The National Pro Bono Celebration is Oct. 25 to 31, 2009. Each weekday in October, Texas Bar Blog will feature a Texas attorney who provides pro bono services in the community. Without lawyers like these, too many of our most vulnerable citizens would go without legal representation. For more on the national celebration, visit CelebrateProBono.org.
In 1949, when L. Clifford Davis started practicing law, the minimum wage was $0.40 an hour. For much of Davis’ career, his hourly rate has been even lower.
Davis, 84, has had a storied legal career. As a young lawyer, he worked with Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Putting into practice what he learned from the future Supreme Court justice, Davis was integral to the integration of the Mansfield and Fort Worth independent school districts. For two decades, he was a district judge on the Tarrant County bench. Among the honors and awards that have sought to pay tribute to Davis' accomplishments is the L. Clifford Davis Elementary School in Fort Worth.
Today, Davis, who serves of counsel to Johnson, Vaughn & Heiskell in Fort Worth, continues to help those in need. He volunteers with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and the NAACP Justice Project and assists old friends when they need a hand.
“I’ve known a lot of people around here for a long time,” he said. "If I can help them out, I help them out. If they can pay something, that’s good. If not, I’ll do it anyway.”
Davis tries to minimize work that may land him in court. "At my age, I don't want to take on any lengthy litigation because I always want my work to be up to my standards," he said.
Where does he find motivation? “The community has been good to me,” Davis said. “I've been able to make a living and I’ve been supported for public office. I’m basically trying to give back.”
Surveying the legal landscape, Davis is pleased with how the commitment to pro bono work has evolved. “Pro bono has become a much more acceptable part of the practice of law, especially at large law firms. Almost every lawyer at some point will do some kind of pro bono work. It’s a great idea and a great service.”
After 60 years as a lawyer, Davis has no plans to let up. “I have a little saying: 'Never stop because it’s hard to get started.' "