Enterprising Spirit: Law firm receives accolades for excellence, contributions to community

The Kelly Hart Executive Committee: Seated, left to right: Marshall Searcy, Dee J. Kelly, David Keltner. Standing, left to right: Steve Ravel, Dee Kelly Jr., Bob Grable, Sharon Millians, Cal Jackson

Marice Richter Special to the Business Press

Dee J. Kelly took to heart a bit of advice he got as a teenager from a legendary Texan: “work hard and you will be successful.” More than six decades later, Kelly has never forgotten the words of the late Sam Rayburn, the powerful former speaker of the U.S. House and a confidant of President Lyndon B. Johnson, nor has he failed to heed them. Kelly went on to reach his own legendary status as a founding partner of what is now the largest law firm in Fort Worth with more than 250 employees, including 141 attorneys. Kelly Hart & Hallman LLP has offices in Austin as well as Fort Worth. But Kelly Hart & Hallman’s success is measured in ways far beyond size. These include service to the community, integrity, professionalism, and, of course, hard work, Kelly said. These characteristics are also what earned the law firm the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Chairman’s Spirit of Enterprise Award. Kelly Hart & Hallman has the distinction of being the first law firm to receive this coveted honor, which has been given annually since 1975 to a Fort Worth business for outstanding contributions to the prosperity of the city. The award was presented June 14 at the chamber’s annual meeting at the Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel. “It’s a very big honor for us,” said Kelly. “Law firms usually don’t receive these types of awards.” Kelly’s son, Dee Kelly Jr., managing partner of the firm, said the firm has enjoyed recognition within the legal circles over the years but nothing as high-profile within the whole community as this. “This is a very unique and special award for us because service companies rarely win community service awards,” Kelly Jr. said. “We are very excited about it.” Past recipients include Pier 1 Imports Inc., the Tandy Corp., Lockheed Martin, XTO Energy Inc., Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, Harris Methodist Health Systems, Alcon Laboratories, Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., American Airlines and Mrs Baird’s Bakeries. “Kelly Hart & Hallman has stood with Fort Worth and Tarrant County through thick and thin, always bringing their considerable expertise to the public or private sector when legal help has been needed and serving as a model of involvement,” Chamber President and CEO Bill Thornton said in a statement. “We are pleased to recognize their exceptional commitment to this community.” Kelly Hart & Hallman was founded in 1979 when Kelly, a sole practioner specializing in litigation and commercial work, joined with Mark L. Hart Jr. and William P. Hallman Jr., who were highly regarded for their work in corporate and securities and real estate law. “Sid Bass had more work than one lawyer could handle,” Kelly said of seeking the partnership to better serve his prominent client. The Bass family had become aware of Kelly when he was on the opposing side in a legal matter. They liked what they saw and wanted him on their side. A native of Bonham, Texas, Kelly made an important connection when he met Rayburn, also from Bonham, while in high school. Kelly had interviewed Rayburn for his school newspaper. The relationship flourished while Kelly attended law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and worked as a clerk in Rayburn’s office on Capitol Hill. Rayburn taught Kelly the importance of community service and advised him to return to Texas, Kelly Jr. said. After practicing briefly in Austin, Kelly returned to Fort Worth, the city that was home while he attended college at Texas Christian University. Since its founding, the firm has enjoyed extraordinary success in attracting talented attorneys – former Congressman and U.S. Secretary of the Army Pete Geren was the firm’s first associate – as well as high-profile clients such as the Bass family, Justin Brands, Anne W. Marion and the Burnett Companies, American Airlines, Pier 1, and BNSF Railroad. “KHH has been a trusted adviser and confidant for many years,” said Anne W. Marion. “Specifically Dee Kelly has been at my side throughout. He has been involved in the oil company, ranching operations as well as much of my community activities. He certainly deserves the recognition this award brings.” The firm’s attorneys include members of the American Law Institute, fellows of the Texas Bar Foundation as well as numerous former federal and state court judicial law clerks and recipients of legal awards and honors. Besides providing first-rate service to its clients, the firm is committed to community service and improving the quality of life in Fort Worth. All of the firm’s lawyers are encouraged to devote 50 hours a year to pro bono work and to be involved in civic or charity organizations of their choice, either by serving on a board or rolling up their sleeves and do hands-on work, Kelly Jr. said. “Our lawyers are involved with more than 30 different charities and nonprofits in Fort Worth,” said Kelly Jr., the only one of Kelly’s three children with wife Janice to become an attorney. The Kelly’s daughter, Cindy, lives in Austin and is a homemaker who is involved in her community. Their son, Craig, is in the real estate and investment business in Fort Worth. Organizations that Kelly Hart & Hallman attorneys work with include Habitat for Humanity, Lena Pope Home, Downtown Fort Worth Inc., CASA of Tarrant County, the Tarrant County Women’s Center and the Van Cliburn Foundation. Dee Kelly is also chairman of the Sam Rayburn Foundation and has received numerous honors including the Horatio Alger Award and the Blackstone Award, given by the Tarrant County Bar Association. Lessons Kelly learned about hard work and community service continue to resonate at Kelly Hart & Hallman, and probably always will. “Talent is important,” Kelly said. “But hard work and dedication are even more important.” 

To see video from the Chamber event: www.youtube.com/watch

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Richard Connor’s column on the award: fwbusinesspress.com/fwbp/article/1/1124/Opinion/The-Loyalty-Factor.aspx