Aaron Ford '01 Returns to Stomping Grounds in Dallas--and Makes a Difference
In his first year of college, Dr. Aaron D. Ford ‘01 was unsure of what career path he wanted to pursue. He took an interest test, which told him education and law best fit his strengths. Not satisfied and wanting more definitive guidance than that either-or, he took the test again, getting the same result. So he did what any eager student would do – he decided to pursue both.
Five degrees, multiple teaching stints, and a host of peer recognition later, Aaron is in his third year as a complex commercial litigator for Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Dallas.
After graduating from the Moritz College of Law in 2001, Aaron served in two judicial clerkships before settling into a job in 2003, working as an education lawyer. A year later, a friend approached him with the Weil position, which gave him an opportunity to return to litigation and to do so at a national firm. “I jumped at the chance,” he said.
Aaron was part of Weil’s pro bono team that notched a significant constitutional victory this year. The Dallas City Council attempted to remove a municipal judge who was simultaneously running for a county-wide judiciary position. The Weil team successfully argued the move was a violation of the judge’s First Amendment right to run for office. The policy meant that Dallas’ municipal court judges, mostly minorities, were being forced to choose between their current position and their right to run for higher office, which in Texas is significant, since all judicial positions above the municipal level are elected, not appointed. The team won a temporary restraining order, and subsequently won a preliminary injunction, stopping the Council’s action.
Aaron said the job entails an assortment of duties, almost like being a general practice attorney, a variety he says he enjoys. His specializations are in complex commercial litigation and labor and employment matters, a bit of a departure for a man who started his professional career in education.
“There was a little trepidation about the change,” Aaron said. “Education law was right up my alley, but the opportunity to do litigation was one I thought I’d enjoy.” As an added bonus, Weil’s litigation department head told him that former teachers make good trial lawyers. “You have to educate the jury,” he says.
Of Aaron’s five degrees, four are in education, including his master’s degree from The George Washington University, and both his master’s and doctoral degrees from The Ohio State University.
Aaron said that he pursued education first because he thought there would always be time to return to law school. After getting an undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University and his master’s at GWU, he came to OSU because it presented an opportunity to undertake a joint program, allowing him to get his law degree as well as a master’s and doctorate in educational administration, tasks he accomplished in 2001, 1998 and 2001 respectively. Aaron especially acknowledges his Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Philip T.K. Daniel in OSU’s School of Education, as the one who ultimately convinced him that he could, in fact, successfully pursue both degrees simultaneously.
All the while, he taught, fulfilling his first goal to teach, working as a teacher at middle and high schools in Austin, suburban Washington D.C. and Columbus.
|Aaron and Berna's sons Aaron II, Alexander and Avery|
But to meet Aaron is to meet a man with dedication not only to his profession, but also to family and community. His wife, Berna Rhodes-Ford, also is a successful lawyer, and the two, while raising three sons – Avery, Aaron II and Alexander – juggled schedules that at times kept the family hundreds of miles apart for extended periods of time. Aaron recalls that, during one stint, he and his wife held seven jobs – at one time – between the two of them in order to make ends meet and to provide for their family while Aaron pursued his educational endeavors. “Having faced 11 years of marriage together, all the while raising our children, successfully pursuing our educational and professional interests, and loving and supporting one another, I have no doubt that Berna and I, together, can achieve any goals that we set for ourselves and our family.” Indeed, Berna is making history in Dallas; she is currently president-elect of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and will be its president in 2008, the first African-American to hold that position in the history of the organization.
As a Dallas native, Aaron’s commitment to the community runs deep.
“I’m from inner-city Dallas,” he says. “I grew up in some tough areas, but the community gave back to me. It is imperative for me to do things to give back. It is a moral obligation.”
Aaron is president-elect of the J.L. Turner Legal Association, the African American Bar Association in Dallas, and will be president in 2008. “Recognition is great when you get it from outside of the house, but to get it from inside is doubly good,” he says, noting that it is an honor to be supported by fellow attorneys and by fellow African American attorneys. Among his initiatives there, he plans to work to improve the recruitment, retention, and promotion of minority attorneys in the Dallas area, both in law firms and in corporate positions.
He also serves in the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP) where he has been involved in pro bono work since his return to Dallas in 2003. He recently spent three months doing legal aid work in North Texas through the Lend-A-Lawyer Program created and funded by Weil Gotshal, enabling him to work with hundreds of underprivileged clients in a variety of cases, including real estate, probate, family law and elderly law. When his three months of full-time legal aid work were up, he continued to help DVAP by serving as a mentor and resource for other attorneys, and helping numerous Hurricane Katrina victims. His efforts won him the Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year Award from the organization.
Aaron has also served on a committee to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, work that won him the Dallas Bar Association’s Outstanding Minority Leader award. He’s also been recognized as a Texas Rising Star and as one of the “Top Lawyers Under 40 in Dallas.” In addition, he was one of 55 “emerging American leaders” in the United States selected to participate in the American Marshall Memorial Fellowship program, through which he traveled to Europe to promote transatlantic cooperation.
“It is a special feeling to be that ‘hometown boy done good,’” Aaron said. “But I didn’t set out to do this. You do what is important to you. Maybe it ends up being important to society, too, and you get recognized for it. Maybe not. But you should do what is important to you.”
Classmates and friends who want to get in touch with Aaron can write
to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.