Vol. 29, No. 7
Dale Harris: A Profile of The New Colorado Bar Association President
by Karen Bries
"Put Dale in charge."
That phrase has been echoing down the Bar Association halls for many years—it reverberates in his own law firm where he was managing partner for several years, and has slipped out into community groups.
The reason is simple. Dale Harris, new president of the Colorado Bar Association, gets the job done.
Dale Harris addresses a group
as chair of Mile High United
Way, a favorite charity
To watch him run a committee with a sure and even hand is to watch a master at managing egos, overcoming inertia, and polishing tiny details, while keeping the big picture in mind. Above all, he gets to the finish line. (Perhaps he would prefer to say that he reaches the basket and slams the ball home.)
From Player to Lawyer
Dale is a small-town guy (Crab Orchard and Marion, Illinois). He met his wife Toni the summer after high school. They married after a five-year courtship, and have been married for forty years. They have two daughters, Kristen and Julie.
Dale earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Colorado, Boulder, thinking maybe he'd be a coach. Those dreams were dashed when he was cut from the team in his second year. ("Then I knew I'd have to work for a living.") He was able to continue school with an academic scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in math.
Dale said he decided to go into law as a career because it meant dealing with people and people issues. "There was no magical reason for it; I just hoped I might be good at it," he says.
He chose Harvard because he could—his college grades were excellent, and they offered a tuition scholarship. "I had never been east of Illinois," Dale says. "I had this idea the student body was smarter than I was or had a better educational background." He found out "a great number of people at the school were just like me."
When firms from around the country came to recruit at Harvard, Dale looked at many firms. "I originally interviewed in New York, Illinois, and several other places. Then I met Don Stubbs."
Stubbs, one of the named partners at Davis, Graham & Stubbs in Denver, interviewed Dale for about twenty minutes. Dale remembered the firm because U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White, another graduate from the University of Colorado, practiced law there as well. Later that day, Dale was eating in the cafeteria, and Stubbs sat with him. "He clearly remembered me and went out of his way for me. That was really impressive. Things were different in those days. The way we decided whether or not to take a job was if we liked them and they liked us."
Dale has been with Davis, Graham & Stubbs since 1962. Now a commercial trial litigator and antitrust lawyer, he still remembers the impression that Don, who died in 1996, made on him as a mentor and friend.
"Don Stubbs was my hero. He was a superb lawyer who brought not only a sound grounding in the law but also common sense, compassion, and good judgment. I have had my share of successes and failures, but I think if I have been able to follow Don's example and pass on some of what he gave me, I will have accomplished a great deal."
Dale has followed Don's example by mentoring other young lawyers in his firm. "I enjoy working with young people here and I try to help them achieve a balance in their lives. Don was a classic example of a gentle person who was also a great lawyer. I'd like to see that passed on."
Dale and Toni Harris enjoy themselves
at the Barristers Benefit Ball
Blazing the Trail
In addition to mentoring, Dale, like Stubbs, has given back to the Bar Associations. One of the many committees he's chaired since its inception four years ago is the Colorado Bar Association's Family Violence Task Force. This Task Force has presented programs to employers and groups in the legal field and lay community, with the ultimate goal of educating the public and legal community about family violence.
To further advance awareness of this problem, in 1999 Dale, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, and others met with The Denver Post. The result of that meeting was a partnership and a year's worth of feature stories devoted to educating the public about family violence. Dale also spearheaded a special issue of The Colorado Lawyer, which was dedicated to family violence (October 1999). Past CBA-president Miles Cortez, a friend of Dale's for twenty-five years, says, "I don't believe that anyone could have done better than he did when he took the Family Violence Task Force and made it such a successful and outstanding program. He'll be one of the finest bar association presidents we've ever had."
Ben Aisenberg, CBA president in 1998-99 and a long-time friend, says Dale is one of the most "conscientious" and "dedicated" people he knows. Aisenberg likes to poke fun at Dale's penchant for organization. Dale started carrying a spiral notebook during his 1993-94 DBA presidency where he would keep events, meetings, and things to remember. "I'd bet that notebook is at least four inches thick," Ben says. "Now he's come to the end, and the pages are coffee-stained. He lugs it to every meeting. When he finishes his notebook, I think he should donate it to the Bar Associations, because it would be a wonderful historical record to have."
Dale has long been active on bar projects. He was chair of the DBA's Centennial Committee, which celebrated the Denver Bar's 100th anniversary in 1991. He oversaw projects such as the writing of the DBA history book, a video, a huge party on the 100th anniversary, and a special Law Day luncheon.
He continues to co-chair the Joint Task Force on Multidisciplinary Practice and has chaired the Antitrust and Amendment Two Committees. He is a member of the CBA Executive Council and CBA Board of Governors. He also has been chair of the Barristers Benefit Ball and a member of the DBA Board of Trustees. In 1997, he received the Denver Bar Association's highest honor—the Award of Merit—for his outstanding service to the legal profession and improvement of the administration of justice.
Time for the Community
While active in the Bar Associations, Dale also puts time into community service. Dale has been with the Mile High United Way for the past fourteen years, and has been the organization's chair, on the Board of Trustees, and on its Executive Committee. He served the standard one-year term as chair, but because the board was in the middle of a strategic planning project, he served another year in order to finish the project. Dale estimates that during that period as chair in 1996 and 1997, he sometimes spent as much as one week a month working with United Way, going to meetings and planning with the organization's president. "The United Way organization is something I really believe in. It's a place to assess and address the community's most pressing human services needs. There are few places that have this overall view."
Some other community groups Dale has worked with are Denver Rotary and the Colorado Judicial Institute. He has served on the Institute's board.
A Career Through the Decades
Now beginning his fifth decade with Davis, Graham & Stubbs, Dale has represented such companies as U S WEST Communications, United Airlines, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Gulf Oil, Total Petroleum, Johns Manville, the Trane Company, Sprint, Jones Intercable, the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and the American Numismatic Association.
During much of the 1970s and '80s, antitrust cases took Dale outside Colorado. For several years, he and other lawyers from Davis, Graham helped defend Gulf Oil against claims that it had engaged in an international price-fixing cartel with other uranium producers and several foreign governments. "Many of my colleagues traveled to exotic places to gather evidence," he says. "I usually went to Pittsburgh or down the uranium mine. But I'm not complaining! Some of my best professional friendships have come from cases like that."
Dale also remembers the time he met a young Bill Gates—before Microsoft—when Gates and a few of his friends were just starting to "tinker with those computer things." Gates's father was a distinguished lawyer in Seattle, and both he and Dale were on the same side of a case. Dale met Bill at their home. "I know his father and mother worried about all the time Bill was spending on those other pursuits, instead of the more traditional high school and college things. Don't you wish all your worries would turn out the way theirs did? I often wonder what I would have done if they had offered me a chance to invest a few dollars in their start-up company. . . . I probably wouldn't have done it—too risky for me!"
Preparing for the Future
During his presidency, Dale will concentrate on four things: (1) technology and other forces that promise to affect the practice of law dramatically; (2) diversity in the legal profession; (3) the CBA's family violence program; and (4) independence of the judiciary, including the proposed ballot initiatives to impose term limits.
Dale plans to discuss the future of the practice of law when he travels around the state. "There's no question that rapid changes are happening. If we don't get out in front, the changes will happen around us and to us, instead of us molding them. We need to be leaders in managing the impact of these changes on our profession."
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