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The importance of celebrating our legal pillars

Where would we be without our pillars? There would be no United Way; no Community Foundation; no CU Community Schools Foundation; no Eastern Illinois Food Bank and no Cunningham Children's Home - to name just a few organizations now deeply a part of the fabric of our central Illinois communities. These significant organizations - and others like them - came about, survived and even thrived because of the vision, energy and commitment of community leaders; our pillars.

A number of years ago, a special committee of the Champaign County Bar Association considered this question - where would we be without our local bar and judicial pillars? Under the leadership of CCBA president John Gadau the group decided that, as a profession, we too have our pillars, and they should be recognized and celebrated because their contributions to our community (bar and otherwise) have been vast.

Accordingly, in 2006 the CCBA announced its first class of pillars, consisting of lawyers and judges who were distinguished practitioners or members of the judiciary, and who had made a substantial and long term contribution to the profession and to the community. Not surprisingly, each member of the inaugural group of CCBA pillars (and each selected since) has played a significant role in community organizations like the ones mentioned above, in addition to being exceptional lawyers or judges, and wonderful bar leaders. A compilation of those CCBA Pillars selected to date is provided below.

It is impossible to overstate the value of our CCBA pillars to our profession and within the local community. Personally, I have benefited so much - both as a lawyer, and bar leader - from their mentorship, commitment to maintaining ours as an honorable profession, and desire to serve others. Their respective legacies say so much about why the law and our system of justice continue to be the subject of such admiration.

Our pillars include national, state and local bar leaders, appellate and circuit court judges, founders of Attorney's Title Guaranty Fund and the ISBA Mutual Insurance Company (both of which have significantly enhanced the client interest in this state), an incorporator of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, University of Illinois College of Law faculty and contributors, park and county board members, and frequent speakers at legal education programs teaching lawyers and judges. Many of these pillars have significant military experience, have devoted great amounts of energy toward the Boy Scouts of America, have served on fundraising campaigns for noble causes, and volunteered on Illinois Supreme Court committees, like Character & Fitness and the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. It is difficult to identify a local civic or religious group that has not been touched in some positive way by these individuals.

According to Black's Law Dictionary, a profession is a "vocation or occupation requiring special, usually advanced, education and skill; e.g., law or medical professions." To take this one step further, what sets the legal profession apart is a unique set of core values which focus on the client interest and an adherence to ethical rules of professional conduct. These core values include a lawyer's fiduciary duty of loyalty to the client; the attorney client privilege; avoidance of conflicts of interest; and maintaining lawyer independence. Each of the CCBA Pillars has exemplified these virtues.

Our system of justice - the envy of the world - depends on a viable judicial system, including a strong legal profession which follows the example of our CCBA Pillars. This system must be fair and impartial, available, well-run and unencumbered by politics. In short, this system must inspire confidence, and in this community, our pillars have helped this to be the case.

During my Illinois State Bar Association presidency in 2012-13, the ISBA advanced a program called Lawyers Feeding Illinois which was built on my view that the lawyers and judges in this state are among the most generous and civic minded individuals in their respective communities - and that these individuals would embrace an opportunity to give back even further through such a program. We initially sought to raise one million meals to benefit the eight regional foodbanks and the families they serve, and more than a few wondered at the time whether this was too lofty a goal. In the end, the program actually raised 4.6 million meals, proving once more that it is a mistake to underestimate the civic commitment and generosity of the legal profession. This sort of success does not happen by accident. It occurs because of the example of the members of our profession that have gone before, and who have tangibly demonstrated what it means to be a true bar leader.

There are clearly more legal pillars among us. These include lawyers and judges who are earlier in their careers than the ones honored to date, but whose contributions to a diverse range of bar and civic organizations are already vast. One day, these individuals will be honored as well, and when they are, they will stand on the shoulders of the legal giants who have gone before.

Champaign County Bar Association Pillars

2006 (8) - Stanley B. Balbach, Samuel L. Erwin, French L. Fraker, Frederick S. Green, Lawrence R. Hatch, Stuart M. Mamer, Darius E. Phebus, Richard L. Thies

2009 (4) - S. Michael O'Bryne, George S. Miller, Charles L. Palmer, John T. Phipps

2011 (4) - George G. Bryan, Roger E. Haughey, Harold L. Jensen, Donald M. Tennant

2013 (4) - John E. Gadau, James W. Evans, Lott H. Thomas, Carl M. Webber, Thomas E. Harrington, Sr. (posthumously)

2015 (4) - Ward F. McDonald, J. Steven Beckett, J. Gregory Townsend, Paul C. Hendren

Thies is past president of the 30,000+ member Illinois State Bar Association, past president of the National Caucus of State Bar Associations, and President-Elect of the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. He is a member of the Executive Council of the National Conference of Bar Presidents and the American Bar Association's House of Delegates. Locally, he has served in leadership positions with a number or organizations including: the Cunningham Children's Home Foundation, the Champaign-Urbana Community Schools Foundation, the United Way and others. He is a shareholder in the Urbana, Illinois law firm of Webber & Thies, P.C. where he practices business representation and general litigation. He can be reached at