Chief Justice Limbaugh addresses The Missouri Bar/Judicial Conference in Springfield

13 September 2001

Chief Justice Limbaugh addresses The Missouri Bar/Judicial Conference in Springfield

Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., chief justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri, delivered the following address during the opening luncheon of The Missouri Bar/Judicial Conference September 13, 2001, in Springfield, Mo. The audio of the speech is available at

I prepared my address before tragedy struck on Tuesday morning. Much of what I have to say in that address seems insignificant in the context of that tragedy. But as President Bush has told us, the best response of ordinary citizens is to press on with the business of the day, insignificant though it may seem, and in that way, show those who would do us harm that we are resilient and strong far beyond any means they have to prove otherwise. Although we press on with the business of the day, our hearts are heavy. We lawyers and judges of The Missouri Bar join all citizens of this great nation in mourning the loss of so many hundreds of our fellow Americans, and we offer our prayers for their families.

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My father and my grandfather were presidents of The Missouri Bar. My father, who also is one of our new senior counselors, and my mother are present. Would you please stand? My grandfather is here in spirit. I have known no person who had more love and appreciation for the work of the organized bar than my grandfather. If the law was his profession, bar work was his hobby. Ten years ago, he celebrated his 100th birthday at the annual meeting of The Missouri Bar in Kansas City. Those of you who were present may recall that he was late to arrive at the opening luncheon. He was late because my cousin was interviewing him on the radio. The topic of the interview was something like "Recollections of the Spanish-American War!" In any event, when he finally arrived, you good people rose to your feet to greet him. It was one of the highlights of his life. And mine.

I don't know that my own great appreciation for the organized bar is due to a genetic predisposition, but at the least the environmental influence of the bar was profound. My folks were always off to a bar meeting here or there, in state or out of state, the county bar, The Missouri Bar, the American Bar. Their vacations, working vacations, were to bar meetings. You have heard some people call themselves "Army brats" in recognition of the fact that during their childhood their parents hauled them from one Army base to another. Incoming president Theresa Levings tells me that her kids will remember their upbringing as bar brats, being hauled from one bar meeting to another. Although I do not consider myself a bar brat, on occasion my parents did take the family to bar meetings. One memorable trip was to the annual meeting of the ABA in Montreal in 1968. Five years later in 1973, Marsha and I honeymooned at the ABA meeting in Washington, D.C. My insistence on taking my new bride on a honeymoon to a bar meeting was not as odd or obsessive as you may think. We rendezvoused with my parents and grandparents after a stop in Paris.

I attended the annual meeting of The Missouri Bar as a new member 25 years ago this month. I have attended every annual meeting since that time. Before you today, I renew the pledge I made nine years ago when I joined the Supreme Court, and that is to give my unflagging support for the programs and functions of The Missouri Bar for the balance of my career.

Though it is customary to review with you the state of the judiciary, I will depart from that custom in order to speak on the topic of professionalism. Professionalism will be the theme of President-elect Levings' tenure as your new president, and indeed it has been a component of the administration of every bar president in recent memory. It is appropriate that professionalism also has been a component of every state of the judiciary address during my time on the Court.

There are many facets of professionalism. Three years ago, then Chief Justice Duane Benton spoke exclusively on the topic of civility. You have heard other lawyers and judges speak at professionalism programs ranging from legal ethics and the role of lawyers in society to law office management and gender and race awareness.

My topic is public service — the service we lawyers and judges must render above and beyond the day-to-day work for our clients and constituents. It is the service that is as much a part of the obligation of lawyers and judges as the performance of our work in an ethical, competent and civil manner. It is the service that we must give in return for the privilege of being a lawyer. It is the service that differentiates the practice of law from that of a mere occupation or business. And it is the service that makes our profession a noble calling. Indeed, the public service of lawyers determines the public image of lawyers.  

As Chief Justice, I am immensely proud that most members of the bar live up to their obligation of public service, and that some lawyers, like Shawn Askinosie and several others who are being honored at this annual meeting, render exemplary public service.

The preamble to the Rules of Professional Responsibility provides that lawyers not only are representatives of clients and officers of the legal system, but also that lawyers are "public citizen[s] having special responsibility for the quality of justice." The notion of the lawyer as "public citizen" should be taught and retaught from the day prospective lawyers first set foot in law school to the day they retire. A description of the lawyer as public citizen is set out in another part of the preamble: 

    As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession. As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education.  A lawyer should be mindful . . . of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance and should therefore devote professional time and civic influence in their behalf.

The notion of the lawyer as public citizen is expounded further in Rule 4-6.1, entitled "Pro Bono Publico Service," which states that "A lawyer should render public interest legal service," and lists three ways that a lawyer may discharge that responsibility: 1) by providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations; 2) by service in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession; and 3) by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

The opportunities for service as public citizens are innumerable, but none is more important than service to the poor. Our legal aid offices provide excellent service, but the lawyers are overworked and underpaid. Regardless, as noted in the Comment to Rule 4-6.1, "the basic responsibility for providing legal services for those unable to pay ultimately rests upon the individual lawyer . . . [and] every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, should find time to participate in or otherwise support the provision of legal services to the disadvantaged." As so many of you know from your own experience, personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your professional life.

Having fulfilled your obligation of service to the poor, try bar work. The complaint, or rather the excuse, that I hear from lawyers who are not involved in bar work is that they don't know how to get involved. The bulk of the work of The Missouri Bar, and all other bar associations from the city and county level to the national level, is done in committees. The work of these committees advances the law and improves the practice of law. The Missouri Bar has more than a score of committees and surely one or more of them will meet your individual interest. So join a committee! Volunteer for committee assignments! Believe me, your efforts will be appreciated.

For those of you who prefer a different course, there are not-for-profit organizations of lawyers to meet every interest and concern, from the ACLU to the Federalist Society, from MATA to MODL, from the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys to the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and so many others.

And then there are opportunities for service by performing legal work for the benefit of civic groups, churches and charities. Undoubtedly, many of you have worked on behalf of such organizations. You have drafted articles of incorporation and bylaws, prepared 501(c)(3) applications, appeared before city councils to obtain zoning approval or other relief, and performed legal work in a host of different ways, for no pay or for reduced pay.

Let me push the notion of the lawyer as public citizen a step further. Lawyers also should use their special talents to render service that is not related to the practice of law or that is related only indirectly to the practice of law.

Lawyers are the civic leaders in our communities. They serve as officers and directors of the United Way and the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the NAACP, the Chamber of Commerce, the Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts, the YMCA and the Rotary Club, the Jaycees and the Zonta Club, the local library board and the PTA. Lawyers serve on our city councils and our school boards and they serve in our Senate and House of Representatives. And in all but the rarest of cases, they serve with selflessness and distinction. In the public's eye, no less is expected of lawyers. Without that selfless and distinguished service, the public image of lawyers is greatly diminished.

Of particular concern to the bar and judiciary is the dearth of lawyers in the legislature, especially with the advent of term limits. Less than a generation ago, a majority of the Senate and a large minority of the House were composed of lawyers. Today, only 7 of the 34 Senators are lawyers, and only 22 of the 163 Representatives are lawyers. On the other hand, there are now approximately 25,000 members of The Missouri Bar. Twenty-nine out of 25,000 is not enough! And so I call on the members of the bar to come forward as candidates for legislative office. Fulfill your obligation as public citizen by serving in public office. Not every Missouri lawyer can be a member of the legislature or serve in other public office, but every Missouri lawyer should be engaged in the political process.

Our judges are not exempt from service as public citizens, and, if anything, their obligation is even greater due to the honor of their office. The fact is, most of our judges have put together substantial resumes of public service. Allow me to boast about a few of my colleagues who have a particularly keen understanding of their obligation of service.

Consider the example of my friend Jack Garrett who is presiding judge of the 37th Circuit in Southern Missouri. For about 5 years running, Judge Garrett and his chief juvenile officer have sponsored an annual conflict resolution task force for teenagers. They target 7th grade students in each of the circuit's 19 school districts. With the assistance of college students from SMSU, they conduct small group seminars to address issues such as bullying, school violence and substance abuse. In addition, Judge Garrett sponsors an annual mediation camp and workshop for students in grades 6 through 8, training those students to develop and implement peer-mediation panels in their schools.

In Kansas City, our family court judges have implemented a truancy diversion program in which several judges, led by Judge Steve Nixon and Judge Marco Roldan, meet with "at risk" children and their parents or parent once each week at 7:30 a.m. The judges discuss not only the truancy problem, but also other family needs that may be contributing to the problem, including the child's safety and well-being and parent accountability for the child's needs. Last month, Judge Nixon took the children he is working with to a Royals baseball game. Judge Roldan has found his Hispanic roots to be of value in working with the families at the McCoy Elementary School where English is a second language.

The truancy diversion program originated in St. Louis County where it continues to flourish. Judge Susan Block, the chief administrative judge of the family court, has assembled a team of eight judges and one lawyer who make weekly visits to troubled children in eight county school districts.

In St. Louis City, Judge Henry Autrey, a former prosecutor, serves in a number of ways. He speaks to various groups on the issue of child abuse prevention. He also participates in reading exercises and tutoring programs for young children at city schools. But his most personally fulfilling service is playing the role of Santa Claus for the elderly residents at a local nursing home. According to Judge Autrey, "We forget the sacrifices they made and the hard work they endured so that we could achieve our personal successes."  

Of course, there are countless other examples of commendable extracurricular judicial service, but our Missouri judges must continue to lead the way.

No discussion of the lawyer as public citizen is complete without mention of mentoring. Mentoring is the hot-button topic in professionalism circles. It is seen as a vital part of our professional well-being. One bar organization, the American Inns of Court, which has a chapter in Kansas City and another planned for St. Louis, is devoted entirely to the promotion of mentoring as a tool for the professional development of lawyers. The idea is that the more senior members of the bar take on the role of mentor to the younger members, and to law students, as well. In fact, the mentoring flows in both directions as the older lawyers engage the fresh ideas of their younger understudies.

In my view, mentoring has a dual nature. It is both proactive and passive. It is proactive when senior members of the bar take under their wings and nurture the younger members. It is passive when the senior members of the bar teach by their example of competent representation, ethical conduct, civil demeanor, and public service. In this larger sense, mentoring is the natural byproduct of the practice of law by those with an abiding commitment to professionalism.

There is no better example of the dual nature of mentoring than the experience of one of our founding fathers, John Adams. I was mesmerized this summer while reading the brilliant new Adams biography by Pulitzer prizewinner David McCullough. Those of you who also have read it undoubtedly will join in the praise. Adams, you see, was not only a great patriot and a great statesman, he was a great lawyer, and the first part of the book is an account of his life as a lawyer, with a particular emphasis on the way he was mentored by other lawyers. In Adams' day, one could not become a lawyer without proactive mentoring. There were no law schools, so prospective lawyers engaged practicing lawyers to take them on in a course of study and apprenticeship. In 1756, Adams signed a contract with a young Worchester attorney, James Putnam, in order to study "under his inspection" for two years. After a short time, Adams moved into the Putnam home, teaching school himself during the day and reading law at night.

McCullough relates that after Adams completed his studies with lawyer Putnam, he still felt "miserably unsure of himself," so "he attended court in Boston where, awestruck, he listened to the leading attorneys of the day, Jeremiah Gridley and James Otis, argue cases." This is the passive mentoring to which I referred, learning from the example of others. But with Jeremiah Gridley, it was proactive mentoring as well. According to McCullough,

    On the morning [Adams] found his way through the crooked streets of Boston to Jeremiah Gridley's office for the requisite interview for admission to the bar, Gridley, much to Adams' surprise, gave him not a few cursory minutes but several hours, questioning him closely on his readings. With a kindly, paternal air, Gridley also counseled him to "pursue the study of the law itself, rather than the gain of it."

From that time on, Adams "made close study of the attorneys he most admired . . . searching for clues to their success." He thought that "Jeremiah Gridley's 'grandeur' emanated from his great learning," and that "the strength of James Otis was his fiery eloquence." "I find myself imitating Otis," Adams wrote.

Otis became for Adams "the shining example of the lawyer-scholar, learned yet powerful in argument." By the 1760s, Otis had become Adams' political hero, too. In the winter of 1761, Otis argued the famous writs of assistance case. Otis argued that the writs of assistance — precursors of modern day search warrants that permitted law officers to enter and search any premises whenever they wished — were "null and void because they violated the natural rights of Englishmen." Though Otis' plea was turned down, Adams, who had been present only as an observer, remembered Otis' performance "as one of the most inspiring moments of his life, a turning point for him as for history. "Adams also reported that the three judges who heard the case were clad "in their new fresh robes of scarlet English cloth, in their broad hats and immense judicial wigs," but that "Otis, in opposition, was a "flame" unto himself." Years later, reflecting on the impact of Otis' courageous stance, Adams wrote, "Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born."

By the mid-1760s, Jeremiah Gridley had died, James Otis was in ill health, and John Adams had become Boston's "busiest attorney." As time would tell, he never forgot the lessons of his mentors, and despite his illustrious career in politics and government, he would never disavow his love for the practice of law. As the revolution loomed large, he felt privileged to be in the profession and wrote of that privilege to a friend:

    Now to what higher object, to what greater character, can any mortal aspire than to be possessed of all this knowledge, well digested and ready at command, to assist the feeble and friendless, to discountenance the haughty and lawless, to procure redress to wrongs, the advancement of right to assert and maintain liberty and virtue, to discourage and abolish tyranny and vice?

With these words, and his lifetime of service in commitment to these ideals, Adams himself became the consummate mentor, the consummate lawyer as public citizen.

During the course of our careers, each of us has been blessed with mentors who through their wisdom have given us the skills necessary to practice with professionalism and have imparted to us the spirit of the lawyer as public citizen. I, myself, have been blessed beyond measure by the many lawyers and judges who have mentored me, beginning with my professors in law school who were master teachers, mentors by trade. I see Judge Stan Grimm, who was circuit judge when I was prosecutor and who was a court of appeals judge when I myself was circuit judge, and who has been an invaluable friend throughout my career. I am grateful as well for the mentorship of my colleagues on the Supreme Court, Judges Ronnie White, John Holstein, Mike Wolff, Duane Benton, Laura Stith and Ray Price, and to my former colleagues, Chip Robertson, Ann Covington and Elwood Thomas.  

And to this list, I add the finest mentors of all, my father and my grandfather.

If you do nothing else in response to my remarks, at the least, call to mind the lawyers and judges who have mentored you, those who have inspired you to do well in this great profession, and then rededicate yourselves to the mentoring of the young lawyers and judges who look up to you.

To conclude, I quote from an article published years ago in the Journal The Missouri Bar that sums up my message that a lawyer's high standing in the community can only be achieved through service as public citizen.

    Where there is need for change or where actual change is occurring, you will find lawyers spearheading the movement or leading the opposition. Where there are endeavors to aid the poor and the oppressed, lawyers will be leading the crusade. When you look for stability in a community, you will find lawyers heading those institutions that typify that stability. This leadership and contribution to community life . . . must continue and flourish if lawyers are to achieve a respectable public image.

Those are the words of my mentor, my father, during his term of service as President of The Missouri Bar.  His words hold true today.

--Address by Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr.
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Missouri

The Missouri Bar/Judicial Conference
Springfield, Missouri
September 13, 2001