Judicial Profile: Justice Douglas Lang
by Susan M. Halpern
Justice Douglas S. Lang was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Des Moines, Iowa, St. Louis and Westfield, New Jersey, before finally moving back to St. Louis when he was about 18. He returned to Des Moines for college, receiving a bachelor’s of business administration from Drake University. Justice Lang attended college on an athletic scholarship, lettering in wrestling and football . As a senior, he received the “Bill Boelter Award,” given to the outstanding senior athlete accepted for graduate study. Starting a trend that would continue in spades in his professional life, Justice Lang served as Vice-President of his fraternity and Chaired the Student Union Committee of the student government.
Justice Lang attended law school at the University of Missouri. He planned to become a tax lawyer, and was accepted to the LLM program at Boston University, when fate intervened and he received an offer to clerk for Justice Fred Henley of the Missouri Supreme Court. It took Justice Lang exactly three weeks of clerking for Justice Henley to decide that tax law was not in his future, but appellate law might be. He became fascinated by the challenge presented by the cases on which he worked, and by the process of weaving through complex facts, finding and applying the correct law and thereby properly resolving the underlying disputes. At this early stage of his career, Justice Lang decided that he ultimately wanted to be an appellate judge.
Justice Lang decided that he would need significant trial experience to fulfill his ultimate goal, and at the urging of a law school professor who had significant ties to Dallas, decided to move to Dallas to practice law. That same year, 1973, Justice Lang married his wife, Martha, with whom he has three grown sons (and five grandchildren). He settled into practice in Dallas, trying cases and prosecuting appeals in complex commercial cases for the next 29 years. In 2002, Justice Lang was appointed to the Court of Appeals, and he has since been re-elected three times.
As much as Justice Lang has contributed through his practice and his work on the bench, one could argue that his greatest contributions have been found through his participation in a variety of civic activities, as well as his tireless and passionate campaign for the mentoring of young lawyers and for civility and ethics in the legal profession. His participation in bar and community activities has been endless and he has served as the leader of most organizations of which he has been a part. Justice Lang is a founding member of the Mac Taylor Inn of Court, of which he has been a member since 1991, and he also serves as Secretary and a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Inns of Court Foundation. He is a past President of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and the Dallas Bar Association, and was a driving force behind the establishment of the Dallas Bar Association’s Transition to Law Practice mentoring program for beginning lawyers.
Justice Lang’s belief in the importance of mentoring led him to author Deeds, Not Words—Mentors As Guiding Lights of Integrity In The Legal Profession (Dallas Bar Foundation, Dallas, First Edition 2007, Second Edition 2009), a compilation of mentoring experiences recounted to him by a variety of bar leaders and successful attorneys. Justice Lang firmly believes in the importance of early indoctrination to the principles of professionalism, which led him to author an article entitled “The Role of Law Professors: A Critical Force in Shaping Integrity and Professionalism,” 42 South Texas Law Review 509, Spring 2001. Justice Lang is a tireless crusader for professionalism, a frequent speaker on ethics and civility, and has mentored countless young attorneys in his 40 year career. That tradition started with young associates with whom he worked in private practice and has continued with his law clerks for the past decade.
Justice Lang arrives at work each day before 7:30 a.m., as has been his practice throughout his career. He continues to be fascinated by the seemingly simple task of learning the facts, applying the law and reaching the correct result which, in reality, is a difficult and complex process. He is endlessly devoted to his family, and is an example to all of the professionalism about which he frequently speaks.
Susan M. Halpern is a partner at The Halpern Law Firm PLLC. She can be reached at email@example.com.