Recently, Robert T. Wetherell was named President of the Idaho State Bar Board of Commissioners. Robert’s first President’s Message appeared in the February 2014 edition of The Advocate, a magazine for lawyers in Idaho.
If the President’s first message is to be a rambling introduction, this should do. I am one of those individuals who always wanted to be a lawyer. I remember in grade school seeing a program about John Adams and his defense of the British soldiers at the Boston Massacre. In addition, “To Kill a Mockingbird” had been recently released with Gregory Peck standing to defend the rule of law in a small town in the South. The law seemed to attract people of integrity and courage. I was born in Mountain Home in 1958. It was a wonderful community while I was growing up and still is today. With approximately 8,000 people in town and 8,000 people at the air base, it was a much larger community than people realized. In addition, it was by far the most diverse community in the state of Idaho. With retired military in the community, it was not uncommon to hear foreign accents from Germany, France and other European countries. In addition, with the Air Force base kids attending school in Mountain Home, you were able to interact with people from all over the United States and students who had traveled the world. The schools in Mountain Home were first rate.
Because of federal impact funds and money the school district received from Idaho Power for Anderson Ranch Dam, teachers in Mountain Home were paid more than teachers in the rest of the Treasure Valley. We had excellent teachers and leadership, and I never recall a bond election that failed. My father was a state senator in the 1950’s-60’s and my mother was a state senator in the 1980’s-90’s. Law and politics were always a topic of conversation. You never knew who was going to be at the house on a particular occasion. I was able to see a true cross section of life.
One thing that impressed me most about living in Mountain Home in my formative years was the way the lawyers in town were treated. In particular, Frank Hicks, Fred Kennedy and Perce Hall were very well respected. You saw them wear suits every day and it seemed as if the town revolved around their counsel and advice. More than just practicing law, Frank Hicks especially, was everything a small town attorney should be. He didn’t simply practice law and go home. He volunteered his time to various organizations and you would often see him on week nights and weekends working to make the city of Mountain Home better for everyone. He offered me advice as I continued to tell him how I wanted to be a lawyer. Frank Hicks gave me one quote from Abraham Lincoln I will never forget. It’s a partial quote, but it says volumes about what lawyers should be, even in this day and age: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise wherever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser – in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough. Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this . . . A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it.”
After I graduated from the University Of Idaho College Of Law in 1982, I was fortunate enough to obtain a clerkship with United States District Judge Taylor and United States District Judge McNichols. I did well enough in law school that I was asked to interview for the position. Interestingly enough, I didn’t get the job but did receive a call stating I had come in second during the interviewing process. As luck would have it, the graduate who was actually offered the job turned it down to be an associate at a bankruptcy firm in Spokane. Apparently it paid more, but I can guarantee with all the money he probably has now, he couldn’t buy the 2½ year experience I had at federal court working for Judge Taylor and Judge McNichols.
I would encourage any new lawyer to clerk for a judge, regardless of pay. In those days, you could only clerk for the United States District Court for two years. The reasoning was that a federal judge is appointed for life and therefore that judge should not turn around and appoint two additional lawyers for life. Those days have changed. My first controversial statement is as follows. I would encourage state and federal judges to rotate their clerkships in order to provide opportunities for new graduates from law school. This would provide a better understanding of the court system by giving young lawyers the experience of seeing how the system operates from the inside. I don’t believe it is a good practice to have longtime law clerks. It only serves to separate the bench from the bar. Change is hard, but change is good. Change gives new energy to you and the people around you. After my clerkship, I entered private practice and have engaged in private practice for approximately 30 years now. It has been very rewarding. Fred Kennedy worked me 50 hours a week my first two years and taught me the importance of preparation in the practice of law. I think the most important experiences have been practicing with and against other lawyers. They have been exceptional professionals and become lifelong friends. I look forward to serving you as President of the Idaho State Bar in 2014. I hope to write articles for The Advocate that will be thought provoking on topics we should be discussing, but at times are reluctant to mention.
About the Authors: Robert T. Wetherell is a 1982 graduate of the University of Idaho Law School and clerked for the United States District Court for the District of Idaho immediately upon his graduation. Since that time he has been in private practice in the city of Boise and is currently a principal and partner at Capitol Law Group. Mr. Wetherell began serving as Bar President in January of 2014. He has been married to his wife, Deborah, for 29 years and they have two adult children; Marie Ellen, a third-year law student at the University of Idaho College of Law and R. John, a senior at the University of Idaho.