The Houston Young Lawyers Association ("HYLA") was founded in 1937, when Lewis W. Cutrer, Arthur P. Terrell and Roland Voight started the Houston Junior Bar Association, to give "the young lawyers an opportunity to better know one another and to informally exchange ideas regarding the profession." In 1939, the Houston Bar Association ("HBA"), headed by James S. Bracewell, asked the young lawyers to join its organization as the Junior Bar Section. Although the young lawyers were a section of the HBA, they had to have their own officers and committees.
For the most part, the Houston Junior Bar served as a social organization meeting jointly with the HBA until after World War II. The membership ranks were depleted greatly during the war and the focus of the group shifted to helping members entering the service get commissions based on education without having to complete officer candidate school. Efforts were made to keep up with members in the service by reporting their activities in the Bar publications.
It was not until 1959 that the young lawyers began to meet separately from the HBA and appoint their own committees regularly each year. One of the first projects undertaken was a Handbook of Practice in the State Courts of Harris County written under the tutelage of The Honorable Hal DeMoss Houston Junior Bar President, 1962 and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In an effort to serve the community in a meaningful way, Carol Vance directed and produced a mock trial that was presented to high school students at the Music Hall.
The Junior and Senior Bars continued to work on projects together, and in 1965 they formed the Houston Legal Foundation. In the late sixties the Junior Bar veered from the typical nonpolitical role of a large organization and after much debate passed a resolution simply stating its position on a controversial Supreme Court decision directing teachers and principals to "cross over" to schools in which the majority of students were of a different race.
In the 1970's, HYLA became an independent association and changed its name from the Houston Jr. Bar to the Houston Young Lawyers Association. By the mid 80's the organization had grown to 2,200 members and had repeatedly won awards locally and nationally as an outstanding young lawyers association. The focus in membership was to attract in-house corporate attorneys. When Houston experienced the hurricane forces of Alicia, the young lawyers organized the Disaster Assistance Program to provide legal assistance to people displaced by the hurricane.
In 1990, HYLA elected its first woman president, Melanie Bragg. By 1992, HYLA established its own foundation, the Houston Young Lawyers Foundation, which operates charitable programs and assists with projects that benefit the community. In 1993, HYLA was recognized by the American Bar Association as having the most outstanding overall slate of projects that serve the community and the profession among young lawyer bar associations of its size.
HYLA hired its first executive director in 1995. That same year, the association launched a membership diversity drive to increase the participation of minority members in the organization. As a service to the public, the VoTexas project was launched at North Shore High school to educate students on the process of voting.
In the 1996-97 bar year, HYLA launched several new successful programs: Legal Needs for Abused Women, Know Your Rights Legal Information Program, Radio Legal News Show, and Internet and the Law Seminar. The Aspiring Youth Program, created by HYLA in 1992, took on national recognition through a presentation made at the ABA/YLD Affiliate Outreach conference. The program has grown from two (2) schools in Houston to representation in over a dozen Texas cities and ten other states. HYLA elected its first African-American President in 1997, a year highlighted by the celebration of HYLA’s 60th anniversary.
Since its inception in 1937 with 100 attorneys, HYLA has grown to nearly 1,400 members. Its membership included future mayors, city council members, trial, state and federal judges and distinguished attorneys. The initial few committees have grown to over thirty (30) committees and ninety (90) projects. HYLA is proud to have celebrated more than 75 years of service to the community and the profession.