State Bar Director Spotlight
Alistair B. Dawson
Interview by Eric Quitugua
Photo by Alistair B. Dawson
Position: Partner in Beck Redden
Board Member: District 4, Place 3 since 2017
When I started practicing law, I set two goals.
The first was to become an accomplished trial lawyer. The second was to give back to my community in a meaningful way. I will let others determine whether I have achieved the first goal. I have been fortunate to be under the incredible tutelage of David Beck. I continue to learn how to become a better trial lawyer, which is one of the things I love about our profession—the endless opportunities to learn. With regard to giving back, I am proud of the various contributions to my community that I have made over the years. I am passionate about helping individuals with special needs or who have developmental disabilities. Along with many others, I have helped individuals with special needs find jobs with various law firms in Houston.
My “aha” moment, however, was in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
I was president of the Houston Bar Association at the time. The storm started over the weekend. By the Wednesday after the storm, the HBA had mobilized dozens of lawyers to be present at the shelters helping those who had been evacuated from their homes. For weeks and months, Houston attorneys volunteered to help the victims of Harvey with their legal issues. I was so proud of how the Houston legal community responded in a time of great need, and it was a privilege to stand with the local bar during that time.
I first became involved in the State Bar when I was invited to join the Litigation Council of the State Bar in 1999.
I was inspired by the council. It was then—and is now—a talented group of lawyers from around the state who work hard to give back to our profession in a variety of ways. After my service to the Litigation Section, I wanted to give back to my local bar community. Thus, I ran for election as a director of the HBA and eventually served as president. After that, I decided that I wanted to return to the State Bar to continue my service to the bar and the members we serve.
As a director, I have strongly disagreed with the position of our president on two occasions.
On both occasions, I stated my opposition and brought motions against the respective position held by the president. It was difficult, but it was the right decision in my opinion.
These are challenging times for the State Bar. Two of our last three presidents have been controversial and stirred up quite a bit of disregard for the State Bar.
There are many who do not think that the State Bar does anything for them. We as directors must do a better job of educating all of our members about what the State Bar does for them. And we need to listen to those who have complaints and make whatever changes are appropriate as a result of the complaints we receive from our members.
We do a lot, but we can always do more and we need to do more.
Specifically, we need to become more diverse and inclusive. In my opinion, the composition of the State Bar board does not fairly represent the composition of our bar. We need to strive to become a more inclusive and diverse bar that appropriately represents all of our constituents.
The biggest issue facing Texas attorneys in 2020 is COVID-19 and the impact that it is having on our practices.
While this pandemic affects all aspects of the legal profession, the most troubling aspect of it to me is that we have not been able to have jury trials. I am particularly concerned about the impact this is having on low-income Texans. Not only are these individuals denied access to justice when we cannot have trials, but many of them do not have the ability to participate in virtual hearings because they do not have the requisite technology or equipment. I intend to work with the leaders of the State Bar and the Access to Justice Commission to do our best to address these issues and make sure that our courts are open to all litigants in the state of Texas.
We have helped the legal profession in a number of ways.
The legal incubator program started by past President Frank Stevenson helps new lawyers learn the ins and outs of practicing law. The bar provides CLE programs covering just about the entire practice of law. The bar provides counseling to lawyers in need. The ethics helpline helps lawyers address any ethical issues that they face. In a number of different ways, the State Bar is there to help those in our profession.
In addition to improved diversity and inclusion, we must do more to improve access to justice.
It is estimated that nearly 5 million Texans who qualify for legal aid do not get any legal aid—roughly 90%. In my judgment, all 5 million of those people are denied access to justice. Obtaining funding for access to justice is challenging. More Texas lawyers need to volunteer to provide pro bono legal services. TBJ