|President's Page||The West Virginia Lawyer||May 2000
by Darrell W. (Dan) Ringer
STATE BAR PRESIDENT DAN RINGER
REMARKS AT 2000 ANNUAL MEETING
When I assumed the position of president of the West Virginia State Bar at this time last year, I was told by some of my predecessors that my term would go by very quickly. They were both correct and incorrect. Time flies when youíre having fun. But when the work is detailed, and the path unclear, things slow down a bit. Sometimes, frustratingly, things you try to complete slow down while time flies by anyway.
In the past year, some things evolved and resolved as anticipated, but there have been a number of other situations that I did not foresee. Nevertheless, it has been for me a wonderful year, and I thank all of you for being so helpful, supportive and interested in what we have been able to attempt and to accomplish.
At the beginning of my term I made some specific proposals on which I felt we needed to concentrate in order to keep the West Virginia State Bar in the forefront for our members and for the general public. I specifically said that I wanted to remind our members and our citizens that justice is what we are all about, and that our system is a just system. People seem sometimes to forget, or perhaps simply donít know, that ours is the best legal system in the world. They forget, or never learn of it because they donít have to. Except for, perhaps, buying a house or planning an estate most people simply donít become involved in the legal system. What a wonderful life. What a wonderful society we have when ordinary people can rest assured that they will be treated fairly and compassionately, and that they are not individually responsible for monitoring or fighting for their rights and liberties.
As I took office I felt that we needed to do a better job of educating our citizens about the legal system and its benefits, and about the legal profession that makes all of this possible. I told you that we would initiate a program on our statewide public television network to do that. It would look at our system, warts and all, through the eyes of our members, the working attorneys of West Virginia. We called the 30 minute weekly program The Law Works. The name has a certain ambiguity and yet a distinctive ring to it.
With the invaluable financial assistance of Lexis Publishing, ALPS, our State Bar, and the voluntary bars, we have completed a full television year of programming, thirteen hours, in twenty-six shows, and have covered many, many topics..
I canít tell you how many positive comments I have received from lawyers and members of the general public about the series. The Law Works has succeeded well beyond our initial expectations.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting has decided that the program is such a worthwhile endeavor that it should be continued, and that it should be expanded. It will be both rebroadcast in West Virginia, and offered for broadcast in other parts of our nation. Beginning at the end of March our broadcast schedule was expanded to air the show twice each week, on both Sundays and Thursdays, in prime time. By the end of our currently scheduled run, instead of simply 26 half hours of original programs, we will have broadcast nearly 50 hours - almost 100 half hours - of West Virginia lawyers talking to West Virginians. Also, I am pleased to tell you that contingent upon the renewal of our funding, The Law Works will be on the air again this fall with new programs and that we will be making some changes in the format to include opportunities for our citizens, from time to time, to call into the show with their particular questions.
But we have done more this year than just talk about law and lawyers.
As I became president I wanted to change the normal procedure for our State Bar membership survey. This valuable study had in the past been done on a 10 year cycle - 1974 - 1984 - 1994. But because we stand at the dawn of a new millennium, and because of the importance of up to date information from our members to the State Barís planning process, we decided to do the membership survey in 1999.
When the last survey was done, in 1994, we received an overwhelming response from our members. The survey form was rather long and took almost 30 minutes to complete. Still, our State Bar members made a commitment to this activity and approximately 40% took the time and effort to complete it. The firm we engaged to do the survey was astounded that so many lawyers would spend the time necessary .
This past fall we sent the new survey to the more than 4,000 active practicing lawyers in our state. Although we had reduced the number of questions, it still took more than 20 minutes to complete, but again the response was astounding. More than 40% of our members responded.
The survey results have now been compiled and are most informative. They are much too extensive to distribute to each member, so I strongly encourage you to review them on the State Barís home page - www.wvbar.org. It will be worth your time. You will learn much. Last year, I promised that the State Bar would continue to be in the forefront of providing technological assistance to our members. We announced that the State Barís innovative Technet system would be dramatically changed and would become a free membership service on May 1, 1999. That action was taken and hundreds of lawyers use the multitude of legal data bases and other important material included on the State Barís home page. The legal profession - and the entire world - is going to the Internet and your State Bar has been, and continues to be a leader in on-line and law office technology information development.
Last year, I mentioned the high priority work that was being done by the Legal Services for the Poor Symposium. The Symposium, made up of both lawyers and non-lawyers, was organized about five years ago by the State Bar, and has continued its efforts to improve the effective and efficient provision of free civil legal services to our low income citizens.
Under the most capable leadership of Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Irene Berger, the members of the Symposium worked tirelessly and succeeded in completing a statewide plan that will invigorate and re-vitalize how we assist our low income men, women and children with their civil legal needs. I commend all of the members of the Symposium, for their splendid contribution.
During the Symposiumís discussions, a major topic of consideration and debate was a consolidation of the legal services programs in our state. As a result, the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund and the Legal Aid Society of Charleston were combined into a new group: Appalachian Legal Services - effective January 1, 2000.
But that is not all. The Symposium, in cooperation with the legal services program leaders in West Virginia has taken an unprecedented step by going on record to work toward a single legal services program for the state. Discussions between the Appalachian Legal Services and the West Virginia Legal Services Plan have begun, and it appears that there could be a merger of these two organizations in the near future. Then our low income citizens would have a cohesive and coordinated program to meet their civil legal services needs. I applaud this effort and on behalf of the thousands of our attorneys who stand ready to assist in this effort, encourage these discussions. Consolidation of these programs will make more resources available for the provision of assistance and will increase the efficiency of the services.
In considering expectations, there are always instances where the expectation and the result are substantially different. Such occurred twice this past year.
At the very end of 1996, our West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals delivered an important opinion that raised the issues of lawyer advertising and lawyer specialization. In response, our State Bar initiated two commissions - the Lawyer Advertising Commission and the Lawyer Specialization Commission.
The Lawyer Specialization Commission was a diverse group, led by past State Bar President Glenn Robinson. It spent a substantial amount of time preparing recommendations to implement a program allowing State Bar members to become certified in particular areas of the law. The recommendations were simplified so that specialization in West Virginia would use the resources of other national certification groups, including the American Bar Association. Once a State Bar member was certified as a specialist in a particular area of law, by a recognized, legitimate organization, the specialization would be applicable here in our state and the attorney could then advertise as a specialist in that area.
The State Barís Board of Governors approved the specialization plan and it was forwarded to our Supreme Court for final review and approval.
After several months, the Supreme Court decided that a program of specialization certification should not be implemented at this time. I believe, and hope that you will see this matter addressed again in the future.
The other instance in which the result differed from the expectation was in the controversial area of lawyer advertising. Just as the Lawyer Specialization Commission had done, the Lawyer Advertising Commission, under the leadership of Past President Elliot Hicks, undertook a detailed study of the issues, and a specific set of guidelines for lawyer advertising was presented to the State Barís Board of Governors. It generated intense debate and discussion - the likes of which had not been previously seen. On four separate occasions, the guidelines were discussed, amended and voted upon at Board of Governors meetings. Some of the decisions were decided by one vote. Board members had extremely strong opinions on lawyer advertising, but the discussion was in the highest tradition of fair advocacy. It was a truly impressive process.
Nevertheless, the lawyer advertising guidelines were tabled at the January 2000, meeting of the Board of Governors and it does not appear that there will be any further review or discussion in the near future. Neither the specialization nor the advertising results were anticipated, but the results are important. Substantial change does not occur overnight. Frequently complex issues must be examined on more than one occasion, over a long period of time. The examination process on these issues has begun.
There is one further matter to which I must refer, multi-disciplinary practice, or MDP. I can make no predictions concerning how your State Bar, the American Bar Association, the bar associations of other states, or the state and federal governments will deal with this issue. It is not appropriate or possible to fully discuss, or even explain, MDP in this forum. I can report only that your State Bar is aware of and has studied the issue, and that a committee, under the leadership of our now President-Elect, John Tinney, is in place to make sure that West Virginia and our attorneys will be optimally positioned as the issues are clarified. We are in frequent contact with representatives of all of the national legal organizations to whom this issue is important, and we are participating in the debate at the national level.
Well, as they say, it has been a great ride! I wouldnít have missed it for the world. Everything that has occurred in the past year has strengthened my opinion that lawyers occupy a position of distinction in our society, that lawyers have a responsibility to their clients, the courts, their communities and the justice system and that if lawyers give their time and talents to any endeavor, the chances of success are great.
I have already expressed my appreciation to the many people who have helped me during my year as president of the West Virginia State Bar. Now, I just want to thank everyone for the advice, guidance and support that was given to me. Particularly, I must express my appreciation, gratitude and love to my family. My wife, the love of my life, and best friend Rebecca, has tolerated much this past year. In addition to managing Ethan Allanís major retail store in Morgantown, she has successfully assumed nearly sole responsibility for our teenage son, Darren. Darren, of course, has successfully assumed nearly sole responsibility for himself. He has this past year achieved national recognition for his academic prowess and for his musical talent. He has been the perfect son. Rebecca and Darren have been incredibly understanding of the obligations of my position. I could not have asked for more able partners in this undertaking. Actually, now that I think about it, Rebecca and Darren have done so well this past year, I have to wonder if Iím really necessary - but Iím sure theyíll find something for me to do.
I have been, I am and I always will be proud to be a lawyer. Although we frequently hear that no one likes lawyers, I can tell you that in every setting in which I have appeared as your President, I have been greeted with warmth, with friendship, and have been treated as a person of significance. I know that this treatment was not for me individually. Rather it was because attorneys are viewed with respect, and admiration, despite the jokes.
Serving as President of the West Virginia State Bar has been one of the highlights of my life, and is certainly the high point of my professional life. I sincerely thank you for the opportunity.