President's Page: Be good to yourself, and each other
Vol. 77, No. 4 / July - Aug. 2021
John Gunn practices with Gunn Law Firm PC in St. Louis. This message was adapted from his address to members of the 2021 graduating class at Saint Louis University School of Law.
The president of The Missouri Bar traditionally travels the state, visiting with our diverse and engaged membership.
Between local and state bar meetings, as well as regional and national bar conferences, the president usually gets to see the entirety of our gorgeous state and country. Over the past 11 months, however, my travel has been restricted to four visits to our state capital. The social aspects of the office may have experienced a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the work did not. While adapting during the pandemic, your bar has been working hard to help you even better serve your clients.
Over the past year, The Missouri Bar convened five different special committees that focused on lawyer well-being, diversity in the profession, COVID-19 responses, and legislative procedure. The special committees have a total of 90 committee members. These committees compliment the standing committees that do the regular and significant work that keeps our bar consistently healthy.
While holding our meetings virtually was certainly not ideal, we seized on the opportunity presented by this development. Our special committees are comprised of prominent and incredibly dedicated (read: busy) lawyers whose availability to contribute to our efforts increased substantially thanks to reduction in the need to travel for our meetings. The commodity of time during the pandemic assumed a considerably different construct for us all. Newly found time contributed in great measure to our ability to address weighty issues. Some such issues arose recently while others have festered throughout history. Our COVID-19 Response Task Force, empaneled in 2020 by Immediate Past President Tom Bender, developed meaningful means of addressing technological and practical issues to ensure the efficient and equitable administration of justice during the pandemic. At the same time, our Lawyers Living Well Special Committee and the Special Committee on Lawyers of Color are each set to dissect and address issues that have historically plagued our profession, even more acutely than society at large. While many aspects of our lives were put on hold since March 2020, the work of The Missouri Bar was not.
Experiencing a deadly pandemic is not something any of us hoped for, and I’m confident we all would like to see it come to a discernable end. The experience of time spent alone (or nearly alone) has become ubiquitous. Isolation can be stifling. The past year and a half provided us each unique experiences, providing a glimpse into the difficulty seclusion can present. However, the experience also reminds us of our fundamental connection to each other. While appreciated uniquely by most, there can be no dispute that we have all been impacted markedly by a common experience. It is the commonality that binds us. Every shared experience compliments our individual humanity by reminding us that we matter to each other. In fact, such experiences are integral to the development of that humanity. To share such an experience with the entirety of human population is significant.
As we also know, isolation can be very ugly. The most tragic manifestation of human isolation is the self-imposed end of existence itself. A suicide in the U.S. occurs nearly every 11 minutes, resulting in more than 47,500 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the 12 million adults who have seriously considered suicide, 1.4 million have attempted it. These statistics represent an unfathomable amount of pain. Our profession’s experience of anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders at rates exceeding those of the general public highlight the severe risk to the lives of lawyers during such time of prolonged aggravation. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in the U.S. Suicide and the stigma that prevents those who need help from seeking it are weighty topics, but ignoring them does not help the suffering. I suspect any member of our bar who has practiced just a handful of years knows of at least one lawyer who died by suicide. Many of us know of a dozen or more. Each life lost in such a manner is a preventable tragedy and I implore you to listen to those around you and help how you can. There is always someone to speak to on the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month lifeline (800-273-8255), and you can find resources for suicide prevention at americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/suicide/. It is imperative that we pay attention to those around us and heed even the quietest requests for help.
While we may not be completely free of the restraints inflicted upon us by the pandemic, we’re getting there. Thank you for your commitment to our profession during such a unique period in our history, to the clients we serve, and to the fundamental ideas to which we adhere. It has been my pleasure to serve as your president, and it is my hope that you each find calm and balance in every aspect of your life. Be good to yourselves, and each other.