where everyone, defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, friends, and family are welcome.
AALM: Does the association offer any mentorship opportunities?
Lassiter: One of the great things about DCDLA is the number of fantastic lawyers willing to help young attorneys learn what it takes to succeed in this practice area. We are constantly reaching out to anyone who wants to sit in a trial or just discuss what kind of strategy to use in a particular case.
AALM: How is the association involved in the local community? Any nonprofit or pro bono work?
Lassiter: Every year, DCDLA hosts a golf tournament and raffle exclusively benefitting those in need. The beneficiary is always someone with ties to the Frank Crowley courthouse, whether that is a district attorney, clerk, bailiff, or defense attorney. We raise thousands of dollars every year through this event and it really makes a difference for those beneficiaries.
AALM: If someone wanted to move into a leadership role, what is your first word of advice?
Lassiter: If someone wanted to move up within the organization and be more than just a member, the first step would be to let the current board of directors know. From there, become involved by helping out at the different events. At the end of the year, when nominations to the board are made, that person has a much better chance of being selected.
AALM: What is the traditional demographic of your members? Young? Solo practitioners?
Lassiter: Traditionally speaking, almost all criminal defense attorneys are solo practitioners. Some get together and form partnerships but for the most part each attorney that practices criminal defense full time is on their own.
AALM: Technology is always changing the face of the law. How is your association helping lawyers keep up with the changes?
Lassiter: We assist all our members in keeping up with the times so to speak by constantly updating our website with new information coming from the courts, district attorney’s office and other tips, strategies, and practice implementations that will help everyone stay current. Whether that be software items, technology upgrades or new information that needs to be distributed.
AALM: Besides networking and CLE events, what do you provide your members?
Lassiter: At DCDLA we pride ourselves with how much we offer our membership. On top of the free CLEs and charity work, we offer assistance by access to our website which contains transcripts of officers and experts, a motions databank, updates on policies and issues with the district attorney’s office and direction on how to proceed on those issues. The events DCDLA hosts are well attended by many of the judiciary giving attorneys a chance to meet the judges on a social level. We offer a chance to do mock trials with important cases the membership may have. Most importantly of all, it gives the person the opportunity to brainstorm and possibly work with the over 500 members of the organization that are some of the best lawyers in the State.
AALM: What is the main mission of your association?
Lassiter: Our mission is to protect the rights guaranteed by the Texas and Federal Constitutions in criminal cases and to resist the constant efforts that are being made to curtail these rights. To encourage cooperation between lawyers engaged in the furtherance of these objectives through educational programs political endorsements, political contributions and other assistance; and through this cooperation, education, and assistance to promote justice and the common good.
AALM: As a member of the association’s leadership, what changes are you trying to put into effect?
Lassiter: Since taking office, the biggest change we have made was to allow our organization to become involved politically. Initially, DCDLA stayed out of the political game, however, with the volatility we are now experiencing as a county, that position was no longer tenable. We now have the ability to comment on the candidates and, when appropriate, utilize funds to accomplish what the organization believes will lead to justice.