President's Page: All in the family
Vol. 75, No. 5 / September - October 2019
There’s nothing like the simultaneous excitement and terror of embarking on something new.
by Tom Bender, 2019-20 Missouri Bar President
September - October Issue, Journal of The Missouri Bar
There’s nothing like the simultaneous excitement and terror of embarking on something new. Every parent knows that feeling: getting their child ready for the first day of school or college, knowing that their child has taken that first step toward a bright future while at the same time worrying about the real or imagined dangers lurking around the corner.
But the parents get through it, maybe texting or calling their own parents or other family members to ostensibly share pictures, but they call to also get the comfort and support that family offers.
We have all been there in one situation or another: starting law school and awaiting that first Socratic challenge; getting engaged; beginning that first job; picking a jury or starting a trial; or, if I may invoke a little personal privilege, assuming the leadership of an organization. It is an honor to have the privilege of serving this tremendous organization, but I am all too aware of the carcasses that litter the roadways of public speaking because of one or two verbal missteps. And, while I am excited about the ways we are trying to make the practice of law even better for our lawyers, there are those who seek to inhibit our continued progress and to attack the rule of law. I hope to be up to the task of quelling those unfriendly winds. So, like those parents who feel both happy and uneasy in their calls to their families, I am calling upon my family both to share that excitement and to provide comfort in their support. That family is you.
Missouri lawyers are a family. And what a family we have: 30,000 members living in 45 judicial districts in our state (plus all 49 other states and 10 foreign countries), with more than 400 judges and commissioners. Our members come in all shapes and sizes (and in my more than 40 years as an attorney I have had all shapes and sizes, too), with varied backgrounds and practices. We have a rich family history, especially if you count the Founding Fathers, our distant cousins, who helped with our governing documents.
We share a lot in common. First, we share that something in our nature or background that made people suggest you should go to law school. Maybe it was the way you argued; maybe it was the way you helped others solve problems; maybe it was the way you couldn’t figure out what else to do. And after we followed that advice to enter law school, most of us shared that trilogy of being scared to death, worked to death, and bored to death for those three years. But you made it – we all did – and we share that unique experience of a legal education and the stories that go with it.
We also share the commonality of trying to make a living after law school. Depending on the year you graduated, you might have carried more debt than others and had a harder time getting started than others, and you share the challenge of mastering the business component of this noble profession.
There is a shared understanding of the difficulties of the deadlines and of the demands for your time and excellence that can be so challenging … and sometimes more than challenging. Most of our family at some point or another have experienced and share those challenges and struggles.
If you attended our family reunion in Branson last month, you no doubt saw what a diverse group of members we have. Like every family reunion, there is a goofy uncle or two, and since it is family, the polite talk prohibitions against speaking about politics and religion go out the window. But it is our diversity that makes us so strong, and it is the mix of all these different styles that makes our family so fascinating. Lawyers have some of the best stories anywhere, and in our midst are recording artists, mountain climbers, artists, inventors, politicians, livestock experts, cruise directors, founders of institutions, and all shapes and sizes of heroes in their personal lives and in their communities.
Most of our family are true professionals who ascribe to the highest of principles. We believe in equality; we believe in justice; we believe in bettering our communities through the even-handed application of fair laws. And what a generous bunch, with more than 30,000 hours of legal work donated each year to help those who can’t afford legal services. As our Immediate Past President Ray Williams uncovered, 90% of our family serve their communities as members of boards and organizations. We should be proud of our family and what it has done and continues to do.
It is with this strong family in mind that I turn to you for support. We have some challenges ahead of us as an organization and, as the initial gatekeepers of justice, all need to help. We need to help our rural communities to obtain new lawyers. We need to help those communities have affordable access to services. In addition, we need to continue with our efforts to address any implicit bias in our profession and legal system that deny our citizens a legal playing field.
And we have challenges in our own family. Too many of our family have been overwhelmed by the stresses that sometimes come with life but get amplified by the demands of our practice. We have unfortunately seen that despair in law school before they join our family or prevent them from joining our family. These burdens follow them as they enter the practice.
These and other challenges we face require your help, and we will be calling on you throughout the year to help address them.
We have a tremendous family, including the group of professionals at the Missouri Bar Center who day in and day out dedicate themselves to making improvements to everything we do and to provide to all of us the very best services, programs, and opportunities. And we have a great group of those who have served before, including our immediate past presidents Ray Williams and Morry Cole, who have tirelessly sacrificed their time (and bodies) on behalf of us all. John Gunn and John Grimm are incoming officers who already have brought dynamic leadership to our Bar and, combined with the selfless service of the 45 members of our Board of Governors, will lead the way in helping our family address those challenges.
If there is one thing I know about this family, it is that it can do whatever it wants when it puts its minds and its hearts to a task. Thank you for letting me be the nominal head of our family for this year (no, that doesn’t mean you can borrow money or expect birthday presents like you can in other families). But it does mean that all of us will be working hard to help our family, and our community of families, to improve the lives of all Missourians. Thank you for that honor.
1 Thomas V. Bender is a member of the firm of Horn Aylward & Bandy, LLC in Kansas City.