Introducing the DBA Pro Bono Endowment
by Michael K. Hurst
What keeps you awake at night? Like many of our colleagues, the stresses and anxieties attendant with our profession do not diminish for me when my head is fortunate enough to hit the pillow.
Being a leader and the anticipation of the awesome responsibility of serving you as the 109th President of the Dallas Bar Association has kept me awake many nights for more than a year. I am energized and driven by my fear of not living up to your expectations and the trails blazed by the pioneers and visionaries who have previously led this organization. How can I work with you over the next 12 months to anticipate and address many of the issues that are imminently confronting us, and contribute to the betterment of our profession and community?
I also lay awake thinking about what it means to be a “leader.” There are no doubt countless attributes of leadership and much of the concept of leadership is contextual. To me, leadership generally begins with anticipation.
Over the last year I have been thinking about the future of our low-income neighbors’ ability to engage legal representation. For our revered justice system to sustain, it has to work for everyone, not just those who can afford to pay the escalating fees for legal representation. For leaders in our profession, the anticipation begins with the future of funding for legal services for the poor.
DVAP cases involve child support, custody, paternity, access to health care, visitation rights, often including domestic violence, to benefits programs. Women and children make up more than 75 percent of DVAP clients. Half of all client applicants are employed.
Why the Endowment
Rather than waiting for the next round of funding cuts, the Dallas Bar Association has created the DVAP Endowment to maintain long term funding to secure legal aid to the poor in Dallas. The Endowment safeguards the Dallas Bar Association’s commitment to pro bono legal services by providing (1) funding if federal and state funding is further reduced (both came perilously close to being cut in their entirety in 2017) and (2) a backstop so that DVAP is less dependent upon monies raised annually through the DBA’s Equal Access to Justice Campaign (which may very well be eroded in coming years due to demographics and law firm consolidation). The DVAP Endowment will be used solely to support the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. The DVAP Endowment will enable DVAP to maintain its then-current level of operations if a material funding reduction or elimination, or a year of extraordinary need, occurs.
I may be accused of many things, but one thing I am generally not dubbed is “patient.” About halfway through last year I decided that for the DVAP Endowment to hopefully sprout wings during my presidency, we needed to do much of the heavy lifting immediately. With the help and leadership of Alicia Hernandez, Michelle Alden, Sam Prince and our outstanding 2017 EAJ Campaign Chairs, Jonathan Childers, Sakina Rasheed Foster, and Cheryl Camin Murray, who graciously agreed to assist with the Endowment while simultaneously heading the Campaign, we hatched the Endowment plan.
Philip Bush volunteered his time and skill to draft and revise the operative documents that were approved by Community Services Fund Board on September 11, 2017 and presented to the DBA and DBF Boards the same week.
The corpus of DVAP Endowment, of course, needs to be funded, invested prudently, and distributed over time in accordance with written guidelines. Our team devised a short-range goal to raise $300,000 by February 1, 2018, and to permit 5 percent of market value of the corpus to be utilized annually to supplement the legal aid budget.
To help us raise funds, our team met with some of the Bar’s great leaders and pro bono advocates, including Jerry Alexander, Jim Burnham, Aubrey Connatser, Rob Crain, Laura Benitez Geisler, Dan Kelly, Justice Elizabeth Lang-Miers, Kate Morris, Mark Sales, Frank Stevenson, and Paul Stafford. We decided to first approach some of our marquis corporate citizens for this funding. Under Frank’s leadership, a second funding source is the recognition associated with people and firms who want to honor their “Legal Heroes.” Kate Morris is going to head outreach to foundations and other community endowments. And, for as long as the EAJ Campaign raises more than $1 million, the funds raised over $1 million may be allocated to the Endowment.
NEVER underestimate the heart of the Dallas Legal and Business Communities! I am proud to say that by November 15, 2017, we already exceeded our February 2018 goal. Aubrey Connatser is honoring one of her legal heroes and a hero of pro bono, the late Ken Fuller, at $50,000. Lynn Pinker Cox Hurst/Jane and Michael Hurst are contributing $50,000. Jerry Alexander is contributing $50,000 as part of his planned giving.
Hunt Consolidated, Inc., through the leadership of Ray Hunt, David Hernandez, Hunter Hunt, and Chris Kleinert, is contributing $50,000. David and his wife Michele Hernandez are contributing an additional $10,000. Highland Capital Management, through the leadership of Jim Dondero, is contributing $50,000. So is Vistra Energy, under the leadership of Stephanie Moore and Dan Kelly. AT&T, through David McAtee’s leadership, is contributing $50,000; and David and his wife, Cristy, are contributing an additional $10,000.
You will see the generosity of these people and companies recognized and memorialized in several places, including on a new plaque that will be displayed in the Belo Pavilion.
As members of the DBA, we have proven to be a forward-looking and dynamic group, having made the Belo Mansion, the Pavilion, and the leading pro bono program, DVAP, realities. The DVAP Endowment is the next step to ensure the future of access to justice in Dallas, and perhaps as a model for Bar Associations across this great Country. Please join us in leading this important and impactful effort to ensure that “and justice for all” is indeed for all and forever.