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Legally Speaking


Issue: August, 2009
Author: Rick Lavery

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From the Top

Earlier this summer a family of magpies made its home in my backyard. I didn’t really notice it until the three young babies left the nest. It might sound cute, but magpies are actually kind of obnoxious. They’re noisy and their call is not at all song-like. For a couple of weeks they were particularly hard on the ears. The parents squawked and dove at us every time we went outside. Our dogs loved the exchange and longed to get their paws on the pesky birds. Though the three fledglings had left the nest, we soon learned that it takes a while for young magpies to learn how to fly. They start by jumping around, then fluttering a few feet into the air and then finally into full-fledged flight. The fact that it rained constantly for the month didn’t help the flight lessons.

One Saturday morning as we watched the frantic bird parents, Ann commented that things aren’t much different for parents of any species. We were feeling a little frantic too. Our number three son David had just left our nest. He’s an engineering student at the University of Southern California and he’s going to be a senior this fall. We thought we would have him home for one last summer, but he let us know that he’d be heading back to Los Angeles for summer school so that he could be sure to graduate next spring.

Our daughter Janie will be starting college in the fall at Washington State University. When we first started her college search, she announced that she wasn’t going to a college in Wyoming or any state touching Wyoming. I think that might have meant she wanted to get far away from me – she’s a comedian. Really, she’s a terrific young woman, but she’s also still my baby girl. It will be hard to see her go. I’m so excited for her, but her departure will be the beginning of the end of our active parenting years. We will be “empty nesters.” For now, I’m feeling like father magpie, and I want to see these kids take flight so I can relax and move on to the next season of life.

It’s interesting that the end of the era of my kids living at home comes just as my year as bar president and my six years on the Board of Commissioners are coming to an end. As a parent, I am proud of all my kids and I know that their mom and I have given them all they need to fly on their own – no more squawking necessary – although I do reserve the right to squawk occasionally. As for the Wyoming State Bar, I couldn’t be more proud of the organization I leave behind or the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. It’s been a lot of fun and I know for certain that good things are going to continue.

When one season ends, a new one begins. In June, the Board of Commissioners held its biennial strategic planning session. We used the results from our recent bar survey to help us plan the Bar’s direction over the next two years. The Bylaws of the Wyoming State Bar set forth and define our purposes in what I believe are three distinct areas. First, there is our work with and for the judiciary to maintain and improve the administration of justice. To be honest, it is our primary reason for existence and we take it very seriously. Luckily, we have the services of our many extraordinary individuals appointed to boards and committees. The time and effort involved when serving on many of these boards is not insignificant and the tasks are often quite challenging. These volunteers work seamlessly with our bar staff and we can’t thank them enough for their service.

Next, there are the services that we provide for our members in order to foster and maintain high standards of integrity, learning, conduct, competence and public service – things like the bar’s website, our publications, Casemaker and the professional assistance program. Finally, we educate and serve the public and promote the role of lawyers, judges and the judicial system. The 2009-2011 Strategic Plan highlights areas of focus where our members and the Officers and Commissioners have expressed a need for attention and action over the next two years. If you have been reading my columns throughout the year you know that I consider access to civil justice for all of our state’s citizens to be of primary importance. I can also tell you that our Bar Officers and Commissioners agree. In addition, if you read the results of our bar survey, you know that our members agree as well. Our first goal will be to continue to partner with the Access to Justice Commission and in addition, to take the lead in the areas of access to justice where we can be most effective as a bar. Over the next two years, the bar is committed to assisting in the delivery of quality civil legal services to poor and indigent clients by assessing and enhancing the delivery of pro-bono legal services, assessing the current ethical standards for pro bono work by Wyoming lawyers and by assessing and assisting in the implementation of an improved, advice oriented and user friendly pro se litigant information system.

One of the goals from our 2007-2009 strategic plan was to tie our goals to our operating budget. That being done, the new goal is to assess all of our member service offerings. We learned from the bar survey that many of our members are in the dark with respect to our member services. We will fully market all of our member services and then measure their use by our membership. We will do a cost benefit analysis and determine if there is a continuing justification for the service (in other words, do our members really want the service?). Casemaker is an extremely popular tool among the lawyers that choose to use it. On the other hand, many of our members don’t use it at all. The Wyoming Professional Assistance Program (WPAP) has been a great success for the lawyers that have taken advantage of the program. Conversely, we only serve about eight to ten lawyers a year and it’s pretty expensive given the number of users. Our publications are outstanding (the Wyoming Lawyer and the Legal Directory, to name a couple). We know that our members like them, but they cost more to publish than they return in revenue. We have online options and less costly printing options to consider. If it makes sense to keep a service, then we will do what we can to make it as cost effective as possible.

The survey told us that many of our members believe that the lack of job satisfaction, the loss of professionalism and the public’s loss of confidence in our judicial system are all critical challenges facing the legal profession in Wyoming. Our third goal is to try to do something about those critical challenges among three distinct segments of our practicing bar. First, under the leadership of Tom Long and Natalie Winegar, the Lawyer Mentoring Committee has already done an excellent job of putting together a mentoring program. We will market that program to every new admittee and hopefully be able to match each new admittee with a mentor in the community where he/she begins his/her career.

We will also try to improve all of our members’ job and life satisfaction by marketing WPAP, increasing our organization’s focus on work/life balance issues and instituting a life assistance program where members can find consultation or counseling for family, mental health, stress or depression issues.

Finally, for our lawyers nearing the end of a long career, we will follow the American Bar Association’s lead and develop a “Second Season of Service Initiative.” We are finding that as lawyers reach the final stages of their careers, there is often a desire to stay involved. We want to identify and organize these fine lawyers and help them to continue to give something back to the profession by sharing their experience and wisdom. We will establish networks that allow them to mentor young lawyers, assist young lawyers with pro bono activities and get involved in the access to justice effort.

The “second season” idea really hits home for me as the seasons are changing both at my house and with my service to the Wyoming State Bar. I feel a sense of pride and satisfaction, yet I know there will always be more to do. Friends tell me that our kids will always be our kids. I’m sure that’s right but I look forward to a new season with careers, weddings and grandkids. (Sean, Chris, David and Janie, take your time with the weddings and grandkids. There is no rush.) As for the second season of bar service, these past six years have meant a great deal to me. I have a better appreciation of what it means to be a part of our judicial system and I am as proud as I have ever been of the lawyers and judges who live and work in our state. We had an Access to Justice Commission telephone conference a few days ago, and I tell you without equivocation that I sat there and listened in awe of the people who serve on the commission - everyone a volunteer. The commitment and spirit of justice creates an energy that is truly something to witness. How can you not be proud to be a Wyoming lawyer?

One last thing, I hope you plan to attend the bar convention this year. It is going to be a fantastic event and you will love Evanston.

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