Pictured above: McAfee & Taft Dirt Lawyer and 2016 Dirt King Joe Lewallen holds court with a few past Dirt Ball royals, along with their spouses, as they await the coronation of the new Dirt King at Dirt Ball 2017.
Three years after the collapse of Penn Square Bank in 1982, the Oklahoma economy was still in the doldrums — much like the moods of many of the lawyers at McAfee & Taft. Before the oil bust, business transactions of all kinds were booming. After the bust, well, not so much.
If you were a Dirt Lawyer — an affectionate term for the firm’s real estate lawyers — there wasn’t a lot to celebrate that holiday season. Bad had gone to worse. That is, until an associate attorney came up with an idea: Why not throw themselves a holiday party as a way to lift up their spirits? The economy was in the dumps, but that didn’t mean they had to be — at least not for that one night anyway. A small group convened, and the idea for a traditional holiday party evolved into a black tie event as a spoof on their collective misfortunes following the collapse of the local real estate market — kind of like the doomed men and women in their fancy formalwear on the Titanic waiting for the ship to sink. Who says dark humor can’t be fun?
The Dirt Lawyers embraced the idea. Even though they really had nothing to celebrate, the party would provide them with a temporary reprieve from the daily grind of endless foreclosures and bankruptcies. And for just one night, they would live as if there was no tomorrow.
And so, the Dirt Ball was born.
Since then, the party has become one of the most-anticipated attorney events in the firm’s history. And each year, the black tie event culminates in the crowning of a Dirt Ball King or Queen and the passing of the Royal Crown and Trowel.
The first formal event was held at the Oklahoma City Waterford Hotel, which had opened in January of that same year and was already on the verge of foreclosure. The Waterford hosted the party for several years until a dispute arose over “the actual quantity of beverages consumed.” After the hotel changed hands — and with the matter of the bar tab never fully resolved — the Dirt Ball moved around to other venues in the city.
For a while, after the Oklahoma real estate market began to recover, the event went on a hiatus. Then, in 2001, the Dirt Ball was not only revived, but expanded to include other transactional attorneys from the firm whom the real estate lawyers declared “were not fortunate enough to be called ‘Dirt Lawyers.’”
This year, on the firm’s 70th anniversary, the Dirt Ball was held at the 21c Museum Hotel, and Louis Price was crowned 2022 Dirt Ball King.