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President's Page: The leadership we need for challenging times

Vol. 76, No. 2 / March - April 2020

Tom Bender

Thomas V. Bender is a member of the firm of Horn Aylward & Bandy, LLC in Kansas City.


If COVID-19 has you working from home or facing other uncharted situations, we’re here to help! You can find free resources and practice tips, including how to maintain the Rules of Professional Conduct while lawyering remotely, at mobar.org.

These are certainly challenging times. This issue of the Journal goes to publication on the heels of a pandemic declared by the World Health Organization and a state of emergency declared in Kansas City. Beloved sporting events are now non-events, with uncertainty over classes, work, court appearances, and the like invading every hour of our daily lives. We are changing how and where we meet, and givens are no longer givens. Whatever has happened in the intervening days until this issue hits your disinfected desk, I hope that it finds you and your family safe and healthy.

Challenging times call for strong leadership, and I am pleased to report that we are in good hands with The Missouri Bar’s new executive director, Mischa Buford Epps. Before I tell you a little bit about her, let me explain a bit about the process we went through to find the best person for this job and use that opportunity to thank those involved in this very comprehensive and time-intensive effort.

I have had the honor of hiring three bar executive directors during my combined stints as president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association and now at The Missouri Bar. It is an honor because of getting to meet so many highly qualified candidates who care about the law and the lawyers they want to serve. Each time I walk away from interviewing these stellar individuals, I feel even better about our profession and the lawyers of Missouri. We received a wealth of good applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds, which made the selection process even more difficult. I therefore asked for help, and formed a search committee consisting of some great lawyers who I respect and who also represented a wide and diverse swath of our profession. That committee included the current officers, a sitting rural associate circuit judge, a federal court law clerk, small town and big firm attorneys, and the sitting Missouri NAACP president. I also asked a former Missouri Bar president to oversee the process.

The committee initially vetted all candidates using all public sources, including social media searches, Case.net and Pacer, as well a review of any disciplinary records and the like. We then moved on to phone interviews, background checks, credit checks, and then in-person interviews. Teams were created and assigned candidates as applications were received to ensure impartiality in the process, and all information received by any team was shared with the whole committee. We had several meetings in which we reviewed all applicants, and the process continued until one candidate received the endorsement of the committee.

After the committee made its recommendation, the Executive Committee then reviewed the process and made its recommendation to the 45-member Board of Governors. The Board of Governors then conducted its review and vote, after which an offer was extended.

In short, this was a very methodical and comprehensive process, and it worked well due to the excellent work of the search committee chair, Morry Cole, and the dedicated efforts of the rest of the search committee and Executive Committee members: John Gunn, John Grimm, Lauren Tucker-McCubbin, Athena Dickson, Mira Mdivani, Judge Doug Thomson, Nimrod Chapel, Megan Phillips, Scott Robbins, and Amanda Ketchum. They took many hours away from their work to help make sure this process worked well, and we are indebted to them for their efforts. Thank you all for guiding us to our new executive director.

Our bar has more than 30,000 members. We have a very lean staff for a bar our size, but there are still 45 hard-working staff members, and an annual budget of $11 million per year to oversee and to make sure that our lawyers and the public are well-served. It takes a wide range of skill sets to do the executive director’s job well. You have to be a lawyer and understand the challenges lawyers face in their profession; you have to understand finance and budgets; you need a basic sense of fairness to understand there are two sides to many stories and to have the openness to consider both of those sides as we attempt to find solutions to legal issues facing our state; and you have to have a sense of humor and find a little bit of fun to inspire our great staff and volunteers. We selected Mischa because she has a great balance of all those skills.

Mischa was raised in Oklahoma, the oldest of three children. Her parents worked in the petroleum industry, her father as an accountant and her mother in the computer information systems side of the business. While Mischa was in elementary school, her father took law school classes at night; however, a work promotion relocated the family away from any nearby law school, preventing him from finishing a law degree. Nevertheless, his efforts planted the bug in Mischa, who decided in the seventh grade that she wanted to be a lawyer. She went to high school in Tulsa, where she graduated first in her class. She graduated from Washington University with honors and from the University of Texas Law School.

Shook Hardy & Bacon interviewed her while she was still in law school, and after graduation she began work in the firm’s Kansas City office, where she became a partner and worked for more than 20 years. She excelled both as a corporate lawyer and as an involved member of the legal profession and the community. She has received honors and awards from a wide variety of organizations, including Best Lawyers in America, while also receiving recognition for her work in the profession and the community. And it was as a result of connections at a Missouri Bar Fall Committee Meeting that she started dating her husband-to- be, Willie Epps, Jr. – now U.S. magistrate judge for the Western District of Missouri.

Mischa has achieved a variety of professional and personal accomplishments, but what caught the attention of search committee members were the reports of her ability to build consensus, to look ahead, and provide a vision for what we can be. She has proven that she is a leader.

Rosalynn Carter said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” We look forward to Mischa’s leadership, not only for where we want to go, but where we need to go, as we face the challenges ahead. Whether we are facing a pandemic, a technological dilemma, or challenges in the delivery of legal services, we are comfortable that she will provide us the leadership we need.

Stay safe … and keep those hands away from your face.