Sara G. Neill
BAMSL President, 2019-20
Shareholder, Capes Sokol
Originally published in the September 2019 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
One of my many responsibilities as the BAMSL president was to attend the American Bar Association (ABA) annual meeting in San Francisco. I am writing this column from the airplane on the long flight home to St. Louis and am seated with the newly retired Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and a 12-year-old boy who just spent the summer with his uncle fishing in California.
Normally, I do not go out of my way to converse with strangers seated next to me on airplanes. It is not that I am not a friendly person, but I like to use flight time to catch up on work emails, to online shop and to read. Today, however, the conversation has been lively—we have covered everything from Thomas Jefferson to Ted Cruz to the first bass the boy caught this summer. The boy also has told us that his carry-on bag originally was designed to carry guns. The Chief Justice has taken it upon himself to mentor the boy and is doing an excellent job. Meanwhile, I am mentoring the Chief Justice on the use of Excel.
Though it has been interesting, the highlight of the ABA meeting was not this plane ride. It was unquestionably watching our own executive director, Zoe Linza, be presented with the Bolton award. The Bolton Award is the National Association of Bar Executives' (NABE) highest accolade. It is presented annually to a bar executive who epitomizes the highest standard of professional excellence.
Many of you have had the opportunity to work with Zoe over the years and would likely agree that this is incredibly well-deserved. It is through Zoe's leadership, strong work ethic, positivity, creativity and good business sense that BAMSL is so successful and is viewed on a national level as a bar association to emulate. Zoe is well-respected by her peers in the bar leadership world and recently served as the president of the NABE.
When the award was presented, Zoe was joined on stage by her dear friends Sebrina Barrett, executive director of the Missouri Bar, Crista Hogan, executive director of the Springfield Bar Association and Vickie Mauck, executive director of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association. Zoe complimented her "Missouri girls" (as she calls them) and spoke of how much she enjoys working with each of them and how they are always there for one another. She has commented to me on more than one occasion how fortunate we are here in Missouri to have such excellent executive directors who get along and look for every opportunity to collaborate and work together.
Zoe also spoke about her philosophy on bar leadership: to do her best to do what is "good, right and true." When faced with a decision, Zoe considers whether it is good for our bar and our community and whether it is the right thing. Zoe also strives to always be true to herself and to BAMSL. I was so proud to attend the meeting as a BAMSL representative, and especially proud of Zoe. We are lucky to have her.
Another highlight of the conference was the ice cream social hosted by former BAMSL President Bill Bay. Bill, of course, is the current chair of the ABA House of Delegates, the second-highest office in the ABA. As chair, Bill leads the organization's policymaking body. He flew in Ted Drewes, a variety of gooey butter cakes and packages of chips from the Billy Goat Chip Company. I do not recall seeing any toasted ravioli, but I may have missed it. Lawyers from all over the country were able to enjoy a taste of St. Louis. Tourism in our city will probably spike as a result of Bill's event.
Overall, the programming at this year's conference was excellent and thought-provoking. One particular presentation, the National Conference of Bar Presidents' opening plenary session, "The Bar as Navigator," was not only interesting, but left me feeling ill. The focus was on the decline in the number of attorneys graduating from law school and passing the bar and the changes to our model rules some advocates are pushing for, at least in part, because of these statistics.
Specifically, there are advocacy groups who think lawyers should be allowed to share fees with "non-lawyers," form partnerships with "non-lawyers," and practice in a PC or association if a "non-lawyer" owns any interest or is an officer or director. The advocates claim that the current rules inhibit innovation, the use of technology and access to justice; unreasonably restrict our ability to generate leads; restrict lawyers going into business with allied professionals; and restrict access to capital. Some states, including Utah and California, already have taken substantial steps toward making changes to their rules. Audience questions such as, how would these "non-lawyers" be regulated and what ethical standards would they be held to, did not receive satisfactory answers, but the presenters noted there still is a lot of work to be done.
Other programs were focused on building better, stronger bar associations. We came back with some fresh ideas for networking events and CLEs, and look forward to working with the Board of Governors to implement them in the coming months.