Patricia Busa McConnico 2016-05-30 15:26:32
State Bar of Texas President Frank Stevenson on advancing opportunity. As Frank Stevenson prepared to leave for law school, his grandfather—an attorney whom Stevenson considered the most brilliant man he’d ever known—left him with a few parting words: “Fifty bucks says you won’t make it to Christmas.” Stunned, Stevenson shot back a few words of disbelief. His grandfather seemingly conceded but then said after a reflective pause, “Thanksgiving.” “It didn’t feel that way at the time,” said Stevenson, “but it was the kindest turn anyone’s ever done for me.” Stevenson, a Fort Worth-raised kid who attended college in the Northeast and double-majored in English and history, went on to become a lawyer, and like his grandfather, a scholar of language. “Studying literature taught me the value of writing with concision and clarity, which are two of the hallmarks of good lawyering,” Stevenson said. For the past 36 years as a transactional attorney, Stevenson has used his ability to harness the power of language to get words to do what his clients need. A partner at Locke Lord in Dallas—where he has practiced his entire career—his broad-ranging practice includes representing governmental entities in their project development and drafting legislation, something he particularly enjoys, having participated in drafting more than 200 pages of the Texas statutes. “And all of those have been our really good laws,” said Stevenson, who is also fond of a laugh and known for his wit. “The bad laws were all drafted by someone else.” On June 17, Stevenson will be sworn in as president of the State Bar of Texas at the bar’s Annual Meeting in Fort Worth. His focus this year will be establishing a legal incubator that will provide lawyers who need work with tools and resources to help people in need of legal assistance. Stevenson recently talked with the Texas Bar Journal about his career, role model, and plans as president of the State Bar. Tell us a little more about your love of the written word. My college had an unusually strong reputation regarding literature—especially poetry. Robert Frost had taught there and several of our finest American poets were graduates. When interviewing for a summer clerkship during law school, a name partner of a prestigious firm told me flatly that I’d wasted my time studying literature—that I should have taken lots of math if I’d wanted to be a good lawyer. I remember being really concerned at the time. What I’ve since found is that there is no “one true path” to becoming a good lawyer. While math is the path for some, literature was mine. And what I’d tell that name partner now is that you can find yourself in relationship with the formative works you read over and over again during the course of a lifetime. I’m not sure you can have that kind of relationship with a quadratic equation. Who is your legal role model or mentor and what impresses you most about him or her? This answer may prove that there actually is only one path. Harriet Miers—a math major—is one of the most fundamentally remarkable, decent, and unassuming people I know. Harriet entered a profession then closed to her gender. She overcame barriers and opened doors by the force of her competence and character. But Harriet is an example not only for women—she is an example for all of us. Harriet doesn’t have to stop to figure out the right thing to do; her professionalism and integrity are utterly reflexive. She has participated in the highest councils of power—White House counsel to President George W. Bush, for example—yet is devoid of pretense. Instead, she possesses an unaffected dignity. Jesus sent his disciples into the world telling them to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Most days I wonder if everyone but Harriet was out of earshot since most of us have it the other way around. “Servant leader” is perhaps the most overused and misused phrase of our time. We should apply it to Harriet, and then criminalize its application to anyone else. What lesson or experience has most impacted the way you practice? I’ve learned that my ability as an advocate is profoundly greater when I seek simply what my client is entitled to. I cannot be as convincing in the pursuit of what is undeserved. Admittedly, not every good lawyer subscribes to that view. But no bad lawyers do. What is the biggest challenge and what is the biggest reward of working in a large firm? The biggest reward is being able to swiftly find a lawyer qualified to address virtually any legal issue confronting my clients. An east-coast institutional lender once called needing an immediate interpretation of some obscure wind-power regulations applicable to collateral it held. I sent a firm-wide email, and then the phone rang. “I wrote those regs,” a colleague said nonchalantly. But that reservoir of expertise comes at a cost—primarily the quality and depth of personal relationships you can realistically expect with all your colleagues in a large firm. There are 850 lawyers at Locke Lord. Is it possible that all of them are my best friends? No, of course not. There’s this one guy in New Jersey who sometimes bugs me. Why is diversity so important to you? I had been mentoring an “at-risk” high school student for over a year—telling him “when you go to college” this will happen and “when you go to college” that, when he suddenly interrupted me. “You need to understand; you’re the first person who’s ever acted like I was supposed to succeed.” I’d been speaking to him as I spoke to my own son—that college and future success are expected. But that young man had never heard “when you go to college”—at most he’d heard “if,” assuming he’d heard about college at all. I had thought that all my mentee needed was a chance, but he needed something else even more—he needed someone to believe in him. And only because he’d gone wanting in those two respects, he was “at-risk.” No one can have an experience like that and not perceive the imperative for diversity. I had never intended to become involved in bar activities. It was the diversity issue that got me engaged. In 1993—because I was the hiring partner at a large Dallas firm—I was asked to serve on a small committee to draft minority-hiring goals for the Dallas legal community. The resulting document—accepted by the city’s major law firms and then the city of Dallas and other entities—is still used each year to track and evaluate progress on the hiring, mentoring, and advancing of minority lawyers in Dallas. I later was asked to start a summer internship program to place minority/disadvantaged high school students in paid internships in Dallas law firms, government offices, and corporate legal departments. The result was the Dallas Bar Association’s Summer Law Intern Program in which over 500 students have participated to date, and SLIP has won awards from the Dallas public schools and from the Dallas and State bars. I then chaired several existing Dallas Bar committees that have sent literally hundreds of Dallas lawyers into our public schools to teach on the legal system and to encourage a career in law or other professions. The initiative for my year as Dallas Bar president was “A Bar For All,” which consolidated and grew the DBA’s Pipeline Programs and expanded the solicitation and compilation of membership data to track diversity trends in the Dallas legal community. Diversity is important to me because I’ve been blessed with experiences and mentors who disclosed to me its critical importance—including that high school student by whose mentoring I realized that often the greatest gift we can confer upon a person is our confidence. Name your three absolute favorite things to do on the weekend. 1) Ride my bike. 2) Teach at church. 3) Imagine having the time to do No. 1 and No. 2. Why have you chosen establishing a legal incubator as your primary focus as State Bar president? The need is clear: Only one in five low-income Americans with civil legal needs finds help; for middle-income Americans, only two in five. Those citizens are looking for justice. At the same time, 10 months after graduation, only 60 percent of law school graduates hold jobs requiring a J.D. Those other lawyers are looking for opportunity. Through the legal incubator and other initiatives, our State Bar needs to match that need for justice with that need for opportunity. If there is any belief we must all share, it’s that a person needing legal help is better off with a lawyer than with someone or something else. Yet some bar associations are moving forward with plans to license non-lawyers to perform legal services in order to close the justice gap. I believe that is the course of last resort, not first—to be considered only after we’ve failed to match justice with opportunity through the development of innovative ways to better equip lawyers to meet the legal needs of most Americans. It’s not that efforts to match justice with opportunity have been tried and found wanting; they’ve been found hard and left untried. Describe yourself in five words. Bad with questions like this.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/The+Bettering+Bet/2498004/306771/article.html.