For the first time in its 76-year history, The Missouri Bar soon will have an African American lawyer as its executive director.
On April 1, Mischa Buford Epps will formally join the bar as executive director. Epps will be the organization’s fifth-ever executive director and the first African American person in that role.
She acknowledged the milestone, saying she is “certainly honored to stand on the shoulders of many other trailblazers who have opened doors and whose hard work and efforts I benefit from, both men and women.”
Epps said she believes the bar’s decision to hire a person of color is a testament “to the forward-thinking vision of our board of governors and helps to further the bar’s goal of making sure that Missouri lawyers reflect the constituency of the people we serve.”
“We want the bar to be as inclusive an organization as possible,” she said. “I think my selection reinforces that.”
The hire has been cheered by attorneys at the Jackson County Bar Association, a bar association serving African American attorneys in the Kansas City area.
“We are ecstatic for her,” said Shaun Stallworth, the group’s president. “I think it’s well deserved. She has been a trailblazer on so many things she’s done.”
Stallworth noted Epps serves on the board of the JCBA Foundation and previously served as the JCBA president.
He called her contributions to the JCBA “immeasurable,” adding that she has been an inspiration to many younger attorneys in the Kansas City area.
“She is just a joy of a person to be around, so knowledgeable, so kind and always willing to provide any and all types of information, certainly to younger attorneys, but to anybody, really,” he said. “I could talk [about] her generosity for days. She’s a brilliant woman.”
Not only is Epps eminently qualified for the executive director role, but “it’s a cherry on top that she is diverse as an African American female” because her selection shows a commitment to diversity and to including and listening to different perspectives, he added.
Epps said the executive director role sits at an intersection of her varying interests, from the legal industry and the practice of law to public service and the nonprofit world, which she formerly advised while practicing for more than 20 years at Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Kansas City.
“So the marriage of really all of those things and opportunity to add value is really what led me to explore the executive director role,” she said.
While she hasn’t actively practiced in recent years — family commitments led her to leave Shook, Hardy & Bacon in 2015 — Epps has remained involved in the legal community. In addition to her roles with the JCBA, she also has served on the Missouri Supreme Court’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness.
“I kept my foot in the door in terms of activity with the practice and the developments in the practice,” she said.
Epps said she has not yet identified specific priorities for her new role. Broadly, she hopes to help carry out the Bar’s mission of helping lawyers to better serve their clients and communities.
“I’m going to jump in and learn as much as I can, as quickly as possible, and identify priorities,” she said.
To that end, she is inviting members of the bar to reach out and provide input.
“I’m very interested in hearing our members’ ideas and learning about their specific needs,” she said. “The bar is all about helping our lawyers do an even better job of servicing their clients and the communities in our state.”