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Legally Speaking

 

Issue: June, 2009
Author: Rick Lavery

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From the Top

Ann and I took a little road trip last week with our two youngest kids. We loaded up the car and traveled 865 miles to Omaha. The occasion was my oldest son Sean’s graduation from law school. I am happy to report that I didn’t have to shout, “If I have to stop this car…,” one single time. Of course David is 21 and Janie is 18 so that helped. They’re also pod people, and I don’t mean the zombie type. I mean the wires out of the ears, wide awake, but unable to hear or speak, pod people. You put them in their seats and they don’t make a sound. Really, it was a good trip. Spring was in the air and we live in a beautiful part of the world. Ann and I talked, read, listened to the radio and just enjoyed being together.

In addition to our immediate family, 12 extended family members showed up for the ceremony and it was wonderful that they took the time to share this moment in our lives. Omaha is a special place for our family. Ann and I met in Omaha while students at Creighton University. Two of our kids, Sean and Chris, went to school there, so there is a lot of good feeling and nostalgia about the place.

With my kids finishing up one school or another almost yearly, you would think that these ceremonies would be old hat, but I personally underestimated the emotion that I felt watching my oldest son graduate from law school. Graduation day started with Ann, my bother-in-law Kit and I, arriving about an hour and a half early to “save” seats – 17 to be exact. I felt like I was holding down a hill on the battlefield and by the time our party showed up, I was kicking people out of seats that I wasn’t even saving.

Finally, the music started and I saw the banner, “School of Law.” I watched the graduates emerge into the arena with their black and purple gowns, hoods and caps, signifying the hard work, passion and accomplishment that we all know so well. To be honest, it sent chills through me and I was beaming with pride. Ann and I have always taught our kids to find something that they love to do and to pursue their own dreams. Sitting there, I realized that Sean was following in my footsteps but at the same time, blazing his own trail. I look forward to years of hearing about and talking about his work and the practice of law.

For me, the ceremony was also a renewal of the Creighton spirit that was instilled in me and then sent me on my way back home to Wyoming in 1981. The undergraduate college, and even more so, the law school, put so much emphasis on the promotion of justice, the pursuit of truth, service to others, and the inalienable worth of each individual. Each speaker and honoree spoke to or represented these ideals.

Speaking of making a better world, this month’s issue contains the results of our bi-annual bar survey. I hope that you each took the time to respond. Every two years, we publish the survey to the membership and ask for your input. We use the results for our upcoming strategic planning. It operates as the beginning of the Commission’s decision making for the Bar’s direction and budgeting over the next two years. The results weren’t all in when I penned this column but I know people and had a sneak peak at some of the preliminary results.

I was pleased to learn that the Bar’s publications, website and other member services are well received and appreciated by the membership. Lawyers love the judicial survey but our judges have some reservations about its fairness and validity when used as a tool to better inform the electorate. I think we can make it better and we are working to do just that. Health insurance continues to be a front burner issue for the private bar throughout the state. Small and solo firms can’t afford insurance at all and the larger firms are finding that health insurance premiums eat up a bigger piece of their operating expenses every year. Rest assured that we continue to work towards a cost effective and quality alternative for all our members. We are satisfied with the lawyer and judicial disciplinary processes just the way they are. Most of us don’t know that much about it and we sure don’t want to know any more. The way that the Bar communicates with the membership will get more attention this year. Rising publication costs for print communications and the use of electronic media as an effective alternative are going to be important topics for our strategic planning.

I think the most interesting result was that access to justice for all citizens and the loss of popular respect for an independent judicial system were the two most important issues confronting lawyers and judges. Both issues have been front and center this year for the Wyoming State Bar. The creation of an Access to Justice Commission and our efforts to better inform the public about the role of lawyers and judges using radio spots and the “Legally Speaking” public service announcements on television are just the beginning. Ultimately, our success depends upon our membership. As a profession, we must reach out to the larger community in this state with education and service so that there is a broad understanding that this judicial system works and it works for everyone.

The keynote speaker at Sean’s graduation was a Jesuit Priest, Father Greg Boyle of Los Angeles. In 1988 he started a gang intervention program in East Los Angeles. In 21 years it has grown into the largest gang intervention organization in the United States. The program is organized as a non-profit business called Homeboy Industries. It creates small businesses like Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café & Catering, Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy Merchandise, Homeboy Press and Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery. Those companies provide jobs, teach job skills and teach young former gang members to work side-by-side with rival gang members, often mortal enemies, to reduce and possibly eliminate gang violence. Their company slogan is, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” Now that’s a keeper!

Father Boyle takes the notion of service to a whole new level. He challenged the class of 2009 to imagine a circle of compassion and then imagine nobody standing outside that circle. He challenged them to walk to the edge of the circle and stand with those people on the margins – the poor, the powerless, the voiceless and those whose burdens are more than they can bear. He told them to seek the kind of compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it. Finally, he told them that the measure of their compassion lies not with their service to those on the margins but with their willingness to see themselves in kinship and solidarity with them. I was inspired and awed by this spiritual man.

I don’t know that I could ever have the capacity to do what Father Boyle challenged those graduates to do. I know that some of our members do and I know that many of us try. The elimination of our concerns about the loss of popular respect for an independent judicial system and the lack of access to justice for all citizens lies in our ethical obligation to serve the larger population. I sound like a broken record but I ask you all once again, take on a pro bono case, get your county bar to have a “Law Night,” talk to a local organization or school class about the judicial system, join the Wyoming State Bar Foundation or contribute to the Equal Justice Campaign. Whatever you’re doing now, do just a little bit more. Father Boyle told those graduates, “Listen to your heart and let it bring you to your feet.” I can’t say it any better than that.

I had some really nice comments about my last column and about my son Chris. I think it touched a chord because life happens (good and bad) to all of us and we have more in common than we know. Anyway, I thought I would offer this update about Chris. He quit his job at Elkhorn Construction, as expected, and moved to Lake Tahoe. He’s got a job at the Incline Village golf course and he’s living in a house, on the golf course, with his buddy Mike and another roommate. According to Chris, it’s a great set up. The day before he left, his new boss called and told him that he hoped Chris was planning on playing a lot of golf this summer. Whose boss says something like that? The morning he left I gave him a hug and asked him if he had any plans before his job was starting (he had a week or so). He said, “All I know is that were riding (snowboarding) tomorrow, other than that, we’ll figure something out.” I bet he will.

Copyright © 2009 – Wyoming State Bar

     

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