OBF questions lead to presidency

Phil Frazier didn’t know anything about the Oklahoma Bar Foundation in 1999.
Not only that, he didn’t know the foundation existed or that he already was a member, as are all Oklahoma lawyers.
He first learned about it while playing golf with Tony Scott while attending an Oklahoma Bar Association meeting at Shangri La.
“I asked Scott who he practiced law with,” Frazier said. “He replied in a very scornful manner that he was the executive director of The Oklahoma Bar Foundation.”
Curious, the Tulsa attorney did some research and learned the foundation was formed in 1946 as the charitable arm of the OBA.
He found that among its responsibilities was to award money to qualified groups and more than $9 million has been awarded during the past 64 years.
Frazier was nominated by the association’s board of governors to fill a vacancy on the foundation board in 2000 and now has served as a trustee for 10 years.
A decade later Frazier is the foundation president and officially begins his term on Jan. 23.
It has been a time of service and Frazier proudly points to the foundation’s work, notably helping fund a variety of groups in the state that assist residents as they encounter a variety of legal problems. Some groups focus on education programs aimed at helping people stay out of a legal mess.
Getting beyond his curiosity about the foundation, Frazier said the other thing that attracted him was the dedication of lawyers serving on the board and in the leadership capacity.
Frazier’s interest grew when he served on the Grants and Awards Committee.
That was when he saw the depth of the work.
The committee reviewed applications that had been submitted for funding, he said.
Initially, the committee met, reviewed applications and made decisions, a process that would take between four and six hours.
But the committee also became concerned that perhaps awards were being made based on those who could write the best application, Frazier said. That’s when it was decided to have applicants appear before the committee to personally state their need for the money and give the committee an opportunity to ask additional questions.
Even before the meeting the grants and awards committee members reviewed the applications, a process that might take two days.
Nancy Norsworthy, OBF executive director, spends even more time reviewing applications making certain they fall within the guidelines before being forwarded to the committee.
One of his goals as president is to acquaint the lawyers of Oklahoma with the Foundation and encourage them to become an active participant as a Fellow Member.
That membership starts when $1,000 is pledged, payable in a variety of ways including $100 annually for 10 years. Then there is the Benefactor Fellow at $3,000, payable at $300 annually for a decade.
Tulsa Attorney William (Bill) LaSorsa, while he was president, introduced the Benefactor Fellow Member and the $3,000 contribution level.
The big break for the foundation came in 2004 under the LaSorsa’s leadership, who coupled with Mark Curnutte of Vinita, led the charge to make the IOLTA (Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts) program funding mandatory to all attorneys, Frazier said. Previously, it had been a voluntary program.
IOLTA is made up of money from lawyer trust accounts where client funds are too small to draw more than a few dollars interest over a long period of time. When these funds are combined, the larger amount of money earns interest designated for foundation projects.
Money received from Fellows is invested along with IOLTA money, and Cy Pres designation funds. The interest on the invested money is used to fund entities as suggested by the Grants and Awards Committee and approved by the Board of Trustees.
Frazier follows attorneys who have led the foundation through both difficult and exciting times and set the stage for current achievements.
Hal Ellis from Stillwater, headed the Oklahoma Bar Foundation during the much needed building remodeling project.
Renee DeMoss from Tulsa, during her presidency two years ago, faced the challenge of addressing the changes in federal law as they applied to benevolent organizations such as the OBF, he said.
DeMoss introduced workshops that would further promote the foundation and through the recommendation of a consultant, the board adopted the OBF motto “Lawyers Transforming Lives.”

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