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VOL. 122 | NO. 218 | Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bar Association Prepares for New Leadership

By Eric Smith

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FAMILIAR SIGHT: The Memphis Bar Association commissioned these doorknobs to be cast using an original piece from the Shelby County Courthouse. They'll be used as awards at next month's annual meeting. -- Photo Courtesy Of Bob Rogers/National Ornamental Metal Museum

The Memphis Bar Association will bring 2007 to a close with a ceremonial transferring of the gavel Dec. 6 during its annual meeting at The Peabody Hotel's Continental Ballroom, from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Outgoing president David Cook will pass the reins of the 133-year-old association to incoming president Amy Amundsen, who said she is eager to reflect on the past year's accomplishments while setting goals for 2008.

"I think it's important to look back at what we've done successfully as a bar association and think about what needs to be done in the future and tackle the obstacles that lie ahead of us," said Amundsen, a partner at the law firm of Rice Amundsen & Caperton PLLC.

Looking back

Cook, president and shareholder at The Hardison Law Firm PC, noted that the themes in 2007 were professionalism, civility and courtesy.

And under Cook's leadership, the MBA created a professionalism committee designed to "serve as a clearinghouse for lawyers who had a problem with somebody," he said. "This was not a disciplinary arm, it was for mentoring. If the committee agreed that a lawyer had acted out of line, two or three members of the committee would have lunch with the lawyer. We had four or five complaints and we had very salutary results."

Moreover, Cook said he was proud of the association's emphasis on pro bono work, most notably Pro Bono Month, which is going on now.

The MBA's final pro bono session of the month will be held Saturday at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar Ave, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Afterward, the free clinics for Memphis' underserved population will be held one Saturday each month.

Three Cs

Amundsen's designated theme for 2008 is the "Three C's." The first is cooperation between the bench and the bar.

"I think the lawyers are the vocal piece of the judicial branch and we as lawyers need to instill public confidence in our judicial system," she said.

The second is cohesiveness between the various minority bars and the Memphis Bar Association.

"While we have different cultures and different ideas, we need to come together to make the greatest impact on our community," said Amundsen, noting that outreach and pro bono work will continue to be focal points for the MBA.

And finally, the third "C" is competency beyond possessing the knowledge and skill that most lawyers have.

"I also believe that to be a successful lawyer and do the best for your client, you need to have wellness with yourself," Amundsen said. "For that matter, I really want to focus on how to improve the wellness of lawyers."

Honoring the profession

Award-winning sports columnist Geoff Calkins of The Commercial Appeal will deliver the meeting's keynote address - and the choice of Calkins is more apt than many might realize.

Calkins earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University and spent a few years practicing law before he went back to school to study journalism and become a sportswriter. He joined The Commercial Appeal in 1996.

Cook said Calkins will talk for 15 minutes, with the rest of the program dedicated to the annual awards ceremony.

The "Judge Jerome Turner Lawyer's Lawyer Award," which Cook said is "the highest honor the bar association can bestow," will be awarded to Pat Arnoult of The Bogatin Law Firm PLC.

The Sam A. Myar Jr. Memorial Award for the top young attorney will be presented to Lara Butler at Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell PLLC.

Other awards will be given for pro bono service, and Cook also will announce some presidential awards to "people who have shown exemplary service and been extremely helpful to me, and I want to surprise them with that."

Coming together

The awards themselves should be conversational pieces. Cook borrowed a 1909 doorknob from the Shelby County Courthouse - after working through a lot of red tape - took it to the National Ornamental Metal Museum and had craftsman Bob Rogers cast models of it for the awards.

"They are solid bronze doorknobs mounted on walnut with a regular plaque on it that says what the award is," Cook said.

Whatever buzz surrounds the annual meeting, however, Cook admits that the meeting might not draw what it usually does because it's competing with a visit from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who is speaking Dec. 17 in The Peabody's Grand Ballroom as part of the annual Benjamin L. Hooks Luncheon.

Scalia will be presented with the Benjamin L. Hooks Award by the Memphis Bar Foundation.

Still, people such as incoming president Amundsen hope MBA members take the time to attend so they can see who is named to the new board of directors - and so they can be further engaged with the association.

"It's an opportunity for them to sign up for committees and get involved, because that is something that we want - more involvement and more camaraderie among the bar and to have fun next year," Amundsen said.

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