VOL. 112 | NO. 18 | Thursday, February 5, 1998
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Attorneys in action
Many local lawyers believe community
service is a civic responsibility
that accompanies the practice of law
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
Attorney Bill Bruces grandfather told him long ago that lawyers owe something back to the community.
Bruce thinks those are words to live by and puts that belief into action as coordinator of Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwells contributions to the Memphis Bar Associations project to build its second Habitat for Humanity house.
MBA built the first Habitat house in 1995.
Local lawyers already have contributed about $12,000 to the construction of the house, which they plan to build in the spring.
The financial goal is $20,000.
Although Bruce so far has been soliciting financial contributions from his fellow attorneys, he plans to roll up his sleeves and pound a few nails with other members of the legal community when construction begins.
"Its kind of a fun thing to do," Bruce said of the actual labor, which he participated in during the 1995 construction project.
Caren Dantzker, an attorney with Landers & Associates, said she helped coordinate the manual labor of attorneys who participated in the first project and will do the same for the new Habitat house.
"I dont like to fund raise, but I dont mind getting bodies places," Dantzker said.
She said the first project was a learning experience for all who participated, and she hopes to have more people to help when construction begins on April 3.
Dantzker said about 200 workers built the house in 1995, and she estimates about 325 are needed this year.
She said the work is flexible with shifts split into half days over about three or four weekends, and the experience also offers participants camaraderie with their fellow attorneys.
During the first project, she said, groups from different law firms arrived in teams clad in company T-shirts.
The recipient of the house is unknown at this time, Dantzker said. However, recipients are required by Habitat for Humanity to work on the house for a prescribed number of hours, and on the last project, the work crew met the family on the first day of construction.
Another benefit of lawyers willingly pitching in and helping the community, Bruce said, is helping dispel the misconception of attorneys as self-centered technicians.
"Before people rush in to judge lawyers, they should look around at what they are doing," said Amy Howell, marketing manager for Waring Cox.
Howell said the attorneys at Waring Cox participate in a variety of charitable activities.
For example, the companys litigation and corporate sections compete to bring in the most donations for the Memphis Inter-faith Associations annual food drive while attorneys also run in the Race for the Cure and lend financial support to regional colleges and universities, she said.
Howell said one of her roles at the firm is to educate new associates about the opportunities available to them to become involved in community service.
But, she said, the partners at Waring Cox also lead by example and incentive using community service efforts as one criteria in the compensation review process.
Mark Vorder-Bruegge, Jr., a partner at Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, said attorneys civic responsibility is also a consideration at his firm.
"For lawyers in the firm that do get involved, the firm is very supportive of that," he said, adding that the firm has contributed to charity groups with which attorneys are involved.
Vorder-Bruegge said attorneys at Wyatt Tarrant are expected to participate in community service, and the idea that attorneys should seek to improve society as a whole is a fundamental concept instilled by the founders of the firm.
For example, Vorder-Bruegge is on the board of directors at the local Ronald McDonald House, and partner Richard Raines has volunteered with the Boy Scouts for the past six years, even though Raines, an ex-Marine, swore when he was discharged he would never camp again.
"We dont expect a first year associate to become president of the Chamber of Commerce," he said, but Wyatt Tarrant expects community service to be commensurate with professional experience.
"There is a role for everyone in the firm in community service," Vorder-Bruegge said.