VOL. 124 | NO. 99 | Thursday, May 21, 2009
New TBA President Ready With Plans
By Rebekah Hearn
When Danny Van Horn, a member of the Commercial Litigation Group at Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC, learned May 4 he was elected as the Tennessee Bar Association’s vice president/president-elect, he was busy working the Greater Memphis Chamber’s golf tournament.
Danny Van Horn
“I was on a golf cart driving beers around to players when my cell phone rang, and for a good hour, hour and a half, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face,” Van Horn said.
Van Horn had many reasons to smile. A representative of the American Bar Association contacted him to say the group believes he is the youngest person ever to head a state bar association.
Also, he ran against another prominent and well-respected Memphis attorney, Linda Warren Seely, director of pro bono projects at Memphis Area Legal Services Inc.
“I ran against a really impressive person in (Seely). She’s someone I really respect,” Van Horn said. “And running against her was a great thing, (because) I was confident that whether I won or whether she won, the bar was going to be in great shape.”
A strong history
Van Horn received his juris doctorate degree from Vanderbilt University, after which he returned to Memphis in 1997 to practice for eight years at Armstrong Allen PLLC, where he made partner.
In 2005, Van Horn moved to Butler Snow, which he said is “a great place to work.”
“It’s a very collegial atmosphere here,” he said. “Nobody’s fighting over credit for doing client work. The bottom line is, get the clients in the door … (and) work together as a team.”
Van Horn has received two pro bono awards from MALS. He was recognized for his fundraising efforts and his creation of pro bono clinics for HIV-positive patients, which have been open about a year, he said.
Also, Van Horn and Paul Morris of Martin, Tate, Morrow & Marston PC co-founded the Atticus Finch Referral Network. The network is named after the attorney character in the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In the book, Finch is appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a young white woman and symbolizes strong morals and color-blindness.
“I was on a golf cart driving beers around to players when my cell phone rang, and for a good hour, hour and a half, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.”
– Danny Van Horn
“We asked MALS to put together e-mails that are sent to a core group that would then take the e-mails and move them through their firms to specifically ask folks to do specific pro bono projects,” Van Horn said. “So no one could ever say anymore, ‘Well, I wasn’t given a specific opportunity; I was just generally asked (to do pro bono work).’”
One person from nearly every firm in Memphis agreed to be their office’s Atticus Network correspondent, and the e-mails now go out a couple of times a month.
“Occasionally, I’ll walk the halls and say, ‘Hey, have you taken a pro bono case lately? If not, will you look at the list the next time it comes out?’” Van Horn said.
Van Horn has a Web site, www.dannyvanhorn.com, where he discusses his goals and ideas as TBA vice president/president-elect for 2010-2011 and president for 2011-2012. One proposal suggests expanding the Atticus Network to reach firms across the state.
For lawyers and citizens
Van Horn’s goal is to improve legal knowledge not just for lawyers, but also for the public.
He mentions on his Web site that he would like to “improve the juror experience.”
“I’m (not) putting the Jury Commission down, because they do the best job they can with the resources they’re given,” he said. “I just think we can do more in that process to educate people on how important juries are – why juries are one of the things that make the American legal system unique.”
He suggests offering a free video to all the jury commissions in Tennessee, which jurors could view during the pre-assignment period or after they have been assigned a case.
Also, Van Horn said he’d like to see the juror selection process become more streamlined.
“There are always a significant number of people who are there for two or three days before they’re told they’re not needed. Meanwhile, they’re off work; they’re not happy about that … there are just some small things we can do to improve the creature comforts for these folks,” he said.
Van Horn also proposes a more comprehensive, organized Web site that would list every case decision in the state handed down during a specific period (monthly or quarterly).
Another site could offer the public information about court systems, judge selection and state laws.
One of Van Horn’s most immediate goals is “general upgrading of the Web site.”
“That’s a constant,” he said. “We need to do a better job with that. And we’ve got to start getting a presence on Facebook and social media.”
Also, Van Horn suggests a mock trial program, not just for law students, but for new and young lawyers.
“Depending on what type of law you practice, jury trials are disappearing,” he said. “And I think, unfortunately, we’re developing a whole generation of attorneys who have far less jury experience than (the Baby Boomers). It’s sort of like a foreign language in that if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”
Enter the new generation
He’s been told he’s the youngest state bar president-to-be, and Van Horn agrees.
“I think I am the youngest. I don’t think they know all the ages of the some of the earliest folks, but in the past 75 years or so, I’m definitely the youngest,” Van Horn said.
If he is the youngest state bar president ever in the country, does that mean the Baby Boomers are a thing of the past?
“I’ve told all our Boomer friends that ‘We’re not kicking you out the door; we very much need you,’” Van Horn said. “You’re still going to be a significant presence for many more years to come.’
“This may mark the beginning of Generation X stepping up and saying, ‘We have to provide leadership as well,’ but it’s not the end of the Boomers.”