Kurt D. Holzer
Published June/July 2022
“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch”
It is a bit daunting trying to produce something insightful/pithy/entertaining/useful for this, the last President’s column I get to write. Thanking all who have made the experience great is, of course, essential. So, to my fellow Commissioners, the Idaho State Bar staff, the volunteers, and all the lawyers the Commission has interacted with over the past three years – thank you.
Three years of service passed in a flash. Serving in this role, as has been the comment of every current and former Commissioner I’ve spoken to, is a satisfying and invigorating experience.
A feeling of the inevitability of change permeated the years I’ve served. The Bar and its members have been engaged in important discussions about behavioral norms and the role of the Bar in ensuring the sense of belonging, safety, and inclusion all its members deserve. That is in part reflected in the ongoing conversations about proposed Rule 8.4(g).
Other change, like the exploration of legal regulatory reform and expansion of who can deliver legal services remains a work in progress. The Idaho State Bar (ISB) saw a very concrete change in the retirement of Brad Andrews as Bar Counsel and the start of the era of Bar Counsel Joe Pirtle. Another substantial pending change is the work on the upcoming “Next Gen Bar Exam” which will await students who matriculate in 2023.
The most significant change on the horizon for the ISB is that sometime too soon we will say farewell to the incredible, steady, insightful, and beyond competent leadership of Executive Director Diane Minnich.
But some things stay steady. Spending time with the volunteer bar graders in Lewiston recently, the Commissioners got to see the hands-on commitment of Idaho lawyers from across the state to upholding the quality of the profession in Idaho. Seeing, speaking to, and speaking with this generation of lawyers who took that test is itself quite uplifting. The steady reality of newly-minted lawyers going forth to change their lives and the lives of others remains a constant.
So, I will wrap this up with a reminder of things real and aspirational about being an Idaho lawyer that shouldn’t change.
Keeping honesty as a touchstone.
We need to remain cognizant of our own limitations and avoid making promises to judges, attorneys, or clients we cannot keep. Telling the truth is always the only policy to follow in practice even when doing so is difficult.
Real Idaho lawyers make sure we don’t misrepresent facts to anyone.
We also admit our mistakes when they come, and they do come. Nobody is perfect, neither our adversaries nor clients really expect us to be.
Maintaining respect for our clients.
Taking the time to listen and understand our clients’ goals and what they need is an essential act. Those needs are sometimes divergent from our lawyerly perspective. Clients often encounter us at times of crisis when life is presenting them with pain, frustration, or loss. They too are imperfect. They can carry unrealistic expectations to our relationship. We get hired to be on their side. Even when we deliver bad news or uncomfortable truths, we need to be doing it with an understanding of the client.
Respect manifests when we get our client’s tasks done in a timely manner. Delay, or perceptions thereof, are a big source of client frustration and dissatisfaction. Call them back, answer their letters, reply to their emails, and keep them informed.
Assessing our client’s problem with an objective mind reflects respect as well. The job is to help solve these problems. We can do that best when we remain objective. We can be committed to their ends without losing sight of the real playing field.
Showing respect for our adversaries.
Often inter-lawyer conflict or incivility has a foundation in “otherness” or a lack of familiarity. The more broadly we know our professional colleagues, the less likely we are to be unprofessional. As our Bar gets larger, it becomes harder to have the same relationships that have traditionally defined practice in Idaho. Don’t let another lawyer’s unprofessional conduct result in a tit for tat response. Treat others with dignity and respect, regardless of how they treat you.
Don’t practice angry. Behave in a way that will get a positive response.
Eliminate unnecessary conflicts with your adversary. If your adversary asks for a concession, favor, or time extension and it is within your power to say yes then by all means grant the request. Someday we are each in the position of making a similar request. Take into account the demands on, and limitations of, others
Embracing respect for our profession.
Winning and losing is part of what many of us in the practice experience every day. In either instance, we remain public representatives of the legal system. As officers of the court, we need to support our oaths and the rule of law. It is certainly okay to believe a decision-maker made an error. It’s okay to be disappointed, but it’s not okay to be disparaging. Temper your commentary about the judge, other attorney, or jury.
Set a positive tone about the system for your client. They likely won’t hold respect for the system if we don’t.
Join a Section, specialty bar organization, or volunteer for one of the ISB committees. Go to the Bar’s Annual Meeting. Attend local CLEs. Be part of the life of the profession.
I appreciate the opportunity members of the 4th District gave me to serve. And look forward to my final weeks culminating in the first Idaho State Bar Annual Meeting to be held in Twin Falls.
Finally, in the words of Douglas Adam: “So Long, and thanks for all the fish.”
Kurt Holzer primarily represents injured individuals as a plaintiff’s trial attorney at Hepworth Holzer LLP. in Boise. He is thankful for the mentors, colleagues and adversaries who have made, and continue to make, the practice of law in Idaho a joy.