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Something for you and your practice

March 2021 President's Message
March 2021

Message from Missouri Bar President John Gunn

As we near the one-year anniversary of adapting our lives and practices to a global pandemic, I wanted to talk to you about recent decisions your Board of Governors have made to improve the profession for you and the clients you serve.

Lingering pandemic impacts to your practice

The Missouri Bar’s COVID-19 Response Task Force has been hard at work for almost a year now. The task force’s most recent recommendations to the Supreme Court and bar leadership focus on remote proceedings.

In the task force’s report to the board on March 4, retired Judges Lisa Van Amburg and James Welsh (co-chairs of the task force) reported that it recommends delayed implementation of the current April 1 deadline for WebEx to be the exclusive platform for all remote court proceedings. In March 2020, the Missouri Court Automation Committee approved the temporary use of Zoom for court proceedings. In January 2021, the MCA Committee set April 1, 2021, as the date on which the temporary authorization to use Zoom would end. The co-chairs believed many lawyers and self-represented litigants remain unaware of the deadline and would be surprised by the change. Judge Welsh indicated it could diminish access to justice for litigants. The task force recommended that the temporary authorization of Zoom remain in effect until the Court removes its current emergency orders.

The task force also recommended that the Supreme Court encourage circuits continued use of remote proceedings, even after the pandemic has ended, for purposes such as non-evidentiary hearings, pretrial discovery, or alternative dispute resolution. To support these efforts, the board has established a grant program, funded by a portion of pro hac vice fees received, for COVID-19 relief-related projects for the courts and nonprofits which provide legal services.

Talk turns to action with new diversity and inclusion programs

The Missouri Bar’s strategic direction has a specific goal to ensure that Missouri lawyers reflect the diverse constituencies of our state and that all members view the bar as an inclusive organization where they belong. Yet, lawyers of color are more likely to quit practicing law, especially if they are also women.

In a 2020 review of the bar’s activities concentrated on efforts to increase the retention, promotion, and advancement of lawyers of color, we found we should be doing more. At the same time, the entire country was experiencing a heightened awareness regarding racial and social injustices. That’s when 2019-20 Missouri Bar President Tom Bender created the Special Committee on Lawyers of Color to propose tangible solutions in this area. 

This dynamic group, chaired by Pamela Meanes and Asst. Dean Bob Bailey, researched national best practices in the legal profession, with a proven record of success, and recommended the following initiatives - which the board approved at its March 4 meeting - to increase retention, advancement, and promotion of lawyers of color:

  1. Create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Pledge Program for law firms and legal employers 
  2. Establish Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awards for individuals and large, legal employers, and, once established, expand to mid-sized, and solo and small firms 
  3. Create a Statewide Judicial Clerkship Program, in coordination with existing clerkship programs, for law students and lawyers who are in their first four years of practice 
  4. Establish the Midwest Bar Diversity Collaborative to share diversity efforts, successes, and challenges in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in their respective bar associations 
  5. Develop and implement The Missouri Bar Life Path to Success Program to increase the pipeline of potential lawyers of color in the state as well as encourage representations of lawyers of color to communities throughout the state 
  6. Create The Missouri Bar Law Student Mentorship Pilot Program, which will pair law students of color with Missouri lawyers for the purpose of providing meaningful one-on-one mentoring to maximize students’ potential

I am inspired by the passion these special committee members brought to their charge, and we will begin implementing these programs in short order, laying a deeper foundation for diversity and inclusion efforts in our bar. I look forward to the launch of these programs and further efforts to positively impact diversity, equity, and inclusion in the profession.

Your well-being matters

Members of The Missouri Bar’s newly created Lawyers Living Well Special Committee met for the first time late last month. This caring group of volunteer lawyers is divided into three working groups focused on education, policy, and stigma surrounding lawyer wellness. These working groups will continue to meet monthly to discuss ways to best address mental health, substance use, depression, burnout, and other common concerns that Missouri lawyers face.

Research consistently shows that lawyers are more prone to mental health and substance use disorders than other professionals, and Missouri lawyers are no exception. The special committee noted these matters can develop as early as law school and follow lawyers throughout their careers.

If you have ideas to share with the Lawyers Living Well Special Committee, please contact Athena Dickson, of Kansas City, who chairs the group, or Whittney Dunn, of St. Louis, and Erica Mynarich, of Springfield, who are serving as co-chairs. 

Annual Meeting educational programs remain virtual for 2021

In 2020, due to the pandemic, we took the Annual Meeting online, which resulted in nearly three times as many lawyers participating compared to attendance over the past six years. The Annual Meeting provides valuable networking and educational opportunities for all Missouri lawyers who wish to attend. However, the likelihood of ongoing restrictions related to large gatherings, including social distancing, led the board to decide this month to continue the virtual format for this year’s Annual Meeting educational programming. A conference of this size (600-800 attendees) requires months of groundwork, and our Annual Meeting planning is already well underway. Making a decision now also helps mitigate our financial risks.

The bar will continue to support the annual meeting of the Judicial Conference, which usually takes place the same week of the Annual Meeting. We will also continue to monitor public health guidelines, vaccine distribution rates, and COVID-19 cases and variants, to determine when the board may safely resume in-person meetings in Jefferson City.

As always, contact me with your concerns, ideas, or just to chat.

Please take care of yourselves and each other,

John Gunn

2020-21 Missouri Bar President