Learning, serving, leading: The Missouri Bar at 75
In 1880, a call went out via newspaper to lawyers across the Show-Me State: All Missouri attorneys were invited to attend a meeting on r4December 29 in Kansas City. As the day approached, lawyers flocked to the city to connect and discuss the future of the profession.
by Hannah Kiddoo Frevert
In 1880, a call went out via newspaper to lawyers across the Show-Me State: All Missouri attorneys were invited to attend a meeting on December 29 in Kansas City. As the day approached, lawyers flocked to the city to connect and discuss the future of the profession.
This gathering marked the formation of the Missouri Bar Association, and members of the organization continued to meet regularly in the years that followed.
During its 64-year existence, the Missouri Bar Association gained a reputation for innovation and service, and it drew respect from the Supreme Court of Missouri. In 1943-1944, the American Bar Association honored Missouri for the most outstanding accomplishments of any state bar in the United States, and its projects seemed to be the talk of the ABA conference where the honor was bestowed. According to attendees, lawyers from other parts of the U.S. were eager to learn how to emulate Missouri’s successes.
“Everywhere we went, lawyers from all over the country asked us, ‘How do you accomplish so much in Missouri?’” Hon. Forrest M. Hemker of St. Louis told a crowd of the state’s lawyers after the ABA meeting. “They wanted to know about the court plan, the new code of civil procedure, the new corporate code, the Judicial Council, the proposed rule-making power, magistrate courts and the like in the new constitution.”
Still, Hemker, then-Bar president Allen L. Oliver, and many other Missouri lawyers believed things could be even better; they wanted a unified bar, an organized group where all of the state’s lawyers would have an opportunity to convene and contribute to improving the law and profession on behalf of the public. Simply put, there was a belief that lawyers are stronger when working together.
On June 16, 1944, The Missouri Bar was born by order of the Supreme Court of Missouri. From its start, The Missouri Bar has worked to improve the profession, the law, and the administration of justice for all Missourians. Today, 75 years later, The Missouri Bar has progressed to meet modern needs, but its roots remain the same. While it is impossible to summarize each individual action of the unified bar throughout its 75 years, it’s easy to identify the overall outcome of these comprehensive efforts: a strong legal profession, where lawyers are able to even better serve their clients, and an informed public that values both the court system and our rule of law.
The law is always changing, and since its founding, The Missouri Bar has worked tirelessly to help lawyers continue to learn about the practice, with several institutes organized to foster opportunities for education over the years. Key creations include the first Missouri Bar Tax Institute in 1950; the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Conference in 1995; the Solo & Small Firm Conference in 1996; and the Family Law Conference in 2000.
Though many of their formal names have been updated to reflect evolving needs, committees continue to represent the driving forces behind the work and activities of The Missouri Bar. Typically, these groups draft and review legislation, present CLE programs to fellow lawyers, increase general understanding of the law, and develop activities to maintain professionalism and efficiency. Joint committee meetings occur twice each year: once in the spring and once in the fall. Historically, the location and timing of these gatherings have varied, with weather and travel conditions sometimes complicating matters. In 1964, for example, the spring meetings were shifted from February to later in the season to avoid slippery journeys through the ice and snow.
CLE offerings have also been adapted to accommodate lawyers from all walks of life, including those who practice in rural areas, and technology has been key to those changes. The Bar’s first two-hour telephone seminar, a legislative update, took place in 1995 in the basement of the Capitol building. The dawn of the internet age brought even more ways to expand MoBarCLE’s reach. The state Bar’s website, MoBar.org, was established in 1996, making tools and information for lawyers just a mouse click away. The same year, MoBarCLE began offering electronic versions of its publications, and in 1998, online ordering and payment functions, as well as a CLE season pass, were made available. Two years later, The Missouri Bar was honored by the Association for Continuing Legal Education for presenting the fiber optic seminar “Representing Farmers in Hard Financial Times.”
The Annual Meeting remains one of the Bar’s most popular live events, with lawyers gathering from across the state to connect, build their practice skills, hear an address from the Supreme Court of Missouri Chief Justice, and watch the passing of the gavel from one president to the next. Of course, these events also leave time for fun. Decade after decade, lawyers have enjoyed networking at receptions, participating in athletic competitions, and other entertainment-centric happenings. Past photos show groups of lawyers with smiling faces as they play golf, enjoy music, visit historic sites, and more in their post-work hours.
Bar events have also played host to a range of dynamic and famous figures. In 1958, President Harry S Truman, an honorary member of The Missouri Bar, addressed new lawyers during a celebratory luncheon. A few years later, then-U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy presented a keynote address at the 1963 Annual Meeting in Kansas City. And, in 1994, a promising young journalist at KMIZ-TV in Columbia received The Missouri Bar Excellence in Legal Journalism Award. Her name? Savannah Guthrie.
In addition to having the chance to collaborate with like-minded lawyers from across the state, being part of The Missouri Bar means lawyers benefit from a range of free resources, practice management tools, and discounts. These benefits began early, though they weren’t always advertised as such. One example are the refresher law courses and practice cards provided as WWII came to its conclusion and lawyers who served their country began returning home.
A Military Law Committee formed in 1967, shortly after the U.S. entered the Vietnam conflict. One of its goals was to make sure active military lawyers knew their enrollment fees were waived.
The Bar formally introduced a committee to focus on office management concerns in 1991, soliciting advice from lawyers to select pertinent resources. This grew to become a major staple of The Missouri Bar, with lawyers accessing information on everything from choosing a new computer to starting a solo practice. In 2008, the economy was turned upside down in a way that hadn’t been seen since the Great Depression. Many Americans, including lawyers, found themselves in a difficult financial situation. In response, The Missouri Bar created a digital space for lawyers practicing in the changing economy. This resource offered job listings, discounted CLE, risk management information, and other tools to succeed. While the economy has since recovered, a host of savings and discounts are still available for lawyers. These ever-expanding Missouri lawyer benefits include reduced rates on everything from laptops and software to retirement planning and insurance.
Lawyers also have free, 24/7 access to counseling. Recognizing that the stresses of the legal profession can be a heavy weight to bear, the Bar has long emphasized that reaching out for help is a sign of strength and hope, providing programming focused on curbing substance abuse, burnout, depression, and other mental health concerns. In 1980, the Board of Governors created a Missouri Bar Committee on Alcoholism. And since 1996, the Bar has had a full-time licensed professional on staff to lead the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program (MOLAP) and offer confidential counseling services to those in need of this support, adding a part-time clinician to expand services this year.
Understanding that most Missourians keep an eye on media sources, The Missouri Bar has routinely created public service announcements, advertising, and marketing strategies aimed at educating the citizens of Missouri. Advances in technology have greatly shaped these efforts. Early messaging centered on printed materials, with pamphlets explaining basic legal issues spread across the state. This information distribution eventually grew to include radio programming and, in 1963, the Bar was recognized with a George Washington Medal of Honor from the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge for the radio show “It’s The Law in Missouri.” Television also proved to be a helpful way to share legal information. Missouri lawyers and leaders frequently appeared as guests on programs and, in 1979, a “You and The Law” TV series was recorded and distributed to stations throughout the state. The advent of the internet has provided even more avenues to communicate. Today, Missourians can look to MissouriLawyersHelp.org for information about legal topics, law-related events, free legal forms, court resources, and more. It’s also the home of the “Is It Legal To…” podcast, a bi-monthly series where guest lawyers answer questions about common law-related concerns.
While it is not in the purview of the Bar to provide legal advice, staff remain available and eager to help connect Missourians with lawyers who are best suited to address their legal matters. Historically, Missouri lawyers have always been driven to lend a hand to their neighbors in need. Early on, members of The Missouri Bar focused on helping indigent clients, with a Legal Aid Committee in existence from the start. In 1974, The Missouri Bar established its Lawyer Referral Service to assist low-income individuals with legal concerns. To adapt to today’s consumers, The Missouri Bar now hosts both a free LawyerSearch function and a comprehensive list of legal resources at MissouriLawyersHelp.org. In 2017, the Bar partnered with the American Bar Association to create Missouri.FreeLegalAnswers.org. This online platform serves as a digital clinic where citizens can ask basic, civil questions and volunteer Missouri lawyers provide answers. Lawyers also routinely give their time in support of the Bar’s veterans clinics, disaster hotline, and other functions.
Time and time again, lawyers have proven quick to step up in times of crisis. When waters from the Mississippi and Missouri rivers rose in 1993, lawyers rose to help, answering questions about legal rights and spreading the word that they were available to assist in person, on the radio, and on television. This pro bono spirit was on display again in 2001: As the terror attacks unfolded on September 11, many Missouri lawyers were headed to the Annual Meeting in Springfield. Upon arrival, they recruited volunteers for “Operation Standby,” a program to help reservists and National Guard members who were called to active duty. And in 2011, when an F-5 tornado hit Joplin and the surrounding area, lawyers were some of the first on the ground, with The Missouri Bar co-organizing space for legal consultations from volunteer lawyers.
The Bar’s Young Lawyers’ Section (YLS) has been a driving force behind several of these efforts. Since its establishment in 1967, the section has grown to be known as the “service arm” of the Bar. In 1975, the YLS completed a study of Missouri’s statutory restriction on employment for ex-offenders, drafting remedial legislation after reviewing the results. The section’s “Call-A-Lawyer” program received an ABA award in 1993. This joint effort with several regional bar organizations provided free legal advice to some 2,000 Missourians over the course of a week. YLS continues the tradition of making citizenship education a priority, providing pamphlets and digital resources to help others better understand their rights and responsibilities.
Throughout its existence, the Bar has fostered working relationships with state and national education organizations as part of its long-standing commitment to helping educators even better teach students about the courts and legal system. Live seminars and trainings are central to this work, with programming focusing on topics including the Bill of Rights, due process, citizenship, and more. In 1994, the Bar received a national grant allowing for the hiring of a full-time director of law-related education, a position that remains today. In addition to teacher training, the Citizenship Education Department co-hosts a Law Day art and essay contest and conducts We The People competitions, mock trial events for students from across the state. The Bar also received a regional Emmy Award for its 2016 Constitution Day program for high school students aired on HEC-TV.
Each year, members of The Missouri Bar elect a group of their colleagues to serve on the Board of Governors of The Missouri Bar. With the ever-changing landscape of the legal profession, Board members remain central to the Bar’s policy-making decisions. Board openings are heavily advertised to give all lawyers an equal opportunity to represent their region.
To that end, The Missouri Bar is focused on providing leadership training to its members. In 2000, Missouri Bar President Michael Gunn and Board of Governors member Dana Tippin Cutler created the Leadership Academy to recruit, train, and retain Missouri attorneys who have been admitted for 10 years or less for leadership positions in the state bar. The academy seeks diversity in gender, race, area of practice, and region within the state. To date, the academy has graduated more than 150 alumni, with 95 percent of them participating in multiple bar activities, including service on the Board of Governors and YLS Council, task forces and commissions, CLE presentations, and meeting planning committees.
One example of the program’s success was the election of Dana Tippin Cutler as Missouri Bar president in 2016. As the first woman of color to hold the position, Tippin Cutler used her term to promote Courageous Collaboration, a program focused on overcoming implicit bias within the profession. Her efforts in this regard were recognized by the American Bar Association and have impacted lawyers throughout Missouri. However, Tippin Cutler is far from the only individual to make history in a leadership role: In 1990, Doreen Dodson became the first female to serve as Missouri Bar president, and in 2007, Charlie H. Harris Jr. became the first African American to hold the position.
The Missouri Bar’s emphasis on expanding leadership opportunities for all members continued in 2019 with the first-ever Missouri Bar Leadership Institute. This training program is aimed at helping lawyers even better lead their local and regional bar associations.
It should come as no surprise that Missouri lawyers take an interest in the legislative process, and the Bar has a storied history of legislative action and advocacy. In 1955, the Bar helped shape the Missouri Probate Code, and, just short of a decade later in 1964, formed a special study committee on judicial revision to help create a constitutional amendment that would reform and modernize the state’s courts. In 1966, the Bar hired its first full-time director of activities to assist with legislative work. The 1970s brought additional legislative success as voters approved the amended Article V submitted by the legislature, and the unified court system was passed by voters in 1976 following review by the Board of Governors. The Missouri Bar also did the heavy lifting in both major overhauls of Missouri’s Criminal Code, in 1977 and again in 2014.
Each year, representatives from The Missouri Bar visit the State Capitol building to talk with legislators about the issues affecting the justice system and the citizens of Missouri. And, of course, Missouri lawyers are encouraged to comment on pending legislation relating to the administration of justice.
With an emphasis on relevance, The Missouri Bar has historically published a wide variety of materials to help lawyers and the general public stay informed about the law and the justice system. The Journal of The Missouri Bar serves as the official publication of The Missouri Bar and has been in print since the Bar’s unification. Published six times annually, it includes substantive articles on timely legal issues as well as regular columns, practice management articles, and features covering cutting-edge topics that are trending in the legal profession. Notices of Supreme Court rule changes, upcoming meetings, and CLE programs may also be found in each issue.Lawyers also have the option to receive a weekly e-newsletter, ESQ. Each edition contains summaries of appellate cases handed down during the past week by Missouri courts, as well as links to legal news and resources. Various other publications, including the Missouri Bar Bulletin and Precedent, have launched and seen their sunset in the last 75 years; they now serve as a time capsule for Bar history, and some of these documents are archived and available to view online. In recent years, social media has risen from their ashes, and The Missouri Bar’s communication reach now expands though digital platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
A Proud Past, a Bright Future
As The Missouri Bar faces the future, its leaders and members are working to continue its mission in modern ways. Bar leadership has laid out a strategic plan for optimal growth when it comes to fulfilling the organizations core goals, and Board members are keeping a watchful eye on issues just over the horizon.
In the last decade, the Bar has become more diverse, reflecting the changing landscape of both the profession and Missouri. This change emphasizes the continued need for a unified Bar, where all voices are heard and lawyers remain a united force in seeking improvement of the justice system for all Missourians.
1 Hannah Kiddoo Frevert is assistant editor of the Journal of The Missouri Bar.