Meet the president: John Grimm seeks to educate lawyers, public as 2021-22 Missouri Bar president
Vol. 77, No. 5 / Sept. - Oct. 2021
Nicole Roberts is assistant editor and communications coordinator at The Missouri Bar.
Being a lawyer runs in John Grimm’s blood, he says. His father – Stanley – was a well-known lawyer who served as a Missouri Court of Appeals and circuit court judge. Grimm remembers writing out “Vote for Stan Grimm” on notebook paper in his fourth-grade class when his father campaigned to be judge. Grimm also recalls how well-respected his father was and how the community regularly asked him to participate in projects.
“So, I grew up knowing that I wanted to be a lawyer,” Grimm says. “I recognized the good that lawyers and judges can do for their communities.”
As The Missouri Bar’s 2021-22 president, Grimm hopes to carry on that positive community impact by educating lawyers and the public on important topics surrounding the legal profession – specifically Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan, commonly known as The Missouri Plan, and the role of the unified bar.
Grimm was sworn in as president during the first meeting of the 2021-22 Board of Governors at the conclusion of the Annual Meeting on Sept. 24. His presidential term will last one year.
It has been nearly 30 years since a lawyer from Cape Girardeau was president of The Missouri Bar, so Grimm says he is excited and honored to serve in the position.
“I’m looking forward to it and really hope to get out and talk to lawyers about the great work that they’re doing,” he says. “I want to find ways to let them know that The Missouri Bar is here to help them even better serve their clients.”
As a long-time trial lawyer and mediator, Grimm is no stranger to the legal profession – in fact, many of his friends and coworkers joke that he can’t go anywhere without knowing someone.
Grimm graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law in 1987 and served as a law clerk to Hon. Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr. at the U.S. District Court of Missouri-Eastern District for two years. He joined The Limbaugh Firm in 1989 and was later appointed as a circuit judge for the 32nd Judicial Circuit, serving from 1993-2003. Following his time as circuit judge, he rejoined The Limbaugh Firm, where he remains today.
At The Limbaugh Firm, Grimm practices in general civil litigation, focusing on employment, business litigation, insurance coverage, and defense work.
Over the years, Limbaugh, a past president of The Missouri Bar, has watched Grimm excel in his legal career. Limbaugh compliments Grimm’s well-roundedness as a lawyer, adding Grimm has remarkable knowledge of the legal industry and is a skilled writer. He also says Grimm “exudes” personality.
“The law has been substantially in his blood, and he has utilized all of those things very well to be a highly successful lawyer and, I think, a leader of lawyers,” Limbaugh says. “He is about as qualified to be a leader of Missouri lawyers as anyone I have ever known.”
Plans for the presidency
Grimm has several goals he would like to accomplish during his presidential term – all of them with the sole purpose of educating the public and profession.
Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan
One of Grimm’s top goals is to continue to educate the public on the importance of Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan, which defines the selection and retention process of applicable judges in the state. Missouri voters amended the Missouri Constitution in 1940 by adopting the nonpartisan court plan, which was initiated because of the public’s dissatisfaction with the increasing role of politics in judicial selection and decision-making. The plan applies to various judges, including those of the Supreme Court of Missouri; court of appeals; and circuit and associate circuit judges in the City of St. Louis and the counties of Clay, Greene, Jackson, Platte, and St. Louis. The selection and retention process is available to any county whose residents wish to adopt it.
Under the nonpartisan court plan, judges are selected based on merit rather than political affiliation. A nonpartisan judicial commission – consisting of state residents and lawyers – reviews applications, interviews candidates, and lists its top three candidates to fill a vacant judgeship. The governor then appoints one of those candidates to the position. After the judge’s first year on the bench and at the end of each term, he or she must be retained by voters to remain on the bench.
Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan has since been adopted in some form by more than 30 other states.
Having witnessed and experienced his and his father’s judicial selection processes, Grimm says he has a unique perspective of the nonpartisan court plan. He wants to continue educating members of the public and the General Assembly about how it works to produce highly qualified judges in the least political way while giving citizens the final say.
Grimm says he believes the nonpartisan court plan has worked well and emphasizes that political affiliations should play no role in any courtroom.
“I don’t think there is a democratic or republican way of having a preliminary hearing in a criminal case or deciding on a boundary line dispute,” he says. “I’ve known great judges and have great friends on both sides of the political aisle, and I don’t think political parties make good judges or don’t make good judges.”
The unified bar
Shortly after voters approved Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan, the state's legal profession experienced another impactful change. In 1944, the Supreme Court of Missouri created The Missouri Bar as a unified organization – meaning all those enrolled to practice law in Missouri constitute The Missouri Bar.
Grimm notes that bar leaders across the state in the 1930s and 1940s advocated for unification because they believed it would “help lawyers even better serve their clients and collectively achieve their responsibilities to the profession and public.”
“Just as the members of our profession believed 77 years ago, I truly believe, and the Board of Governors believes, that Missouri lawyers are best served through a unified bar,” Grimm says.
The future of the profession
The unified bar and nonpartisan court plan were both created to improve the legal profession and administration of justice in Missouri. To keep up with the profession’s needs, the Supreme Court of Missouri and The Missouri Bar created the Future of the Profession Task Force to recommend changes to better the industry. It’s been five years since that task force completed its report – some recommendations were implemented while others were not.
Grimm says it is time to revisit that report and analyze the needs of the legal profession for the rest of this decade, Grimm says. The Missouri Bar is currently communicating with the Supreme Court of Missouri to revisit the report, he adds.
As part of The Missouri Bar’s goal to improve the legal profession, several past presidents have initiated special committees to address wellness and diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Lawyers Living Well Special Committee and the Special Committee on Lawyers of Color were created within the last 18 months and have made several recommendations. Grimm does not plan to sway from these two important topics, adding he will continue supporting the work of the special committees during his presidential term.
Getting involved in The Missouri Bar
Grimm plans to bring his experience to the table while working with The Missouri Bar to accomplish his goals and improve the legal profession.
He was involved in bar activities at UMKC School of Law and later joined The Missouri Bar’s Young Lawyers’ Section Council and the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. He joked The Missouri Bar Board of Governors is “the student council for lawyers,” so it was only a matter of time before he joined its ranks. Grimm was elected to The Missouri Bar Board of Governors in 2010.
The Board of Governors consists of 45 Missouri lawyers who are elected to represent their districts. Those interested in joining the board must complete nominating petitions. Then Missouri lawyers vote in the Board of Governors election using an electronic ballot emailed from the Office of State Courts Administrator.
Grimm says he is excited to step into the role of Missouri Bar president, replacing 2020-21 President John Gunn. He adds he is planning to do some in-person activities during his term.
“I look forward to getting out and going to various meetings, meeting with different bar groups and organizations, and seeing old friends and making new ones,” Grimm says.
Missouri lawyers can contact Grimm at 573-335-3316 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Lawyers can invite Grimm to speak at a meeting or presentation by completing the form at MoBar.org/request-missouri-bar-president.
When Grimm is not working at The Limbaugh Firm or volunteering with The Missouri Bar, he says he enjoys spending time with his wife, Angie, and their five children.