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Question: “How many lawyer jokes are there?” Answer: “I really, really hate lawyer jokes…” In fact, I have always thought lawyers were more maligned than just about any other profession.
But then along came politicians. “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies,” said Marx (Groucho, not Karl). Criticism of politicians runs the panorama of history. Take Napoleon’s quote: “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.”
It may be tempting to join in the chorus of derision against politicians, or we may be tempted to ignore them; after all, our profession has also been at the receiving end of both insults: disdain and deafness.
But, given our profession, neither throwing rocks at nor ignoring politics is a viable option.
Last year, regardless of whether we lawyers noticed politicians, politicians took an interest in us. Amendment 3 struck at the heart of what we do by promising a radical increase in politics in the judiciary. What we all know, but do not much oblige, is that every year politicians take an interest in the law. Even if we do not engage politicians, they will most certainly engage us.
For us, what government does is our bread and butter; our clients’ options are affected by city hall, the county seat, Jefferson City, and Washington. Lawyers do a great job facilitating local governance, but less so on the state level. Yet the state level is where significant policies affecting how we help our clients are made. By ignoring Jefferson City, or throwing rocks at those who hold office, we miss opportunities to help our clients and our profession.
Right now, we are all learning much from Lincoln. He rarely extracted retribution from those who opposed him or disagreed with him: he engaged them. The current popular biography is titled Team of Rivals for a reason. Lincoln put former rivals on his cabinet: his chief opponent for the Republican nomination, Seward, became his secretary of state and closest confidant. Lincoln learned from his rivals’ opinions and he utilized each man’s individual strengths for the greater good. We – you and I – can do the same with respect to those who hold office in Jefferson City.
This year, The Missouri Bar is implementing a program to increase and organize our connectivity with the Legislature. It is called Amicus Lex or A-Lex for short. It is designed for you to reach out to individual legislators in an organized fashion. There are 30,000 of us and 200 of them. Math, which was never my strong suit, tells me that among us are many lawyers who already have contributed to, or have a personal relationship with, members of the House and Senate. We simply need to organize those connections.
Here’s how it works: You do what you have always done with respect to whatever officeholder you know: contribute, stay in touch, buy them coffee, go to a fundraiser, speak to them at church or Rotary, call or write them about issues of your concern. Alternatively, if you don’t have a relationship with a senator or representative, this is a good opportunity to develop one with someone you choose. Then send us your name and your contact. You are now mostly done.
Some of you already do this for the various specialty bars to which you belong. This program is, however, designed to impact those issues that affect us all. When those issues arise – such as judicial funding or matters related to the nonpartisan court plan, for example – we will call on you to contact your connection to tell our story about the particular issue at hand. Many of you do this individually already, but we can be more effective if we act in concert. Imagine 200 legislators receiving 5,000 letters and calls from us.
We will only ask you to act on matters lawyers collectively agree upon, such as the independence of the judiciary, adequate resources for courts, and so on. You can be part of something bigger than you are: an organization of like-minded lawyers who realize we have insights into laws that perhaps the average legislator does not.
I have also asked each member of the Board of Governors and Young Lawyers’ Section Council member to reach out to a designated member of the Legislature. It is part of their job as your representatives. However, there is no substitute for a longstanding relationship you may already have with your representative or your senator. A call from you at a critical time will make a difference.
Like you, I watch the news and I read the paper about political goings-on. Sometimes I laugh, often I groan. Neither accomplishes much. A-Lex, though, is a chance to make a difference. Perhaps, if we laugh or groan in unison, we can accomplish something to make the law a better place for all of us and for our clients who, after all, constitute the public.
To learn more about A-Lex or get involved, contact Eric Wilson of The Missouri Bar staff at (573) 638-2240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, I welcome your comments at Pat@Starkelawoffices.com.
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Paid for by The Missouri Bar Sebrina Barrett, Executive Director PO Box 119 Jefferson City, MO 65102