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TCL > June 2012 Issue > My Big Year

The Colorado Lawyer
June 2012
Vol. 41, No. 6 [Page  5]

© 2012 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved.

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In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

My Big Year
by David L. Masters

This past year was a big one for me. No, I didn’t spend the year spotting and identifying the most species of birds in a single year. It was better than that. In 2011, I turned 60; I marked twenty-five years as a Colorado lawyer; and in July, I became the President of the Colorado Bar Association.

Flashback

My story leading up to the big year essentially starts in the ’70s. I lived in Leadville at the time, and it was there that I met Mary Jane. (We were married in 1978.) One day, I asked Mary Jane what she thought about my quitting my job and going back to school. Her immediate response was one of support. "That’s great!" she said. "What do you want to do?" I told her I wanted to go to law school—in Montana.

I grew up in a small town and had never lived in a city. I thought that perhaps only large universities had law schools and that all large universities were in big cities. I was looking for the smallest university in the smallest city that had a law school. Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance1 had made the Montana education scene—Bozeman in particular—look pretty good to me.

Mary Jane did a bit of checking and called me at work, reporting that she had good news and bad news for me. The bad news was that there was no law school in Bozeman. The good news was that the law school was in Missoula—as was the forestry school where she wanted to pursue a master’s degree. So, wham-bam, we sold our house in Leadville and headed to Missoula.

The University of Montana (U of M) School of Law was a perfect fit for me. Its system involved a small class of seventy-five students per year split into two sections for most classes, with the idea that everyone finish in three years (no night-school, no career students). The school focused on turning out well-rounded lawyers who could head to small communities around the state and become competent general practitioners. Indeed, until the year before I graduated, Montana held with the "diploma privilege": you graduated on Saturday, drove to Helena and were sworn in on Sunday, and on Monday, you went to work—no bar exam.

As law school was wrapping up, we were faced with the decision of where to live and work. After considerable reflection on five dark and gray Missoula winters, we decided to return to Colorado—specifically, Western Colorado.

One of the classes the U of M Law School offered (possibly as an elective) was on the order of law practice management. There was no exam, but a paper was required. I wrote mine on how to open a law practice in Montrose. It was a good exercise, and the plan seemed—and ultimately was—a good one. Initially, though, when I moved back to Colorado, I was saved from hanging my shingle (and likely myself) by some local lawyers who took pity and gave me a job. So, when it eventually came time to open my own law practice, I was ready.

Back to the Present

Here I am, twenty-five-plus years later—60 years old for only one more month, and winding down my year as CBA President. What a year! What an honor!

Colorado Mentor Program

A great portion of my year as CBA President involved developing the Colorado Mentor Program. Over the years, CBA members have expressed their desire for the association to foster mentoring within the profession. At the fall 2010 CBA Board of Governors meeting, for example, when members broke into small groups to discuss what the association should be doing for its members, one repeated suggestion was that the bar proactively promote mentoring within the profession.

Mentoring and its perceived benefits for the profession in general and for new attorneys in particular also became the focus of a working group of the Chief Justice’s Commission on the Legal Profession (Commission).2 Consequently, the Commission and the CBA joined forces to develop a mentoring program.

The broad objective of the Colorado Mentor Program is to promote pride in the profession; excellence in service; and strong relationships with the bar, the courts, clients, and the public. This comes about by teaching the core values and ideals of the legal profession and by demonstrating the best practices for meeting those ideals.

The program calls for mentors and mentees to design a twelve-month curriculum covering specific subject areas. Required subjects include personal and professional development, the Colorado bar and legal community, the history and importance of the legal profession, and professionalism and civility. The typical mentoring plan involves monthly in-person meetings between the mentor and mentee that last one to two hours. When the program is successfully completed, each mentor and mentee will receive fifteen hours of free CLE credits, including two ethics credits. The program also has components that include group activities, but it emphasizes the one-on-one professional and educational relationship between the experienced lawyer and the new lawyer, because this is one of the best ways to pass on the values, ideals, and best practices of the profession.

Although I cannot take credit for developing the mentor program, I am pleased that it came about during my year as CBA President. In addition to promoting professionalism, the program will help bridge the gap between the academic world of law school and the practical realities of practicing law. Even my alma mater, whose goal since 1911 has been "to prepare competent practicing attorneys," leaves a gap between academia and practice. Some things remain beyond the curricula of even the most practice-oriented law schools, such as: (1) teaching a working understanding of real estate transactions, from contract to closing; (2) instructing on how to screen for, recognize, and avoid conflicts of interest; and (3) teaching how to maintain the financial aspects of a practice, from creating bills to paying staff. These are just some of the subjects that mentors and mentees are encouraged to discuss during their participation in the Colorado Mentor Program.

Presidential Advice and Guidance

Before stepping into the role of CBA President, I spoke with several past CBA Presidents. Their words of advice and guidance served me well along the way.

Each of the former CBA Presidents from whom I sought advice told me that the job was time consuming, but that it was worth it. Some said it was the highlight of their careers. For example, Dave Johnson told me, "It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done." Bart Mendenhall assured me that a small-firm lawyer, hours from Denver, could have a good year as CBA President and could make a difference. Two CBA Presidents from Denver—Bill Walters and Liz Starrs—also offered their wisdom and encouragement to this small-town lawyer. I am most grateful for their advice.

Finally, I received more than encouragement from Laird Milburn, a friend of mine in Grand Junction whom I had called to get the Western Slope perspective. Within an hour of our conversation, Laird sent a letter to the CBA Nominating Committee, proposing me to be the 2010–11 CBA President-Elect. Thank you, Laird, for the encouragement, nomination, and support.

Many Thanks for the Big Year

A big part of my year as CBA President involved traveling around the state. Local bar leaders, members, judges, and court staff were always on hand to make each visit fun and memorable. I discovered that many of the local bar leaders also serve as CBA section and committee chairs and are members of the Board of Governors, the Executive Council, the Budget Committee, and the Legislative Policy Committee. The extent of their involvement in the organization is remarkable and humbling. Thank you one and all for giving your time and dedication to our bar association and our profession.

Each of the past presidents from whom I sought advice said the same thing about the CBA staff: they are great to work with and are extremely supportive of volunteer officers. Boy, was that information right-on! Without the great staff, I would not have survived my year as CBA President.

Jill LaFrenz was a wizard at scheduling local bar visits and other activities, and was most skillful at arranging travel and accommodations. Only one hotel did not have the expected reservation, but that was because someone else (who shall not be identified) took us to the wrong place! Leona Martínez and all of the staff at The Colorado Lawyer were kind editors who worked magic on the drafts I delivered. Without the guidance of Chuck Turner, Greg Martin, and Dana Collier Smith, I surely would have put the bus in the ditch. Many more CBA staff members proficiently perform vital functions behind the scenes and play an important part in making the CBA a great organization. They certainly helped make my year as CBA President a real pleasure. Thank you all.

I also owe thanks to Mark Fogg, who served as CBA President-Elect during my presidential year. Mark covered many of the meetings and events I could not attend because of the time required to travel to Denver. More important, Mark served as the chair of the Commission’s working group that developed the Colorado Mentor Program.

Of course, a small-town, small-firm lawyer can’t decide to accept the nomination to become president of the state’s bar association without asking for feedback from and getting the consent of family, friends, and colleagues. The decision to serve as CBA President would mean no vacations for a year or two, not to mention working lots of nights and weekends. Much like when I asked her what she thought about my quitting my job and going to law school, I enjoyed the full support of my wife, Mary Jane. Our children are grown and mostly gone, so before bar activities consumed all of my free time, Mary Jane and I took the biggest trip of our lives in February 2010: we went to Africa and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

David and Mary Jane Masters at the 19,340-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2010.

Last, and definitely not least, making the trip to Africa and then devoting a year to being CBA President could not have happened without the help and support of the people in my law office. I extend huge thanks and kudos to my partner Kathryn Sellars and our paralegal Jennifer Hemond. They kept our law firm alive and our clients happy in my absence.

So, there you have it—my big year. Serving as CBA President has been an honor and a privilege. Thanks very much to everyone who made it possible.

Notes

1. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1974).

2. See Chief Justice Michael L. Bender’s May 2012 article introducting the Commission on the Legal Profession at www.cobar.org/tcl/tcl_articles.cfm?articleid=7543.

© 2012 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved. Material from The Colorado Lawyer provided via this World Wide Web server is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and may not be reproduced in any way or medium without permission. This material also is subject to the disclaimers at http://www.cobar.org/tcl/disclaimer.cfm?year=2012.


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