Austin Mourns Passing of Phil Durst

‘Texas Treasure’ Dies at Age 63

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By Beth Taylor on October 4, 2019


Philip Durst, who passed away Tuesday at age 63, was a “brilliant” plaintiff’s-side employment and civil rights attorney; accomplished artist; mentor to young attorneys; devoted husband, father and grandfather; and an award-winning CLE speaker on topics including legal ethics.

“He was a source of encouragement for young lawyers and routinely went out of his way to show his appreciation for others,” says Jerry D. Bullard, with Adams, Lynch & Loftin in Grapevine, who knew Durst for 15 years. In addition, Bullard notes, Durst was “a wonderful artist, a brilliant lawyer and advocate, and an extremely funny guy … a rare combination in the legal profession.”

Most of all, he was “a mensch,” in the words of colleague Martha Owen, his law partner at with Deats Durst & Owen in Austin, who worked with him for 25 years. “Being funny was something that he took seriously, thought about and worked at, and peppered his legal writing with jokes and attempts at humor,” she says. “When I would sometimes question the inclusion of a particular joke, he would always point out that the law clerks reading the briefs needed amusement. His clients loved him and many of them continued to stay in touch long after their cases were concluded.”

As for those CLE presentations, Ryan Clinton with Davis, Gerald & Cremer calls them “must-watch” performances. “People would flow back into the presentation rooms when he began speaking,” Clinton says. “You didn’t want to miss his latest material.” 

Bullard agrees: “His CLE presentations were always memorable because of either the introduction he may have scripted for the person introducing him or the props or themes that he would incorporate into his presentations (such as using cue cards like Bob Dylan did in his “Subterranean Homesick Blues” video).

Durst, who practiced law for more than 30 years, got his start as an assistant Texas attorney general. He formed his first firm partnership, Richards & Durst, with mentor David R. Richards in 1985. A professional-level collage artist, Durst’s colorful work was featured on the program cover of a large appellate CLE conference each year.

“Through his humor and artistic skills, Phil instilled a love for learning and for the practice of law in a way that no one ever has,” says Bullard. “Phil Durst was a true Texas treasure.”

After a cancer diagnosis several years ago, Durst underwent treatment and lived to see the birth of his granddaughter. “He powered through his treatments and was an example to me and many people with the way that he dealt with the disease with cheer and determination,” says Owen.

A memorial service was planned for Oct. 15 at 11 a.m. at Congregation Beth Israel. Colleague Manuel Quinto-Pozos said his family invites those who knew him to consider a donation to the Texas Freedom Network, on whose board he served.

For Ryan, all the accolades boil down to this: “He was a kind and genuine person.  He made everyone feel important.”

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