Ty Meighan 2013-05-30 03:40:46
Kristy Blanchard takes office as president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. THE SIGN OUTSIDE HER GRANDMOTHER’S EAST TEXAS RANCH CARRIES A SIMPLE MESSAGE: “HELP SOMEBODY TODAY.” But for Kristy Blanchard, those three words are anything but simple— they are the driving force in her personal and professional life. “I grew up in a family where we did a lot of service through the church, helping neighbors out,” said the 35-year-old Plano lawyer. “My grandparents were always serving in some capacity and giving back to the community. It was something that was ingrained in me as a child. Growing up in that kind of atmosphere instilled in me to be the kind of person I am today.” During this year’s State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting June 20-21, Blanchard will be sworn in as the 2013-2014 president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. For the next year, she will work on numerous public service projects with the goal of helping people in need. Her ascension to the TYLA presidency is a natural progression of her involvement with the State Bar, including the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas and the College of the State Bar of Texas, and her connection with local bars, including the Collin County Bar Association, the Collin County Bench Bar Foundation, the Dallas Women Lawyers Association, the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers, and the Collin County Young Lawyers Association. Blanchard is also a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation and has been selected every year since 2007 by Texas Monthly as a Texas Rising Star, an honor based on nominations from fellow attorneys who previously made the Texas Super Lawyers list. Blanchard is taking a year off from KoonsFuller, a family law firm where she works in Plano, to concentrate on two new roles: TYLA president and new mom—her daughter, Brynlee, was born in January. “I just want to make sure I’m giving my presidential year as much time as I can,” Blanchard said. “Luckily, my firm is very understanding and supportive of that.” Ike Vanden Eykel, a shareholder with KoonsFuller, said the firm was glad to give Blanchard time off so that she can concentrate on doing TYLA work. “We want her to do the very best she can,” he said, adding that he expects people to be amazed at what she can do. “I think people are going to just rub their heads. They are not going to believe what she’s capable of. She never slows down.” Based on the initiatives for her presidency, Blanchard has no plans to slow down anytime soon. Her projects include: • Launching a program targeted to parent-teacher associations and elementary, junior high, and high school students on the dangers and real-life consequences of substance abuse. The program will include a video that school districts can use to educate their students. It will provide parents with useful resources and also will include a component to educate the community about the benefits of using drug courts to deal with substance-abuse issues. • Creating a juvenile law guide, which details the ramifications if a child gets in trouble. The brochure will also include information to educate parents and juveniles. • Working with the Family Law Section of the State Bar, local bars, and legal aid organizations to offer a free CLE on how to handle a pro bono divorce case. Efforts will also focus on attracting law school students, introducing them to pro bono, and pairing them with lawyers. • Holding TYLA board meetings in rural areas. Blanchard’s rural focus stems from growing up in Cedar Hill, a once-small community that is now a major suburb of Dallas with a population of nearly 50,000. “When I lived there, it was a real small town,” she said. “Everybody knew everybody.” Blanchard’s grandparents owned a ranch, and she spent a lot of time outdoors fishing and riding horses and four-wheelers. Blanchard’s husband, Frank, also was raised in what used to be a small town—Southlake, which is now home to almost 30,000 people. “I was pretty much always doing something outside as a young kid, and I still do that today,” Blanchard said. While she lives and works in the Metroplex, Blanchard admits that she is most at home in a small-town atmosphere. She enjoys going to flea markets, taking photos, and watching her favorite TV show, Duck Dynasty. Even so, she does enjoy getting away. Travelingis one of Blanchard’s passions, and she pinpoints her journeys on a large map in her home that she calls the Blanchard Family Travels. One of the first trips she and her husband took together was a whitewater-rafting excursion through the Grand Canyon in June 2010. Although they were with a group of people they didn’t know, the Blanchards soon became friends with many of them after camping out along a river and spending time fishing. “It was a lot of fun,” Blanchard said. “We still keep in contact with a lot of the people we met. It’s a great way to see the Grand Canyon.” The following summer, Kristy and Frank traveled to Africa to hunt, ride elephants, and tour wineries. And most recently, the couple took a five-day fishing trip to Canada. “We would fish during the day and then cook the fish that we caught at night,” she said. Although she is friendly and smiles with ease, Blanchard has a reputation of being an intense lawyer in the courtroom and at settlement, especially when fighting for the welfare of children and others in need. Blanchard’s ability to take on anybody, anywhere, at any time has earned her the nickname Rambo Barbie at KoonsFuller. “She is so focused and so able to just put anything behind her,” Vanden Eykel said. “She can handle anything. She won’t back down from anybody.” For TYLA, Blanchard has been a driving force behind programs benefitting women and children, in particular. Blanchard, who received the TYLA President’s Award of Merit in 2009, has co-authored many of TYLA’s publications, including What to Expect in Texas Family Law Court and the Pro Se Divorce Handbook. “I’ve always been one of those people that if I don’t have a lot going on, I’m bored,” she said. Blanchard originally wanted to be a teacher and at one time taught pre-kindergarten. But political science and constitutional law classes at the University of North Texas sparked her interest in law. An internship at the federal district courts in Dallas and then for Judge Jerry Buchmeyer further fueled her curiosity. After she graduated from UNT, Blanchard began working as a paralegal at a real estate law firm in the Dallas area. She applied to Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law a year later, in 2000. Blanchard worked part time during the school year and full time in the summers to help pay for her education. Blanchard’s passion for family law was spurred by her first job as a clerk at a family law firm in Dallas. “That sealed the deal for me,” Blanchard said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do once I started working there. That led me to my current job.” Blanchard was painfully aware that finding her ideal job after law school would not be easy. As a “middle-ofthe- road” student, Blanchard knew she would have to network to get the job she wanted at KoonsFuller. Blanchard explained that most family law attorneys are sole practitioners and that securing a position at a large firm can be difficult. “I knew that getting a job was going to be hard, especially doing family law,” she added. That’s why making connections became so important to her. While attending SMU, Blanchard started a family law association and invited practicing attorneys, including Vanden Eykel, to talk about how to get experience and jobs. She also began networking with the Family Law Section of the Dallas Bar Association and then served on the Family Law Section Board. Vanden Eykel was also on the board. Eventually, Blanchard sent an email to Vanden Eykel, inquiring about a possible job with the firm, and he hired her as a clerk while she was still in law school. “That’s how I got my first real job,” she said. KoonsFuller offered Blanchard a full-time position after she graduated. “I’ve been there almost 10 years,” she added. Vanden Eykel said Blanchard was a focused young person who was organized and a self-starter. “She took off as soon as she went to work for us,” he said. Blanchard’s commitment to helping others drives her belief that attorneys have a responsibility to take pro bono cases. While she was in law school, Blanchard worked with the Children’s Advocacy Center, representing children in Child Protective Services cases. The experience was “a life-changer and eye-opener,” she said. “I still do a lot of pro bono now, and most of the pro bono that I do is helping kids, representing them as an ad litem or representing a parent or family member in CPS cases.” In 2011, the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program named her the Pro Bono Attorney of the Month. Blanchard also works with DVAP on CLE, teaching other attorneys how to handle pro bono child custody suits or divorces. One of the first pro bono cases she took on as a lawyer was representing a grandmother seeking custody of her seven-year-old grandson. The boy’s parents were drug addicts and his father was serving time in prison. When CPS became involved in the case, the boy’s mother accused the grandmother of abusing both her and the grandson. The boy was placed in foster care, where he stayed for more than a year. Blanchard took the case, went to trial, and helped the grandmother win custody of her grandson. “That was a real rewarding experience for me to be able to help him out of that situation and help his grandmother,” Blanchard said. “Literally, I think Kristy saved his life, and I tell her that all the time,” the grandmother, Peggy Akin, said. “She’s the one who kept my spirits up, who was right by my side. I just can’t say enough good things about her.” The boy, Ryan Akin, now 17, recently finished high school and has been accepted to attend a state university in the fall, Akin said. A budding actor and musician, he tells his story in The Little Voice, a TYLA film dealing with how to recognize and report child abuse. “His life has completely changed, and to see that I had something to do with that is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Blanchard said, with a smile. TBJ TY MEIGHAN is the communications director for Child Protective Services and a former communications strategist for the State Bar of Texas.
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