Issue: October, 2006
Author: Joseph B. Bluemel
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From the President . . .
It is with great honor and more than a little trepidation that I write this column as the person deemed to lead the Wyoming State Bar for the upcoming year. As a solo practitioner who has spent my entire legal career in a small town in southwestern Wyoming, I have always been or at least believed that I have been far from the hotbed of happenings in this great and vast state. I have participated in few events with as much visibility as simply writing this column. Sure, I have been honored to represent a number of people in trials, including the people of the state when I was a prosecutor, but I received training for that. I attended school and had good hearted and well meaning professors, lawyers and judges who taught and helped me become a lawyer and be prepared to try cases. There have been times when I spoke to the press concerning cases or legal matters that I was involved with but I confess to begrudgingly participating in most of those interviews. I was one of those who believed that no press was good press. Now, one of my duties is to write a column for each issue of the Wyoming Lawyer that surveys indicate is often read by you, whom I consider to be among Wyoming’s best and brightest. As I contemplate what to write, I ask myself what someone who grew up in Carter, Wyoming, a town that is by nearly all accounts a ghost town these days, can say to you that is worth your valuable time to read. What a humbling experience.
My thoughts begin by looking back on the Wyoming State Bar convention held in Laramie this past August. It was so exciting to see, meet and visit with the law students and recent law graduates who were not yet members of the Bar but attended the events hosted by the Bar. Among those new law students was a young man I watched grow up here in Kemmerer. The excitement these law students anticipate in being a lawyer was evident by the sparkle in their eyes and the edge to their voices when they were around practicing lawyers. It reminded me of and refreshed the emotions I had that gave me the drive to enter law school, survive the law school process and take and pass the bar exam. It made those emotions so alive that I find it difficult to believe those events occurred more than 20 years ago. When I started law school I wanted to become a lawyer so I could help people solve problems they could not solve themselves. I muse at how much the practice of law has changed in those 20 years, and I wonder how much it is going to change in the next 20 years. Yet with all the evolution I have seen, I still find it uplifting to help a client solve a problem he/she encounters that is otherwise insurmountable. However, I did find it troubling while visiting with recent graduates of the University of Wyoming College of Law and students who were in their second and third year how many of them not only planned but “hoped” to leave Wyoming and go to places such as Colorado to practice law.
Here in Kemmerer we do not have enough attorneys to assist the people of our community with their legal needs. Our community is experiencing growth from the current energy development along with most of the state. We have recently had an influx of young attorneys in the County Attorney’s office that will hopefully bring new blood to our local legal community that will remain for years to come. When I visit with my colleagues in other communities around the state, most if not all of them are telling me their communities are growing. They are very busy and they too lack new and young attorneys who are interested and willing to become a part of their communities and deliver legal services to their friends and neighbors. With the growth and activity our state is experiencing come increased legal needs. While the needs for legal services are increasing, the attorneys in Wyoming are aging. According to our membership data, more than 300 of the active members of the Wyoming State Bar who live in Wyoming are over 60 years old and eligible to retire or soon will be eligible. On the younger side, we have only 154 active lawyers who are under the age of 35 and 119 of them are under the age of 30. Our judiciary is aging too. There are currently 36 of the 58 judges, excluding municipal judges, in Wyoming who are 55 years old or older. Of those 36 judges, 15 are 60 years old or older. The majority of Wyoming’s lawyers (more than 1,000) are between the ages of 40 and 60. With the growth we are experiencing in our state, I am concerned that we do not have enough young or new lawyers coming into our communities to meet the increased demand for legal services we are seeing and expecting to continue to see for years to come. Moreover, with the aging population of the Bar membership we do not have enough young or new lawyers coming into our communities to fill the void that will be left by those attorneys who are likely to discontinue their active practices in the next few years.
I challenge all the members of the Wyoming State Bar to help me, the officers and commissioners and staff of the Wyoming State Bar to find and implement a program or programs to not only keep the best and brightest graduates of the University of Wyoming College of Law in Wyoming but to attract the best and brightest graduates of other law schools to come to Wyoming and provide legal services to the people of our great state. When we lawyers become part of our communities and volunteer to serve in local entities and non-profit organizations, we increase the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us. It reminds me of a classmate of mine in law school who described his dream of how becoming a lawyer he could be the white knight in shining armor who would rescue and protect those who were in legal distress and had been wronged. That classmate believed that meant taking on big corporations and insurance companies to help the little guy. As my friend and colleague developed as one of Wyoming’s fine lawyers, his position in his community has evolved. He is now involved in many community activities and he provides a certain richness to his community that does not involve taking on big corporations and insurance companies. His activities in his community have not yet resulted in him being recognized by receiving one of the Bar’s Leadership Awards. Those awards were implemented by Mark Harris and continued by Warren Lauer. They recognize the mark some of Wyoming’s best and brightest, its lawyers, make in their communities. Attracting and keeping new and young attorneys to our cities, towns and communities will only improve the quality of life that keeps me enjoying the practice of law in Wyoming and Kemmerer.
I challenge each of you in the upcoming year to help me “raise the bar” in Wyoming. We can each do that in many ways. First, I encourage each of us to raise the bar by assisting a colleague in some way. It may be as simple as taking the time to be available for a young lawyer in your community to bounce thoughts and concerns of cases off you. Make the time in your busy schedule to have coffee or lunch with a young lawyer. Maybe you will raise the bar by choosing to invest your time and money by hiring a new law graduate and as was done in times gone by, have that new lawyer literally shadow you for a year. What a way that would be to learn and understand the nuances of practicing law in Wyoming. Maybe you will decide to raise the bar in Wyoming by contacting the Bar’s Lawyer Mentoring Committee and participate in a ready made program. Second, I encourage each of us to raise the bar by simply being more respectful to each other in our professional lives. We all understand leading by example and lawyers are leaders. When we show respect and choose to take the high road in our professional lives, we set the standards for our colleagues while we provide better service to our clients. Such conduct further raises the bar by which our profession is measured. Lastly, when attorneys raise the bar in their communities by participating in volunteer activities and non-profit functions, they encourage others in the community to participate. That improves the quality of life for all of us. I challenge each of you to take a step in your own way to raise the bar by keeping and attracting the best and brightest attorneys to Wyoming, to be more professional, and to continue to improve the communities in which we live.
In recognition of the continuous transition in all our lives and our profession I express my personal gratitude and best wishes to the recently retired Wyoming State Bar Executive Director, Mary Guthrie. After an extensive career practicing law in Wyoming, Mary provided 3 ½ years of wonderful service to our membership. She retired from her position in August. Her friendship, laughter, bright wit, insight, skills and hard work were greatly appreciated and will be greatly missed. I wish her the best in all her future endeavors. Looking forward, I extend a hearty welcome back to Wyoming to the Bar’s new Executive Director, Jeff Schalow. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming College of Law and returned to Wyoming from Montana. A committee selected Jeff from more than 40 applicants who expressed an interest in filling Mary’s shoes. After an extensive process including a number of interviews of well qualified candidates, the committee recommended to the Board of Bar Commissioners to hire Jeff. The officers and commissioners of the Bar challenge Jeff and look forward to him continuing to “raise the bar” with Wyoming’s lawyers and its judiciary while working with and leading the professional staff of the bar office that serves all of you.
We Wyoming lawyers really do have a unique environment within which we live and practice. I hope all of you will help me and the other officers, the commissioners, and the staff of the Wyoming State Bar continue to improve our environment. It is not easy to be a lawyer but it can and should be rewarding in ways more than just financially. “If you do good, you’ll be accused of selfish motives: It doesn’t matter–do good anyway...If you carry out your dreams, you will find false friends and real enemies: It doesn’t matter–carry out your dreams...Honesty and sincerity make you vulnerable: Be honest and sincere....If you help people, they will resent it: It doesn’t matter–help them.”
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