Participation in Bar Associations Needed Now More Than Ever

The Bencher  |  January/February 2023

By Judge Michael J. Truncale

Bar Associations Contribute to Professional Happiness

In the age before desktop computers, the internet, and cell phones, having interpersonal relationships with other lawyers was the key to establishing a successful law practice. Lawyers need lawyers. To this end, the senior partners of my firm insisted I take an active role in our local bar association.

Promoting principles of ethics and professionalism is one of the core missions of the American Inns of Court and local bar associations. Experienced and seasoned lawyers remember the days before the need for “meet and confer” certificates of conference. Lawyers met routinely at docket calls and bar association meetings and socials, where many potential conflicts were resolved.

Others remember when simple conversations between lawyers were not memorialized in written correspondence. Trust was the hallmark of the practice of law. A lawyer’s word was his or her bond. These principles were reinforced and promoted in local bar associations. A breach of these principles would tarnish a lawyer’s reputation in a local bar, making it difficult for a lawyer to practice effectively. Adherence to these principles makes the practice of law easier for all.

While cell phones, emails, and Zoom meetings may increase the efficiency of lawyers, adverse consequences often occur. Lawyers end up talking at each other instead of talking with each other. Bar activities provide an opportunity for lawyers to see each other as colleagues and friends. Such relationships foster communication, understanding, and respect.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, participation in bar activities provides an ethical way to intermingle with the judiciary. In the process, lawyers develop positive reputations with judges.

Bar Associations Enhance Perception of Lawyers

We have all been confronted with the words of Shakespeare’s character Dick the Butcher, who said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” (William Shakespeare, Henry VI act 4, sc.2, l 84). When read in context, the passage indicates that revolutionaries could destroy the rule of law and create anarchy if the lawyers were eliminated. In current times, polls indicate that the public has a negative perception of lawyers, viewing them as greedy, dishonest, and unethical.

By participating in various programs of local bar associations, lawyers can improve relations between the bench/bar and the public. The public should be informed that the United States is a safer place to live because of the work of lawyers. Our citizens also enjoy immense freedom and liberty because of the relentless efforts of lawyers. Without the rule of law, anarchy and violence would reign supreme.

Bar Associations Make Careers More Fulfilling

Most lawyers are called to the legal profession by a desire to help people in their daily lives. Sadly, the practice of law has become more of a business than a profession. The quest for the almighty billable hour too often has replaced the desire to serve others. While striving to meet a law firm’s revenue projections may increase short-term profits, such a quest for revenue can cause long-term burnout.

Active participation in bar activities can restore a greater sense of balance and purpose in the life of a lawyer. Bar associations have service projects that enable lawyers to help people in a local community, ensure all citizens have equal access to justice, educate the public about the rule of law, and promote diversity in the administration of justice and the practice of law.

Continuing legal education programs help lawyers provide the highest quality of legal services. Grievance committees in bar associations help lawyers maintain high standards of conduct. Bar associations provide opportunities for all lawyers to contribute in a meaningful way.

Working together in a bar association, lawyers can accomplish much more than their individual efforts could ever achieve and provides an opportunity for lawyers to feel renewed, refreshed, and reinvigorated.

Bar Associations Enhance Success of a Law Practice

Participation in bar associations is good for business. Successful practices are often based upon the referral of cases from other lawyers. Networking through bar associations is a marvelous way to meet lawyers who will refer matters to you and, likewise, provides an opportunity to refer matters to lawyers in other disciplines or geographic regions. In addition, many bar associations have lawyer referral programs that help lawyers develop client relationships.

The practice of law is stressful. Sometimes the pressures of practice contribute to substance abuse and high suicide rates. Bar associations have programs to help lawyers overcome these challenges and have successful personal and professional lives.

As a result of the challenges facing lawyers in our contemporary world, active participation in bar associations is needed now more than ever.

Judge Michael J. Truncale, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, has served as president of five bar associations, chair of the Local Bar Services Committee of the State Bar of Texas, and federal judicial liaison to the State Bar of Texas. He is a member and past president of the Michelle F. Mehaffy American Inn of Court in Beaumont, Texas.

© 2023 Judge Michael J. Truncale. This article was originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.