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President Cindy Wyrick's Address to TBA Members
Speech at Lawyer's Luncheon Sets Forth Theme for 2013-2014
Below are comments given to Tennessee Bar Association members by TBA President Cindy Wyrick following her installation as president of the organization during the 2013 TBA Convention, June 14 in Nashville.
Thank you. It is a great honor to serve as the 134th President of the Tennessee Bar Association, and it makes it especially meaningful for me that Chief Justice Wade administered the oath of office. Serving as a judicial clerk for Justice Wade was my first job out of law school. Not only did I learn a great deal from him about the practice of law, but I also learned much about the importance of giving back to your community and the profession.
In just a moment, I will share with you my vision for the coming year but first I want to take a few moments to celebrate the wonderful accomplishments of our outgoing President, Jackie Dixon. It would be impossible for me to tell you about all of Jackie’s accomplishments without keeping you here until this time next week, but I would like to highlight a couple. The first is the forum on civility that took place in February at the Baker Center in Knoxville where Jackie brought together the current Governor of our state, along with two former governors for a discussion on the important issue of civility. It was a night that will never be forgotten by those in attendance. Of course as great an accomplishment as that was, it may pale in comparison when we consider how Jackie led the TBA through a full rewrite of our conservatorship statute after hosting a series of public meetings across the state to obtain input from the public regarding issues with the current statute. Jackie then worked with our legislative team to successfully lobby the legislature for passage of the new statute.
In recognition of these accomplishments and so many others, the Tennessee Bar Association wishes to express our great appreciation for your work this year. We would first like to present you with this plaque and certificate to commemorate and thank you for your work as President of our association.
At this juncture, I want to turn to the work that lies ahead for us in the coming year. I think you all would readily agree that our legal system and our profession are facing incredible challenges. It would be easy to become discouraged by those challenges, but when I look around this room and I see so many who have made an incredible difference for the profession and in their communities, I know that we can meet the challenges that we face. What are some of those challenges, and how will we face them?
Presidential Medal of Freedom winner John W. Gardner defines these great challenges in a way that I love. According to Gardner, they are “a series of great opportunities -- brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”
In the vein of Gardner, I would say that one of the great opportunities we face in our profession and our communities is the exploding and underserved senior population. As difficult as it is to fathom, we have about 7,000 people each day becoming senior citizens, and this rapid expansion of the senior population will continue for years into the future. To address the unmet legal needs of our largest population demographic, we will prepare a Senior Law Handbook which contains practical advice on a wide range of topics, including issues such as cyber security and applying for Social Security benefits.
As a member benefit, we will provide the handbook to our members in digital format at no cost for their use in counseling their clients. We will also prepare CLE which will equip our members to make optimal use of the handbooks in their practices.
We will distribute the handbooks in the community through presentations at nursing homes, senior centers, and the like. These presentations will provide the added benefit of improving the image of the profession by providing an opportunity for us to publicize the good work that lawyers are doing in their communities.
Another area of great opportunity faced by our profession is the ever growing number of new lawyers being sent out from our law schools during a time when the number of jobs available in the legal field is decreasing As we all are aware, more and more new lawyers are being faced with the proposition of hanging out their own shingle because they cannot find employment. During the past bar year, the Association has carefully studied the issue of what can be done to assist these new lawyers forced to go it alone. Armed with the valuable insights gained through this study, the Association determined that a mentoring program was greatly needed to provide young practitioners with guidance not only as to the day to day practice of law, but also about the business of law, and very importantly, civility and professionalism. Thanks to information from our study, the association is ready to move forward to develop a top-notch mentoring program. We are so committed to this mentoring program that we will be devoting a significant portion of a staff member’s time solely to this program.
The Association will also meet this challenge by creating a toolkit for those starting a solo practice to help guide them through the potential pitfalls of starting their own firm. Many new lawyers are completely unprepared for the business aspects of running their own firm, and this toolkit is designed to help them understand the process and guide them to the proper resources to give them the best chance of operating a successful practice.
One of our most important areas of great opportunity involves addressing the issues faced by families in crisis. Our families are the very core of our society, and it is critical that we provide them with an opportunity for swift and fair resolution of their legal issues when those issues arise. The Association will undertake a study of a variety of domestic relations issues in the coming year, including the question of whether our present judicial resources allow families with children timely access to the courts when undergoing a divorce. To the extent that problems are identified, the Association will work to craft solutions.
Another area of significant opportunity for our association is protecting the public and the profession from the unauthorized practice of law. A quick search of any legal topic on the Internet these days will lead you to readily conclude that the number of online legal providers has exploded. The public is being duped into believing that the forms available, and at best, someone answering a few simple questions on line provides them with the same excellent legal work that they would have gotten had they actually taken the time to meet with an attorney. Attorneys are called counselors for a reason.The advice that we provide clients after learning about their issues, and thoroughly exploring all potentially relevant facts, far better ensures the client that they have been provided with sound legal advice.We must find ways to address those practicing law in our state without a license, be it literally within the state or within the state through the Internet. We owe it to the public and to our profession.
When Gardner talked about challenges being great opportunities, the issue of advocating for the legal system and the judicial branch of our government is without a doubt one of the greatest of all great opportunities. While we certainly have friends in the legislature on the state and federal level such as my friends, Doug Overbey, Mike Stewart, and Andy Farmer, who understand and appreciate the fact that there are three co-equal branches of government and that jury trials matter, there are many who do not share their understanding and appreciation of our system.
Legislators like Senator Overbey and Representatives Stewart and Farmer also appreciate the importance of selecting our appellate judges through a merit -based system. Until recently, Tennessee selected appellate judges through a merit selection system, which was one of the best in the nation, and an example for other states in the country. For now, we have lost that system, but we have not given up the fight to bring it back because it is so important to the legal profession, the judiciary and the public.
Sadly, the attack on merit-selection is just one of the many issues faced by our legal system. Our workers compensation system that worked very efficiently and operated in a fair manner was dismantled this year in favor of an administrative system, so that our injured citizens are no longer entitled to a trial by a local judge elected by the people. The list truly goes on and on. Suffice it to say, there is every reason to believe that these attacks will continue and will likely increase in their intensity.
While we have an outstanding lobbying team working for our Association who always manage to do such amazing work that I liken it to pulling a series of rabbits out of a hat, there is only so much that they as lobbyists can do.
It is not an overstatement to say that at this time in our history we are literally fighting for the core tenants of our profession: 1) to maintain the judicial branch of government as a separate and co-equal one; 2) to protect the public’s right to have their case tried by a jury of their peers and a local judge elected by the people; 3) the right to have a jury determine what is just compensation; and 4) the right for the judicial branch to regulate the practice of law. These are to name a few. I submit to you that we cannot afford to lose these fights!
While we will continue to lobby in the traditional sense, we will do much more in the coming years to make the voices of our 12,000 members heard. One of the initiatives that we will undertake, in accordance with the TBA’s Strategic Plan and upon the recommendation of our Governmental Affairs Committee, is to develop a grass roots network within our membership so that our members get to know their legislators and are ready to reach out to them when an issue of concern to the profession comes before them. To that end, I am pleased to report that Kate Curlee has just been hired by the association as our Public Policy Coordinator. Kate’s background makes her the perfect person to work with us to develop strategies to win these critical fights.
We will also devise a strategy to increase the resources devoted to indigent representation. Having a strong grass roots network will be key to successfully implementing this strategy once developed.
Having now shared with you a few of the many exciting challenges that we will face head on in the coming year, you make be asking yourself how they all link together. After all, we are lawyers, and if I am to properly make my case for the TBA, it must have a theme. This is especially true given the fact that I am a trial lawyer. Well, I must confess to you that I did not begin the preparation of my TBA case with a theme.
Over the last two years I spent significant time considering the issues facing our profession and our community to try to identify ways that the TBA could make a meaningful difference during my year as president. Before I knew it I had a long list of issues which I was excited to tackle, but there was no common thread among the topics, or so I thought; however, when I shifted my focus from the issues that we would tackle to how we would achieve our goals as to each, a common thread became readily apparent. The common thread is all of you. As I look out over this room, I see so many great leaders -- you are difference makers in the profession and in your communities. Simply stated, there is an incredible amount of talent in this room. In fact, one of the reasons that I have stayed so committed to bar work through the years is the opportunity to spend time with all of you, because you have served as my example and have inspired me to be better. You have inspired me to be a better lawyer and a more committed community servant. As great as your talents are individually, when I think about combining this amazing collection of talent with the talent of the rest of our 12,000 members for a common cause, I know that there is no challenge too great for us.
President Lyndon Johnson once said that “[t]here are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves.” It is with this in mind that I ask you and our other members who were unable to be here today to join me in addressing the important opportunities facing our profession and our communities. While each of us can make a difference in our own right, when we combine our efforts our ability to affect positive change becomes infinitely greater. SO NOW FOR THAT THEME, IT IS TOGETHER WE MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Working together in the coming year, I am confident that we will achieve our goals!