John G. Simon
BAMSL President, 2018-19
Managing Partner, The Simon Law Firm, P.C.
Originally published in the April 2019 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
Where did the past year go? Somehow, I am wrapping up an entire year serving as President of BAMSL. Over the course of this year, I have learned to appreciate, more than ever, how important BAMSL is to the entire St. Louis area. And it appears that my enthusiasm for all of the things BAMSL does has been contagious. Over these 12 months, we have seen BAMSL members grow to more than 6,750 legal professionals looking for ways to better serve their community.
This is a good time to remind ourselves of the core Mission of BAMSL, which has been in place for many years.
Our mission is to maintain the highest professional standards among attorneys, to enhance the professional competence of attorneys, to improve the administration of justice, to serve the needs of members, and to provide law-related service and education to the public.
Throughout the year, I have used my monthly column to focus on two aspects of this mission: Community Service and Professionalism.
Community Service is encompassed by Article II of BAMSL’s Articles of Incorporation, which urges us to apply our knowledge and experience in the field of law to promote the public good.
Numerous members of BAMSL have stepped up this year to serve those in need through the Pro Bono Challenge. Those attorneys have logged more than 40,000 hours of pro bono service this year. Each of these acts of service has helped to significantly change the lives of people who could not otherwise afford attorneys.
When people cannot afford lawyers, it affects their lives in dramatic ways. People who are struggling to make sense of the legal system on their own are at an immense disadvantage. To illustrate this problem, my previous column involved an imaginary trip to a world without any lawyers, a world in which commerce, civil rights and democracy itself became irretrievably broken.
People who do not have access to attorneys do not have the benefit of laws, even laws that were often passed for their benefit. That is why I have repeatedly applauded those attorneys who volunteer their services so that more people have meaningful access to our complex legal system. The ubiquity of such acts of compassionate pro bono service is something that should make us all proud to be attorneys.
Professionalism manifests itself in many ways. Obviously, it requires that we be highly trained advocates, but I also have written about the importance of acting with civility, which is encompassed by the Preamble to Rule 4 — Rules Governing the Missouri Bar and the Judiciary:
A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.
Civility requires a willingness to disagree without showing disrespect. Civility requires a mutual effort to seek common ground even when the stakes are high. Based on my decades of working as a trial lawyer, I am convinced that zealous advocacy is entirely consistent with civility. I have seen this over and over.
It is extremely important that we get civility down pat as part of our daily practice. Why? Civility is the public face of lawyering. People form judgements regarding the social and moral character of lawyers based on how we treat each other in public spaces.
In my monthly column, I have touched on many other aspects of being a lawyer. Being a lawyer is not only a job; it is an amazing opportunity. What would you rather be than a lawyer? This is a profession with a complex skill set. One moment we are working with others to resolve complex problems. The next moment, we might be digging into research to challenge existing interpretations of law. We work face-to-face with real people who trust us with their well-being, but we also apply abstract principles to real-life disputes. It is a profession that offers a wide variety of opportunities for anyone serious about community service.
Because lawyering is a many-faceted profession, it can sometimes be disorienting. What is the next right thing to do at a given moment? In an earlier column, I offered some of my favorite rules of thumb, mantras that I use to keep myself on track:
You are always learning.
You are always auditioning.
Keep pushing forward.
It’s all good.
It’s all about relationships.
The legal profession is most certainly about relationships. I would go so far to say that the most admired and successful attorneys are those who keep that principle front and center. We need to be good human beings in order to become good lawyers. We need to be grounded in time-tested moral values in order to understand how to serve our clients and how to honor and respect the power of the legal system.
I would offer a new candidate for a rule of thumb, an idea borrowed from the Stoics by author Ryan Holiday: “The Obstacle Is the Way.” This quote is an excellent way to highlight that we are a profession of problem-solvers. When we are at our best, we are a profession of enthusiastic, highly trained and creative problem solvers, moving with confidence toward thorny disputes in service of others because that is what we do. That is who we are.
I would like to offer a whole-hearted thank you for the BAMSL members and staff who have made all of the successes of the past 12 months possible. I love this display of energy and excitement. When we all work together like this, the sky is the limit.
I would like to welcome Sara Neill as the new President of BAMSL. And, of course, I am not going to disappear. I will be there to lend a hand to Sara just as Ed Dowd was there to offer me assistance and encouragement.
See you on the other side.