Denver Bar Association
November 2012
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A Heaping Helping of Thanks Ahead of Turkey Day

by Jim Benjamin

 

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November starts the traditional season of holidays. We all go overboard in celebrating the fourth Thursday of the month, but it seems Nov. 11 ought to be given at least equal time. The day was first declared a holiday in 1919, then known as Armistice Day, and served as a day for Americans to reflect “with solemn pride in the hero ism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory ... and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” In 1954, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day to celebrate and honor all veterans, not just those who died in World War I.

Citizens of the United States enjoyed, and perhaps became complacent, with a feeling of domestic safety and security until Sept. 11, 2001, when a new reality arose. Since that time, the efforts of veterans have successfully restored a great majority of our ability to get through a normal day without concern of the threat of terrorist activity or acts of foreign aggression. Sure, we are inconvenienced by the need for security screening on every entrance to the courtroom and every airline flight to take an out-of-state deposition, but for the most part, we all end each day without giving thought to the risk of potential harm from those who would commit the same atrocities as occurred on 9/11.

It is imperative that we all do stop on Nov. 12 (this year’s observed celebration of Veterans Day) to give thanks for our servicemen and servicewomen in prayer and in person; however, I believe such tribute should not be reserved to a single day but rather exercised and displayed throughout the year.

How about picking up that snack and beverage for the uniformed military personnel on the plane? How about making dessert “on you” for the serviceman or servicewoman dining in the restaurant? Why should a uniformed member of the service pay for his or her parking meter? Cough up four quarters to feed the meter. Just as important, do go outof your way to walk up to a serviceman or servicewoman and simply say, “Thanks for your service.”

Our profession is poised in a unique position to display our gratitude to those who have risked the ultimate sacrifice for our protection. Veterans are in need of legal services, many with limited means to do so. John Vaught, our own DBA First Vice President and a Vietnam veteran, has been instrumental in the organization of Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans, which provides free legal clinics to assist veterans with advice on the many issues they face. You need not have experience on such issues—the bar program will train you. For more information, please contact Carolyn Gravit at cgravit@cobar.org.

Of course, I don’t suggest we forget about the other big holiday of November; I only suggest that we give praise to our veterans equal to the blessings we count on Thanksgiving Day.

For myself, I must start with how blessed I have been with family. Isabelland I celebrated being married a third of a century in October. Having the honor to serve as president of the DBA brings with it a responsibility to attend many receptions, awards dinners, and national bar conventions. Although she may be thinking otherwise to herself, outwardly Isabell always cheerfully accompanies me. I have two fabulous children, and there has never been a single day of disappointment; indeed, it has been more than a lifetime of pride and joy in seeing their educational and career successes and, more importantly, the growth of kind hearts in each.

Related to my law practice, any success attributed to me is not of my own making. I have been blessed with a one-of-a-kind legal assistant for more than 20 years. Dawn Jones not only is par excellence as to her skills, but she also anticipates and fulfills my needs before request. Every new associate who has ever worked for me will attest to the fact that on their first day they are introduced to Dawn and informed that she knows more about the practice of law than they—and respect is not just encouraged; it must be one of their top priorities. If not the first day, then on their next, the new associate is given the same lecture as to court clerks.

Pulling from the phrase the “apple does not fall far from the tree,” I believe one of the reasons I derive such enjoyment from mentoring new lawyers is that I was a pupil of some of the best.

When I started practicing in Los Angeles, there were three lawyers who gave freely of their time, re-creating the idea of apprenticeship. Michael Smithwick, a veteran of World War II and a prisoner of war in Germany when his B-17 was shot down in his first mission, shared practice pointers that I have shared over and over with scores of younger lawyers.

Leonard DeMonte taught me the basics of writing a professional letter. Neil Martin showed me the sanctity of a trust account. When I joined the law firm of Towey & Zak, Ed Towey taught by example the art of taking depositions and trial court examination. Perhaps the biggest lesson I recall is the need to listen to the witness. Ed also repeated over and over the need for uncompromising respect and civility toward opposing counsel.

The next dozen years, I had the pleasure to learn from one of the greatest assemblage of legal talent at the firm of Roath & Brega. In my bar association life, the administration and staff are a group to be more than thankful for. They are, to coin the phrase, to die for. I cannot imagine how hard this job would be without the political and policy expertise of Chuck Turner, the financial acumen of Greg Martin, the advice and counsel of Dana Collier Smith, and the administrative organization of Denise Lynch. Staff at the bar is so experienced, knowledgeable, and proficient that much of the duties in volunteering for a leadership role are to simply follow their instructions on where and when it is that you are to be present. The rest is orchestrated, allowing officers like me to focus on the big-picture issues facing the bar.

For all these, I give thanks now and on Nov. 22.

Coming full circle on things for which I am thankful, please join me on Nov. 12 and each other day of the year that the opportunity arises in giving thanks to our veterans. To every member of our bar association who has answered the call, I salute you and thank you for your service to our country. D


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