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Of Mentoring, Education … and Grainger County Tomatoes
It is an honor and a privilege to serve as the president of the TBA. I love our profession and I love being a lawyer. Growing up in Grainger County (famous for tomatoes), Tenn., I only knew one lawyer, Creed Daniel. When I was considering law school, I went to talk to him about being a lawyer since I really didn’t know anything about the practice of law. It was clear from my discussion with Creed that he handled a wide variety of cases, didn’t always get paid for all the work he did, and had a lot of fun practicing law. Creed ended our meeting by encouraging me to pursue law school and telling me that there would always be a demand for divorce attorneys. We did not talk about how difficult it might be to find a job or to pay back student loan debt, two issues that are now first and foremost in the minds of many recent law school graduates.
I often have occasion to talk to recent law school graduates who are keenly feeling the effects of the economy and our changing profession. A number of them have had no choice but to “go solo” because they could not find traditional law firm employment. They need a friendly ear and someone to brainstorm with about dealing with clients or other lawyers, a difficult legal issue or how the local rules work in reality. With all the pressures on new lawyers, we as a profession must step forward to help. A larger focus of the TBA this year will be on mentoring new lawyers. I will write more in detail about those efforts next month. For now, please consider what you can do to reach out to a new lawyer. It can be as simple as making yourself available over a cup of coffee to answer questions about setting up a law practice or the peculiar preferences of a certain judge.
Diversity Job Fair
Danny Van Horn served the association well in the past year as president. One of Danny’s very successful new projects last year was the TBA Diversity Job Fair. We will have the Second Annual one this year, on Sept. 7 and 8 in Nashville. The TBA will also continue its focus on promoting access to justice issues. In addition to increasing efforts in regard to mentoring, the bar association will also undertake several new initiatives.
Once again, the issue of how our appellate level judges are selected is being debated. An access to justice issue is preserving a fair and impartial judiciary. Our existing “Tennessee Plan” (the system for merit selection, evaluation, and retention elections for appellate judges) is “sun setting,” which means merit selection of judges will no longer exist if action is not taken by the next general assembly. Merit selection has served our state well since its inception. It has minimized the role of politics and big money in the judicial selection process and has increased the quality and diversity of our judiciary. We must continue our efforts to preserve merit selection.
For decades, our legislature was heavily populated with lawyers,but those numbers have dwindled. Knoxville News- Sentinel columnist Tom Humphrey recently editorialized about the need for more lawyers in the legislature, pointing out that there are only 17 lawyers among the current 132 members and several are either retiring or facing highly contested elections this year. He noted bipartisan concern that “we’re short of lawyers in Legislatorland.” We must consider what we can do to encourage more lawyers to engage in public service by serving in our legislature, and do all we can to help those who are running this year. ABA president-elect Laurel Bellows recently said, “The quality of our lives is directly correlated to the quality of our laws.” Having more lawyers involved in crafting our laws should improve the quality of our laws.
Our Public Education Committee is tasked with improving public awareness of the law and our legal system. We have all heard various disturbing statistics about how few Americans can even name the three branches of government. We are going to increase efforts to educate the public about our system of justice by asking TBA members and judges to address school groups, civic groups and other gatherings of citizens. We will also continue our emphasis on the judicial branch with our YouTube video contest’s theme of “The least dangerous branch.” Thanks to a grant from the American Bar Association, we will do three programs for the public on Civility and Free Expression in a Constitutional Democracy in partnership with the Baker Center in Knoxville, Lipscomb University and the First Amendment Center in Nashville, and the University of Memphis.
Improving the Image of the Bar
In addition to educating the public, speaking opportunities for lawyers can serve another purpose — promoting a more positive image of our profession. This has been an issue for years. When former U. S. Attorney for the Middle District Ed Yarbrough asked me about my plans for the TBA, he told me that one of his efforts during his term as Nashville Bar President 30 years ago was to improve the image of the bar. One way we can improve our image is by making ourselves visible by speaking to groups about the importance of a fair and independent judiciary as well as other vital aspects of our justice system. This work to improve the image of the bar will require the participation of all of us as it will take all of us to change the way that lawyers are viewed by too many in our society.
The untimely death of my dear friend and former TBA president Larry Wilks last August prompted his former associate, Marisa Combs, to offer to take a comprehensive look at how to close a law practice. This led to a larger discussion about “closing up shop” or transitioning from the practice of law due to death, disability, retirement by choice, or incompetency. These life changes will be faced by many of us aging Baby Boomers in the coming years. A subcommittee of our Ethics and Professionalism Committee will provide us with comprehensive guidance on these issues.
Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in our legislature that called for controversial changes in our conservatorship law. A special committee will study the need for changes and provide a report for the legislature later this year.
The TBA can use more volunteers to carry out these and other projects. As you have read this, if something has piqued your interest, I hope you will let me know. I can be reached at email@example.com.
A Passion for Cooking
Most of you who are reading this are practicing lawyers. We are known for our type A, driven personalities. In addition to being passionate about the law, most of us are also passionate about something outside of our livelihood. You may recall that two years ago, when Sam Elliott was president of the TBA, he wrote fascinating President’s Columns focused on Tennessee’s legal history, especially that of the Civil War era. Sam is a historian, published author, and chair of the Tennessee Historical Commission. He is passionate about history and his passion is contagious.
One of my passions is cooking, which is not a unique passion. Many of you find it a necessity, some of you find it a way to relax. To celebrate being the first TBA president who grew up in Grainger County, below is a recipe that makes a nice quick dinner when you are late getting home. Of course, you can use any good, ripe locally grown tomatoes.
TBA President JACKIE DIXON is a partner with Weatherly McNally & Dixon PLC in Nashville.