Before Charlie Harris’ father died in 1987, he offered a few words of advice that sparked a change in Harris’ life.
“He told me to never go through life saying ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda,'” Harris said. “And after that, I went to law school.”
Harris’ decision to leave his career in human resources eventually led him to accept one of the highest distinctions in the law profession. In September 2007, Harris assumed the role of president of The Missouri Bar.
“It was a tremendous honor. And it goes beyond being the first African-American in the role. I don’t care what color you are; it was just a wonderful, wonderful opportunity,” Harris said.
Keith Birkes, the bar’s executive director, said Harris served as an exemplary advocate. Harris successfully defended the Nonpartisan Court Plan against a legislative movement. Harris traveled throughout the state educating the public about the plan and finding supporters.
“The bar opposed the efforts of the Legislature, and Charlie was our spokesperson at every juncture,” Birkes said. “His skills as a trial lawyer came through.”
Harris and the highly publicized battle over Missouri’s appointment of judges even warranted mention in The Wall Street Journal.
Also while serving as bar president, Harris sparked controversy and change when he presented his diversity initiative to the bar’s Board of Governors. The plan, which reserved three appointed positions for underrepresented groups, won approval last spring.
“His efforts to ensure that the bar was diverse were very meaningful,” Birkes said.
Harris’ agenda as president included raising awareness regarding the plight of public-service attorneys struggling under the burden of loans. This issue continues to be a passion for him.
“Those lawyers provide a public service when they could be making considerably more at private firm,” he said. “They provide a service that we all benefit from, so it makes sense that we help where we can.”
Despite his legal achievements, Harris maintains that he is most proud of his ability to balance his career with his family life. Harris has two young daughters.
“From a personal and more important perspective, my most important accomplishment was maintaining a close a relationship with my family despite the rigors of serving as president of The Missouri Bar and serving as lead counsel in three trials in two states,” Harris said.
Just as his father advised, Harris left his position with the bar with no shoulda, coulda, wouldas.
“It’s like the old saying goes,” he said. “It may seem like a lot, but you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Charlie James Harris Jr.
Work Experience: Partner, Seyferth Blumenthal & Harris, March 2008 to present; Partner, Berkowitz Oliver Williams Shaw & Eisenbrandt, 1999 to 2008; Associate, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, 1997 to 1999; Law Clerk, Judge Fernando Gaitan, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, 1995 to 1997
Education: University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, J. D 1995; Tarkio College, B.A.