Governance & Membership

2020 Swearing-In Remarks

Remarks Given by President Susan B. Shields at the OBA Swearing-In Ceremony

By Susan B. Shields

I am honored and humbled by your presence this morning. Being sworn in as bar president is the greatest honor of my professional career, and it is so special to be here with you in the beautifully renovated courtroom in our state Capitol.

Many people have asked me over the last year why I decided to take on this role. Sometimes the question sounds more like, “Why in the world would you want to do this?” The short answer is that I love being a lawyer and being a part of the Oklahoma Bar Association. A more involved answer is that I’m reminded we never get to choose who crosses our path and the impact they will have on us.

Early in my career other lawyers encouraged me to get involved with the OBA. Teaching CLEs and serving on committees allowed me to meet and get to know other attorneys from across the state, and those relationships forged friendships and helped to build my law practice. Thirty years later, all of that experience and encouragement has culminated in this honor, and I couldn’t be prouder or happier to take on the role of OBA president and to have the opportunity to give back to an organization that has given me so much.

The great theologian, astronomer and physicist Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” To me, this means that we are at our best when we rely on the wisdom and knowledge of those who have come before us. So, I want to thank many of my mentors who are in this room today. I am grateful for the encouragement and wise advice from fantastic leaders like Chuck Chesnut and Kim Hays and other former bar presidents who have paved the way – and especially the other women bar presidents who are here in force. I am also thankful for the support of my colleagues at McAfee & Taft – including my assistant Lauri Warmack and legal assistant Yanira Sanchez, and my friend and law partner Barbara Klepper who sang so beautifully earlier – John Williams and the OBA staff, my vice president Brandi Nowakowski, president-elect Mike Mordy and the Board of Governors. As you have seen this morning, the OBA is well-served by an amazing group of talented board members and leaders.

Choosing law as a career and being here today would not have happened without the influence and support of my family. My father, Allan Stocker, was a member of the OBA for more than 50 years. He was my earliest mentor and one of my biggest supporters. I know he is here today in spirit and is proud of me.

I introduced my family a few minutes ago and want to say again that I am grateful for my mother, Pat Stocker, my brother Scott Stocker, my sons Sam Shields and Ethan Shields (who was unable to be here today because of his college schedule) and my fiancé John Ford. Also, I want to thank my college roommate and one of my best friends Lauren Beckman who traveled to be here from New Jersey. Thank you to everyone here, knowing that while I can’t list everyone’s names your support and friendship is being acknowledged and makes each of you a part of this journey.

In reflecting about what to say this morning, my thoughts have often turned to another one of my mentors, and a former OBA president, Bill Conger. When I moved back to Oklahoma City after law school, Bill interviewed me, and we discovered we both had a Bartlesville connection – me growing up there and Bill moving there in high school. Over the years and until he passed away, I was lucky enough to call Bill my friend. Like my dad, I feel Bill’s presence here today and am grateful.

I remember that one of the early pieces of advice Bill gave me was to keep a file with all of the nice letters or emails received from clients or other lawyers so that when you get a not-so-nice communication you have something to pull out and read to remind yourself of why you chose this career. If you don’t already keep that kind of file, I would highly encourage you to.

I am grateful to have many letters from Bill in my “file.” And again, the memory of Bill reminds me, as I said before, that we never get to choose who crosses our path. We don’t get to choose who becomes a mentor to us, but we do get to choose where we direct our own efforts to give back and to make a difference in other people’s lives. There are so many opportunities to become mentors to other lawyers in our firms and through the OBA and to others in our communities. My mentors – my dad, Bill and many of you in this room – have given me so much over the years, and I am thankful to have the chance to give back through this service to the OBA.

As for the year ahead, my main focus will be to raise awareness about issues impacting attorney wellness, including mental health, suicide prevention, alcoholism and substance abuse. Like a lot of professions, being a lawyer is a high-stress job. In fact, I sometimes think of law as a “take it home at night” career because lawyers often go home and spend sleepless nights worrying about how to solve their client’s problems.

The statistics about attorneys suffering from alcoholism, opioids and other drug use and depression are staggering. Studies report that 1 in 3 lawyers identify as being problem drinkers and almost 30% say that at some time they have experienced depression. I know that many – if not most of us – have been touched directly or indirectly by mental health and substance abuse issues. The OBA can’t solve all of these problems, but we must do what we can to help.

The Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program has been a part of the OBA for many years, and the LHL committee is one of the hardest working and dedicated groups of volunteers in the bar association. Through the leadership of that group, our program was evaluated in 2018 and the results showed that we need to do more. One significant change that has already happened is that we have doubled the budget for the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program for 2020. The increased budget will allow for additional counseling resources as well as training and outreach for attorneys who need help. The increased budget will also provide more opportunities for education about attorney wellness issues. And, through a change that came out of Past President Chesnut’s CLE Task Force last year, starting in 2021, Oklahoma lawyers will be able to obtain ethics credit for continuing education courses about attorney wellness. Education on these issues is so important, and we hope that talking about attorney wellness and having increased available resources will make a positive impact on lawyers in our state.

As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” As an organization, we are going to give more to each other so that we make an impact on the mental health and wellness of our community. Personally, I charge us all to consider what we might give to another person because we may very well be the one who changes or influences another person’s life because we cared.

I am looking forward to a great year and the opportunity to serve as OBA president. And, I’m aware that no president can be successful alone. It takes a collective effort, and I am asking – no, I’m counting on – your help to make this a successful and productive year for the OBA and for our communities. It is my honor to serve, and I promise to do my best this year to uphold the trust you have placed in me. Thank you.