David E. Chamberlain A Q&A with the 2015-2016 chair of the State Bar Board of Directors. On David Chamberlain’s 15th birthday, his grandfather, a longtime Dallas County District Court judge, and his mother, who worked in the Dallas County District Clerk’s office, declared he needed a job. Chamberlain landed a position as a courthouse file clerk and soon was fascinated by the larger-than-life characters roaming the halls, like District Attorney Henry Wade, criminal defense lawyer Fred “Bulldog” Bruner, and Judge Dee Brown Walker. He had officially been bitten by the law bug. After earning a Juris Doctor with honors from St. Mary’s University School of Law, Chamberlain embarked on a career that has included senior partnership in the civil litigation firm Chamberlain McHaney, many triumphant trial wins and a few heartfelt losses, countless hours dedicated to bar work and community service, and myriad honors, such as the 2006 DRI Outstanding Defense Bar Leader in the nation and the 2014 State Bar Presidential Citation for his work in creating the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange. Chamberlain says his best moments have been at the State Capitol working on legislation dealing with the justice system and the judiciary. INTERVIEW BY PATRICIA BUSA MCCONNICO Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? I was born and raised in Dallas. My family lived in a neighborhood close to the north end of Love Field. We learned to live with a lot of deafening noise, vibration, and partially spent fuel from low-flying jet aircraft constantly taking off and landing. When I was still pretty young, our family was involuntarily joined in a class-action eminent domain suit against the city of Dallas and the major airlines for violating our “air rights.” It was my first exposure to litigation. We got a $400 settlement. What is something surprising you have learned during your career? I learned fairly early on that it’s usually not a good idea to waive a jury trial and opt for a bench trial. I did that once when I was representing a deserving plaintiff. Even the bailiff told me after closing arguments what a dumb mistake I had made, and that was before the judge promptly announced his decision pouring me out of court. What was your first case? My first lawsuit required me to defend a dry cleaner’s shop in court against a claim by a customer who alleged that my client had ruined her blouse. I was ready for trial, but I neglected to tell my client which court to show up to—so he didn’t. The judge was particularly cruel. Instead of rendering a post-answer default judgment against my absent client, he called my boss at the firm and told him to come get me. Brutal. It got worse when my boss arrived. Ugly. But I learned that certain details of trial preparation are as important as presenting the big picture. What is the most important issue facing the profession and why? There are lots of unemployed and underemployed lawyers while at the same time many Americans cannot afford a lawyer. How can that be? That’s why we are seeing an uptick in pro se divorce court forms, estate/will/probate forms, insurance company-owned captive law firms, companies bringing it “in house,” offshore outsourcing of legal tasks, the growth of for-profit law companies like LegalZoom, and, worst of all, an increase in the unauthorized practice of law. This problem affects all lawyers, from solos to tall-building lawyers, and it impacts the delivery of legal services to everyone. We need to figure this out and solve it, or we will become irrelevant. What do you want to accomplish as chair of the board? • Getting our lawyers fully employed and serving the underserved average legal consumer. • Improving the State Bar through a rigorous and honest examination of ourselves during the upcoming Sunset review process. • Enhancing and expanding the benefits of being a State Bar member. • Being more proactive in the Legislature—we need to improve and protect the justice system. Do you have a personal motto? I have adopted as my motto what our 2014-2015 State Bar of Texas President Trey Apffel has said repeatedly over the past couple of years: “We will not be sitting on the sidelines.” That must be our mission from now on. We as lawyers must be leaders in both thought and action. There’s a lot for us to do. And we should look forward to getting on it. To read the entire interview, go to texasbar.com/chamberlain.
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