Home / Focus / State Bar of Arizona Convention Preview June 2006 / Jimmie D. Smith, new State Bar of Arizona president

Jimmie D. Smith, new State Bar of Arizona president

Jimmie D. Smith

As president of the State Bar of Arizona, Jimmie D. Smith won’t define the issues and initiatives the association takes up in the next year. That’s up to the association’s Board of Governors.
But because working one’s way up through the ranks of the Bar’s Board of Governors is required to become president, Mr. Smith certainly has a sense of what the membership is interested in. And because Mr. Smith has spent his entire legal career in small-town Arizona, he knows there’s a great need for lawyer referral services outside of those counties that now have such services.
Referral services allow people who need legal advice to get it from someone with expertise in that particular area.
“Adoption law, for just one example, is tremendously complicated,” Mr. Smith said. “You need to find someone who knows that area of the law.” Child-custody and zoning are another couple of areas that often require potential clients in small towns to find a lawyer outside their town or even county, Mr. Smith said.
That expertise isn’t necessarily going to be just down the block in many of the small towns and rural areas that make up most of Arizona outside of the two larger counties, Mr. Smith said.
County bar associations in Maricopa and Pima counties already have their own lawyer referral services, and Mr. Smith certainly doesn’t want to see the State Bar supplant those services.
“They’re doing a fine job already,” Mr. Smith said, noting that he’s sensitive to any concerns those county bar associations might have about the State Bar becoming involved in referral services. “I certainly get the sense from the members, though, that there is a need there for the rural areas. I think that is something we’re likely to see this year.”
Assumes post June 17
Mr. Smith will assume his one-year term as president of the State Bar on June 17. Mr. Smith feels he is tuned into the needs and concerns of the legal profession in the small towns of Arizona because that’s where he has spent his entire career. And most of his life, for that matter.
Mr. Smith attended elementary school in Toltec. He attended Arizona Western College in Yuma, and then completed a bachelor’s degree in business at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Mr. Smith earned his law degree at Arizona State University, where he was a member of the first graduating class at the College of Law. That same year, 1970, Mr. Smith was admitted the State Bar of Arizona.
He has been active in many county and state bar activities. Mr. Smith twice served as president of the Yuma County Bar Association and has served on the State Bar Board of Governors, representing Yuma and La Paz counties, for eight years. In that time, he has served one-year terms as secretary-treasurer, second vice president, first vice president and president-elect.
As have many small-town lawyers, Mr. Smith early on represented clients in a variety of civil and criminal matters, but gradually grew into more specialized areas. He spent many years representing debtors in personal and business bankruptcy cases. More recently, Mr. Smith has taken on a more specialized role, in representing the trustee in bankruptcy cases. He has handled cases in state and federal trial and appellate-level courts.
While many lawyers have aimed to join large, high-profile firms, Mr. Smith has remained a sole practitioner for his entire 36-year legal career. Part of the reason is that there simply “are no big firms in Yuma.” He has had offers from larger firms outside Yuma, but Mr. Smith has continued to practice solo because he likes the “personal touch” in handling cases.
Being a sole practitioner doesn’t mean Mr. Smith doesn’t have some back up.
“In the building I’m in, there are five other lawyers,” Mr. Smith said. “We routinely call on each other if we have conflicts, which come up a lot. I look after their calendars and they look after mine.”
Mr. Smith sees his job as president primarily to work with the Board of Governors (made up of 29 members from eight districts in the state) on defining issues and initiatives, all of which come down to serving the membership (about 13,000 active members) and the public who need legal services.
One of the major services that the State Bar provides to its members is continuing legal education, of which every active member has to complete 15 hours each year.
“This is a way of making sure that lawyers continue to keep up on the law, because it’s changing all the time,” whether through legislative changes or court decisions, Mr. Smith said.
Another key role for the State Bar is discipline of its members who violate the rules and ethics of the profession. Disciplinary action can include censure up to suspensions to disbarment, or revocation of the privilege to practice law in Arizona.
Disciplinary actions on Web site
The State Bar’s Web site (http://www.azbar.org) recently began listing any disciplinary actions that have been completed against a member. The public may check on their attorney or prospective lawyer by using the “Find a Lawyer” link in the upper right corner of the home page. Just fill in the name and other required information and a link will show the results of any disciplinary action, assuming the matter has been decided. Pending disciplinary proceeding will not show, although the public may call the State Bar at (602) 340-7384 or use the computer form on the Web site to obtain additional information about disciplinary actions.
Another recent initiative of the State Bar is creation of an arbitration system on legal fees. If a client feels he or she has been charged too much for services, an independent arbitrator will hear the complaint, Mr. Smith said, meaning that the client won’t have to hire another attorney to try to get the matter settled.
“I’m a simple guy with a simple way of explaining things,” Mr. Smith said. He sums up his new post as president of the State Bar this way: “I see myself as the new engineer of the State Bar train. It’s my job to keep the train going down the same track, not to change the destination.”

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