Marion E. James, JD, LLM

Of Counsel

My Life As a Country Lawyer

After graduating from Drake University Law School in 1968, I served 4 1/2 years in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps.  During that time, I was assigned to the Navy Appellate Review Activity in Washington DC where I appeared before the United States Court of Military Appeals. Living there gave me the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from George Washington University.  As a footnote, I also authored a case note and an article that were published in the Drake Law Review and a case note and an article that were published in THE JAG JOURNAL (Department of the Navy, Judge Advocate General).

Following discharge in 1973, my wife, Nancy, and I settled for a short time in Story City, Iowa. We returned in June 1977, to our Creston roots where we had entered life at the old Creston hospital on Oak Street. I began practicing law with Lennis Holm but decided 6 months later to practice alone. At that time, twelve attorneys were already in practice here, and I was skeptical if enough work could be found to provide for my family (Today, 2023, Creston, has only five practicing attorneys). Faced with deciding whether to continue practicing in Creston, I found encouragement from senior Attorneys Tom Mullen and Ed Harvey who remained good friends throughout the years.

My first office was located in a former mudroom of our home. Since I lacked space for a staff person, secretarial services were performed at their home or by Nancy in our home. This arrangement was born of necessity, but it permitted me to have a closer presence in the lives of our children, then consisting of Wesley and Bradley, (Amanda joined us in 1979) although I suspect they would have preferred not to be under a perceived microscope of clients. In 1979, I opened offices in Afton and Clearfield. I still have an office in Afton but closed the Clearfield office after 25 years. As time passed, the home office was expanded to accommodate two staff persons and a waiting area. In October 1993, I moved to my present office at 205 ½ North Elm Street, Creston.

During the early days, my practice was extremely broad, ranging from criminal law/court appointments, to bankruptcy, estate planning, family law, real estate, probate, and taxation, plus municipal law. In addition, I taught a Business Law class at Southwestern Community College for three years. Today, most lawyers, including myself, have substantially narrowed their practices, much like our farm clients who have taken a more specialized approach to their farming operations.

I was also honored and enjoyed serving as Union County Magistrate for nearly twenty years, from February 1994 until November 2014.

Practicing law has given me the opportunity to meet some outstanding people, not to mention enjoying the great food served at church suppers and other fundraisers by community charities, a part and parcel of rural living. By the same token, I also enjoyed the opportunity to play a part in community affairs: this included 15 years as a member of the Creston School Board and later the Board for the Green Valley Area Education Agency and the Southwest Iowa Sheltered Workshop, now Innovative Industries. As a railroad buff, I came close to living the dream of driving a train. Instead, I settled for being chairperson of the Railroad Heritage Days celebration which centered around Creston’s railroad history. In addition, I served as an officer for the Union County Development Association and participated in church choir as well as various church committees.

Although I was a sole practitioner for most of my professional career, I always considered the members of the Iowa State Bar Association as my partner. I was a six-year member of the Board of Governors for the Bar Association as well as the president of the District Bar Association and the Union County Bar Association. In addition, I was appointed chair of the Solo and Small Firm Section of the Bar for two years and spearheaded several seminars geared toward Solo and Small Firm attorneys.

The practice of law and, indeed, life was symbolized by the courthouse where lawyers gathered on court service days when a judge was present to sign orders and conduct hearings. Not only did we enjoy the professional interaction, not to mention the socialization, we learned much from each other about the practice of law and about life.  Lawyers, to their credit, always stood ready to help other lawyers. While all of that still holds true, the sense of collegiality has been lessened by the advent of electronic document filing that can be done from anywhere in the world at any time, without ever stepping inside a courthouse.

When I first entered private practice in the 1970’s, advertising consisted of sponsoring a sports booster ad newspaper and participating in community events. Now, advertising has expanded to billboards and television ads. At the time, most lawyers relied upon electric typewriters and carbon paper. The more advanced offices had a Xerox copy machine that oftentimes was the size of a desk. The office library was a mark of distinction although for budgetary reasons, I tended to rely mostly on the county law library in the courthouse.

Like other professions, technology has greatly impacted how law is practiced.  Radio Shack computers, and many others entered upon the scene;  by today’s standards, these were quite rudimentary. Social media was yet unknown unless, of course, one is referring to telephones on a party line. This has all been eclipsed by high-powered computers, the internet, smart phones, cloud storage, remote access, and zoom meetings. Law libraries have virtually been replaced by electronic legal research services. Today, law can be practiced almost anywhere that Wi-Fi can be found.

Throughout all of this, I have gained the utmost respect for the rule of law. It truly stands between society, as we know it, and anarchy. The critical role of lawyers in maintaining the rule of law was given meaning by Shakespeare in Henry VI when one of the characters, who sought to overthrow the government so another could become king, stated that to be successful, they first must get rid of the lawyers: they are the mainstay in preserving law and order.

I am truly grateful to have practiced law as a “country lawyer” in Union County, Iowa.

Marion E. James, J.D., L.L.M.
205½ N Elm Street
Creston, Iowa 50801

 

Marion E. James, JD, LLM
Marion E. James, JD, LLM
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