Attorneys Dwight Baker of Blackfoot and Walter Bithell of Boise recently received the 2013 Idaho State Bar Distinguished Lawyer award. This is the highest award that can be bestowed on an Idaho attorney by the bar.
"I had no expectation [of receiving this award]," said Baker.
Baker has been practicing law for 42 years and is a partner in the Baker Harris Law Firm in Blackfoot. Bithell is a Blackfoot High School graduate.
Baker noted that federal Judge Blaine Anderson and trial attorney Lou Racine each received this award, "so this is indeed an honor," he said. "Receiving this award does imply that you are old."
The Idaho Bar Association recognized Baker for his professionalism, competence, experience and service to the profession.
"I graduated from the University of Wisconsin and, when I was 23-years-old, I came to Blackfoot to teach chemistry and coach at Blackfoot High School," Baker said. "I chose to come to Blackfoot.
"I wanted a community this size that was agriculturally oriented," he said. "I was raised on a farm and liked it.
"I went to law school when I was 27," he said.
Baker attended law school at the University of Idaho.
It is mandatory that every lawyer in the state of Idaho be a member of the Idaho State Bar Association, he said. The national organization, the American Bar Association, is a voluntary organization.
The Idaho Bar Association provides mandatory education for its members, among other services.
About four or five years ago, Baker was elected to the Commission of the Idaho State Bar Association.
This commission is made up of five individuals. One commissioner represents the Pocatello and Blackfoot-Idaho Falls area (Judicial Regions 6 and 7). One represents northern Idaho (Regions 1 and 2). Another represents the Caldwell area (Region 3); one commissioner represents Region 5 (Twin Falls). Two commissioners represent the Boise area (Region 4). Forty-three percent of all attorneys who practice law in Idaho are in the Boise area.
After three years as a commissioner, Baker served one year as the organization's president.
"That helped me be known to other attorneys," he said.
"About one-third of the business of the commission is admitting attorneys and disciplining those [attorneys] who need to be disciplined," Baker said.
"The law is always catching up with societal changes," he said.
"I believe it's important that attorneys engage in public service," Baker said.
Baker served on the Bingham County Hospital Board for nine years, two as chairman, and on the Library Board for three or four years.
Baker also helps with the BHS program, "We the People," as well as youth programs sponsored by the American Legion and the Elks Club.
Looking out his office window, Baker said, "A person was knifed to death under that pine tree out there. That was my first case.
"I was part of a three-man defense team," he said. "The outcome was successful."
(It was also memorable.)
Bithell was also recognized as a 2013 Distinguished Lawyer. He was raised in Blackfoot. He is a partner with Holland & Hart in Boise.
"This award was not something I expected," he said.
"I've been pretty successful," Bithell said. "We treat people we deal with decently; we are someone who can be trusted and dealt with."
Bithell has been practicing law for 45 years, since 1968.
"I love it," he said.
Asked what changes he has seen in his years as an attorney, Bithell said, "The electronic age has hit the legal profession. It has changed our ability to research far beyond legal books in law libraries.
"[Because of the electronic media,] we are better able to present what courts need to hear," he said.
"The cases I remember the best are with people who are the most desperate," said Bithell. "When you can help them; that is really satisfying."