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President's Page: Doing even better together-Final thoughts

by Ray Williams, 2018-19 Missouri Bar President [1] July-August Issue, Journal of The Missouri Bar

The essence of civility is that I can help you, even if I disagree with you. – Bill Thompson[2]

Due to publication schedules, I take up my last President’s Page as Missouri Bar president near the time when we celebrate our country’s independence.[3] Twenty-five of the 56 signers of our nation’s Declaration of Independence were lawyers, and we have spent this past bar year celebrating that tradition of lawyer involvement and service by recognizing Missouri lawyers and their overwhelming commitment to serving their communities and clients.While contemplating the content of this “farewell” message, I spent time reviewing the final Journal messages of many of my predecessors. By and large, it has become customary to offer farewell remarks, and to take stock of the past bar year, while sharing insights gained traveling around our state visiting with lawyers, judges, and Missouri citizens. More often than not, these presidents’ words have highlighted the ongoing need for professionalism and civility among Missouri lawyers.

One of the highlights for officers of The Missouri Bar each June is to join judges of the Supreme Court of Missouri in a roundtable conversation with law students attending the Solo and Small Firm Conference. I find these conversations particu­larly refreshing, as we share our experiences with those embark­ing on their legal careers. During this year’s conversation, Judge Paul Wilson offered advice worthy of sharing here when he explained “clients have opponents, but lawyers have colleagues.”

Past Missouri Bar president Maurice Graham, a model of professionalism for us all, once shared with me that when the best lawyers go to trial, the courtroom is a remarkably quiet place to be. There is no need for loud voices, and there is no need for argumentative and speaking objections. Good lawyers respect one another as colleagues, present the evidence, and make compelling arguments – all without the need for posturing, shouting, or ill-advised behavior. I am fond of quoting our remarkably wise friend and past Missouri Bar president Dana Tippin Cutler, who said “we should be the ones showing that you can have an argument without being hateful. You can disagree without being disagreeable.” “Whether we think each other right or wrong in our views on the issues of the day, we owe each other our respect.”[4]

This is the essence of civility and professionalism. As lawyers, we are charged with serving as the guardians of the rule of law. In a world of ever-increasing politicizing, polarization, and tribalism, we can accomplish this mission only by continuing to work together with our professional colleagues to bring justice for our clients and real solutions for the people of Missouri.

Good fortune has allowed me to serve as The Missouri Bar president during the year of the 75th anniversary of our unified bar. I have witnessed the magnitude of what Missouri lawyers, working together, have accomplished in this time.[5]

As a personal example of what lawyers can do working together, one of my first opportunities after joining the Board of Governors in 2008 was to serve on the Committee to Assist Lawyers in a Changing Economy, a special committee formed shortly after the start of the economic recession in our state and country. Since the formation of that special committee, The Missouri Bar has enhanced its focus on providing meaningful member benefits and practice management tools to Mis­souri lawyers. I am very proud of the work that has been done to quickly deliver useful programs and services to Missouri Bar members during the past decade, and I hope that many Missouri lawyers will agree these tools have helped them even better serve their clients.

I believe that our Missouri Bar will continue to serve Missouri lawyers in an efficient and effective way in the future. By establishing a dynamic strategic planning process, with ongoing review of each and every program and activity, our bar is focused on assisting Missouri lawyers in their practices and improving the lives of our fellow Missourians.

As I near the end of my final column, I return to where we began in my first column. Thank you for the incredible commitment to, and your involvement in, your communities and the organizations that remain close to your hearts. Because of the opportunity to serve as your president, I have been able to befriend some of the most amazing lawyers and people across our state and country. I remain awestruck by their dedication to our profession, their talents in the practice of law, and their continuing belief in a better tomorrow. These lawyer-leaders inspire me, even on the days when the hours run thin and the tasks run long.

One such example is the energetic group of local and specialty bar leaders from across Missouri I met at the new Missouri Bar Leadership Institute held in April. This program is just the beginning of bringing bar leaders together to share ideas and bar leadership techniques. I’m excited for the future of this new program and what it means for lawyers and those they serve across Missouri.[6] Through innovative programs such as MO BLI, The Missouri Bar is well-positioned to remain one of the strongest and most effectively run unified bars in the nation.

The practice of law can be a stressful and taxing profession, and presidents-to-be are already focused on addressing the lawyer well-being issues that arise therefrom. However, on even our toughest days, may we all remember the words of lawyer-legislator Jay Barnes, when during his farewell speech on the floor of the Missouri House, he summarized his service with the following advice: “Smile and have fun – even in the most stressful days.” I would add, if you have the chance, take a break and come relax with us in the beautiful Missouri Ozarks.

As a solo, small-town lawyer, serving our Missouri Bar and the lawyers it represents has been one of the greatest honors and experiences I can imagine. I thank you for the opportunity to serve as president of our Missouri Bar.


[1] Raymond E. Williams is an attorney with Williams Law Offices, LLC in West Plains.

[2] Mr. Thompson is the retired clerk of the Supreme Court of Missouri, and offered this thought during his remarks at the Missouri Bar Fall Committee Meetings in 2016.

[3] When this issue is published, we will be near the time for passing the gavel to our next president during the 2019 Missouri Bar Annual Meeting in Branson. I’m excited to host the Annual Meeting for the first time ever in Branson, and we hope you will join us at this fantastic venue on the Branson Landing.

[4] John McCain and Mark Salter, The RestlessWave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations (Simon & Schuster) (2018).

[5] See missourilawyershelp.org/events/mobar75/ for a timeline highlighting some of the many accomplishments of The Missouri Bar during the past 75 years.

[6] There are many opportunities to be involved in The Missouri Bar, including civics education activities and The Missouri Bar Speakers’ Bureau. A quick list with information about these programs and activities can be found on the Missouri Bar website at www.mobar.org/get-involved.htm.