Section - About Us

BAMSL History


The Past The Present The Purpose


The Past 

On March 16, 1874, some 100 members of the St. Louis bar and bench convened to organize themselves professionally. Their forum was the Old Courthouse, already known to the law as the place where Dred Scott filed his first state court action seeking his freedom. A month and a half later, they filed Articles of Agreement and a petition for incorporation giving form to the Bar Association of St. Louis. The articles were filed in downtown St. Louis in what was then, prior to the geographical separation of St. Louis from St. Louis County, the St. Louis County Circuit Court. The organization they Dred Scottestablished, known since 1967 as The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, now claims a membership of over 5,600 and a vast network of committees and sections. Yet its key purposes have remained constant: to maintain high standards among practitioners of the law, to be watchful of the fair administration of justice, and to promote social relations among its members. St. Louis was a burgeoning town in 1874. River and rail traffic were growing, and St. Louis, the gateway to the west, was a focal point. With commerce and industry came lawyers. But problems plagued the profession: standards for admission to the bar were virtually nonexistent, the ethics of some attorneys were questionable, and judgeships were politically determined. To such concerns and others, the Bar Association turned its attention. Two of the Association's early presidents--James O. Broadhead and Henry Hitchcock--met with other lawyers in Saratoga, New York, in 1878 and founded the American Bar Association (ABA). Broadhead became the first president of the ABA; Hitchcock was its twelfth in 1889. Five other presidents of The St. Louis Bar Association have headed the ABA: James Hagerman (1903); Frederick W. Lehman (1908); Guy A. Thompson (1931); Jacob M. Lashly (1940) and John Shepherd (1986). Few other cities have contributed so many presidents to the national body. St. Louis Bar Association leaders were also instrumental in the formation of The Missouri Bar Association in 1880, the precursor to the present integrated Missouri Bar, of which all state lawyers and judges are automatically members. Broadhead and Hitchcock, as well as John Rutledge Shepley and Samuel M. Breckenridge, were in the forefront of the 114 lawyers who met in Kansas City to establish The Missouri Bar Association. The 1930s witnessed a concerted effort by the Bar Association to enforce standards of professional conduct. The Grievance Committee, under the chairmanship of Thomas F. McDonald from 1932 to 1935, instituted 23 court actions--all successfully prosecuted--for disbarment or discipline of lawyers. Less than half that number had been instituted in the Association's first 58 years. The effort brought to the Association in 1935 (the year of McDonald's presidency) the St. Louis Civic Award for public service. Merit selection of judges was formally advocated by the Association as early as 1904. The Association's efforts in this area finally bore fruit in 1940 when the state constitution was amended to establish the nonpartisan court plan in the Supreme Court, the courts of appeals, and the circuit and probate courts of St. Louis and Jackson County. The amendment authorized extension of the plan to other judicial circuits by vote of the residents. The Bar Association was also responsible for creation of the Legal Aid Society, today known as Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Inc. The society was established in a fledgling form in the administration of Daniel G. Taylor, 1909-1910. Its purpose: to provide counsel for indigent persons.

The society was incorporated in 1956 under the association presidency of T. Hartley Pollock. In 1965, under the administration of Rexford H. Caruthers, it received its first federal funds and began to thrive. In 1970, the Association was the recipient of the Harrison Tweed Award in recognition of its work through the Legal Aid Society. The award was presented by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants of the ABA. In the area of criminal law, the Association promoted a Voluntary Defenders plan in the late 1920s and early 1930s to provide free counsel to indigent defendants. The City of St. Louis responded in 1936 with an ordinance creating a Public Defenders Bureau, which was functioning with support from city tax dollars by 1938. St. Louis County set up a public defender system in 1963, and in 1972, with urging from the Bar Association, a state-funded and statewide public defender plan was finally approved by the Missouri Legislature. The Association has consistently supported the concept of the public defender program. In 1981 it was instrumental in legislation which established the basic Public Defender system we have today. Again in 1989, it worked to improve that system and see that it was adequately funded. The Young Lawyers' section, one of the most active and innovative sections of the Association, was established in 1937. In 1955, the Association appointed its first executive director, and in 1960 it opened a downtown headquarters in the Mayfair Hotel. Recent history has seen dramatic improvements in physical facilities for the Association and its burgeoning activities. Clayton quarters were moved in 1973 from the Colony Hotel to private dining and meeting rooms at 7777 Bonhomme Avenue. In 1998, the Clayton quarters were closed while a task force investigates possible new locations. The downtown headquarters were relocated in 1977 to the elegant top floor of the Mercantile Tower, with a breathtaking view of the city, until they again relocated in 1992, this time to the elegant facilities on the 14th floor of the Metropolitan Square Building. In 1974, the Association paused to reflect on its first 100 years. It conducted a centennial celebration in which it signed its Second Century Charter and staged a dramatic reenactment of its founding in the Old Courthouse. No less a man of the law than former United States Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr., then chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, addressed the Association on April 28, 1974--the 100th anniversary of the filing of the Articles of Agreement. The Bar Association had traveled far, yet its development was proceeding apace.

The Present 

The Bar Association has experienced dramatic growth in recent years with membership at more than 6,800 lawyers, judges, paralegals and law firm administrators. BAMSL has more than 40 standing committees, 12 sections and one division. The Association has a well-established and informative continuing legal education program, BAMSL personal and business Visa rewards credit cards, the St. Louis Bar Journal and St. Louis Lawyer magazine, attorney and support staff career placement, and lawyer referral services. It is a leading voice for the organized bar in legislative, governmental, and public affairs. The work of the Association has been well recognized. Annually, the American Bar Association hosts a competition among local bar groups for their work of the past year. St. Louis competes with metropolitan areas of similar size. Repeatedly in recent years, the Association and its Young Lawyers' Division have received Awards of Achievement and Awards of Merit for individual projects and the quality of their overall programs.

The basic charter of the Bar Association remains the Articles of Agreement, now in an amended form, which were filed in 1874. Bylaws govern the Association as well. Membership is open to anyone admitted to practice and in good standing before the highest court of any state or territory or the District of Columbia.

The officers of the Association are: president, president-elect, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. The Executive Committee consists of the officers, the Young Lawyers Division chair, and up to three non-voting presidential liaisons. The Board of Governors is comprised of the Executive Committee plus the immediate past-president, the Association's representatives to the ABA's House of Delegates, all chairpersons of Association sections, and ten members elected at-large from the general membership. The Young Lawyers Division Chair-Elect and the Chair of the Continuing Legal Education Committee also serve on the Board of Governors as non-voting members. The officers, one ABA delegate and five members-at-large are elected annually for terms beginning May 1.

Standing committees are established by the Executive Committee and sections by the Board of Governors. Sections and committees differ in that sections elect officers, adopt their own bylaws and send representatives to the Board of Governors.

There are currently 12 sections: Criminal Law; Employee Benefits; Family and Juvenile; Labor and Employment Law; Minorities in the Legal Profession; Patent, Trademark and Copyright; Probate and Trust; Securities; Solo and Small Firm Practitioners; Taxation; Trial; and Women in the Legal Profession.

The work of the committees and sections is the heart of the work of the Association itself; members are encouraged to be active.

Membership dues, which vary according to a lawyer's place of practice and number of years in the profession, provide the major source of funds for the work of the Association.

The BAMSL Bar Center is located at 555 Washington Ave. in downtown St. Louis and houses the offices of the executive director and staff. BAMSL members may use the facility's guest offices, classroom, boardroom and conference for free, with advance reservation. Legal professionals may reserve the classroom, conference room, boardroom and guest offices for special events, depositions and meetings.

Past support for the Association's facilities came from a trust fund left by the late Judge Frank Landwehr of the St. Louis Circuit Court. Judge Landwehr left his residuary estate in trust to provide suitable meeting and office quarters for the Bar Association. A Landwehr Committee worked with the trustee to fulfill Judge Landwehr's testamentary wishes.

Visitors to the downtown facility will find not only quarters well suited to the Association's work but artifacts and mementos of the law that were part of Judge Landwehr's estate.

The St. Louis Bar Foundation is a nonprofit corporation established by the Bar Association in 1956 with wide-ranging purposes, including: promotion of standards for legal education, dissemination of legal treatises, and provision of scholarships for legal study.

Today, most of the foundation's budget goes to partially fund what has become a national model Law-Related Education (LRE) Resource Center and programmed scholarships for students at Missouri law schools. Revenue for the Foundation comes principally from contributions by Bar Association members. The foundation is governed by 14 directors, nine from the Association's general membership and five from the Executive Committee.

Through the Foundation and under the auspices of the Judicial Facilities Committee, The Cornerstone Campaign raised more than $750,000 for renovation/restoration of the Civil and Municipal Courts buildings in downtown St. Louis. The foundation also offers a Fellows Program in the following categories: Distinguished, Patron, Sustaining, and Annual.

The Bar Association exists to benefit its members as well as to serve the legal profession and the public at large.

The Purpose 

Article II, Section 1: "...To maintain the honor and dignity of the profession of the law.

The work so forcefully advanced in the 1930s by Thomas F. McDonald in the field of professional ethics is continued through a variety of channels today. The Professional Ethics and Methods of Practice Committee affords the attorney confronted with an ethical problem the opportunity for an advance opinion. Committee members furnish written opinions or otherwise provide guidance to inquiring attorneys. To cope with fee disputes between clients and lawyers, the Association established a Resolution of Fee Disputes Committee in 1977. The committee carefully set about establishing orderly--and what have proven to be effective--procedures for resolving fee differences, such as fact-finding, a cooling-off period, and binding arbitration where both parties agree to it. Arbitration is by lawyer-layperson panels, which render written awards that are enforceable in court.

...To promote legal science and the administration of justice.

Promotion of legal science in the form of continuing education is a principal effort of the organized bar. The Bar Association has undertaken an extensive education program for its membership with thousands of registrations annually. Committees and sections of the Association annually conduct approximately 50 half- and full-day seminars and more than 100 one-hour luncheon educational programs.

In May 1950, Volume 1, Number 1 of the St. Louis Bar Journal was published. The quarterly publication, produced by the Bar Journal Committee, is a scholarly work addressing procedural and substantive facets of the law. Entire issues are devoted to single themes. The Board of Editors continually receives requests for permission to reprint articles in other publications.

Promotion of the administration of justice has been pursued by the Association in manifold ways since the origin of the Association. Sections and committees of the Association critically analyze existing legislation and offer, upon recommendation of the Board of Governors, original bills to the appropriate legislative body.

The Association has also filed amici curiae briefs on litigated public issues and policy on meeting unjust criticism of the judiciary.

...To promote and maintain the efficiency and integrity of the Judicial Departments of the Government.

Lawyers cannot function without courts and vice versa. For this reason and others, the Bar Association strives to foster good relations between the bench and the bar and to enhance the workings of the judiciary. To such ends a Bench and Bar Committee was established in 1978, appropriately co-chaired by a circuit judge and a practicing lawyer. Its programs have concerned such topics as implementation of the new judicial article to the Missouri Constitution.

Suitable salaries for judges of the federal and state benches have been an Association concern. The Association has constantly and publicly supported increases for federal and state judges, and has lobbied in public hearings and in other ways for additional compensation.

The Bar Association has also been watchful of increasing caseloads in the state courts and has pressed for legislation creating new judgeships when needed.

The Trial Section has been instrumental in furthering communication with the local judiciary. For example, the section worked closely with the St. Louis Circuit Court on amendments to local court rules concerning interrogatories and motions; the section sent proposed changes to members for comment to court personnel.

Through the Labor and Employment Law Section and the Social Security Law Committee, the Bar Association maintains a liaison with administrative law judges. On a personal level, the Association extends thanks to the judiciary through social events honoring local judges.

...To apply its knowledge and experience in the field of law to the promotion of the public good.

The spirit that led to creation of the Legal Aid Society and support for a nonpartisan court plan persists. Nowhere is the work of the Bar Association more visible than in its efforts on behalf of the public.

Examples abound. When the sketches of Missouri artist George Caleb were threatened with removal from Missouri, the Association solicited its membership for funds to aid in purchase of the collection by a nonprofit corporation for retention in Missouri. To cope with the battered child syndrome, the Association took the lead in organizing a cross-profession committee of doctors, lawyers, social workers and others to focus on the problem. The Association continues work today in areas of adult abuse, homelessness, battered women, senior citizen assistance, communicable diseases, immigration and the "war on drugs."

Through its committees, the Bar Association seeks to protect and enhance the public welfare by critically examining existing law and government and pointing the way to change.

The Young Lawyers' Division, by far the largest in numbers of members, has been a vigorous promoter of the public good. The division, whose members are up to 36 years of age (or in the first 5 years of practice without regard to age), often participates in community outreach projects, providing legal resources and other volunteer opportunities in the region.

...To provide and establish organized facilities for the furnishing of legal services to all citizens at a cost within their means.

The Bar Association's most far-reaching effort in delivering legal services has been through Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Inc. The Association maintains a continuing tie with Legal Services through its appointment of seven members to the organization's board of directors. Staff attorneys for Legal Services provide a range of legal services (other than criminal defense) without charge to persons with incomes below a certain level.

More quietly the Bar Association has operated the Lawyer Referral & Information Service since the mid-1950s, which is administered by the Lawyers Reference Service Committee. The phone-in only service refers callers to a participating attorney, who gives a half-hour initial consultation for $30. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the use of the program, both by the public and the practicing bar.

Pro bono services of lawyers are provided through the Association's Volunteer Lawyers Program. Encouraged by their Executive Committee, hundreds of Bar Association members volunteer thousands of hours annually in free services to the legal needs of the poor.


Thank you to our Sustaining Partners. Learn more at