PCBA's President's Message
Remarks by President, Craig S. Young at the July 7th of 2014 Annual Meeting of the Peoria County Bar Association:
It is my honor to assume the role of President of the Peoria County Bar Association. I want to thank the Board, and all members of the Association for giving me this opportunity to help move the Association forward over the coming year. We have a tremendous Bar Association… truly one of the best in the nation. There is much for us to be proud of, much to preserve, and numerous opportunities for improvement as we work together in association as lawyers.
It has become tradition for the newly elected President to outline a platform or a focus for the coming year. I would like to introduce that subject by referring to a fairly famous photograph which likely hangs in some of our offices. The photograph is entitled Peoria Bar Association, Last Appearance in Old Courtroom – June 15, 1964. As the title suggests, this was the last appearance of the Peoria Bar Association, prior to the demolition of the old courthouse and the construction of the new courthouse we all practice in today. A review of that photograph, which was taken almost exactly 50 years ago to this date, reveals a great deal of history important to all of us. I can’t help but notice Clarence Heyl, the founder of my firm sitting third from the left on the front row, looking every bit as stern as I am told he could be. He was a very active member of our bar serving as President in 1921, and actually, serving as the Lincoln Banquet speaker in 1943. In the back row, is my former partner, Lyle Allen, also one of the founding partners in my firm of Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen. I did have the privilege of practicing with Lyle for a couple of years before his retirement and got to know him both as a lawyer and a friend. In my office today, sit two leather bound chairs which were used by Clarence Heyl along with the desk and furniture used by Lyle Allen. It is important to me that I have inherited these as a reminder of these great lawyers who were instrumental in the founding and development of the firm I practice with. Most of you as a member of the Bar today will see faces in this photo important to your history as a lawyer.
From this introduction, it is likely clear I would like to focus during the coming year on the history of our Bar Association. I choose this focus not to simply recall our past in a nostalgic way, but because I think there is much we can learn from the lawyers who went before us in this Bar Association. Certainly, on some points, we will learn that we have made great progress beyond the views and outlooks of our predecessors. As an example, it cannot be overlooked that the 1964 photograph referenced above is filled with only white men. Our Association has made great progress in a positive way on the issue of diversity. Reflecting on our history will give us an opportunity to celebrate the positive impact our Bar Association has had over time on the advancement of the legal profession.
While our predecessors in the bar may have had significant room for development on the issue of diversity, and perhaps other issues, it will be more important for us to focus on the many positive aspects of their approach to the practice of law and their involvement in the Bar Association. For the past year, I have chaired an Ad Hoc Committee on attendance. Unfortunately, the reason for the existence for this committee is our Association has now been suffering for several years from low attendance at all Bar Association events. There are some positive developments that have come from this Committee’s efforts. Recent diversity luncheons have been heavily attended. Attendance at our superb CLE presentations remains high, although diminished in the last couple of years. We were also able, with significant effort, to raise slightly the attendance at this year’s Lincoln Banquet. Despite those minimal successes, we have to admit that overall attendance at virtually every event has been down significantly over the past several years.
As is demonstrated by the 1964 photograph referenced above, our predecessors did not suffer from this problem. While exact documentation is not possible based upon the information we have available, it is clear from reviewing rosters and censuses that a very large majority of the attorneys who practiced in Peoria in 1964 not only were members of the Bar Association, but appeared in the photo. THEY WOULD NOT HAVE MISSED IT. An important part of being a lawyer for them was the face-to-face association they had with each other on a regular basis both in their daily practice, and through the Bar Association. Active participation in the Bar Association was simply part of being a lawyer for those who practiced law at that time. On that point, we can learn a great deal from those who came before us.
It is my hope that by focusing on our history, we might revitalize our commitment to supporting each other through regular association at bar activities and functions. How will we do that? First, I will be trying to highlight certain aspects of our history in the Legal Ease on a monthly basis. I solicit your help in that regard. Frankly, we have lost much of the written documentation pertaining to our history, and if you have access to interesting facts about our past which you think would be relevant, please contact me with those suggestions.
Second, I will be asking our committees, where possible, to focus on our history when organizing various events and activities. Our CLE Committee has already done that with some of the recent ethics presentations, and there may be other opportunities where we can highlight our past as we share together in our events and meetings.
Third, our Mentoring Committee is reorganizing in a way which should prompt greater participation. Last year’s mentoring program was organized around the Supreme Court rule which provides CLE credit. As expected, those requirements are demanding, and the result was low participation. This year we are not going to focus on those CLE requirements and simply encourage many one-on-one mentoring relationships between older and younger attorneys. It would be my hope that the older attorneys who were benefitted by a history of more active involvement in the Bar Association will be able to convey some of that past to the newer members.
Lastly, we have a unique opportunity with the Lincoln Banquet in 2015. Our Lincoln Banquet is the longest running continuing such event in the entire country. 2015 is a very important anniversary year, as this is the 150th remembrance of Lincoln’s death, and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. We in Central Illinois have the rare privilege of counting Abraham Lincoln as part of our legal past, and plans are already underway to make next year’s banquet a true celebration. We will be doing everything we can to promote heavy attendance by all attorneys at this very important event.
I would like to end with one more history lesson going back to the very beginning of our Association. The first effort at organizing a bar association in Peoria took place on November 18th of 1879, when 20 attorneys met in the courthouse to form the Peoria Bar Association. By-laws were adopted, and dues were set at $1.00. The order of business for the day contained a 5th item entitled “Intermission for Social Conversation”. The slate of officers elected included the first president of the association, David W. McCulloch.
On January 13th of 1880, the next meeting was held and President McCulloch gave his inaugural address. The importance of that activity is demonstrated by the fact his remarks were published the next day in the daily newspaper and were printed in three full columns. While I have been unable to locate a record of those remarks, I think it is safe to assume President McCulloch likely made reference to the statement of purpose adopted by that first association. It read as follows:
“The Association is formed to promote reform in the law, to facilitate the administration of justice, to elevate the standard of integrity, honor and courtesy in the legal profession, to encourage a thorough and legal education and to cherish a spirit of brotherhood among the members thereof.”
As we focus on our past and consider both similarities and differences between us and those who came before us, I think we can agree the statement of purpose adopted by the founders of our association over 135 years ago would serve nicely as a statement of purpose for our Bar Association today. The difference, however, is the degree to which the entire bar in 1879 was participating together in carrying out that statement of purpose. While exact research is not possible, it appears when comparing the rosters of attorneys in Peoria in 1879 with the records regarding the members who formed the original association, that every single attorney in Peoria was present at these founding meetings. It is my hope that during the coming year we can learn from this history and begin anew to cherish the spirit of brotherhood among all our members.
Thank you, and I look forward to serving with you toward that end.
Craig S. Young
President - Peoria County Bar Association