California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - October 1999
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Johnson confirmed for second term as bar's top prosecutor
Courts serve up mixed rulings on State Bar
Ethics association elects Karpman president
Six new governors join bar board
New group targets health care fraud
Public law section creates online library of public law links
JoAnne Spears honored
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Trials Digest
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Slaying an imaginary dragon
The perfect ending: Results
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From the President - This bar year ends on a high note
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Letters to the Editor
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Public Comment
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Legal Tech - Tips for network administrators
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New Products & Services
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1999 Honors
State Bar cites pro bono service
Young lawyers salute San Diego sole practitioner for outstanding service
State Bar hails 'lawyer's lawyer'
Aided by attorney, parolee cited, hired
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MCLE Self-Study
The Rigors of Fee Agreements
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Ethics Byte - Before you sue for fees, think again
Woman who impersonated husband ordered reinstated
Attorney Discipline


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State Bar hails 'lawyer's lawyer'
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David B. Bryson has spent virtually his entire professional life in the world of legal services for the poor, most of them devoted to housing law. His contributions range from litigation to legislation, from organizing to teaching. So determined is he to handle the nuts and bolts of problems faced by the poor that he has declined several overtures to step up to administrative jobs.

He is a "lawyer's lawyer," says Gideon Anders, Bryson's boss at the National Housing Law Project in Oakland. "I can think of no person in the legal services housing community. . . who has consistently advanced the development and delivery of legal services to the poor as much as David has for the past 29 years."

In recognition of Bryson's distinguished contributions, the State Bar awarded him the Loren Miller Legal Services Award, its highest honor, early this month.

"He is the best of us," wrote David M. Madway, a San Francisco attorney with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton who worked with Bryson for 16 years. "I have never encountered anyone with a greater, or more determined, sense of integrity."

Bryson, 58, began his legal services career after a two-year stint teaching law in Ghana, which followed a clerkship for the late California Chief Justice Roger J. Traynor. He had graduated from Princeton University and Columbia Law School with honors, amassing an impressive resume of academic achievements.

Returning to the United States in 1970, Bryson signed on as a staff attorney at the National Housing Law Project, then affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley.

He departed for four years to serve as a staff lawyer at the Cooperative Legal Services Center, a backup operation for California Rural Legal Assistance, before returning to the housing project for good. He currently serves as NHLP's deputy director.

An admittedly arcane area of poverty law, housing law also is one of its most complex specialties. The federal government provides some kind of housing assistance to millions of Americans who reside in units operated by literally dozens of programs, Anders explains.

Each program has its own sets of laws, regulations, handbooks and policy directives which "rival the tax code," he says.

Bryson's expertise is so well-known that every legal services lawyer who faces a housing issue should first read what Bryson has written in various manuals and then call Bryson for advice, says Florence Wagman Roisman, an associate law professor at Indiana University who has worked with Bryson on housing litigation. He is such a respected expert, she says, that "no responsible housing advocate in the United States would undertake to do anything out of the ordinary without first consulting David Bryson."

David B. BrysonAmong the numerous cases on which Bryson worked, perhaps the most critical victory for public housing residents is Wright v. City of Roanoke, a 1987 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an appellate court and ruled that residents of public housing may file a private action against federal housing authorities to protect their right to not pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent.

Roisman said Bryson's work on the case was essential to winning "a legal victory which has benefitted literally millions of public housing residents."

In addition to litigation, Bryson has drafted hundreds of legislative changes to federal public and subsidized housing programs, works with community organizations as a champion of tenants' rights, and has written widely in the area of housing law, including authoring manuals which serve as the bibles of public housing tenants' rights.

But his admirers cite Bryson's willingness to advise and assist other housing advocates as his greatest contribution. "In that capacity, he has no equal," says San Francisco attorney Richard M. Pearl, who has worked with Bryson since the 1970s.

Anders, too, points to Bryson's availability and willingness to share his knowledge and analytical skills with attorneys from around the country seeking guidance .

That availability is scaled back by a recent diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer, which has forced Bryson to curtail his legal work.

Recognition of his contributions to legal services is long overdue, Anders says, explaining that it is not part of Bryson's self-effacing nature to draw attention to himself. "David is not only an exceptionally bright and dedicated individual who has devoted his life to helping the poor," he said. "He also is an extremely caring and considerate individual who gives of his time freely to assist others in securing social justice for the poor."