Saturday, July 11, 2015

Lawyer Magazine: An Idea Whose Time Had Come

By Ed Comey

     Twenty-five years ago, the Hillsborough County Bar Association chose Claude Monet's Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies to grace the cover of the inaugural issue of the Lawyer because that issue bridged a gap between the old version of the publication and the new one. Interestingly, Monet devoted the last 25 years of his life to painting a series of landscape scenes of a garden, replete with lily ponds, he planted on his property. Apparently, the Japanese footbridge featured in Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies was featured in 17 paintings in 1899 alone. As Alastair Smart, arts editor and chief art critic for the Sunday Telegraph, once observed, Monet’s paintings of the water lilies and footbridge — different versions of the same view at different times of the day under different conditions — served as an alternative diary for him. In retrospect, it is fitting that Monet’s Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies graced the cover of the inaugural issue of the Lawyer.

     Before the Lawyer made its debut in November 1990, the HCBA principally communicated to its membership by circulating a monthly bulletin aptly named The Bulletin. It was a relatively short, black-and-white newsletter that conveyed the latest news around the community. It was workmanlike, both in substance and style. But all of that changed in November 1990 thanks to a seemingly unremarkable meeting between the HCBA and the Hillsborough County Medical Association a year earlier.

     In 1989, Ron Russo, the HCBA president at the time, and others met with the Hillsborough County Medical Association to discuss improving relations between the two professions. During that meeting, Russo saw the medical association’s monthly periodical (oddly enough, it was also called The Bulletin) and couldn’t help but notice how the substance and style of their Bulletin was more professional than our Bulletin. After that meeting, Russo had the idea to roll out a new, more professional publication.

     The primary concern, of course, was cost. Russo estimated the cost to convert from the old Bulletin to something closer to the Lawyer of today was $4,000 to $5,000. But Russo was confident that the more professional-style magazine would attract additional advertising revenue to absorb the increase. In the end, the HCBA’s Board of Directors determined the benefits of a more professional magazine far outweighed the costs.

     For one thing, a more comprehensive publication (with articles from a variety of substantive law sections) could help improve the administration of justice in our community, not to mention keep members up-to-date on the latest legal issues. In addition to increasing member participation in Bar events, a new and improved magazine could help fuel future volunteer efforts. Russo was convinced the HCBA’s monthly publication was an important — perhaps the most important — factor in shaping volunteer efforts. Besides all of that, a quality, professional organization like the HCBA deserved a quality, professional publication. In short, it was — as Russo said in quoting Victor Hugo when he rolled out the new magazine — “an idea whose time ha[d] come.”

     The only thing left to do was to roll out that new idea, a task that fell to Mark Buell. The first order of business was a new name. The HCBA’s Board of Directors decided on The Hillsborough County Bar Association Lawyer. As Buell recalled back then, “Because we are lawyers, our publication should have a name which distinguishes it.” Along with a new name, the Lawyer had a new look. The magazine was now in color, rather than black-and-white. And there was more substance, with publication privileges extended to all of the HCBA’s substantive law sections (including seven new ones); the State Attorney’s Office; the County Attorney’s Office; the Public Defender’s Office; the United States Attorney’s Office; the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Courts; the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida; and the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida. The magazine also doubled in size. It only takes one look at the late version of The Bulletin and early versions of the Lawyer to realize the Board of Directors accomplished its goal of putting out a more professional publication.

     What is remarkable, however, is how closely the Lawyer of today resembles the Lawyer of 1990. The original Bulletin was in existence for 25 years, and its evolution over that time is striking. The Lawyer, which has been in existence for the same amount of time, remains largely unchanged. To be sure, the size of the magazine has grown larger over the years, while the number of issues has grown smaller. But there is no question that Russo and Buell created a format that has withstood the test of time.

     After 25 years, though, it is important to reflect on whether the Lawyer has accomplished its original goals. Has it helped improve the administration of justice? Has it kept members up-to-date on the latest legal issues? Has it increased member participation in Bar events? Has it helped fuel future volunteer efforts? The answer is an emphatic yes.

     It didn't take long to see that the Lawyer helped influence the administration of justice. Not long after Buell wrote an editor's message about the shortage of federal judges in Tampa, he received a scathing letter from someone at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington who was none too happy with Buell’s commentary but nonetheless promised to help ease the backlog of cases here in the Middle District of Florida. As for keeping members up-to-date, this issue, for instance, features an insightful analysis of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision dealing with the right of judicial candidates to solicit donations. And there can be no serious question the Lawyer has helped promote participation in Bar events and fuel volunteer efforts. For proof, look no further than John Kynes’ article in the last issue about the Judicial Pig Roast/Food Festival and 5k Pro Bono River Run, where the HCBA had more than 500 attendees and received pledges of 2,500 hours of pro bono work.

     It has been said that “Claude Monet’s water-lily paintings are amongst the most recognized and celebrated works of the 20th century and were hugely influential to many generations of artists.” It’s obviously a stretch to say that the Lawyer is one of the most recognized or celebrated works of the 20th or 21st century. And, unfortunately, an old issue won’t fetch the $20 million to $30 million that a Monet water-lily painting will at an auction. But it’s not a stretch to say the Lawyer is the best local Bar publication in the state (and maybe the country) and that it has been influential for a generation of lawyers in this community. Twenty-five years ago, Russo predicted that “this new monthly publication will serve our Association in good stead in the years to come”; those words are as true today as they were 25 years ago.