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J. Michael Thompson to lead Mahoning Bar

Legal News Reporter

Published: July 3, 2014

As Youngstown attorney J. Michael Thompson begins his term as president of the Mahoning County Bar Association, he says he can look forward to both exciting projects and great challenges.

Like many of his predecessors, Thompson said that he, “would like to increase our membership, especially among younger lawyers.” He would also like to speak with some of the more senior practitioners who may have drifted away from the organization and try to re-ignite their interest in the association.

A graduate of Poland Seminary, Thompson received his undergraduate degree in communications and history form Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1997. After two years taking graduate classes and coaching the speech team at Arizona State University in Tempe, he began his legal studies at Georgetown University, graduating with his juris doctor from the Washington D.C.-based law school in 2003.

Returning home after graduation, Thompson passed the Ohio bar examination landed in the Youngstown firm of what was at the time Manchester, Bennett, Powers & Ullman.

Returning to his hometown was a no-brainer for Thompson, he said, who, after living in the metropolises of Phoenix and Washington, eschews the big city life for the quiet of semi-rural Ohio.

An avid reader and collector of old books, Thompson said he does not own a television set, and lives in the oldest still-occupied house in the Mahoning Valley— built in 1819 by the Poland’s founder. “I love this community,” he said.

When Thompson did return, he practiced at Manchester from 2003-2005. While he was at that firm, Thompson said that he was fortunate to be mentored by Stephen T. Bolton.

Thompson said that Bolton is one of his two primary mentors in the profession. The other is Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, whose courtroom he worked in from 2005-2012 as an assistant county prosecutor.

He left the prosecutor’s office in January 2013 and went into practice on his own, a solo office primarily dedicated to criminal defense work.

Mentoring is key to Thompson’s approach to his upcoming presidency. “There is really no substitute in the legal profession for mentoring,” he said. “You learn by working with others, by one-on-one guidance. I personally have been very fortunate to learn from those two mentors in my career.”

Thompson said that relating to fellow attorneys can also be done in more informal ways, helped along by the bar association. “If younger lawyers are practicing solo or in a small firm, the bar association is one of the ways that they can develop relationships with (their peers),” he said.

Thompson has been in leadership in the bar association virtually since he returned to his hometown as a member of the board of trustees and a longtime member of the grievance committee.

He said that he is interested in the fact that there are many older members of the association who, for various reasons, have stopped their active membership.

“There are quite a few of them,” he said, and added that one of the things that he would like to do in the upcoming year is to set up individual meetings with each of these attorneys to see if he could convince them to rejoin the association.

Besides working with former members and younger attorneys, Thompson also said that attorneys in solo and smaller firm practice, as well as those with government positions, are underrepresented in the bar association.

“The bedrock of membership is by the larger firms,” he said. “They are always there and always supporting the organization. But the bar association can do more to help solo and small practitioners than sometimes people appreciate.”

Thompson acknowledges that one challenge to the Mahoning County legal profession in the upcoming year is the fact that several attorneys have recently been accused of criminal activity, another seeming blow to the image of the local legal community.

In response, he said that he would like to make the discussion of professionalism more prominent in the business of the association.

“I would like to ask the members this year to think about professionalism,” he said. “We all know what it is and how we are supposed to behave, and when things like this happen, we have to recommit ourselves to those kinds of ideals.”