Front Page - Friday, February 18, 2011
Lawyers in Legislature – Senate Majority Leader Thompson
Trying to find a few moments with Senate Majority Leader Robert Thompson during the session is a rare treat.
In addition to his legislative duties, he is a full-time, practicing attorney with Branch,
Thompson, Warmath & Dale,
P.A. in his hometown of Paragould. He’s been with the firm for about 12 years and knows one of the attorneys there very well – his father and namesake, Robert F. Thompson.
The busy Senator has been in the legislature since 2005. He explained that he served one term in the House and is beginning his fifth year in the State Senate. He represented District 78 in the House, which includes the city of Paragould. In the Senate, he represents District 11, which includes three counties and part of a fourth in Northeast Arkansas. When prompted where his interest in politics came from, Thompson said, “I’ve always been interested in government in public service. And I enjoy it.”
He does admit that there is a bit of a balancing act between being a practicing attorney and a legislature.
“Almost every evening after we are through at the Capitol, I will do something with regard to my law practice,” he said. Thompson also finds himself at the law library working late into the night to make sure he stays on top of his practice. Simply put, “I balance the practice of law with legislative service by doing both at the same time,” he said.
“I juggle it by making sure that I keep on top of my law practice while I’m down here. And then when we aren’t in session, I keep on top of my legislative service while I’m practicing law full time.”
Regardless of the hours he devotes to either job, he believes his involvement is vital. “It’s important for practicing lawyers to serve in the legislature,” Thompson says. “During my first four years in the Senate, there were only three attorneys. Which I think probably is a historical low. In the new crop of legislators, there is about seven or eight now.”
The Senator said the increase is good and what is also good is that they come from various legal backgrounds. “We have a good mix of attorneys in the State Senate right now,” he stated. He also added that there are a number of reasons why it’s imperative that attorneys serve: attorneys deal with legislation every day.
Thompson explained, “We deal with the results of the legislative process everyday when we deal with the statues and legal opinions and interpreting those statutes. The background or that knowledge of the Arkansas code is important.”
He also noted that attorneys tend to have good analytical minds and they can catch problems with legislation that a non-attorney might not recognize.
“I’m pleased and encouraged to see that a number of attorneys have been willing to sacrifice their time and to come back and serve in the Senate,” Thompson said.
For example, he said when Gov. Beebe was in the State Senate, about half of the Senators had a law degree, even if they weren’t all practicing lawyers, and they had a law degree. And Thompson recalled every member of the judiciary committee was an attorney. This year he said there are eight members of the judiciary committee and five are attorneys. “In the past few years, only two or three have been attorneys,” he added.
Clearly, the Paragould native has witnessed some positive changes in the last couple of years and strives to continue the tradition of being an attorney and legislator. And his level of professionalism and commitment to both professions will continue and only grow stronger in the future.
According to his official bio on the Arkansas State Legislature Web site, regionally and nationally, Thompson has worked with legislators as a member of several organizations including the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Law and Criminal Justice Committee, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Public Safety and Justice Task Force, and the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC)
Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and the Energy and Environment Committee.
The Senator holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix Coll-
ege, where he graduated summa cum laude. He also holds a graduate diploma from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a juris doctorate from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He and his wife, Tori, have two sons, Cross and Henry, and a daughter, Victoria.