I am truly honored to serve as your 141st president. I have been an IndyBar member since 1982, and I have seen firsthand how our bar has had a positive impact in the lives of so many lawyers and non-lawyers. I’m excited and energized for 2019, and I hope you are, too.
Truth be told, I wasn’t born to be lawyer; I was born to be a preacher. My dad was a minister, my grandfather was a minister; he was the head of worldwide Christian education. My two aunts married ministers, my uncle was a minister and my great-grandfather, who was born in 1878, worked most of his life for the church in Irvington.
So, you might ask, where did I go wrong? I think that I went right, and I’ll tell you why.
There are important parallels between being a minister and a lawyer. They both counsel. They both need to be good listeners. They both need to deeply care about people. And most importantly, they both make it their life’s work to improve the lives of those around them.
That’s what we do, right? At the end of the day, our highest calling is to help our clients — to solve their problems. Lawyers are uniquely trained and qualified to solve problems, right? It’s what we do every day.
I have reflected a bit on how I jumped off the path of our family’s long line of clergy, and here is one of the defining moments in my life: in 1972, I first heard a song by the band Chicago, a song entitled “Dialogue.” I loved the line, “will you try to change things with the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?” As a 16-year-old, I was captivated by the concept that I could have an idea that no one else had ever had and that it might change the world. The song ends with the lines, “we can change the world now, we can save the children, we can make it happen!” I believed it then, and I believe it now.
So I became inspired to try to change things, and I decided to try to make an impact by running for president of my high school’s student council. My campaign slogan was “We Can Make It Happen,” after the Chicago song (see photo). I actually ran on a campaign promise that I would have a jukebox installed in our cafeteria — now that was a big deal back in 1974! Well I won the election, we got the jukebox, and I was on my way — to where? I wasn’t yet sure.
But the pull of law school became irresistible when I finally understood that the best way to make meaningful changes is to know the rules and learn how the rules are implemented. These events taught me that with the right ideas, the right commitment, the right application of those ideas and the right rules, you can “make it happen.” I see hints of this every day in my law practice, and that is one of the reasons I love being a lawyer.
Immediately upon graduation, I joined the IndyBar, and this decision has had a lasting impact on my life. Mark Twain said that the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you found out why. I believe that one of the reasons we were born is to improve the lives of others, and one of the best ways we can do that as attorneys is through the IndyBar.
In essence, being a lawyer is about two things — knowing the rules, and putting a human face on it. The IndyBar allows us to do this. Through the IndyBar’s more than 250 programs, we are improving lives around us. We provide legal services through free wills, our lawyers go to hospices, we answer phones, we go to libraries and schools. Last year alone, IndyBar members answered 552 Legal Line calls, and assisted 819 individuals through Ask a Lawyer. Our legal training is providing an essential key to doors that are blocking the lives of so many. One of the primary roles of our IndyBar is to serve as the vehicle you can drive when you want to help someone — we make it easy for you. We also provide that needed human connection.
And if you give the IndyBar the right new idea, we can make it happen. Here’s just the most recent example: on Thursday, January 17, a member emailed us with an idea. There were all these furloughed federal workers who weren’t getting paid due to the government shutdown. They must have had legal questions (landlord/tenant, creditors, childcare, etc). The IndyBar should do something! By the next day, Executive Director Julie Armstrong had engaged two IndyBar section chairs, emails went out, and on Tuesday January 22, a group of over 25 attorney volunteers was available for four hours to meet with these federal workers about their legal issues.
This is really extraordinary. We are nimble. We are facile. We are ready and able to help when the need arises, and it makes me so proud to be a part of the IndyBar.
Now, we have a very big year ahead. Our lease is up, and we’ll find a new place to call home. We are going to focus on increased engagement through new task forces focused on law students, in-house counsel and large firms. We will have continued emphasis on small and solo practices with our Practice Builder and Business Builder programs. We also will continue to emphasize our largest event: the Bench Bar Conference held June 20-22 in French Lick.
It looks like the band Chicago has taken me full circle from 1972 when I first heard “We Can Make It Happen,” to today, where I find myself in a position where we can actually harness those “million new ideas” — through the IndyBar — to make a meaningful impact on the lives of others.
As your president, I hope to lead and inspire you, to take us to even higher levels of achievements. But my term as president won’t be defined by the things I do — it will be defined by how many of our members realize that they have their own ideas. It will be defined by how many people realize that the IndyBar is here to help them. It will be defined by a million new ideas: by YOUR ideas.
As the Chicago song said, and with our more than 4,000 members, perhaps we really can change the world now. Now, let’s get started.•