Denver Bar Association
January 2006
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Credit Union Thrives in 27th Year

by Daynel L. Hooker

Plenty was going on in the nation in 1979. Margaret Thatcher became the first woman to hold the highest office in a European country. The Sony Walkman™ and the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin were introduced. Gloria Gayner gave us "I Will Survive," Rod Stewart asked us, "Do You Think I’m Sexy?" and Michael Jackson encouraged us to "Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough."

Above is an early entry by Willis Carpenter, the credit union’s first member.
At the same time, a little-known group of 10 to 15 members of the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations was embarking on something far more important, at least to the members of the metro Denver legal community. At the time, the members knew their plan to create a legal-based credit union was special. None of the members, however, knew just how special and unique their idea to create the Denver Bar Association Credit Union was.

According to the Credit Union National Association, the Denver Bar Association Credit Union — now the Legal Community Credit Union of Colorado — is the only legal community-based credit union in the country. CUNA is based in Washington, D.C. and Madison, Wis., and is the premier national trade association serving America’s credit unions. This non-profit trade group is governed by volunteer directors who are elected by their credit union peers. More than 95
percent of existing credit unions in the United States are members of CUNA.

What makes LCCUCO unique is that it remains the only legal-based credit union in the United States. Many bar associations around the country offer their members an opportunity to obtain membership in various credit unions, but the LCCUCO is the only one of its kind.

"I remember it as a legal community project of people working together," said Willis Carpenter, president of the DBA when the credit union opened its doors in 1979. "I think it’s a credit to the people who are running the credit union that it has prospered in the face of declining interest rates."

As the first member to open an account, on Aug. 1, 1979, Carpenter played an important role in the credit union getting off the ground. He is quick to point out, however, that he was merely one of the tireless volunteers who followed through with the idea and simply happened to be DBA President when the credit union became a reality.

"I was just a young whippersnapper," Carpenter said, fondly remembering the days when the credit union was started. "At the end of the first few years, we had these social occasions where we’d get together with our spouses and children and take care of the business of the credit union. It was a scratch-it-out existence."

Much of the early credit union business was conducted by volunteers, including the handwritten journal entries of 1979. It would be more than two years before a paid administrator would be hired.

During the planning phase of the credit union, the volunteers received assistance from local attorneys who served as counsel to other credit unions. Membership recruitment was also a group effort. Carpenter remembers banding together to establish what they called a "building rep" system. In the 1970s, most Denver-area law firms were concentrated into 20 or so downtown buildings. The volunteers appointed a building representative to visit the law firms and recruit members. For office space, the board was able to convince the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations to donate space in one of the lower-level offices. Over the year, the members trickled in with member #508 opening an account on Nov. 11, 1979 and #604 on April 21, 1980.

Willis Carpenter

In the mid-1990s, the credit union relocated to its current location at 1900 Grant St. on the 11th floor of the building, with the priceless view of the northwest corner of downtown Denver and the Rocky Mountains.

In 2004, the name was changed from the Denver Bar Association Credit Union to the Legal Community Credit Union of Colorado to spur new membership and help debunk the myth that only attorneys could join. Anyone employed in the legal field — be it a judge, attorney, paralegal, legal secretary, a law student or a clerk at a law office, — is eligible. The families of LCCUCO members are also eligible for membership. Benefits can last a lifetime, as memberships are not terminated if a member relocates, changes jobs, or retires. In 2001, the board extended membership to anyone employed in the 1900 Grant St. building.

This was just one of many changes the LCCUCO experienced in 2001 under the leadership of CEO Jeff Dohm, a veteran commercial banker. Though it’s been four and one-half years since he arrived, Dohm has provided a jump start for this legal community institution.

Since at the helm as CEO, Dohm has seen the credit union open 462 new accounts, at a rate of nine new members per month. In addition, he has been responsible for approving more than $5.5 million in loans and securing more than $2.8 million in assets.

"The success we’ve experienced could not have been possible without the diligent work of our volunteer members — those past and present credit union members who have contributed time and talent as members and officers of the Board of Directors and Supervisory Committee," Dohm said. He added, "Past, present and future success has and always will remain dependent on this volunteer contribution. As the membership grows and prospers, we look for new input. This valued success component draws us back to the days of Mr. Carpenter and the organizers, and all of those who have contributed in these roles since 1979."

At the end of October 2005, the credit union boasted a growing membership with 1,215 current members. In addition to the banking services offered, the credit union sponsors financial planning seminars and real estate loan qualification seminars in the Grant St. building throughout the year. This month, the credit union is scheduled to roll out its color newsletter with information about what Dohm, his assistant Trinae Thomas, and the Board have planned for 2006. As for Carpenter, he’s tickled that he had a hand in creating something so special here in the Denver legal community.

How he feels about his status as member number one: "That’s going with me to my grave," he chuckled.

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