Q&A with 2022-23 WSBA President Daniel D. Clark

Photo by Katina Ewing of Katina Arnott Photography

In this issue, we introduce you to 2022-23 WSBA President Dan Clark. He was elected to the Board of Governors in July 2017, and ran for two subsequent full terms in 2018 and 2021. During that time, he served as the organization’s only two-term treasurer, oversaw consistent increases to the WSBA unrestricted general fund, and was elected president-elect in May 2021. He was sworn in as WSBA president on Sept. 22. 

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Q. Tell us a bit about who you are, your background and law practice, as well as where you practice.

A. I’m a 47-year-old full-time government attorney who has worked for Yakima County for 20 years, since September 2002. I am currently employed as a senior deputy prosecuting attorney with the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. 

I was born and raised in Yakima, by my grandparents. I earned my B.A. from Central Washington University and my J.D., cum laude, from Gonzaga University School of Law. I also currently serve as an APR 6 law clerk mentor. 

In addition, I believe I am the first WSBA president with a major stuttering disability. I have suffered from this speech disability since I was around 4 years old. I learned over time that it’s a challenge I have to deal with on a daily basis and that I can’t let it define me or who I am or what I want to accomplish in my life. For more on my background, see my first President’s Corner column on page 10.

Q. What motivated you to run for a district seat on the Board of Governors, to run for WSBA treasurer, and then to run for WSBA president?

A. In 2016, when the Board contemplated raising license fees, I attended a Yakima County Bar Association town hall that former District 4 Governor Bill Pickett put on to discuss the issue. Overwhelmingly, members in Yakima didn’t want their license fees raised. It was then that I first studied the WSBA’s budget, and I found what I thought were areas that could be streamlined and made more efficient. 

When Bill Pickett resigned as District 4 Governor to become WSBA president-elect during the summer of 2017, I decided to apply for his position. I wanted to bring my skills as a government attorney, my financial expertise, as well as the perspective of District 4 members to the Board and to give those members a voice.

I was truly amazed and honored to be selected by the Board from among six other highly qualified candidates on July 27, 2017. WSBA members, and specifically the members of District 4, are what have kept me motivated to successfully serve five-plus years as a governor. 

Around Christmas 2020, I almost died of COVID-19. I was hospitalized for two weeks, fighting for my life. I came as close as you can to being put on a ventilator without being put on one, and medical staff described my recovery as a miracle. Wanting to achieve my dream of serving as the first WSBA president with a major speech disability was a true motivation for me to fight to breathe and stay alive at the time. That terrible, transformative experience also taught me that life is precious and unpredictable, and you really can’t know for certain what tomorrow may bring, so I decided to run for WSBA president in May 2021. 

One final motivation: I used to walk past the wall of photographs of WSBA presidents at the WSBA offices and think that with my disability, it was an unobtainable dream for my photo to ever hang on that wall. The late Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst encouraged me to not let my stuttering disability limit me. I give her and several others on the Board and at the WSBA credit for inspiring me to run for WSBA president. 

Q. What issue or issues do you believe are most important to WSBA members right now? How do you plan to address their concerns?

A. Historically, WSBA members’ license fees have been a consistent source of sensitivity and controversy. I believe that WSBA members are wary of any increases to their license fees. I was very proud that the Board of Governors in the fall of 2020 pledged not to increase WSBA member license fees through 2026. I’ve worked hard to try to honor that pledge while a governor.

I addressed the concern about license fee increases by working hard for two years as WSBA treasurer to help end each fiscal year with significant increases to the WSBA general fund, a result that is key to avoiding the need for increasing license fees. Going forward, this will also allow the organization to have some flexibility in its decision on what to do with the expiring office building lease at the end of 2026. I personally believe that the WSBA would be best served by greatly downsizing its current office space and looking to establish small regional offices throughout the state, rather than maintaining one large office in downtown Seattle. 

Q. What issue or issues do you believe are most important to the public right now? 

A. The shortage of attorneys, the lack of meaningful access to justice, and the erosion of public trust and confidence in our legal system are some of the most important issues of concern to the public. 

I believe that, at least in Central and Eastern Washington, lack of access to justice (unmet civil legal needs, exacerbated by “legal deserts” in parts of the state) is the biggest problem experienced by the public. In several rural areas of the state there is a very limited number of attorneys, inadequate to serve the public. As more WSBA members retire, it is of critical importance for us to look at ways to attract new and young attorneys to rural parts of our state to replace them. I’m very proud that the Board has formed the Small Town and Rural (STAR) committee, which is looking at various ways to improve this situation. 

As addressed more fully in my President’s Corner column, one potential way to improve this situation would be to expand the APR 6 program, which would allow more people to enter the legal profession as attorneys at a much lower cost to them.

Q. What do you believe the WSBA is doing well?

A. The WSBA has a very strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within our legal profession and a strong commitment to increasing access to justice. The Legal Lunchbox™ series of free monthly CLEs is also a prime example of something the WSBA does well and the kind of thing it should be doing for its members. Finally, the WSBA has a strong commitment to fair treatment of its employees, which includes a robust compensation and benefit package and providing a collaborative work environment. 

Q. In which areas do you think the WSBA needs to improve?

A. There are three areas in which I think the WSBA can and should improve. 

First, the WSBA could greatly improve by conducting a cost-benefit analysis of its programs and services, with a focus on the return on investment from its non-mandatory functions. The organization is good at adding new programs, services, and functions; it is not as good at evaluating them to see if its financial resources are being spent as efficiently and productively as possible. If the WSBA does not conduct such a cost-benefit analysis of its current programs and services, license fees may have to be raised significantly to continue funding new and innovative ideas and programs to serve members and the public. 

Second, the WSBA could improve its ability to pivot and make changes at a much faster pace. The size of the organization makes this somewhat difficult, but I think that we can do better. 

Finally, I’d like to see the WSBA enhance and enrich the experience for members who volunteer on various committees, councils, work groups, task forces, and sections; they truly are the lifeblood of the organization. 

Q. If you weren’t a lawyer, what career path would you choose? 

A. I would have tried to become a dentist, specifically an orthodontist. 

Q. What do you do in your leisure time?

A. In the limited free time that I do have, I really enjoy music. I have friends who play in various local cover bands and original bands—mostly rock and roll music—and I enjoy watching them when they play live. 

I’m also an avid Gonzaga Bulldogs basketball fan and have been since the fall of 1997. Each year I hope that this will be the year they finally win the NCAA Championship in men’s college basketball! I’m a sports fan in general though (including the Seahawks), and someday I hope we’ll have our Seattle Supersonics back!

Finally, I’ve really tried to have more of a work/WSBA volunteer/life balance in the last year and a half and to focus on diet and exercise. My COVID-19 hospital experience taught me the importance of focusing on my health and wellness, so I’ve tried to make that more of an emphasis in my life moving forward as well as living more for today than for tomorrow.

Q. Who is your role model, in your legal career or otherwise? 

A. Gonzaga School of Law Professor Milt Rowland and the late Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst have both been invaluable friends and mentors for me in my life. 

Q. Do you have any closing remarks?

A. I’d like to thank all of the WSBA governors and officers with whom I’ve had the honor of serving since July 27, 2017. I have the utmost respect for each of you and the service you have given our bar association!

I’d like to see Board service become more enjoyable, and I hope to build and improve trust and relationships on the Board. Equally as important, I’d like to see Board members build closer and more collaborative relationships with WSBA staff and sections, county bar associations, and affinity and minority bar associations. Ultimately, the WSBA is the association for every Washington legal professional, and I would like to see more of us become involved in it!