Sara G. Neill
BAMSL President, 2019-20
Shareholder, Capes Sokol
Originally published in the May 2019 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
The last time I had the responsibility to write a regular column for publication was when I was a member of my high school's newspaper staff. I recall writing about what were then newsworthy topics such as, "where to shop to find the latest trends" and "best practices for moving on after a difficult break-up." Obviously, those topics are not going to be appropriate for this column and I am not even qualified to give that kind of advice anymore anyway—not sure that I ever was. It is too bad because some of our members may have enjoyed a temporary break from the law.
Over the next year, I plan to focus my columns on the features and benefits of BAMSL membership and involvement. BAMSL has a lot to offer, no matter the size of your firm, your practice area or the number of years you have been practicing. Today, I begin with my own experience.
I am not from St. Louis. When I was growing up, St. Louis was where my parents, sisters and I regularly vacationed. We would pack up the family car (first a blue station wagon and later a Honda Accord) and travel five hours south from the Chicago suburbs. I have many fond memories of visiting St. Louis including: dining at the old Parkmoor restaurant on Clayton Road, buying my first prom dress at the old mall downtown, hunting for Easter Eggs under the Arch with thousands of other children (is it really "hunting" if all of the eggs are in plain view?), watching those singing fudge people at Union Station, and eating Chinese food for the first time ever at Yen Ching on Brentwood Blvd.
When I accepted a position at Capes Sokol in 2003, I did not know many people in St. Louis. I joined BAMSL because my firm encouraged me to and I wanted to get involved in the legal community. I hoped to meet other lawyers and judges, find mentors, develop my legal skills and do some volunteer work. I thought those things, among others, would be critical to having a fulfilling and successful career in law.
In the early days, I did not take on a leadership position in BAMSL. The demands of being a new associate and learning my practice area seemed, at the time, to account for most minutes that I was not sleeping. Of course, now that I have children, I wonder what I did with all my "free time" back then.
I began my involvement in BAMSL by attending events in the evenings and occasionally on weekends. I remember going to events where there would be crowds of lawyers. It sometimes seemed as if everyone there knew everyone else, which I found to be somewhat overwhelming. Fortunately, I stuck with it and slowly began to feel more comfortable as I met more and more people. Over the next several years, I developed a large and invaluable network of attorneys and judges. I now look forward to attending legal events. They are opportunities to catch up with friends and support other lawyers as well as our profession.
Through BAMSL, I have found several mentors. Exceptional attorneys and former BAMSL presidents including John Simon, Ed Dowd, Seth Albin, Lynn Ann Vogel, Joan Swartz and Bill Bay have each taken the time to share their thoughts and provide assistance to me as I have prepared for this new leadership role. I was fortunate to work closely with John and Ed during their presidencies. They each offered advice not only on leadership issues, but also career advice. What a privilege it has been to have the opportunity to work with and learn from each of them.
Zoe Linza, BAMSL's Executive Director, has been another mentor. She is one of the hardest working people I have ever met and somehow has the ability to manage 100 tasks at any given time and never say a negative thing about anything or anyone. Through educational events and writing and speaking opportunities, BAMSL has helped me to enhance my legal skills. BAMSL regularly offers outstanding substantive CLEs. Just last month, for example, BAMSL held a full-day seminar on white collar crime. The white collar defense bar, along with the U.S. Attorney's Office, worked together to organize this event. At every CLE that I attend, I learn something new, whether about a substantive legal issue or a practical tip or strategy. BAMSL CLEs also are great places to meet people with similar practices and interests.
I have also found BAMSL's writing and speaking opportunities to be beneficial. The St. Louis Bar Journal is published quarterly and offers BAMSL members the chance to write about substantive legal topics. I have authored several articles on tax controversy issues over the years and as much as I sometimes dread sitting down to write, I always learn a lot from the experience and am proud of the finished product. BAMSL sections and committees are always looking for speakers. Presenting on a topic relevant to your practice is a great way to get your name out there and to build credibility in your area of practice.
BAMSL provides its members many opportunities to do volunteer work, including projects such as Motion for Kids, the Mock Trial Competition, or St. Louis Attorneys Against Hunger, through the pro bono challenge, the bankruptcy or tax court volunteer programs, or committee service. Personally, I have really enjoyed working on the St. Louis Attorneys Against Hunger project. With the support of our lawyers and law firms, we have worked together to raise more than $150,000 for St. Patrick's Center, Meals on Wheels and Operation Food Search. If you are interested in getting involved in BAMSL and are not sure where to start, please feel free to reach out to me or any of the other officers. I also highly recommend attending the annual Bench and Bar conference. This year's conference will be held May 29-31 at Camden on the Lake in the Lake of the Ozarks. We have a tremendous educational program planned, as well as several social events including a golf tournament, wine tasting with the Missouri Supreme Court, a conference dinner and live music.
For me, BAMSL has led to the development of a large network and several mentors. Through educational as well as speaking and writing opportunities, I have enhanced my legal skills. And I have worked with other lawyers on various volunteer projects over the years, most recently St. Louis Attorneys Against Hunger. These are just some of the ways I have found my BAMSL membership and involvement to be valuable to my legal career. There are so many more, but I have already greatly exceeded my word limit.