Before getting to the heart of this column, I must thank Indianapolis Bar Association President and Marion County Bar Association member John Trimble for the opportunity to write in his stead and address my colleagues in the Indianapolis legal community. I know that a large section of our profession thinks the world of John. After almost a year of collaborating as leaders of IndyBar and MCBA, I am firmly in that camp. Now, on to the business at hand.
For the most part, I hate Hollywood’s recent trend of remaking films from the 1980s. Did we really need another “Robocop”? Admittedly, I did enjoy the remake of “The Karate Kid” with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, and I am a huge fan of what J.J. Abrams has done with “Star Trek.” In the “Star Trek” reboot, an alternate universe is created where the reboot Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) exist in the same universe. Spock Prime promises to not reveal too much of reboot Spock’s future. Yet, in the sequel, Spock Prime does tell the reboot crew of the Enterprise how to defeat the alternate version of the villain Khan.
Along those lines, if I as “Terrance Prime” had access to the lawyer sworn in twelve years ago, I would tell him—among many other things—to get and stay involved in bar and community activities.
Addressing students at the Howard School of Law, William Ashbie Hawkins described the kind of lawyers society needed: “We need a body of trained lawyers in full sympathy with our community life; eager, anxious, capable, and prepared at any emergency to present our cause fairly and intelligently before any court. This will never be if the lawyer dreams only of money and thinks only of present material gain. These lawyers must be willing to serve for the sake of service. The failures in our professional life come almost wholly from those who had no high ideals of their calling as attorneys and no devotion to the interests of their community.”
In the same vein, Charles Hamilton Houston, Harvard Law School’s first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review, Howard Law School faculty member, and mentor to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, held the following credo: “A lawyer’s either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society.” While these words were spoken by African-American men to other African-American attorneys, they apply to every person who has taken the oath to practice law.
Looking back on my early years in the profession, I regret to say that I more resembled the parasite than the social engineer Professor Houston spoke of. I justified my lack of engagement by believing that my government job and its meager salary were service enough to the profession and my community. I claimed that I could not afford bar association dues while at the same time spending a couple hundred dollars every month on lunches and other items that I no longer use. Essentially, I had devoted any free moment I had to myself and my immediate interests without investing in the future of my career or my profession as a whole.
After a few years in practice, I had grown in my position and developed a good reputation amongst my immediate circle of peers. I was at a point where I began to qualify for other positions, and I had begun to seek them out. Time after time, my resume would get me in the door, and I always felt good about every interview. However, I never landed the job. After speaking to some attorneys in the know, I heard the same refrain: he’s great, but we don’t know who he is. That was the wakeup call I needed. The easiest way to break out of my immediate circle so that people would “know me” was to become active in bar associations.
Today, I get it. I’m a convert, a full-fledged “bar junkie.” In hindsight, bar associations had already done much for me. It was the IndyBar that provided an excellent group of attorneys during their bar review course and a group of MCBA attorneys that mentored my classmates and I before taking the bar exam. Jimmie McMillian in particular generously gave me his time, his plan, and his ear while I studied for the exam. Now, John Trimble has helped me expand my network beyond my comfort zone, and I now have the opportunity to work on projects that will better serve our legal community. Both of these men are heavyweights in our profession. But it was bar association service that turned these men from colleagues and acquaintances into my friends. I should have been engaged from day one, if for no other reason than to show my gratitude for helping me start my career on the right foot.
I’ll close with another familiar “Star Trek” reference: “Resistance is futile.” Bar association and community service are key in answering the high call of being an attorney. For those admitted to the bar this year, I implore you to not make the same mistake I did. Get involved early and stay involved.•
Want to learn more about the MCBA? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. or email@example.com to attend a monthly meeting, held on the second Wednesday of every month (except for July and December) at noon in the Indiana State Bar Association’s conference room, 211 S. Pennsylvania St., 5th Floor.