President's Page: Doing even better together - The bar as convener
Vol. 75, No. 1 / January-February 2019
The 100th Missouri General Assembly recently gathered to begin the 2019 regular session. Across our state and country, important issues of the day are being addressed by seemingly more-and-more polarized groups of stakeholders.
By Ray Williams, 2018-19 Missouri Bar President 
January - February Issue, Journal of The Missouri Bar
Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much. Helen Keller
The 100th Missouri General Assembly recently gathered to begin the 2019 regular session. Across our state and country, important issues of the day are being addressed by seemingly more-and-more polarized groups of stakeholders. In this column, I focus on the role that we – the lawyers of The Missouri Bar – can serve in bringing together stakeholders in important policy discussions to produce solutions that improve the lives of our fellow Missourians. This is the role of convener.
A convener brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to resolve a problem collaboratively. Conveners are effective in fostering resolutions when multiple groups of stakeholders must respond to solve a problem effectively. A neutral convener is especially effective when multiple groups advocating a desired position or outcome are involved or when the history between the parties has been difficult.
The Missouri Bar is particularly well-suited to serve as a convener, bringing together those with varying positions for problem-solving. The most important criteria for an effective convener is a “reputation for serving the public interest, with no particular ax to grind or perspective to push on the issue at hand.” Successful conveners develop an environment where the participants believe the process is important and worthwhile.
The Missouri Bar Center provides a centrally-located, neutral venue for bringing together interested stakeholders. Given the diverse nature of Missouri Bar members across our state, the expertise of Missouri lawyers on legal issues, and the credibility and reputation of Missouri lawyers and The Missouri Bar, perhaps no group is better positioned to bring individuals and groups together to facilitate meaningful conversation – if not consensus – on difficult issues.
Great results flow from bringing together the appropriate stakeholders in an environment conducive to effective problem-solving. Key criteria for successful collaboration include:
(1) a process inclusive of all interested stakeholders;
(2) a neutral, comfortable meeting location;
(3) an impartial convener;
(4) participatory discussion;
(5) effective, organized meetings;
(6) addressing and overcoming barriers to resolution;
(7) commitment to reaching a resolution; and
(8) a demonstrable outcome within the allotted timeframe.
In addition, it is often beneficial to utilize co-conveners from opposite groups to ensure impartiality in the process. The Missouri Bar has seen success in serving as convener in the criminal justice system area. The Revised Criminal Code was the result of bringing together essential stakeholders in the criminal justice system to develop a comprehensive re-write of Missouri’s criminal law. Similarly, The Missouri Bar, often working through its substantive law committees, has convened stakeholders to address issues of indigent defense, commercial law, real property, and most recently, Missouri’s new digital assets law.
Many bars are successful in convening groups of experts to address important public policy issues. The Missouri Bar is no stranger to this important role, having provided impartial, neutral forums for convening conversations among experts with many points of view about such relevant and important topics as dark money, gun violence, and gerrymandering.
Convening Missouri lawyers with other key individuals and groups, such as the Missouri Press-Bar Commission and the Judicial Performance Review Committee, provides Missouri citizens with useful and timely information. Working with civics education stakeholders across the state allows The Missouri Bar to develop and share citizenship education materials to a wider number of Missourians.
By convening groups of Missouri lawyers and judges, The Missouri Bar has developed a number of proposed rule changes later adopted by the Supreme Court of Missouri. These committees create synergy, and the concentrated desire for problem-solving flowing from these groups accelerates the process of rule change.
A true virtue of The Missouri Bar is the wonderful breadth of expertise and the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints of Missouri’s lawyers. The Missouri Bar is uniquely positioned to bring these leaders together to facilitate conversations and to aid in problem-solving. Whether by simply providing a space and coordinating a schedule, or by identifying and bringing together substantive experts, practitioners, academics, community members, elected officials, or other interested stakeholders, Missouri lawyers are positioned and able to help others work together to address today’s problems in a productive and collaborative way. I invite you to join your Missouri Bar in fostering these important conversations to improve our profession, the law, and the lives of our fellow Missourians.
1 Raymond E. Williams is an attorney with Williams Law Offices, LLC in West Plains.
2 See Joseph P. Lash, Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy (Radcliffe 1980).
3 See The Role of the Convenor, National Policy Consensus Center. http://filepickup.wrd.state.or.us/files/Publications/Place_Based_IWRS/The_Convener_Role.pdf
7 See, e.g., Dan Kittay, Bringing People Together: The Bar’s Role as Convener, Bar Leader, Jan.-Feb. 2018.