Attorney at Law Magazine Dallas Publisher PJ Hines sat down with Scott McElhaney to discuss the main focus of The Dallas Bar Association this year.
AALM: Is there an interesting story behind the founding of your association?
McElhaney: The Dallas Bar Association was founded by 40 lawyers in 1873 as the Bar Association of Dallas. Its purpose was to support literary undertakings and maintain a library. In 1947, it became the Dallas Bar Association, the state’s first bar association to incorporate.
AALM: What is the association’s main focus this year?
McElhaney: In addition to continuing to provide outstanding CLE programs to our members (last year we held over 400 CLE programs), this year we are holding special CLE programs to commemorate the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because 2014 is a significant milestone for the Civil Rights Act, the DBA is sponsoring a yearlong series of events that look back at conditions in America before passage of the act; examine its achievements; and look toward what remains to be accomplished to achieve the act’s vision of a just and equal society.
Our first event, a panel that educated community members about local conditions in the Jim Crow era, led many younger attendees to tell me how much they learned about the not-too-distant past. The second event featured Todd Purdhum, author of “An Idea Whose Time Has Come,” which examined how the act worked its way through Congress. Our next event, scheduled for mid-September, will look at gender equality and significant Title VII litigation in the Dallas area as well as significant local voting rights litigation.
AALM: Does the association offer any mentorship opportunities?
McElhaney: We are very proud of the mentor programs that we provide, not only for lawyers but also for high school students. This year the Transition to Law Practice Program matched 96 new lawyers or lawyers transitioning into a new practice area with 96 practicing–lawyer mentors. And, our E-Mentoring Program matches high school students from four different schools with lawyers who mentor them through email. Our senior lawyers committee also has a mentor program.
AALM: How is the association involved in the local community? Any nonprofit or pro bono work?
McElhaney: The DBA is very involved in our community, particularly through pro bono work. Our members provide thousands of hours of pro bono assistance to low-income clients every year. We hold legal clinics in East Dallas, Garland, West Dallas and South Dallas. We also have a legal clinic at the V.A. Hospital each month to serve our veterans. In addition to pro bono work, our members raise funds each year to build a home through Habitat for Humanity. The DBA is the longest running whole-house sponsor in Dallas. We also hold food drives and clothing drives benefiting various other nonprofits in Dallas.
AALM: If someone wanted to move into a leadership role, what is your first word of advice?
McElhaney: Committee work is important. Active committee members always have the opportunity to become leaders of committees. I would advise lawyers to serve on several committees and learn about the organization. I would also suggest that members become involved in our sections to meet other lawyers in their practice area and then become involved with the sections in leadership roles. It really helps to have learned what the bar does before serving on the board of directors.
AALM: In the past year, what CLE events seemed to be most popular?
McElhaney: Each year we hold a one-hour CLE program called Inspiring Women. It features a panel of accomplished women lawyers. It is our largest CLE. This year we had 580 women attend the program and tickets sold out in three hours.
AALM: Technology is always changing the face of the law. How is your association helping lawyers keep up with the changes?
McElhaney: We hold annual programs that focus on law practice management, particularly for the solo, small firm and minority practitioners, who many times do not have much office support. We also have demonstrations of courtroom technology at the courthouse.
AALM: Besides networking and CLE events, what do you provide your members?
McElhaney: The Dallas Bar has a number of member benefits such as discount sports tickets, clothing store discounts, hotel discounts and gym discounts. We also have many social events, happy hours, evenings at the Meyerson, a sporting clays event, a golf tournament and Bar None, a variety show with talented lawyers acting and singing. We have something for everyone.
AALM: As you look back at your association’s history, what role do you think it has played in the community? Do you think that will change in the future?
McElhaney: Dallas Bar Association members have also always been involved in the Dallas community. Members have served on the city council, the commissioner’s court and several have served as mayor. The first Dallas Bar president, John Good was mayor of Dallas in 1880, and most recently, DBA member Ron Kirk served as mayor beginning in 1995. One of the greatest traditions and critical roles unique to bar associations is to facilitate opportunities for attorneys to be of service to the community, and the DBA and its members have served many in the community. I know this will continue into the future.