Looking at W.H. “Bert” Bates’ lengthy list of professional and personal affiliations, it might be easier to list the organizations with which he has not been involved than the ones he has.
The Lathrop Gage senior counsel, who formerly was partner and chair of the firm’s managing partners, has spent much of his life in service to others, personally and professionally.
In addition to his nearly 66-year legal career, Bates has served on boards or governing bodies for 25 entities, two banks, 15 charities, seven businesses or professional organizations and three government entities.
He attributes his inclination to serve others to his parents. He also said his firm has supported community participation.
“This law firm has always been very active in civic and charitable undertakings, and maybe I kind of fell into it, but nobody ever told me, ‘Spend more time working on the law business,’” he said.
Born in Lexington, Bates was a child when his family moved to Jefferson City, where his father worked in state government.
After high school, he joined the U.S. Army in 1944, serving with the 2nd Infantry Division in Europe.
Bates said he was glad to serve in the armed forces. The experience taught him a number of things he later carried into his practice, including how to get along with people and do what you’re told, he said.
“You could beef about it, but you carried out your orders,” he said.
Out of the army, Bates earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri. He went on to the University of Michigan to pursue a law degree, which he earned in 1952.
From a young age, Bates said he had positive interactions with lawyers in Jefferson City. He said his father was the head of a department that included lawyers, though he was not a lawyer himself, and the fathers of four of his high school classmates were on the Missouri Supreme Court.
Also, it didn’t hurt that Michigan offered him a scholarship, he said.
Bates returned to Missouri to join Lathrop & Norquist, which later merged to become Lathrop Gage. In August, he’ll mark 66 years with the firm.
He started out representing the firm’s railroad clients and handling wills and trusts. He later became the principal attorney for the Armco Steel Company, which presented an opportunity to expand his practice to a variety of corporate issues.
“Whatever Armco’s problem was, that was my specialty,” he said.
In addition to his work at Lathrop Gage, Bates has been a special assistant attorney general and legal counsel for the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.
He considers six of the positions he’s held to be the most significant: president of The Missouri Bar, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, chairman of the Hawthorn Foundation, chairman of the foundation for Lawyers Encouraging Academic Performance and member of the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators.