It is with great sadness that we share the news that ABA leader and longtime Law Practice Management Section (LPM) active member Gary Munneke passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2012. Although all of us who knew Gary were shocked upon learning of his sudden passing, we are all very grateful for the time he was with us, and for how he touched each of our lives in so many lasting ways. We hope that this column can serve as a brief tribute to Gary, describing in small part how he positively affected us all through his substantial work for the ABA and our Law Practice Management Section. It is fitting that we replace our regular Ethics column with this tribute to Gary, as he spent endless hours devoted to teaching and writing about ethics and professionalism, and was the LPM Section representative to the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility/Section Officers Conference Joint Committee on Ethics and Professionalism for many years.
For me, Gary was a mentor, advisor, confidant and friend. As LPM chair, he recommended me for my first appointment as a member of the LPM Section Council some 15 years ago. Over the years, I was privileged to work with him on several initiatives to help better the professional lives of practicing lawyers. He remained interested and invested in my development as a leader in the Section and the Association, and I was privileged to have called him friend.
As I read the many tributes that were written shortly after Gary’s untimely death, it occurred to me that although my experience with Gary was unique in its specifics, he had also impacted the careers of many others in a variety of ways. I also realized that considering the extent to which Gary enhanced the lives of so many in our profession—whether through his servant leadership to law students, fellow faculty members, members of the New York State Bar or those in our own ABA—we really do owe a debt of gratitude to Gary’s family. We sincerely thank them for their willingness to share him with us for so many years, and now we share their sorrow as we adjust to his absence.
Gary Munneke was a leader in our Association. He served a term on the ABA Board of Governors, having been nominated by the LPM Section. At the time of his death, he was the Section Officers Conference liaison to the Board. Laurel Bellows, current president of the ABA, offered these thoughts about Gary:
Gary epitomized the best of the ABA: a lawyer, teacher, counselor and friend who devoted his time and soul to the improvement of our profession and to assuring access to justice for the people of our nation.
Gary stood out in the crowd, not simply because he was a gentle giant with a winning smile and calmness that brought constructive conversation to even the most emotional topics. Gary stood out because we were always looking for him as our trusted advisor.
“Ask Gary what he thinks” was the mantra of his many friends, and when he answered, we were never disappointed.
Gary will be missed by the ABA, by our Board of Governors, which he so ably served, by the many Sections he touched and by me, his friend.
Before serving on the Board of Governors, Gary served several successive terms as an LPM Section delegate to the ABA House of Delegates. Linda Klein, immediate past chair of the House of Delegates and active member of LPM, shared this:
Gary loved the profession, always finding new ways to serve it, from practitioner to bar leader to academic. His excellent counsel will be missed by all who knew him.
Though Gary led wisely at the ABA’s highest levels, he began his ABA involvement with the Young Lawyers Division and then with LPM. Gary served our Section for so many years, in so many roles. Past president of the ABA and past chair of the LPM Section Roberta C. Ramo offered this remembrance of her former colleague:
Gary Munneke was a scholar, a mentor to many and a leader in the ABA. But perhaps more importantly, he lived a life of kindness and concern for others that leaves a legacy for each of us to follow as our tribute to him.
Although Gary served on numerous LPM committees and boards, perhaps his most indelible contributions to the Section were with the LPM Book Publishing Board. He was one of the key architects of our book program, which was the first of its kind at the ABA and served as the model for the many entity book programs that followed. Gary took the fledgling program and ran with it, inspiring his Section colleagues to work tirelessly with him to acquire and develop a plethora of invaluable practice management titles, including some that went on to become true classics that have guided several generations of lawyers. A prolific writer, Gary wrote or contributed to a good many books himself throughout his career, his boundless passion for educating through the written word ever evident. He encouraged and cajoled many a reluctant author to share his or her expertise in writing, ensuring many voices were heard.
Jay Foonberg, famed author of the iconic LPM classic How to Start and Build a Law Practice and other best-selling titles, reminisced about working with Gary over the years:
It isn’t easy to describe a professional relationship of more than a quarter-century in a “few words,” as requested. I can’t do it. I was a cofounder of LPM (then ELP— the Economics of Law Practice Section). Gary joined shortly thereafter and immediately made an impact. I will attempt to summarize the 25-plus years we worked together in three key words.
Friend. Gary always wore a warm and welcoming face of friendship. We shared our successes and we shared our defeats (yes, there were defeats), but we never lost or forgot our desire to work together for a common purpose. Gary was my friend and supporter through the victories, and more importantly, the defeats. Gary treated everybody with dignity and respect and a smile, often granting favors, asking nothing in return. He taught me to look defeat in the face, smile and move on.
Co-Warrior. We fought the same war, on different battlefields. We both shared the belief that the future of our profession and of our nation rested heavily with today’s law students and young lawyers.
Gary was skilled in fighting on behalf of law students and young lawyers in the world of academia and within the complex politics and infrastructures of law schools and bar associations. He was a skilled diplomat and a gifted writer. His books will last forever. His books will be his legacy. I fought the fight in the world of practicing lawyers, with my CLE presentations and my books. I hope that my books will be my legacy.
We both believed in taking our hats off to salute and honor the past and rolling up our shirtsleeves to get to work in the present and for the future. When one of my books caused enough controversy that it was “embargoed” from distribution while the ABA sorted things out, Gary stood by me and defended my work. We quietly shared the victory when the U.S. Supreme Court vindicated my writings. We both were more interested in doing what was best for the profession than in celebrating victories.
Mensch. Gary was not Jewish but might appreciate the appellation of mensch. A mensch is more than a gentleman. A mensch is an exalted, respected gentleman and scholar. Being a mensch approaches being a saintly or noble person. Gary was a mensch in every good sense of the word.
The profession has lost a warrior and a mensch. I have also lost a friend. If you think for a moment of the last time you saw Gary, you’ll recall he had a smile on his face. That is how I will always remember him.
Even after limiting his involvement at LPM meetings due to time commitments to the Board of Governors, Gary remained loyal to LPM and its important work. He continued to write for the Section, publications that will continue to positively impact students and lawyers for many years to come. He also remained willing to step in when needed. Just this past year, as the Board of Governors considered the difficult issue of setting a budget in a challenging economy, Gary stepped in at a moment’s notice to speak up for our Section and its important work. Our current chair, Joan Bullock, reflected on how much Gary meant to LPM and the profession:
A leader, a writer, a colleague, a friend—these words do not come close to being able to sum up the life of the man who accomplished so much and touched the lives of so many in service to the ABA and the LPM Section. The legal profession has suffered a palpable loss.
The success of a volunteer’s involvement in the ABA is not only contingent upon being able to get along with fellow volunteers but is clearly tied to relationships with a most important resource: our staff. Gary was well liked and respected by those who work at the ABA headquarters in Chicago. He recognized the essential work our staff does and would support them and praise them publicly at every opportunity. Jack Rives, executive director of the ABA, who worked with Gary at the highest levels of the ABA during the past few years, said this:
We’ll all miss Gary’s wisdom and his pleasant approach to everyone and everything. Gary always demonstrated the best of the legal profession, and he leaves a great legacy of friendship, respect and accomplishments.
Gary was, of course, well-acquainted with LPM staff, working closely with them over the years as an officer of the Section and regular author. Our Section director, Pam McDevitt, had the opportunity to work with Gary when she was employed with the New York Bar and again in her present position at the ABA. Pam had these words of praise:
Gary was an amazing person, and all of the LPM staff loved working with him. The aim of everything Gary did was the same: helping people become lawyers, and helping lawyers become better at what they do. It’s the kind of legacy that’s really worthy of the term legacy.
Gary Munneke achieved just about every level of accomplishment in the Section and was appropriately awarded with the Sam Smith Award for lifetime achievement in law practice management in 2011. Even so, it seems to me that Gary’s highest accomplishment professionally was the level of success he achieved as a true leader of others. It is sad to realize that, going forward, others will not have the same opportunity to be blessed by Gary’s mentorship and friendship. At the same time, I am thankful to have been one of those whom Gary did invest in, and I am certain that I am not alone.