Q&A: Fayetteville attorney Bob Estes on legal career, state bar leadership

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,130 views 

Fayetteville attorney Bob Estes was recently appointed president of the Arkansas Bar Association. Estes has been an attorney for 46 years.

Bob Estes, owner of the Law Office of Bob Estes in Fayetteville, recently was appointed president of the Arkansas Bar Association.

The solo practitioner started his firm in 1995 and has been an attorney for 46 years. He has been active in the association since fall 1972 when he was a law student. He graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law in December 1974. He also earned from the UA a bachelor’s degree in business administration in May 1969 and a master’s degree in business administration in 1983.

He spent three years in the U.S. Army, served in Vietnam and was a sergeant when discharged. His time in Vietnam, the Central High School desegregation crisis in Little Rock, his father’s law interest, and a neighbor who’d served as president of the Arkansas Bar Association contributed to Estes becoming an attorney.

Before establishing his firm, he served as deputy public defender in the 4th Judicial Circuit and at multiple law firms and in-house counsel positions. Estes, who specializes in litigation, has argued hundreds of court cases, including in the Arkansas Supreme Court and against products no longer for sale. He was president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, a special associate justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court and is a member of the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Civil Practice. He’s also been chairman of the Fayetteville Planning Commission and board member for numerous Northwest Arkansas nonprofits.

In a recent interview, Estes spoke about his background, the COVID-19 pandemic and his goals as president of the Arkansas Bar Association for his term that runs through mid-June 2022.

Jeff Della Rosa: What led you to become president of the Arkansas Bar Association?

Estes: Early on in law school, I became a member … That would have been in the fall of 1972. [I] remained active over the years, participated on various committees, taskforces … I’ve been a member of every governing body. We’ve been through three forms of governance since the mid-’70s. I’ve served in the house of delegates, the executive council, board of governors and board of trustees.

I was solicited a couple of years ago by former bar presidents to consider running for president of the association. … After much thought and consideration, I accepted that invitation and offered to serve as president of the Arkansas Bar Association.

Della Rosa: What is the significance of the association?

Estes: It brings lawyers from different backgrounds, different practice areas, different geographic locations throughout the state together into one voluntary association supporting the legal profession. We work together to promote justice. We work for the effective and efficient administration of justice. We work together as one profession to accomplish common goals.

Della Rosa: What are your top three goals as president?

Estes: I would like to create an experience that lawyers find value in supporting their association, they have an experience they can enjoy as a member of the Arkansas Bar Association, create collegiality among the lawyers, create civility in the practice of law … It’s my goal to lead the association in its efforts to support the rule of law.

Della Rosa: How’s the pandemic affected the work of attorneys in Arkansas?

Estes: We have learned to, out of necessity, depend upon technology as we never have before. Virtual meeting platforms have been used. There were no jury trials, but hearings, appearances, arraignments continued. And they were done using some form of virtual meeting platform. We continued to do depositions, but again, those have been done using some form of virtual meeting platform.

I wouldn’t say the courts are backlogged, but we do have a docket that we haven’t been able to attend to for over a year. And we’ve done the best we can do with that. We’ve used technology to accomplish what we could and to continue to represent our clients and promote justice as we saw best.

Della Rosa: What lasting effects do you expect the pandemic to have on the legal industry?

Estes: We will continue to use technology as we’ve never used it before. I have taken depositions in Italy and in Greece using a virtual meeting platform this past year. I would do that again because it saves the client a tremendous amount of money. I don’t have to travel there with all the attending expenses: air travel, hotel, meals. I can sit here in my office and do it for literally a decimal fraction of what it would cost to do it in person. And we’re going to continue doing that.

Della Rosa: What has started to return to the way things were before the pandemic?

Estes: We’re back in the courtroom. The courts are open. There are some restrictions. … We’re seeing clients in the office again.

Della Rosa: What led you to become an attorney?

Estes: Early on, my dad worked for the Kansas City Southern railroad … [and] was transferred from Baton Rouge [La.] to Little Rock when I was in the third grade. We lived on Skyline Drive in North Little Rock. Across the street was a fellow named Terrell Marshall [president of the Arkansas Bar Association from 1951-52]. We became friends with Mr. and Mrs. Marshall. He was a lawyer. I remember telling my mother in the fourth grade I wanted to be a lawyer.

It was 1957, and it was the so-called Central High School crisis. I remember watching a black-and-white TV with my dad, and I couldn’t get my arms around what I was seeing. What I saw were children who wanted to go to school at Little Rock Central High School. … They were called names, they were yelled at, they were spit on, and it occurred to me that a lawyer could make a difference. A lawyer could change that, and that’s exactly what happened.

My dad … had an interest in William O. Douglas’ opinions. Douglas was a U.S. Supreme Court justice, and he wrote prolifically. Before the internet, you could write to the U.S. Government Printing Office and ask for what were called slip opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court justices. From time to time, my dad would do that, and I would read Justice Douglas’ opinions. Among the books that Justice Douglas authored, there was one on the Bill of Rights. It was a very small book, and he would list each of the individual amendments. And he would have two or three pages where he would discuss …how he interpreted that amendment. … My dad got me a copy of that, and I remember very well reading that.

The second seminal event in my life that led me to be a lawyer was being in Vietnam. I clearly saw that without the rule of law and the rule of law being enforced, there’s confusion. Where there’s confusion, there’s chaos. And where there’s a lack of the rule of law, and there is confusion and chaos, nothing good happens. And a lawyer can make a difference. I came back from Vietnam with the idea I was going to be a lawyer. … I thought I could change some things if I had a law degree.