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President's Page: What ever happened to civics?

Vol. 76, No. 6 / Nov. - Dec. 2020

John Gunn, 2020-2021 President of The Missouri BarJohn Gunn

John Gunn practices with Gunn Law Firm PC in St. Louis.



As I peer out my home-office window on an unseasonably warm fall day, I ponder what you want to hear from me – or what I have to tell you. There is so much that I could report about what we are doing as a bar. I could very easily identify myriad ways The Missouri Bar staff’s reputation as one of the best in the country is not opinion, but fact. I could pick one of the issues I’ve prioritized as president and walk you through it. But I’m at a bit of a loss. Inspiration is a goal of these columns, but the way I am inspired is – like many of you, I suspect – not entirely healthy. I’m angry about a great many things I read in the news.

Perhaps I ought to take some of my own self-care advice and put my phone down. But I can’t do that. I’m involved. We are ALL involved. As citizens, what occurs in our country impacts us. But as lawyers? We shape culture through our daily work, but more directly through our collective leadership at all levels of government, business, non-profit, volunteer, education, health, etc. We are credible, knowledgeable, discerning, and active members of society. The sidelines simply are not somewhere we are allowed to stay. A simple “what if…” question from a neighbor is a call to engage. Any response (even none) sends a message with gravity.

Recall the surge of importance you felt when learning you were accepted to law school. Remember the pride you experienced upon first realizing that society’s leaders disproportionately had law degrees. Consider your sense of purpose when recollecting the heroes you learned about throughout your education and how many were lawyers.

Ours is not a profession that operates as a part of society, but rather one that plays an integral role in its continued function and innovation. Something I have been hearing a good deal lately is the saying that “culture eats policy for breakfast.”

What, exactly, is our culture? The beauty of this question is that we can choose. This is not a burden. It is an ongoing opportunity to be embraced, and one we were made aware of the instant we set foot in law school.

We lead.

Lawyers are often viewed as immoral, greedy, self-serving, unsympathetic, and callous. Of course, those views are without much merit, but how do we shed them? We lead. We approach those interactions with neighbors, opposing counsel, or judges the same as we should any other person or group – with compassion and understanding. Even if an opposing party is being insufferable, we lead by taking the high road and focusing on allowing law and procedure to direct the interaction. When a board meeting takes a turn toward chaos, we lead by stepping in and restoring decorum by referencing Robert’s Rules. Leadership. When there are large societal needs impacting members of the bar or the practice of law, we DO come together as lawyers to address them. We create programming for members and the public, and we come together as a board to discuss and establish policy. We lead by collaborating and learning from each other, irrespective of our background or political ideology. We lead our way to defining our culture by standing in the way of those who would define it for us. This is where our civics lie, in embracing our prominent role in society and being – above all else – civil.