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In June, I received a 50-year lawyer award from the Texas Bar Foundation. I’ve been practicing law before today’s young associates were born. So, I have some wisdom to impart to new lawyers. First, let me back up a bit and explain something. The award goes to lawyers who have not only practiced for 50 years, but who also have spent a great deal of time and effort furthering the projects and welfare of the state and local bar associations. The questions are these: Why do lawyers give so much of their time, money and energy to do work for the benefit of the State Bar of Texas? More importantly, why is it important for young lawyers to give their time, money and energy? Obviously, I can’t answer for other lawyers, but I began to think of why I had done work for the Bar for more than 50 years. I have a debt to the citizens of Texas for the opportunities given to me that I otherwise could not have afforded. I went to Austin High School, graduating in January 1936. At that time, the school was one of the best public high schools in Texas. We had excellent teachers who challenged us to learn and made it possible for us to get basic skills in grammar, English, literature, science, mathematics and history. The cost was a small amount, for such things as locker and gym fees. Other than that, it was free to any young person in Austin — except, of course, to black students. Unfortunately, segregation reigned then in Texas. In 1939, I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, then known as “The University.” That was during the Depression, and poor kids, like me, could get menial jobs in Austin. Tuition was only $25 a semester for as many hours as the student could possibly take, plus fees of approximately $20 to $25 more per semester. So poor white kids could get a bachelor of arts degree for less than $400. Depending on their energy and capabilities, students could rustle enough jobs to pay for room and board, books and miscellaneous expenses. I owe Texas for this education, because it was the taxpayers footing the bill. There were excellent teachers, like Harry Ransom, who taught me English. I was trained to be a public school teacher, which was one of the few jobs that women could aspire to in 1939. A woman had the option of being a secretary, nurse, librarian or teacher. I was fortunate to get a Rockefeller Fellowship to Washington, D.C., as a White House intern in 1939-1940. Old John D. had made so much money in the 19th and early 20th century that the Rockefeller Foundation was created. One of its projects was to bring young people to Washington to encourage them to have careers with the federal government. The Rockefeller Foundation paid my tuition at American University, where I took courses in public administration while I served as an intern in the National Youth Administration. I married and had children. My husband had to go to war. World War II had started. After he came back from terrible combat experiences in the South Pacific, including five months on Iwo Jima, he encouraged me to start night school at Southern Methodist University School of Law in 1947. Tuition at that time was $8 per semester hour. Practically all the students in the night school were returning veterans who received financial help from the GI Bill, and they accepted and assisted me. I was the only woman in the class. I indirectly benefited from the federal government supporting the vets. Adding it all up, I received many benefits from government and from charitable foundations. I owed, and I wanted to be a productive citizen to repay these debts. Many other lawyers owe similar debts — including young associates. OPPORTUNITIES So after passing the bar exam, why spend your time, money, skills, sweat and blood working for the benefit of the State Bar? Any person with the sense of a goony bird knows that the law is not perfect, that over time, situations and needs change, and law reform does not automatically happen. As a female, I discovered early on that Texas had the worst laws in the United States concerning the property rights of married women. The laws had been in effect for some 100 years, and in 1965, when I became chairwoman of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas, I formed a task force to take on the gargantuan chore of trying to bring the laws affecting the property of married women into the 20th century. We quickly learned that much skill, knowledge, expertise and contacts are needed for law reform. As a part of the process, you meet fine lawyers who choose to spend energy and money on teams working for the benefits of Texans. In my years of work with the local, state and national bars, I have made lifelong friends with wonderful people whom I admire. Some of my most cherished memories are of the cliff-hanging forays we experienced in changing Texas laws. These are deep friendships with persons not only from Texas, but also from the entire United States. And it was fun. Lawyers are born actors, comics, orators and thinkers. A bunch of lawyers can automatically put on parties or performances that are better than many of the shows the entertainment industry offers. Lawyers are natural storytellers. The yarns that a group of lawyers can spin are worth the energy you expend to be a member of the group. Innately all of us feel gratified to be part of improving the laws and life of our communities, state and nation. We look back with pride at positive changes in our world. It also is satisfying to receive acknowledgment that you have played a part in improving the lives of others. From a hardheaded professional point of view, contact with lawyers in other parts of the state or nation can be beneficial for your law practice. If you are perceived as being competent and diligent, people will naturally think of you when there is a need for a lawyer in your area. So you have the opportunity to do well for the whole population, have fun with other lawyers and test your abilities. In addition, you often will add to the bottom line and success of your practice. That’s something all young associates should want. Louise B. Raggio has been in private practice as a partner in Raggio and Raggio in Dallas since 1956. In 1979, she was the first woman elected as a director of the State Bar of Texas in its 100-year history. She has served on numerous boards and won numerous awards for community service and leadership. “Voice of Experience” runs monthly in Texas Lawyer.

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