Leading the Way: An Interview with David C. Hilliard

Post authored by Lindsey Purdy

Seated across from the polished gentleman at the Chicago Club in the navy blazer, I had to smile.  While his outward appearance manifested an air of decorum and success which can only be achieved by decades of hard work, service, and building an extensive network, there was something else there too.  A spark beneath the well-polished surface.  A glimpse of what my generation would call a “disrupter”.  Someone who instead of playing the game to win, had changed the game entirely.   And changed it he had.  Entirely.

HilliardIn 1971, David C. Hilliard founded the Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association.  To many in our generation, the presence of such an organization and its far-reaching impact is taken largely for granted.  However, when Hilliard started, the idea of providing a platform for younger members of the profession was not a foregone conclusion, and legend has it, was met with some resistance.  However, Hilliard persevered, and a year after the section was founded, the Young Lawyers Section was recognized as the Best Young Lawyers section nationwide by the American Bar Association.  For many, this would have been where they stepped back, but Hilliard continued to blaze a trail, working tirelessly to integrate young lawyers at every level of leadership in legal organizations throughout the city of Chicago.  No example of this is more prominent than his efforts to obtain representation for the Young Lawyers Section on the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Foundation of Chicago.  After some shrewd maneuvering on the part of Hilliard, and through efforts with the OEO in Washington, D.C., a young lawyer seat was created on the Board which was “created in recognition of the section’s extensive legal aid programs and services.”  Proudly, many of the seats for young lawyers on various boards of legal organizations in Chicago which were established as a result of Hilliard’s efforts are still available for us to serve in today.

Perhaps no one is more familiar with Hilliard’s service in furtherance of young lawyers in the profession than Terry Murphy, Executive Director of the Chicago Bar Association.  Boasting over 47 years of service to the Chicago Bar Association himself, Murphy was there for it all.  When asked of Hilliard’s legacy, Murphy offered “When I think of David Hilliard, I’m reminded of a familiar quote from the Old Testament, ‘Your old shall dream dreams and your young shall have vision, and where there is no vision the people perish.’ Hilliard’s vision to form the YLS and extraordinary leadership has helped make The CBA the leading metropolitan bar association in the country. This is proven by the fact that, to this day, the YLS continues to be recognized year after year after year by the American Bar Association as the best young lawyers section in the country. David Hilliard is a universal donor and we are better because of him.”

So when you are at a table with the man who brought young lawyers to the table, what do you ask him?

David Hilliard (DH): Let me start by congratulating you and our immediate Past Chair Jonathan Amarilio and current Chair, Brandon Peck on your launch of the YLS blog – – a major new outreach opportunity for the Section!

Lindsey Purdy (LP): Thank you!  Creating the @theBar blog has been a wonderful experience for us all!  David, you were the founding Chair of the YLS – – can you tell us why you founded it when you were a young lawyer?

DH:  Actually, there were many young lawyers who played a crucial role in founding the YLS.Then, as now, many of us had been active leaders in our communities and schools before becoming lawyers and were eager to form the YLS to solve new community and professional challenges.

LP: In establishing the Young Lawyers Section, were you trying to solve an existing problem?

DH: Very much so!  Young lawyers, then and now, were expected to work a full day at the office. The YLS founders were influenced by Tennessee William’s aphorism:  “Caged birds sing, but flight is what they long for!”  Tennessee was talking about marriage, by the way, but we sought to open some windows from the law to other opportunities to serve the profession. 

LP: What can you tell me about the legacy of the section?

DH: As Past YLS Chair, Karen Johnson said 10 years ago:  “The YLS is one of the CBA’s greatest accomplishments”.  The ABA has honored us 25 times as the best YLS nationally and awarded us 27 times for our public service projects.  For many decades two thirds of our YLS Chairs have been women.  As Daniel Burham said when he launched the 1893 World’s Fair: “Make no little plans!”

LP: How have you seen technology alter the legal profession over the course of your career?

DH: Technology has been both a positive and a negative for the profession in my opinion.  While it has created greater accessibility to clients and potential clients, more transparency in legal research, and more virtual “community” among lawyers, it also has resulted in less time attending bar events and building the in-person connections on which our profession thrives.

LP: Do you think YLS involvement is still important today?

DH: Yes, for three reasons:  (1) law firms have become more inward facing and, as a result, young lawyers need to exert more effort to get involved in our profession and community; (2) law schools and law firms are in transition both technically (witness the YLS new blog!) and in terms of fewer graduates and jobs; and (3) it is important take advantage of the collegiality of the Young Lawyer’s Section.  You will make lifelong friends.

LP: Thank you David.

David, thank you for giving us our voice and the opportunity to actively serve our profession.  Thank you for helping us become part of the dialogue.  In creating the @theBar blog, we endeavor to honor your legacy by continuing to foster discussion in furtherance of the legal profession and for the betterment of the Chicago legal community.  Thank you for leading the way.

About the Author:

Purdy_178pxSqLindsey L. Purdy is an associate attorney and trial lawyer at the Collins Law Firm, P.C., where she concentrates her practice on Bet-the-Company and other complex commercial litigation. Lindsey is currently the Assistant Editor of YLS Journal and Administrator of the YLS Blog @theBar. Click here for Lindsey’s full bio.


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