From the President: McCune Brings Energy, Element of ‘Danger’ to DBA
by Sara Crocker
The Denver Bar Association’s new president has an affinity for motorcycles, backcountry skiing, and sailing. He admits his motto when considering a new outdoor adventure is, “It can’t be that hard.”
He’s earned the alias “Dangerous Dan” not because of these spirited adventures, but because of the trouble it’s led to for his friends. On a rafting trip with McCune, Dave Gerbus’ boat flipped, sending him into the rapids. Marshall Ross suffered an expanded lung while scuba diving with him. Dean McConnell fell partly into a lake when snowshoeing with McCune after an avalanche displaced a shelf of snow. John Palmeri is happy to report he’s made it on several adventures with McCune unscathed. But they all insist, it’s not McCune’s fault—it’s just that his adventures sometimes stretch the average attorney past his normal comfort level.
“[He didn’t get his nickname] because he’s reckless and will get you into untoward situations; he’s just such an adventurous soul, he’s into adventurous things,” McConnell said. “Dan is always the most prepared—Dan never gets hurt.”
It is that commitment to preparation, and the energy and enthusiasm to try new things, that colleagues and friends say will serve McCune as he starts his one-year term as the Denver Bar Association president this month.
Goals for the DBA
In the next year the former JAG turned civil litigator plans to focus on members and their needs—particularly those of young lawyers.
“I would like to have the membership think of this bar association as an integral part of their practice,” he said. “We do a lot of things for [members] already but there’s room for improvement and maybe [to] think outside the box a little bit.”
This will include adding a members’ lounge at the DBA offices and offering a weekly yoga night—something McCune experienced and enjoyed while at a recent American Bar Association conference (see more details on page 15).
Health is also an important focus for McCune. He was shocked when he heard at a conference that the average life expectancy of a trial lawyer was 53. McCune, 54, has always made time for fitness. He say he’s never met an outdoor activity he didn’t like and his current passions include mountain biking, road cycling, and fly fishing.
“Of all the things you invest time in, investing in yourself ought to be the most important,” he said. “You only have one body.”
Setting Roots in Colorado
McCune was born in Michigan but moved regularly because his father was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and then worked for the Bureau of Prisons.
“I grew up in many places,” he said. “By the time I was 13, we moved 13 times.”
He attended college and law school in Kansas.
“I always had an interest in criminal justice, but I didn’t want to go into the Bureau of Prisons and follow in my dad’s footsteps and always be Gary’s son,” he said. “I wanted to find my own way and law was always interesting to me.”
He received an Army ROTC scholarship and entered the Judge Advocate General’s Corps as a prosecutor after passing the bar. He was assigned to Fort Carson, just outside Colorado Springs. It was one of the largest JAG offices in the country.
“They tried, at that time in the United States, the most general court martials of any installation,” McCune said.
Because of the volume of cases the office handled, new attorneys were thrown right into the mix.
“You go from being a newbie to being a seasoned attorney in a short time,” he said. “The difference between new counsel and seasoned was a very short trip, so that was a great experience.”
Gerbus, who was a defense counsel while in JAG with McCune and now is assistant general counsel at United Launch Alliance, said their Fort Carson office was much like “A Few Good Men,” where colleagues were very competitive in the courtroom, but maintained close friendships outside.
McCune was stationed there for four years and spent his fifth and last year in the JAG Corps in Anniston, Ala., where he taught law. He said he enjoyed lecturing, but found it generally to be a much slower pace than his time as a prosecutor.
When he left the JAG Corps, he knew he wanted to return to Colorado and move to a civil litigation practice. He was offered a job with Cooper and Kelly, which is the firm he remains at today, albeit now under the name Kennedy Childs. McCune’s practice focuses on complex civil litigation, professional malpractice claims, and contentious employment disputes.
There were some noticeable differences between being a JAG and working in private practice: He had to learn about billable hours and cases went on longer.
“The other big challenge for me was going from being chief trial counsel and having all that responsibility to becoming a junior attorney again—that was a bit difficult,” he said.
McCune enjoys handling legal malpractice claims because he gets the opportunity to learn about various practice areas of the law.
“I find legal malpractice defense litigation to be the very complicated and mentally challenging,” McCune said. “It’s like playing chess on a three-dimensional board, because of the underlying core issues.”
He had the opportunity to handle a case for one of the nation’s bestselling authors after the former executive director of a foundation the author launched filed a wrongful termination claim. The board of directors was a Hollywood who’s who and made front page news nationally. McCune handled the case with Palmeri.
“He’s a dogged attorney,” Palmeri said of McCune. “He just did a great job in putting together a discovery plan and executing it.”
Though McCune could not disclose the details of the resolution, he said the issue was resolved to the author’s satisfaction.
Something Finally Clicked
Although McCune was always the one organizing a dinner party, hiking trip, or camping excursion on the weekend with friends, when it came to involvement in professional organizations, he was a bit of a late bloomer.
“In high school, college, and law school, I didn’t really join anything. … It wasn’t until I entered the JAG Corps that something finally clicked,” he said.
That carried over after he left the JAG Corps, starting with involvement with the the Colorado Defense Lawyers Association, DRI, and the Federation of Defense and Corporate Council. He held board positions, including president of CDLA. As those positions wound down, he was looking for another volunteer opportunity. Then-colleague Mark A. Fogg, who is the immediate past Colorado Bar Association president and general counsel of COPIC, recommended McCune to participate in the formation of the CBA’s Economic Task Force, which offered assistance to attorneys impacted by the Great Recession. McCune went on to chair that task force.
“It was very humbling and inspiring to see the willingness of people to help their fellow attorneys,” he said.
McCune most recently chaired the Joint Judicial Task Force, which aims to protect and promote Colorado’s fair and impartial courts.
He says the more time he spent volunteering with professional organizations, the more he found personal value in being a member. It also impacts his work.
“This is the part that energizes me,” he said.
Ross, who served in the JAG Corps with McCune and is now a professional malpractice attorney with Wharton Aldhizer & Weaver PLC in Harrisonburg, Va., said the DBA will benefit from McCune’s experience and his energy.
“He’s just going to be perfect for the job,” Ross said. “He’s going to be thinking about ways to improve the bar and get people together.”
Life Feels Right at the Helm of a Sailboat
McCune lives in Golden with his partner, Lorraine DAversa. He has two daughters, Mollie, 18, and Katie, 25. Mollie will attend the University of Colorado–Boulder in the fall; Katie just finished her master’s at Brown University and recently moved to Boston.
McCune’s longtime passion is sailing—it means so much to him it almost kept him from moving to a landlocked state after he left the JAG Corps. It started in law school when he bought a boat that “leaked like a sieve.” He fixed it up and just took out, even though he wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing once he got out on the water. He quickly learned.
Living in Colorado has led him to explore other water sports, such as kayaking, and it means that he plans trips to new places to sail, often with longtime friend Ross.
“Life feels right when you’re at the helm of a sailboat,” McCune said. “It’s such a core, balancing feeling.”
Competition and Compartmentalization
McCune has been known to be a little competitive. DAversa says they both push each other to increase their level of fitness.
“He and I are both fairly competitive, so when we head out for a hike, we have to remind each other at the start that it’s not a race,” she said.
Fogg agreed, saying that when they fish together McCune is always counting his fish, as well as what his buddies are catching.
“The joke between us is I’ll rib him about being competitive and he says, ‘I only know one other person who’s more competitive than me and he’s not admitting it,’” Fogg said.
When asked how he balances family, work, an active career, countless hobbies, and time with the DBA, McCune says he’s always been good at compartmentalizing.
“When you go home, you need to go home,” he said. “It’s constructive if you’re working to solve a problem. It’s destructive if you’re just worrying about a problem that’s going to be there tomorrow.”
In addition to his athletic interests, McCune is a Mason and a Shriner, a motorcyclist, and plays the bagpipe and guitar.
“Dan’s a very hard worker, but as hard as he works he plays just as hard,” says longtime friend and colleague McConnell. “He goes 100 miles per hour all the time.”
McCune admits he has too many hobbies, but he says he just wants to experience all that he can.
“We only come around once and the clock ticks very quickly and I don’t want to ever be sitting around at the end of that journey saying, ‘I wish I had,’” he said. “I’d rather be sitting there saying, ‘Glad I did,’”
Sara Crocker is communications specialist for the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations and editor of The Docket. She may be reached at email@example.com.