Kelly Hart & Hallman law firm to receive chamber’s Spirit of Enterprise Award

Posted Friday, Jun. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Over more than 30 years, Kelly Hart & Hallman has become known as one of the city’s leading law firms, representing some of Fort Worth’s most prominent business leaders and institutions.

Along the way, it has also established a culture of giving back.

But even managing partner Dee Kelly Jr. didn’t know the extent of the community involvement until he learned that the firm would receive the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s annual Spirit of Enterprise Award.

Because the award’s criteria touch on civic and community efforts, Dee Kelly Jr. said the firm ran a census to see just how far and deep that involvement goes. The firm didn’t know it was being nominated for the honor, he said.

“We don’t really have a record that we keep,” he said. The award “does have a lot to do with community involvement and participation in various civic functions that make the city, hopefully, a better place to live. We do try to do that. I was pleased to see how many, how diverse, our participation is.”

The firm encourages its lawyers to do about 50 hours of pro bono work each year with the Tarrant County Bar Association and volunteer work with nonprofits and foundations. Kelly Hart & Hallman represents more than 100 public charities and private foundations, and its lawyers serve on the boards of more than 30 organizations.

In 2012, its attorneys offered free legal advice to more than 60 veterans at the Veterans Affairs outpatient hospital, and 66 lawyers devoted 2,567 hours of legal service to the poor.

Its lawyers have served groups including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tarrant County, CASA of Tarrant County, Downtown Fort Worth Inc., the Fort Worth Public Library Foundation, Fort Worth Sister Cities International, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association, Habitat for Humanity, the Kimbell Art Museum, Leadership Fort Worth, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, the Lena Pope Home, NewDay Services, Performing Arts Fort Worth, the Sid Richardson Foundation, the Fort Worth Stock Show, the Tarrant County Women’s Center, the Parenting Center, the Warm Place, United Way of Tarrant County, the Van Cliburn Foundation and Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas.

Though the Spirit of Enterprise Award has been presented annually since 1975, Kelly Hart & Hallman will be the first law firm to receive it. The 2012 award is being presented today at the chamber’s annual meeting luncheon at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel in Fort Worth.

The firm dates to 1972, when Dee Kelly, Dee Kelly Jr.’s father, began working for Sid Bass, president of Bass Brothers Enterprises.

Vinson & Elkins in Houston was representing the company, but Bass wanted a local lawyer. Mark Hart, a Vinson & Elkins associate, came to Fort Worth that year, followed by Bill Hallman in 1974. That arrangement lasted until early 1979, when the three founded Kelly Hart & Hallman.

Bob Grable and Dan Settle were also among the founders, and Pete Geren, the former Army secretary, was the firm’s first associate, Dee Kelly said.

“We were fortunate enough to have clients like the Bass family, Anne Marion’s interests and John Justin’s companies, which was a pretty good way to start a law firm,” Kelly said. “Our clients have always had a strong interest in Fort Worth and have been leaders in building the city. As a consequence, the firm has always been involved with the city and county and has tried to play an active role in the affairs of both.”

Kelly Hart is now Fort Worth’s largest law firm, with 141 lawyers — 123 in Fort Worth and the rest in Austin. The firm has 265 employees.

Even during the worst of the Great Recession, Dee Kelly Jr. said, the firm never had to lay off anyone, something he takes pride in. The firm has diversified in many areas of the law to help it maintain balance during economic highs and lows, he said.

It has also remained independent as consolidation has taken hold of the legal industry. Keeping a Fort Worth heritage is important to the firm, Dee Kelly Jr. said.

“We’re no different than any other business,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate. We haven’t grown as much in some of those downtimes, but we haven’t had to have any layoffs.”

The firm reached some internal milestones when it surpassed 100 lawyers and certain revenue goals, he said.

“They show you the trends in your business and where you are going,” Dee Kelly Jr. said. “There have been huge events in the sense of giant pieces of litigation or huge transactions the firm has been engaged in. Those have been significant moments among the lawyers internally.”

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

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