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ICON Awards 2022: John Hessel, Lewis Rice

John HesselIn a parking lot near the ballfields in Florissant, Missouri, an eight-year-old John Hessel would sit on his bicycle next to his coach’s police cruiser and listen to the dispatchers relay information back and forth. He told his coach he wanted to be a police officer like him. Asked if he was interested in ‘catching bad guys’ or the whole process, Hessel recounts answering, “the whole thing,” to which his wise coach said, “oh, you need to be a lawyer.”

As a member of Lewis Rice, Hessel represents a diverse base of clients across a myriad of industries that include services institutions, manufacturers, financial institutions, media entities, and municipalities. He also frequently speaks on Missouri’s Sunshine Law and helps cities navigate numerous document requests. “I remind my clients, don’t put anything in an email you wouldn’t want your mother to read,” he said.

As the city attorney for Kirkwood, Missouri, he experienced a horror most lawyers never face. On February 7, 2008, a gunman ambushed the city council meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri, leaving six people dead and one injured. As the perpetrator chased Hessel with two guns pulled, he looked him in the eyes, which he describes as “the eyes of a shark, very menacing, no emotion.” He then instinctively grabbed nearby chairs to knock the weapons loose and escape. He tells this story with sobering accuracy but feels it’s his duty to share this experience to educate the public on preventing these tragedies, protecting themselves in these situations, and, most importantly, handling trauma.

He added that he wouldn’t wish that experience on his worst enemy. “You have to confront, for lack of a better term, those demons inside you to relive that experience time and time again, which you do; it’s just awful.”

Hessel worked through his grief and trauma by speaking about the shooting to groups when possible and maintaining a tremendous appreciation for his profession.

“It’s a profession, and you need to respect it. And when clients come to you and say, ‘I want the meanest son of a bitch I can find,’ that should not be you. You should be an advocate for your client but respect the law. Judges don’t like lawyers who are coming in fighting with each other. So, my advice to all young lawyers is to become a good lawyer by respecting other professionals and clients while being a good person along the way.”

ICON Awards 2022