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Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

What are you working on?” asked New Madrid as we sat at the kitchen table in Breckenridge, Colorado.

My next Bar article. What do you think the lawyers of Missouri need to hear about?” I responded.

Well, I am constantly amazed at how different the practice of law is now compared to the dark ages when we first started in the ‘70s (1970s, not 1870s). Lawyers have to stay current and adapt like everyone else.  You see plenty of changes at the Bar – maybe you should address those,” he said.

I was with a group of lawyers: New Madrid, Columbia, Springfield, Clayton, Kansas City; all classmates at Missouri.  I have fished, skiied, camped and hiked with these same five men for more than 37 years; witnessed their victories and failures, marriages, divorces, deaths, children’s births and grandchildren’s births. The group behavior is pretty unchanging, as is the humor, which contrasted sharply with his suggestion on what to write about.

But he is right – change is all around us. Some wise man (Jack Welch, I believe) said that if the rate of change outside an organization exceeds the rate inside, then the end is near. We live in a rapidly-evolving culture, and “the law” can seem particularly stodgy, but the Bar has moved at lightning speed lately to improve upon our mission to help lawyers help their clients.

So what are those changes? They fall into four categories: personnel, programing, governance, and facilities.

First, personnel changes. Due to retirements, we have replaced four of the senior staff at the Bar these past few months. Sebrina Barrett, our new executive director, is doing marvelous work. She has brought on board a cadre of new folks and moved others around into new positions. The next generation of our Bar management is now fully in charge. The old was terrific; the new is young, fresh and ready for the challenges of the coming century. They are already rising to the call.

Second, programing is evolving. The A-Lex program I wrote about in the last issue signals a sea change in the Bar’s connectivity with the Legislature. A-Lex leverages lawyers’ existing connections with legislators for the benefit of us all. We must draw on the strength of 30,000 lawyers everywhere we can to meet ongoing challenges in the Legislature. As Thomas Paine said, “We must all hang together, or we shall surely hang apart.”

In addition, we are improving connectivity with our members and the public, who are the clients our members serve. During the past two years, we have entered and expanded our social media outreach though Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We gave our website a facelift and we continue to evaluate its look and search functions. We launched The Missouri Bar Marketplace, which makes it easier for you to purchase programs and products, and which streamlines our registration and accounting processes so that we can allocate staff time to other needs. We have put key law practice management resources all in one place. Our most popular spot on the website continues to be the job postings, which helps us match job seekers with members who have available opportunities. These are good services; they will continually get better with your feedback. We also recognize the increasing trend away from “books” as we know them, so we are modifying the traditional deskbooks.

Further, we centralized pro bono work in an electronic center with our new pro bono website. We are partnering with Legal Aid, the Samaritan Center and others to more efficiently allocate the very scarce resource of “free” legal work to those unable to afford it, particularly with regard to the new Veterans’ Program.

Third, the Board of Governors is evolving. At the February meeting, I created a work group committed to reviewing the size of the Board of Governors, with an eye toward improving its efficiency. This group’s direction is to cut costs without affecting services, all with the goal of improving governance.

Fourth, facilities are changing. The Bar headquarters in Jefferson City, unchanged for nearly 30 years, is undergoing a radical renovation by our landlord, including the addition of a third floor. When completed, it will provide a permanent meeting place for the Board, as well as a forum for lawyers who need space in Jefferson City that is equipped with the latest technology.

New Madrid was right, of course. We are surrounded by change.

But some things should never change. I have traveled with the same five lawyers for all those years. We are all older, perhaps wiser; seasoned, you might say. We have all lived through much change together, but through it all I can always, always count on their candor, trust, wisdom and support when needed.

So it is and should be with the Bar. Though we may rapidly change programing, staff, facilities and governance, we will not change the fundamentals, nurtured by our predecessors, which have made The Missouri Bar the envy of other state bars. Our job – then, now and always – is to provide the best possible service to you to help you help your clients. That, as with the sage advice of old friends, will never change.

As always, please feel free to call (816-229-9111) or write with any comments.