Mt. Vernon Register-News

May 22, 2011

Local attorney still going strong after 53 years on the job

By RORYE O’CONNOR
rorye.oconnor@register-news.com

MT. VERNON — Local attorney Bill Howard has half a century of experience as the Mt. Vernon city attorney under his belt.

A Mt. Vernon native, Howard has been an attorney for almost 53 years.

“Working for the city has been a joy,” Howard said. “Not too many people do a lot of municipal work. When you do it long enough, you get a body of knowledge that is hard to replace.”

Howard, 76, followed in the footsteps of his attorney father, George Howard, Jr. He attended law school at the University of Illinois, and when he started out as an attorney in the King City, he said he would take any civil case that came in the door.

“(Mt. Vernon) is a great place to be practicing,” he said. “The bar is fairly small, and everyone tries to get along and help each other.”

His primary practice now is in trusts, estate planning and the taxation of estates and trusts, he said. He also works in tax planning and corporate work.

Howard said one of the biggest challenges he has faced through his 52 years as an attorney is staying educated to all the alterations in the law.

“There’s always a challenge to study and keep up with changes,” he said. “Our business is to help people, to help them stay out of trouble and to be helpful.”

Howard is an active member of the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and helps to plan the Commission for Annual Estate Planning Short Course offered by the organization. He has been the president and is on the board still, he said.

He said the most satisfying part of maintaining his business for so long is being able to look back on a body of work for which he knows he did his best, but acknowledged there had been ups and downs in his career.

“Day in and day out, you do your best to help people,” he said. “There are some highs and lows.”

He added when people thank him for his work, it is always pleasing.

Howard said the biggest changes he’s seen over the years is lawyers and attorneys have become more and more specialized as laws become increasingly complex.

He said it’s pretty impossible these days for an attorney to be able to “do it all.”

“When I started out, when someone walked in the door, you would try to deal with it, whatever it was that they needed,” he said. “It’s more complex than that now. Tax law is so much more complex, you have to focus on what it is you want to do best. If what you’re best at is what people come to see you for, that’s good, and that’s how it’s been for me.”

Howard said the most important lesson he’s learned in his 52 years as an attorney is to live the Golden Rule.

“It sounds Biblical, and it is — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and love others as yourself,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always tried to do. It’s the way I was raised.”

He said he doesn’t believe excellent, professional work can be done without faith in God.

Howard can speak with some certainty on Biblical matters, as he is an Episcopalian bishop along with his wife, Sylvia.

His “second vocation,” as he called it, started seven years ago. He is a bishop at the Episcopalian church in Albion, while his wife was assigned to the Centralia Episcopalian Church.

“We are in a servant ministry,” he said. “We do many things: We baptise, we marry, and we bury. I’ve done all these things, and I get to preach every Sunday.”

Howard said working in the church is another way that he is able to continue learning.

He added that his wife has been a pillar of support for him throughout the process.

“She always said that I might not have started it if it weren’t for her, and she might not have finished it if it weren’t for me,” he said. “It’s a joy. It keeps me centered, effective and prayerful.”

Howard, along with being the city attorney, is an attorney at the Howard, Leggans, Piercy and Howard firm in Mt. Vernon. His son, Jeff Howard, works at the firm with him. He has two grandchildren.