From a strong bond with the state’s Judiciary to striving to make the practice of law “just a little bit better” for Maryland attorneys, Michael J. Baxter stressed the value of MSBA membership during his installation as the Association’s 120th President on June 15, 2013, at the MSBA Annual Meeting in Ocean City.
“Lawyers are a tough audience; we can be very demanding,” noted Baxter, a trial attorney who, as a founding partner in the Baltimore firm of Baxter, Baker, Sidle, Conn & Jones, P.A., primarily represents doctors and hospitals in medical malpractice cases. As such, he cited the more than 24,000 licensed Maryland attorneys who opt to belong to the voluntary organization as evidence of MSBA’s intrinsic value to the practice of law.
Key to that value, Baxter said, is the strong relationship between the Maryland Bar and Bench – a relationship distinct from those between other state bar associations and their respective judiciaries, which he characterized as “more often adversarial than supportive.” Baxter largely credits Maryland’s robust Bench-Bar ties to the efforts of then-Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland, who retired from his post on July 6 upon reaching the Judiciary’s mandatory retirement age of 70.
“It is sobering and a little sad to know that I will be the last MSBA President to welcome him here as our sitting Chief Judge,” he admitted, acknowledging Bell’s presence in the front row. “He doesn’t have to be here. Yet here he is, every year, and at all of our events.” Baxter called Bell’s omnipresence a reminder to “every Judge in the state that lawyers and judges are partners in everything we do – maybe junior and senior partners, but partners nonetheless.”
By that same token, lawyers, Baxter said, are “reminded that the phrase ‘Officer of the Court’ is a responsibility, not a platitude. It reminds us that our core values are not billable hours or win-at-all-cost, but instead equal justice, professionalism, and the rule of law.” The new President supported these points with a short video that featured testimonials from four MSBA Past Presidents: the Honorable Roger W. Titus, U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland; the Honorable Barbara Kerr Howe (ret.), Circuit Court for Baltimore County; Harry S. Johnson; and Paul D. Bekman (see story Page 1).
“Let’s make sure that this unique but fragile relationship continues to grow,” said Baxter, extending an invitation to the state’s next Chief Judge to “help us continue this tradition.”
Baxter noted that much has changed in the practice of law since he obtained his J.D. from George Washington University in 1980, especially for new attorneys.
“When I graduated, I had little trouble finding a job, and I had virtually no debt,” he said. “Well, those days are gone, maybe forever.”
“New law graduates today are struggling to establish themselves,” he continued. “Those that do get jobs have unbelievable debt. These conditions do not bode well for a profession that prides itself on the pursuit of noble traditions like community service and volunteerism. I believe it is the MSBA’s responsibility to help our newest lawyers.”
As a means of exploring these “complex” problems, and possible solutions, Baxter announced the creation of a Special Committee on Law School Graduates, to be chaired by MSBA Past President Louise B. Gonzales. Committee members will include, among others, Dean Phoebe Haddon of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and Dean Ronald Weich of the University of Baltimore School of Law.
For new and established attorneys alike, Baxter sees “the effective use of technology” as being critical to the modern practice of law. In the interest of “moving the MSBA forward in serving our members electronically,” he announced the formation of a new Technology Committee, chaired by Keith R. Truffer. Its duties in the coming year, Baxter said, will include overseeing the installation of videoconferencing at MSBA Headquarters as well as the creation of a brand-new MSBA website, to be launched in June 2014, when he leaves office.
Baxter also expressed the “need to develop new delivery models” and “engage in new types of marketing” to ensure MSBA’s standing as “the premier provider of continuing legal education in this state.” To this end, he announced his appointment of Harry C. Storm to chair the MSBA Standing Committee on Continuing Legal Education. Baxter praised the work of Storm’s predecessor, Marshall Paul, who orchestrated the successful transfer of CLE administration to MSBA following the 2010 demise of the Maryland Institute for the Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers (MICPEL).
Baxter will lead the 24,000-member voluntary Association for the next 12 months, joined by President-Elect Debra G. Schubert, a Baltimore County solo practitioner; the Honorable Pamila J. Brown, District Court for Howard County, as Secretary; and Treasurer Sara H. Arthur, founding partner of the Annapolis-based Arthur Law Group, LLC.