Comes Now the Citizen Lawyer
by Mark Fogg
John Baker helped save my lawyer soul. No hallelujahs, no amens. He just showed me by example, as so many good lawyers do, that I had neglected a significant part of myself that makes a well-balanced lawyer. I had failed to make the third leg of the stool strong. I was falling over into cynicism, burn-out and the desire for early retirement from this lawyer-life full of stresses and strains.
I first met John back in the mid-90s. He was a "plaintiff" lawyer and I was a "defense" lawyer. I had been in civil litigation for about 10 years, but I had not had a lot of cases with John and did not know him well.
During this time, I thought I had successfully built a strong foundation for my legal career. I worked hard at providing service to my clients and felt that I was devoted to obtaining the best possible result for them under the circumstances of each case. I was rewarded with a solid book of business. I also managed to obtain enough monetary reward so that I could comfortably provide for my family. I had built two strong legal legs. I wasn’t just walking, I was running. So what was missing? Why was I feeling so empty? Why was I looking forward to retiring at 60 and getting off of this treadmill already? Why was I falling?
John called me one day out of the blue. He was chairperson of the Metropolitan Conciliation Panel, a group of lawyers dedicated to professionalism, who try to help resolve disputes between lawyers. He asked if I would consider being on the panel. Although I had been moderately active in the bar association, having sat on the Ethics Committee for about 10 years, I did not think that I held a candle to the reputations of the lawyers who sat on this panel. I joined. It was a meaningful experience to help the lawyers with disputes. But the real value, I realized, was to learn from lawyers like John who understand what the concept of professionalism is all about.
Before this education, I thought that professionalism was nice manners and trying not to be a jerk. John taught me that this was a far too-limited definition. He had become a scholar on professionalism and a national speaker on the topic.
A lawyer needs to develop an "ethical professional identity." An attorney’s identity is based, in part, on a lawyer’s efforts to improve the legal system, to enhance the public image of lawyers, to educate the public about the law and to mentor new lawyers. John often refers to this as the concept of the "citizen lawyer."
Quite frankly, John helped stir a calling in me back then. I resolved that I would do whatever I could, as a lawyer, to volunteer, to educate, to mentor and, very importantly, to improve the image of lawyers with the public. These services are the third leg of the stool. I hadn’t fully recognized this need when I was younger. I wish I had. It now gives me the balance to continue a long legal career. I greatly thank John for helping to teach me this and I look forward to working with this citizen lawyer who assumes the presidency of the Denver Bar Association on July 1.
This is my last column as DBA president. It’s been a kick. We were able to start up some exciting new programs. The new DBA/Denver Public Schools guest teacher program is bringing volunteer lawyers and judges into the public school classrooms and assisting DPS with its critical shortage of substitute teachers. Our mentoring program, primarily designed for lawyers with five years or fewer of experience, begins on June 2. We have more than 50 mentees signed up and we have carefully matched mentors based on the particular requests of the participants. Our professionalism teaching program continues to thrive. We have a speakers’ bureau giving professionalism presentations throughout the state. Both the University of Colorado Law School and the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver have now officially included our professionalism courses as part of their law student orientations.
Through tireless efforts by our bar association staff and our volunteer attorneys, programs such as Constitution Day, court tours, career days, mock trial, We the People, Lawline 9, The People’s Fair and Legal Night at Mi Casa continue to be successful. We have one of the most successful pro bono programs in the country with Metro Volunteer Lawyers. Our committees, such as the Community Action Network, The Docket, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Interprofessional and Legal Fee Arbitration remain extremely active.
My thanks to the bar association staff; they are truly one of the most responsive teams I have ever worked with. Thanks also to the committee chairs for their hard work and a special thanks to my Board of Trustees. You are a great group of people whom I thoroughly have enjoyed. Finally, and most important, thanks to the DBA membership for being the good, honorable lawyers that you are. Your kind e-mails, personal notes and comments have made it all worthwhile.
Go get ‘em, John.