by Tom Vick
Robert G. Ingersoll—a Civil War veteran, a lawyer, a politician, and a renowned orator—wrote 140 years ago: “The superior man is the providence of the inferior. He is eyes for the blind, strength for the weak, and a shield for the defenseless. He stands erect by bending above the fallen. He rises by lifting others.”
Ingersoll’s original paragraph is often shortened and changed slightly in this Internet age. Its message has been generalized, turned into inspirational memes, and pasted above sweeping vistas: “We rise by lifting others.”
At its core, the message resonates with people of all professions so many years after Ingersoll wrote it. And when we as lawyers think about our profession, this must be our aspiration: to rise by lifting others.
There are many great lawyers that come to mind when I think about this phrase. The renowned Ken Fuller is certainly one. Ken passed away in 2014. Many of you may remember him. Perhaps you knew him, worked with him, volunteered with him, or have just heard his name repeated. A partner in the Dallas law firm now known as KoonsFuller, Ken dedicated much of his career to helping others through the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP).
It was well known that he spent at least two days a week during his retirement years helping low-income Texans through DVAP. He gave so much of his time and talents to help others that the State Bar of Texas Family Law Section honors him every year by bestowing the Ken Fuller Pro Bono Award upon an attorney who “honors the Bar and the legal profession through outstanding dedication to pro bono legal services and Texans in need.” The award ensures Ken’s legacy endures and gives us all an aspirational goal.
If you know Ken Fuller’s name, and you admire his remarkable level of service to the poor and underserved, there’s another name you should know: Susan “Hambone” Fisher. Fisher has a solo practice in Irving.
In 2016, when Susan was awarded the Ken Fuller Pro Bono Award it came by surprise. She sat in the audience as presenter Brian Webb, of The Webb Family Law Firm, described that year’s recipient as a lawyer in the street, in the trenches; a lawyer who helped someone for no other reason than they needed help and it was the right thing to do.
Susan, Brian said, even occasionally finished the day as a waitress to help pay the bills while she gave so much of her time to others. It wasn’t until Brian called her name that Susan knew she was the attorney he described at the podium.
With her hands raised and mouth agape, she finally found words: “I literally sat there and thought, ‘Now, that’s my kind of lawyer.’”
The award presentation was captured on video, and it remains on the Family Law Section’s website (https://pbvideo.vids.io/videos/d49bdfb61b1de3c25c/ken-fuller-pro-bono-aw...). You should take the chance to watch.
Brian tells me personally that Susan “cares deeply and intelligently.” And that once when a friend gave Susan a fairly extravagant gift and she tried to turn it down, the friend replied, “No, I owe it to you because you’re leading the life that I should be leading.”
We should all be a bit more like Susan. Whether she is trying to be humorous or humble, the profile pictures on Susan’s State Bar member page and her LinkedIn account are of a smiling brown-haired goat.
Lawyers as a whole are certainly not afraid of hard work, but let us also be unafraid that our hard work would go unnoticed. When someone lauds our successes and calls our names, let us be so humble as to think they are talking about someone else.
When Susan won her award she said just a bit more than a dozen words. There was nothing about herself in those words, only “I love the law, and I thank you.”
It is she who rises by lifting others. We thank you, Susan.
Tom Vick is a partner in Vick Carney LLP in Weatherford and the 2017-2018 president of the State Bar of Texas.