The journey from being a young lawyer to achieving senior status has happened with lightning speed. On May 12, 1980 I walked across the street from my office on Kansas Avenue to be sworn in as a new lawyer by Judge Julian Levitt.
Most of my friends who had passed the bar with me in February of that year had chosen to travel to Jefferson City to be sworn in as a group at the Missouri Supreme Court. I just wanted my license and I had said my goodbyes to my friends after we left the Ramada Inn in Jefferson City after finishing the grueling two-day bar exam.
We had stopped at a fast-food restaurant in Sedalia and enjoyed our last time together. My best friend in law school, Paul Spinden, had driven us to Jeff City, and we roomed together the two nights before and during the bar. I had spent 14 to 16 hours a day studying for the bar exam because I only wished to take it once. I also desired to be the dumbest one to pass the bar. They don’t give grades on the bar exam.
Paul had begun working at the attorney general’s office by the time the results were posted. The attorney general’s office is in the Supreme Court building, and the results were posted at midnight on the door of the Supreme Court. I did not want to drive to Jefferson City again to see the posting, nor did I want to call several times until I was able to get through to talk to someone to see if my name was on the list. Paul offered to call me, which was one of the happiest moments in my life as I sat in the kitchen with my parents when the call came in at 12:01. We all cried happy tears that night.
When I passed the bar, I did not have a job. I had been clerking for Paden, Welch, Martin, Graeff & Albano during law school. The Monday after I passed the bar exam, Bob Welch walked into my office and offered me a job. I started at $12,000 a year which was not much money, even then, but my 20 years at that firm were good ones and allowed me to learn with one of the best lawyers in the history of Jackson County, Mike Manners. When Mike walked into my office in the fall of 2000 and told me he was going to apply for a judgeship in Independence, I left to join the firm that I have been with the past 20 years. I have been blessed to be partner in two of the best law firms in Eastern Jackson County.
Much has changed in the practice of law over 40 years. Word processing was antiquated in 1980, and computers did not become popular until the early 1990s. We had one IBM Mag Card Selectric typewriter that was the predecessor to word processing. Mike Manners wrote our appellate briefs, and he was well known for multiple drafts of the briefs. He drove his secretary crazy until he acquired his own computer and discovered the magic at his fingertips. I went to Best Buy to buy my first desktop in the early ’90s.
I still am tickled by the discussion we had at a partner’s meeting prior to that in which we discussed buying a fax machine. We were really discussing the possibility of sharing a machine with a law firm a block away. We did not have any understanding how that fancy telephone machine would change our lives.
The internet is the most dramatic development in the past 40 years. No one uses law books. We have a library full of them that are headed to a landfill soon. I can’t remember the last time I looked at a law book.
I marvel at the amount of information available in a matter of moments. It has made me a much better lawyer. I was once asked how I spend my day as a lawyer and while I don’t track my time on the internet, I spent much of my day doing research on the computer.
Email has also been revolutionary. Regular mail is rare as most lawyers transmit letters and other documents by email. Email has essentially eliminated a lot of phone calls, especially when it comes to scheduling. Unfortunately, junk emails replace regular junk mail.
Electronic filing of court documents is used in every jurisdiction. Thus the amount of paper we use has declined. I spend a good part of each day reviewing medical records and most of them are in digital form, which makes searching medical records much easier.
I would say that most of the changes that have occurred are improvements. Yet, the computer age has changed our manner of communication. We used to have monthly bar meetings in the evening at a restaurant, and some of my favorite times as a lawyer have been during the social hours after the meeting. That is how we developed friendships. I hate to sound like one of those old lawyers, but the younger generation does not have the depth of relationships that I have enjoyed in the past 40 years. Email communication is impersonal, and lawyers say things in emails they would never say orally.
The best part of the last 40 years are the relationships that I have enjoyed with lawyers, judges and, most of all, my clients. The clients’ needs are still great. I would like to think that I am better able to meet them now.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.