Some Things Change and Some Stay the Same

Fifty years ago this year, John F. Kennedy announced that the torch had passed to a new generation. The change in generations in that case was from the “silent generation,” which suffered through and survived the Great Depression and the “greatest generation,” which fought and won the Second World War. In his speech, Kennedy tried to reassure the nation and the world that this changing of generations would not weaken America. Kennedy noted that his generation would pay any price, bear any burden and meet any hardship to preserve America and liberty.

In a far less important way, my election and service as Tennessee Bar president also marks a symbolic passing of a torch from one generation to the next. I and others like me in states like Oklahoma, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Connecticut mark the first of many from Generation X to step up and lead state bar associations.

Like Kennedy, let me assure you that this change in generations will not mark a significant change in the values and core principles that we all hold dear. I will not be the last of my generation to step up and lend a hand to advance our common goals, and my election does mark an end to the Boomers holding significant leadership roles here and other places. It does mark the beginning of our two generations walking and working side by side on the causes we all care about.

While some things change, others remain the same — namely the challenges that we face. In fact, many of these challenges look a lot today like they did in 1961. In 1961, most students attended a racially segregated school.

Sadly, the same is true today, although for far different reasons.  

In 1961, women held comparatively few, if any, positions in our profession.  Today, the numbers are better, but women still earn lower wages than their male counterparts. Today, comparatively few women are in leadership positions within their law firms and legal departments.  

In 1961, the concept of pro bono service meant almost exclusively services provided by individual attorneys. There was no legal services corporation and the need among Tennesseans was great.  Today the need is as great if not greater.

In 1961, most Tennessee attorneys practiced as a solo or in a firm of five or fewer attorneys. While we have seen the rise of large law firms, recent years have seen an astounding number of recent law grads opening solo practices — some by choice but some because there simply were no other jobs available. Just as our profession had a need then to mentor younger attorneys and promote professionalism and civility, we have that need today.

Over the next year, to meet these common challenges and to serve you, the Tennessee Bar Association will engage in an “All-Access Campaign.” This campaign for access will focus on: Access to Justice, Access to Opportunity, Access to Professional Development and Access to Civic Education.

Access to Justice will focus on helping our fellow Tennesseans who have legal needs that are not being met.  We want to make it easier for you to take and handle pro bono matters.  Much has been done on this front over the last few years. We will continue that effort through projects like www.onlineTNjustice.org.  

Access to Opportunity will focus on helping open the doors of opportunity to women and diverse attorneys. To fully engender confidence in our legal system, our profession and the bench must reflect the people of our state. While times have certainly gotten better, our profession is still not representative of our state from a racial and gender diversity perspective.  We’ll launch our first diversity hiring forum this October, minority retention roundtables, a glass ceiling initiative and summer judicial externships.

Access to Professional Development is the right of every Tennessee attorney and is frankly one of our primary obligations to you. In addition to making CLE more informative and more accessible, we will work to develop a library of helpful “how to” videos that can help attorneys of all experience levels learn something new and become even better attorneys. To help mentor those new solos and small firm attorneys, we will develop an online network of new solos and small firm attorneys to provide them with resources and peers to help them develop practices that are hallmarked by professionalism and civility.

Access to Civics Education is desperately needed. If you have ever watched Jay Leno ask civics questions, you know that there is a deep knowledge gap about our government, our justice system, and how they work.

Ignorance of these matters breeds fear and misunderstanding in a time when we need sober adult deep thinkers to find solutions to our common problems. We will continue the great work begun under Sam Elliott’s leadership.

While my election may mark the passing of a symbolic torch to a new generation, I can promise you that we will continue the excellent work of past generations. I am excited about and grateful for the opportunity to serve you and our profession.


Danny Van Horn TBA President DANNY VAN HORN is a partner with Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC in Memphis.