If Not Us, Then Who?

I lost a mentor recently. Someone who advised me early in my career, someone who made it possible for me to obtain valuable training while still in school, someone who opened the door to a great place to work when jobs for new lawyers were scarce, someone who modeled for me integrity, ingenuity and perseverance. And while I mourn the loss, I have also reflected on how fortunate I am to have had such a mentor, and many other mentors, teachers and role models who have helped me along the way. Many have been close friends and colleagues, and yet others may not even know what an impact a word of encouragement or a sage piece of advice has had.

The reality is that each of us has the opportunity every day to positively impact the lives of those around us — to mentor, teach and serve as role models.

One of my goals for the coming year is to continue and expand the good work of the Tennessee Bar Association in developing and providing tools for lawyers to succeed in the practice of law and deliver first-rate services to their clients. The TBA has produced a rich source of video programming on topics ranging from starting a solo practice to an overview of practice areas and suggestions for professional development. The TBA has also just launched the Solo in a Box toolkit (www.tba.org/solo-practice/welcome-to-the-tba-solo-practice-toolkit) that provides new lawyers tools to manage and develop their practices. We are presently working on additional tools to assist in transitioning practices and planning for the time when practicing law is no longer possible.

The TBA has also developed and implemented a mentoring program to help those who have not yet been as fortunate as I have been to seek out and find mentors to help them transition from law school and bar exams to the practice of law. I encourage more seasoned counselors to join the mentoring program and share their knowledge and experience gained through their years of practice. I believe that mentoring should not be a one-way street. In the fast-changing world of technology, where lawyers are required to be familiar with current technology, new lawyers have much to offer in the way of understanding and using technology. I encourage new lawyers to share their knowledge and expertise in using all the technological tools available today to enhance the practice of law.

But our opportunity to mentor, teach and serve as role models is not limited to helping other lawyers succeed in the practice of law and deliver first-rate services to their clients. Right now we have an unprecedented opportunity to educate all citizens of Tennessee to make informed decisions in choosing our judges. We, as lawyers, are intimately familiar with the judicial system, and those around us look to us for information and advice to make informed decisions. We have an obligation to advise others about making informed decisions in choosing our judges. As Immediate Past President Cindy Wyrick wrote in her May column, we must be a voice in the coming judicial elections.

In addition to the resources assembled on the TBA Judicial Selection Information Center at www.tba.org/info/2014-tennessee-judicial-selection-information-center, for the first time, the TBA has conducted a statewide poll on the retention of the Tennessee Supreme Court justices. This effort is an attempt to give voice to Tennessee lawyers and to ensure that the bar association is a neutral voice. The TBA has taken this unprecedented step because it believes that lawyers are uniquely qualified to provide an informed opinion as to whether a justice should be retained, and by providing the collective view of the organized bar, it can help Tennessee voters educate themselves about the election. The poll is one part of TBA’s efforts to help ensure that the 2014 judicial elections maintain a fair, impartial and accountable judiciary. Results of that poll are on page 5.

We have an obligation to stand up and speak out against unjust criticism of our courts and judges. The TBA has been and will continue to be vigorously implementing the policy on Unjust Criticism in an effort to be honest brokers of factual information and to encourage others to avoid false and inappropriate attacks on the justice system and individual judges.

Just as the TBA has sought to provide a collective voice by compiling the views of Tennessee lawyers and presenting them broadly to the public, each of you has an opportunity to talk with your family, friends, neighbors, civic groups, and others about the importance of casting an informed vote in the upcoming judicial elections. We must continue this educational effort through early voting, which begins July 18, and on through Election Day.

The opportunity you have to make a positive impact on the lives of those around you is today. Be a mentor, a teacher, a role model. Because if not us, then who?


Jonathan O. Steen Tennessee Bar Association President JONATHAN O. STEEN is a civil trial lawyer with Redding, Steen & Staton PC in Jackson. He is a past president of the TBA Young Lawyers Division.