Executive Summary: What is important to you?
Vol. 76, No. 1 / January - February 2020
Theresa Levings, a former president of The Missouri Bar, is a member of the Kansas City law firm of Badger & Levings, LC.
As the new president of the Missouri Bar Foundation,I already am enjoying a major perk of the job: use of my 20-year-old photo for this column. For a woman of a certain age, it is hard to top that.
But despite my youthful appearance, I have gained some wisdom with the years, and here is one of those gems: Things may be good, but they can be better. And we are the people to help make that happen.
“We” are Missouri’s lawyers and judges, to whom much has been given. That isn’t to say that our own hard work hasn’t factored into our successes, but each of us has received some grace along the way — maybe from a relative, a friend, a teacher, a mere acquaintance, or even a stranger. As a group, lawyers and judges are well-known as generous with their time and money for many worthy and universal causes. It is less likely for the general population to donate money to promote ideals near and dear to our profession, such as the rule of law, the improvement of and access to justice, and the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan for merit selection of judges. These are among the causes supported by the Foundation.
The Missouri Bar Foundation needs our lawyers and judges to step up so that it can continue to fund programs vital to justice and our profession. And if we won’t support these needs, why would anyone else?
Because of great generosity in the past, the Foundation oversees a corpus that generates income used to make annual grants. For the last three years the Foundation has awarded the following amounts:
2017 – $64,000.00
2018 – $59,692.00
2019 – $81,110.39
The need is always much greater than the available funds.
What more could we be doing to support justice and the profession? We could raise more money, grown our corpus, and then have more money to give away. Here are some possibilities for use of more funds:
Expanded civics education — Our public schools have little money to devote to new materials or continuing education and training of teachers. Every summer The Missouri Bar presents a multi-day conference on the U.S. Constitution and rule of law for a limited number of high school teachers. The topics and speakers are current and topflight. But the number of teachers who can attend is limited by the money available to fund this event. This is a program the Foundation has supported consistently and would love to fund more fully to reach and teach more teachers and students. The need for civics education is dire.
Scholarships — The debt students face to attend law school typically exceeds $125,000. For many, they have undergraduate debt as well. The long-term impact of this kind of debt on the profession and on access to justice is yet unknown, but to some degree predictable: even higher stress on young and aging lawyers, less time and inclination toward pro bono service, and a profession beyond reach to new faces and voices already underrepresented, including those who are the first in their family to hold a college degree. Is the cost of education transforming our profession in unhealthy ways? And are we willing to accept that?
Serving those in greater need — One recent program funded expanded legal services to our military veterans. Sadly, we have many in this segment who cannot afford the help they need to secure the basics of life. We are drawn to serve those who have served all of us, but we must not stop there. The Foundation has supported legal services for domestic abuse victims, children in poverty, and others in great need. But the need exceeds the dollars available.
If you have donated to The Missouri Bar Foundation, we have tried to stretch your dollars as far as possible. If you are not a Foundation donor, what programs and services would you support with your dollars?
The Foundation wants to grow and do even more good. Please tell me what it will take to get you on board. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can make a gift to The Missouri Bar Foundation by visiting mobarfoundation.org or by sending a check to the Foundation at P.O. Box 119, Jefferson City, MO 65102. Either way, I hope to hear from you.