President’s Message – April/May 2016

Oh… To be a kid again … and other random thoughts

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Nathan Overberg, PCBA president

My daughter came home from school the other day with a little extra bounce in her step. Earlier in the day, her social studies teacher had called her and some of her friends out of class to give them the opportunity to enter a competition, and anyone who has met my daughter knows that she loves to compete. To top things off, it was a “law” competition. So when she got home that afternoon, my daughter was proud to announce to her two lawyer-parents that she would be entering the 2016 Law Day competition sponsored by the Polk County Bar Association and ARAG.

Since the announcement, she has be reading up on the topic — “Miranda: More than Words” – and attempting to engage her parents in a dialogue about it. Unfortunately for my daughter, neither of her parents practice criminal law, and so the conversations have been decidedly one way as she re-educates us about the famous United State Supreme Court decision and recites the now famous “Miranda warnings.”

Needless to say, I am proud to be associated with the Polk County Bar Association for many reasons; but one of the primary reasons is the work the Law Day committee does to engage local schools, teachers, and students in learning about the importance of the law and lawyers to our society.

If you want to learn more about the Law Day competition or how to bring the competition to your child’s, grandchild’s, or neighbor’s school; or if you want to support the program by sponsoring a table at the awards luncheon, please contact the PCBA office. If you simply want to recharge your batteries by meeting some great young people and reading/hearing their observations about the importance of the Miranda decision, then join us for the Law Day luncheon on Tuesday, May 10, at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott Hotel.

Speaking of recharging batteries, if you haven’t judged a mock trial competition recently (or ever), you have to give it a try. I recently judged a round of the state high school competition, and it was …   “totally awesome” (do kids still use that saying?). I know, I know, you will say you have been there, done that. But for many of us, we judge a few rounds when we are new lawyers and then for any multitude of reasons stop responding to the annual call for judges. I am ashamed to admit that before my recent experience it had been at least 10 years since I judged a round. I am glad I broke that streak. The amount of time and effort these students apply to this competition is astounding and their performances are awe inspiring. I assure you, if you judge a round you will either walk out of the competition excited about the future of our profession or afraid that in the not too distant future you may face one of the participants in court.

Finally, as one is apt to do this time of year, I have spent a good part of March watching college kids play basketball. A commercial that repeatedly popped up on the television screen had a message something to the effect of: “Reputation is what others perceive you to be. Character is what you are.” Because I believe this concept has profound meaning in our profession, I attempted to find the commercial on-line to give it proper attribution in this newsletter.

Probably because I am not a kid any more, I was unable to find the commercial on “youtube” or “snapchat,” but was able to find a similar quote attributed to the great basketball coach, John Wooden: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Mr. Wooden was also quoted as saying “The true test of a [person’s] character is what [he or she] does when no one is watching.” What is the relevance of this concept to the practice of law? It seems all too often lawyers talk the talk about mentoring or professionalism when in a public setting, but then fill their letters or e-mails to one another with demeaning, condescending, and baseless barbs or accusations.

This is especially troubling when the letter or e-mail comes from an experienced lawyer and is directed to a new lawyer. Whenever I see such a missive, I ask myself if that lawyer would want his or her son or daughter to be addressed in that manner. I imagine not. If, in the rare circumstance, the new lawyer has precipitated the missive by doing or writing something that warrants re-direction, there is always a more constructive way to relay that message and advocate for your client without the personal attack.

One of my learned partners at the firm always advised that we should practice law in such a way that we can be proud of the person we see in the mirror every night. That is a goal we should all strive to achieve. That is character.