From Young Lawyer to Young Leader
By Rabecca Cross
Rabecca Cross is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate and practices with the Found Animals Foundation in Los Angeles, California.
Danny Van Horn made history recently when he was voted to become President of the Tennessee State Bar. At age 37, he is believed to be the youngest person ever to be elected as Tennessee Bar President and perhaps one of the youngest state bar presidents in the nation’s history. For Van Horn, this is a natural next step in a long history of service to local, state, and national bar associations.
Van Horn believes this is an exciting time to be a young lawyer, as the practice of law changes to reflect new times and a new generation. “Our time to step up isn’t just coming,” Van Horn states, “it’s here.”
Juggling Family, Practice, and Bar Work
Van Horn attributes the “most important factor” to his success in juggling family, a law practice, and heavy bar participation to his wife Erina. But he acknowledged the difficulty in bar participation for young lawyers. “Bar work is in addition to, not in lieu of, any other work” Van Horn noted. He stressed that young lawyers usually have more capacity to fit bar activities into their schedules than they realize, but knowing when to say “no” also is important.
Still, it’s easy to understand why Van Horn doesn’t say no very often when he shared what he considers the keys to being happy practicing law long-term. “One, be active in a bar group of some kind,” Van Horn stated, “and two, do pro bono work.”
Active Participation Key
Following his own advice, Van Horn has been very active in the Tennessee Young Lawyers Division, where he served as its President in 2005–2006. The Tennessee Young Lawyers Division has approximately 2,000 members, a fraction of the approximately 15,000 lawyers Van Horn will lead when he takes the helm of the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA). Through the TBA’s leadership succession process, Van Horn will serve as Vice-President of the bar in 2009–2010, President-Elect in 2010–2011, and will be sworn in as President in the summer of 2011.
Van Horn is a litigator and member of Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada, PLLC. He and his wife Erina have two children, Grant and Rachel. In addition to his TBA and ABA roles, Van Horn serves on the Access to Justice Committee of the Memphis Bar Association, the Executive Committee of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis, and the Board of Advisors of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce.
Van Horn also has been very active in the ABA YLD. He has served as an ABA YLD Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates since 2007. He served as Assembly Speaker in the 2006–2007 bar year and as a stand-in District Representative for the 16th District. He was also an assistant editor for The Affiliate and chaired the ABA YLD Continuing Legal Education committee. Finally, Van Horn is a two-time recipient of the “National Star of the Year” award.
Tennessee State Bar President
Van Horn’s campaign for state bar president began about a year before the Tennessee Bar’s eight-week voting period. Although the schedule was demanding, Van Horn said the long days were worth it. “I thought I knew a lot of people in Tennessee until I ran for office,” Van Horn noted wryly. As a summa cum laude University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Vanderbilt University School of Law graduate, he enjoyed the opportunity to revisit other parts of the state and reconnect with old friends.
Van Horn’s state bar president election campaign focused on proposals in three main areas: adding additional value to bar membership, increasing service to the public, and working to ensure that the legal profession is fair and representative. Van Horn believes educating and providing resources to incoming lawyers is crucial to their success in the field. He also wants to take advantage of online resources and capabilities to disseminate helpful information to attorneys more readily.
Atticus Network
One goal in particular that Van Horn hopes to accomplish as TBA President is the statewide rollout of the Atticus Network ,” a pro bono referral network named after Atticus Finch, the fictional attorney in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Van Horn co-founded the referral network in Memphis after hearing lawyers report that they did not perform pro bono work because no one ever asked them to take a specific case.
With the Atticus Network, participating law firms each have a representative who is contacted by the program coordinator twice a month with client referrals. The law firm representatives, in turn, contact their colleagues and ask them to take a pro bono case from the list of cases presented. Van Horn estimated that several hundred Memphis residents have received legal assistance through the program since its inception.
We wish Danny all the luck over the next three years.

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