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Missouri Bar wellness leaders, executive director receive 2021 President’s Awards

Missouri Bar 2020-21 President John Gunn recognized Athena Dickson, Whittney Dunn, Mischa Buford Epps, and Erica Mynarich with this year’s President’s Awards for their contributions to helping lawyers even better serve their clients. 

Given by the president of The Missouri Bar, the annual award recognizes lawyers’ meritorious services to the state bar. 

Epps started as executive director on April 1, 2020, following The Missouri Bar Board of Governors’ hiring selection process. At that time, the COVID-19 pandemic was in its early stages. Epps started working weeks before her official start date – communicating with bar staff and leadership to implement safety protocols at The Bar Center and consider future in-person events.  

While the state bar and 30,000 Missouri lawyers adjusted to the pandemic, four special committees were formed to discuss difficult topics like the inequities lawyers of color experience, the lack of wellness among lawyers, and the pandemic’s impact on the administration of justice. In a normal year, these committees’ work alone could have been overwhelming, Gunn said, but Epps continued to manage the daily operations of The Missouri Bar without difficulty. 

“Mischa has been, nearly invisibly, providing exactly the type of guidance and support that any person in leadership would hope – but dare not expect – of an executive director,” Gunn said. 

One of those four special committees is the Lawyers Living Well Special Committee, which – like the name suggests – focuses on advocating and improving lawyer well-being. Dickson serves as the committee chair and Dunn and Mynarich as co-vice chairs.  

A member of The Missouri Bar Board of Governors, Dickson played an indispensable role in developing the committee’s goals and makeup, and her commitment and insight has helped her “lead with a steady hand,” Gunn said.  

As a risk manager for The Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Company, Dunn has committed herself to improving the lives of lawyers and others involved in the administration of justice, as well as has provided research to help the committee create efficient and informed approaches to improving lawyer wellness.  

Mynarich practices in Southwest Missouri, providing defense services to accused individuals, and her commitment and energy has pushed the committee to pursue several projects, Gunn said.  

“Athena, Erica, and Whittney all attend nearly every single meeting, irrespective of its perceived or expected impact, because they are part of the undeniably important work this committee is dedicated to address,” Gunn said. “I have more gratitude for their work than I could possibly convey.”   

Gunn added the virtual work Epps, Dunn, Mynarich, and Dickson have accomplished over the last year “has been nothing short of stunning.” 

Read more about The Missouri Bar’s awards here