President's Message

Guy W. Mitchell, III

 On July 13, 2013, I had the honor and privilege of being sworn in as the 108th president of the Mississippi Bar.  The lives of my wife, Susan and I have already been enhanced by the myriad of activities and associations which we have encountered since that time. 

 Our Bar Association, which consists of over 8,000 members, is an extremely well run organization which provides opportunities of service to the public by its members and services to its members through the section and committee structure and through the varied programs offered by the Association. 

 We are fortunate to have longevity as an attribute of the staff of our Association.  Starting at the top, Larry Houchins has been executive director of the Mississippi Bar for well over 30 years, and Melanie Henry, the associate director, has been a valued employee of the Association for 26 years.  We are also fortunate to have an excellent general counsel in Adam Kilgore and an excellent general counsel staff with smart, hard working attorneys, including Jim Clark and Missie Martin.  Greg Waddle handles the complaint line and communicates the information gleaned from his conversations with both lawyers and the general public to the Board of Bar Commissioners to help the Bar assist lawyers who need help with client relationships and organizational structure in their practice.
 
 Our Bar sponsors CLE on the Road every year, which consists of three, day-long seminars in various parts of the state which assists members in obtaining their CLE requirements close to home with as little disruption of their practices as possible. 

 There are numerous sections which a member can join which provide detailed, up-to-date information online for members who specialize and choose to join the section that pertains to their specialties.  In addition, the volunteer leadership of the Bar enables the Bar to expand its program selection, expand its services, and truly meet the needs of practicing lawyers across the state. 

 It is an honor to be "the face of the Bar" this year and to work with so many talented fellow members of the Bar to better serve the public and to bring better access to justice to all Mississippians.
 
 High on my priority list this year are several programs which I believe need to be enhanced as we go through 2013-14. 

 First is the continued full funding of the judicial branch of our government.   Due to a lot of hard work by my predecessors in the Bar officer group, many members of the Bar, and our excellent legislative liaison, Jimmie Reynolds, the Bar has been able to assist the Supreme Court in its efforts to provide increased pay for judges, district attorneys and assistant district attorneys and to fully fund the judicial budgetary requests from the legislature.  Keep in mind that full funding of the judiciary only involves about less than one percent of the state's overall budget.  This is a very small portion of the budget to insure that the people of Mississippi are provided quality judges and access to the state's judicial system.
 
 Another area of funding concern is funding for the drug courts, which have been proven to be such an asset to our society in providing alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders. The work of the Drug Courts has reduced recidivism substantially and the cost to the taxpayers has also been greatly reduced.  These are successful programs which although partially funded through court fees, need an additional $4,000,000 from the legislature to be fully funded for the coming fiscal year.

 Secondly, many of you are aware that access to justice is not only an essential part of our society but a promise which was made over 50 years ago in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Gideon vs. Wainwright.  To a large extent, that promise of representation regardless of ability to pay has been eroded through cuts in federal funding and a lack of funds on the local level due to extremely low interest rates on lawyers' trust accounts.
 
 The Mississippi Volunteer Lawyer Project (MLVP) does an outstanding job of delivery of its services even on a reduced budget; however, the project has had to turn to their own independent effort of fundraising to meet the basic financial needs of the organization. 

 Additionally, the budgets for the Legal Services offices of North and South Mississippi have been cut due to a lack of federal funding; thus it is extremely important for all members of the Bar to participate in the volunteer projects across the state and to give of their time, talent and resources so that the promise of Gideon vs. Wainwright is better met in our state.  Poor people need access to justice and without it, our society suffers. 

 Third on my list is to insure that the Bar fully utilizes technology and provides CLE and other assistance programs to help our members fully utilize technology in their practice. 

 Fourth, we have initiated discussions with both the Mississippi College School of Law and the University of Mississippi to find ways the Bar can assist the placement efforts of the law schools to find meaningful employment in legal related jobs within our state for new graduates. 

 Finally, the series of statutes which establish our unified Bar will stand repealed in 2015 unless they are extended or the repealer eliminated.  That will be a legislative priority for the 2014 session of the legislature. 

 We are fortunate that our legal profession is largely self governing, and although other professions have certain powers of self-government, the legal profession is unique in this respect because of the close personal relationship between the profession and the process of government and law enforcement.  To the extent that the profession is autonomous, it carries with it special responsibilities.  Lawyers have a responsibility to insure that the regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of self interest.  Every lawyer is responsible for observance of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Lawyers today play a vital role in the preservation of society.  The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding of a lawyer's relationship to the legal system.
 
 As I assumed the role of president, I was faced with the question of what it takes to be a good president of the Bar.  The program which the Bar has in place gives the president-elect many opportunities to discover and understand the role of the president before assuming that position.  In thinking about what is required of the president of the Bar, I began to think about what is required of a member of the Bar to be a good lawyer. 

 It is a subject in which I believe all of us can benefit from a refresher from time to time of our obligations to the profession and the public.
 
 In that regard, one only has to refer to the preamble of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers to find real guidance as to what it takes to be a good lawyer.  To quote the preamble:
 
 "A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.

 As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions.  As advisor, a lawyer provides a client with informed understanding of the client's legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications.  As an advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client's position under the rules of the adversary system.  As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealing with others.   ...   In all professional functions a lawyer should be competent, prompt and diligent.  …  A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers, and public officials.
 
 As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession.  As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients; employ that knowledge in reform of the law, and to work to strengthen legal education.  In addition, a lawyer should further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority. 

 All lawyers, therefore, should devote professional time and resources and use civil influence to insure equal access to our system of justice for all of those who, because of economic or social barriers, cannot afford or secure adequate counsel.  A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the bar regulate itself in the public interest." 

 Our Bar Association is strong because of its members and its dedicated staff.  I look forward to working with all of you this year to enhance the Bar's services to its members and to enhance the Bar's image with the public at large. 

 These efforts will involve many of our members who will step forward and provide leadership with these and other areas of emphasis.   For that involvement, I am truly grateful.

 Let's have a great year!