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The President's Message

Allen M. Estes



FRIENDS, PEACE AND QUIET


What we all need, but can’t seem to get enough of anymore, are good friends to count on, along with peace and quiet to think.


Some of my best thinking is done when driving alone. When I can, I turn the radio off and ignore my cellphone. Often these silent, solo drives are the only true times to think during the week. When driving alone, even the quiet time provided by a traffic jam is appreciated; apparently my ultra-competitive need to be first (some say “road rage”) only comes out when others are in the car. But too often, being on the phone with work is the end result of these solo drives.


As trial lawyers in Alabama, most of us get as much (or more) “alone driving time” as we want riding the roads to hearings, depositions and meetings. While I suspect many of you value quiet time as much as I do, I know that much of your driving time is spent talking on the phone and, without admitting it to anyone, emailing or texting. And I am certain that none of us get enough time to actually think while in our offices, not with emails pecking away at us all day and night. That is the nature of our world today.


Driving the back roads of the Florida panhandle and South Alabama on Sunday morning coming back from the ADLA Annual Meeting in Sandestin this year, I had several truly quiet hours to think. It was wonderful. No radio, no client calls, no crying kids, nothing. My thoughts ranged from my oldest son going to junior high, all the kids going to summer camp, taking care of various family matters, and maybe even planning a long overdue vacation with my wife. But, having just left the ADLA meeting, my thoughts kept coming back to legal organizations and the practice of law. Not particular cases, attorneys, judges or legal theories, but big picture thoughts about the role legal organizations play in our lives, as well as what every attorney needs in today’s world to thrive (or even survive). I’ll try to compress three hours of thoughts into a few paragraphs.


The thoughts began with what ADLA has meant to me over the past 15 years. In short, ADLA has provided an outlet to create long-lasting friendships with judges, defense attorneys, vendors and even plaintiff attorneys through the Annual Meeting’s joint reception and their participation in the Bibb Allen Memorial Trial Academy. These friendly interactions with our colleagues are something we should not take for granted; particularly given the decreasing amounts of true personal connections lawyers have with each other these days. Of course, being busy is nothing new; lawyers have been busy for years. But with the prevalence of social media, the need (and ability) to find time in our busy lives to actually get to know other lawyers through face-to-face interactions has been diminished. While some might disagree, it’s just not easy to develop deep connections through emails, texts or social media. True, long-lasting connections require spending time together, and that is what ADLA meetings continue to provide. 


Many of us first got involved in ADLA in one of two ways – either as a student at the Bibb Allen Memorial Trial Academy or by attending the Sandestin meeting. For me it was both. I attended the Trial Academy my first year of practice, learning valuable courtroom tips from a wide variety of attorneys (including a successful plaintiff attorney who spoke during lunch one day). Even as a young lawyer, it amazed me that these high-powered older lawyers would volunteer two days to help young lawyers, most from firms other than their own and, in the case of the plaintiff attorney speaker, ones who would be his adversary for years to come. I learned then that Alabama attorneys can be a special group of people, especially when given good opportunities to give back to their profession. I have continued to learn more about Alabama’s attorneys at each ADLA meeting I have attended.


A few years later Bruce Barze invited me to the Annual Meeting at Sandestin, convincing Lee Alice and me that it was one of the few truly family-oriented legal conferences. He was right. I remember that first meeting very well; being nervous about whom I may know, what I was going to talk to the older lawyers about; and whether my then only child would get sick on anyone. It turned out that several of my law school friends were at the meeting, many with their young children in tow, so I had a built-in group of friends to start with. As the meeting progressed, I was reminded that, to all non-lawyers’ dismay, older lawyers talk about the same thing young lawyers do – courtroom (or deposition) war stories. I still cherish the memories made listening to the giants of the defense bar tell these stories. And my son didn’t get sick on anyone; it was another 10 years before his younger brother got sick at an ADLA dinner. 


We’ve now been to more than a decade of ADLA meetings. We continue to be friends with people we met at that first Annual Meeting. And at each subsequent meeting we have made new friendships that, thanks to ADLA, continue to withstand the pressures of our busy lives. These continuous opportunities to make and maintain friendships are what ADLA means to me. Thanks to ADLA, I have friends that I can rely on for years to come to provide professional fellowship and advice.


My thoughts next focused on what I see as a growing problem for attorneys – the increasing lack of quiet, undistracted time. Again, we all know that being busy is nothing new for attorneys, but we have to acknowledge that the way we communicate as attorneys, and the sheer volume of those communications, has changed in the past 10 years. Today’s technology presents us with a constant buzz of electronic distractions (emails, texts, and social media) that prevent most of us from finding time to proactively contemplate cases. As lawyers, we need quiet times to think about and develop cases. But today, instead of thinking about cases, we more often spend our time being reactive to the barrage of electronic messages. 

 

Since starting in 2000, every workday for me has been dominated by emails; though I did get four years in before the emails started following me around in my pocket. I used to love being on an airplane because the TSA mandated that emails couldn’t reach me there. But with that safe haven gone, there are very few email-free zones where people are forced to use the time to read (actual paper copies) or think. Instead, we are forced to create the quiet time for ourselves. I hope most of you are much better at that than I am.


While “the good old days” that I never knew were undoubtedly not as great as I imagine, it had to have been easier in the days before desktop computers to spend quality time contemplating a case’s facts, finding the nuggets to help your case and developing theories to present to a jury – the things good lawyers do best. Or, shockingly, to sit and discuss the case with a law partner without both of you looking at your phones every two minutes just in case something more important was appearing in your inbox or Twitter feed. Instead, for me, many days are spent typing at a computer even when I have blocked out that time to “think” about a case.


The times I actually am able to think are usually in our firm’s library; driving solo in a quiet car; or in my basement late at night. Without fail, two uninterrupted hours in one of those places can replace ten hours at my desk. It’s in these times that the best (and sometimes worst) case ideas come forward. It’s during these times that I can develop themes, ponder issues from past depositions, and see flaws in our case that weren’t obvious. And the best of all of these ideas come out when I’m joined by another lawyer who has also blocked out time so we can think as a team. All of these times are true luxuries for me.


So what’s my point? This isn’t a self-help book, it’s the ADLA Journal. Shouldn’t I just thank everyone for their hard work and ask people to get/stay involved in ADLA? Sure, all of us in ADLA’s leadership appreciate everyone’s hard work for ADLA and want that to continue, and grow. Without active members and staff, ADLA would not exist. But in the end, ADLA’s true mission is to make life better for defense lawyers in this state. So I offer these thoughts for whatever they are worth; maybe they are just words that make you wonder about me, or maybe they can help you start a “sanity check” like I’m going through.


We never stop learning. Over the past three months, I have learned even more about the great people associated with ADLA and the hard work that goes into this organization. I've seen first-hand how much time and effort the Amicus Curiae Committee puts into helping our appellate courts understand issues important to the defense bar. I’ve seen even more closely the effort it takes to get this Journal published. And, while I knew it before, I continue to be reminded of the daily efforts put forth by Joana and Leigh to make ADLA run. I’m so thankful for all the hard work each of you does for ADLA and this state. I’m thankful for the friends we each have made as part of our participation in ADLA events. And, as a 42-year-old attorney and father of three, I’m most thankful for those fleeting moments of peace and quiet we all need. I hope you have a prosperous end to 2016, and I look forward to seeing you at the next ADLA event.


Past Presidents of ADLA

 

Thomas F. Parker

James E. Clark

Paul W. Brock

Alto V. Lee, III

H. R. Burnham

Clarence Simmons, Jr.

Bibb Allen

Ralph Gaines

W. Boyd Reeves

Edgar M. Elliott, III

Roy W. Scholl, Jr.

Donald F. Pierce

Harold Albritton

Broox G. Holmes

Thomas W. Christian

Harold F. Herring

Stancil R. Starnes

Robert S. Lamar, Jr.

Huey D. McInish

Curtis Wright

William C. Knight, Jr.

Joe C. Cassady

Bert S. Nettles

Stanley A. Cash

J. L. Klinefelter

H. E. “Chip” Nix, Jr.

A. Danner Frazer, Jr.

Eugene P. Stutts

Davis Carr

Richard S. Manley

Jack W. Torbert

Ollie L. Blan, Jr.

Wade H. Baxley

Carol Ann Smith

Charles A. Stewart, III

Alex L. Holtsford, Jr.

John F. “Jack” Janecky

Henry T. Morrissette

Samuel H. Franklin

Jack W. Torbert, Jr.

William J. Gamble

R. Alan Alexander

R. Bruce Barze, Jr.

Helen J. Alford

H. Harold Stephens

Patrick L. W. Sefton

David K. Howard

Melody H. Eagan

Joseph J. Minus, Jr.

W. Dudley Motlow, Jr.

Michael E. Upchurch


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