For Dudley McCarter, serving others is an important part of being an attorney, and so the St. Louis lawyer’s resume lists roles within and outside of the legal community.
In the legal world, he is a former president of both The Missouri Bar and the St. Louis County Bar Association. He has written articles for The Journal of the Missouri Bar, and he is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation.
Outside of the law, he has served on a variety of civic and charitable organization boards and headed the Mizzou Alumni Association.
McCarter said he believes lawyers have an obligation to help others and do charitable work.
“For the most part, we’re looked up to in spite of the lawyer jokes,” he said. “We have knowledge and insight we can share on boards and benefit our communities.”
McCarter graduated in 1975 from the University of Missouri School of Law, then reported for active duty in Maryland — he’d been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and had committed to serving for two years.
After about six months, however, he was released early after the United States pulled its forces out of Vietnam. He continued to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves for another eight years, retiring as a captain.
McCarter started practicing law at a small firm for a short time before joining Suelthaus & Kaplan in Clayton. He was at the firm for 15 years before he and his law partner, Tony Behr, decided to start their own firm.
“We wanted to give it a try,” he said. “We’ve kept the lights on ever since.”
McCarter said the week he presented the idea to his wife, Beth, who is also an attorney, was already a momentous one: The couple found out they were expecting their third child, they’d signed a contract for a new house, and McCarter had recently been elected vice president of The Missouri Bar, teeing him up for the president role the following year.
“She said, ‘I’m not sure I heard you correctly. What was that?” he said. “It was a busy time. She said, ‘Ok, we’ll do it.’ Without her support, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
McCarter’s practice focuses on civil litigation and construction law. He said the latter area appealed to him because he worked in construction during summer breaks from high school and college.
In recent years, he scored an important victory for contractors in the 2016 Missouri Supreme Court case Byrne & Jones Enterprises Inc. v. Monroe City R-1 School District.
The court ruled in favor of McCarter’s contractor client, finding the contractor — despite not being a taxpayer in the taxing district of the project — had standing to challenge the award to another firm.
Ultimately the ruling came too late — the project already had been completed — but it changed the law.
McCarter said the aspect of practicing law he’s enjoyed the most is representing clients.
“I think it’s an honor to have someone place their trust and confidence in you to handle their affairs,” he said. And it’s fun to learn about their businesses.
“You’ve got to know the law and the way around the courtroom, but any good lawyer needs to know what his client is doing, the ins and outs of that business, to really represent them well in front of a jury,” he said. “You’ve got their story to tell, and you need to have an in-depth knowledge of that story.”