December 01, 2007

December 2007: The Honorable Richard B. Teitelman

State Supreme Court Cheif Justice uses law to "pay it forward."

Cheif Justice Richard Teitelman believes that lawyers should use their legal skills to benefit others who are not as well-off. In other words, after receiving a legal education, lawyers should not pay a debt back to benefit themselves, but instead pay it forward to help someone else who needs it more.

The Honorable Richard Teitelman currently sits on the Missouri Supreme Court. He attended Washington University Law School in Saint Louis. After representing farm workers for a year as a solo practitioner, Judge Teitelman spent twenty-three years at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (the last eighteen of those years as its executive director). Since 1998 he has served the state of Missouri as a judge. His volunteer service with legal organizations and bar associations is extensive. For the American Bar Association, Judge Teitelman was Chair of the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law from 2001-2004 and currently he sits on the ABA’s Standing Committees on Pro Bono & Public Service and Minorities in the Judiciary. He is also in the ABA’s House of Delegates. From 1989-1990 he was President of the Bar Association of Metropolitan Saint Louis and chaired its Trial Section from 1991-1992. He is a member of the National Federation of the Blind, the National Association of Pro Bono Coordinators, and the American Foundation for the Blind, just to name a few.

Justice Teitelman was born with a congenital anomaly of the optic nerve and is legally blind. Because he has difficulty reading, at a young age, he developed excellent memorization skills, which allows him to retain extensive amounts of information. When talking with prospective employers, Justice Teitelman always disclosed his disability by noting that he was a hard worker and that his visual impairment was an opportunity rather than a disability.

Even today, this self-described optimist makes sure to turn experiences related to his disability into an opportunity for others: “My disability brings a unique and worth-while perspective for the other judges on the Supreme Court to consider so that they can, in turn, view things from a different perspective.”

Bringing joy to others, or “paying it forward,” as he says, is an integral part of Justice Teitlman’s job. Giving back to his community is paramount. “It is important to reach out to others,” he said, “it’s not just about yourself.” The judge uses his place on the bench to reach out. “The law can help provide equal access to justice and help those who could not receive the basic needs in life—food, shelter, and an education,” observed the judge, “I want to be that ear on the court that hears the pleas of the not-so-fortunate and makes sure they too receive justice.”

Justice Richard Teitlman knows that he is in a great position to “pay it forward” to those who are less fortunate. In responding to his disability with positive energy and a resilient work ethic, he has made the most of his situation and assists others by promoting equality and justice on the bench. “I have worked hard,” Judge Teitlman stated, “and it’s given me the opportunity to serve others extremely well.”