According to Northern Arizona lawyers,
Cunningham has a clean bill of health.
Bayles reels off traits of Cunningham that
he calls “old-fashioned.”
“He has the ability to listen. He’s a per-
son of principle with a razor-sharp intellect.
He won’t be pushed around, and he’s able to
bring others along. A born leader.”
“Whitney is always up for the large case
and the hard case. But he’s egalitarian and
doesn’t just gravitate to the high-profile
Bayles was one of those in the conference
room when the new law grad interviewed
at Aspey. But the Flagstaff lawyers quickly
found that they liked the East Coast-trained
“He didn’t bring any elevated Eastern
arrogance. He’s never full of himself, though
he has reason to be.”
“Show, don’t tell,” the teacher instructs.
Relatedly, “Specific, not general,” banquet
listeners silently implore.
Too often, those lessons remain
unlearned. Addressing the annual
Foundation luncheon at the June Bar
Convention, though, Cunningham opted
to be specific and down-to-earth. Kind of
old fashioned, you might say.
Facing hundreds of lawyers, he knew
most all wanted to help close the gap in
access to justice. Some, though, simply may
not have known how to get started.
The original debater marshaled his
evidence and provided five ways to make a
difference. They ranged from taking pro
bono cases or limited-scope representation,
to becoming a Foundation Fellow, or even
ghost-writing legal papers for an unrepresented person.
The detail he provided (including websites) revealed a man committed to change,
as soon as possible. He sought to remove
obstacles to participation, and in so doing
help as many Arizonans as possible.
“He has a heart for service,” Don Bayles
says. Service with a punch list, it turns out.
The man who is now President had a surprising start on the big Bar Board.
“Fritz Aspey walked into my office,”
recalls Cunningham. “He said Charlotte
Wells is having to step down from the Board
of Governors [as she had been named a
Judge]. You’re gonna run for the Board.
And I said, No I’m not. And he said, You
are, and I’ll be your campaign manager.”
“Whit wasn’t an overly ambitious guy
when it came to his initial run for the
Board,” says Bayles, sharing in the under-
statement. “His petition was a last-minute
thing that just met barely the filing require-
ments (he may have faxed in a
minimalist petition five minutes before the
A narrow win (and landslides since)
brought Cunningham to conversations
broader than he had experienced in a town’s
“My eyes were opened to a world that I
had not previously known. These were real-
ly high-quality lawyers sitting around a
table, hotly debating topics but in a way
which was collegial and professional. I was
on board immediately. I loved it.”
In practice and on the Board, Bayles
praises Cunningham: “He is not one to see
limitations. ‘Just get it done.’” He adds that
the new President “has the unusually nice
trait to refrain from complaint.”
He will need both of those skills as
he leads in the coming year. Before
Cunningham describes his year’s goals, he
points out that he seeks to revamp the way
the Board meets—less often, but for
longer—to ensure the Governors focus on
significant and substantial issues rather than
the “humdrum of business.”
Not surprisingly, the lifelong debate stu-
dent wants more “healthy debate on matters
of strategic importance.”
“That’s where we’re at our best.”
The first goal he lists is to establish a task
force on succession planning for lawyers and
Nationwide and in Arizona, an aging
lawyer population and “a more transitory
lawyer population than probably at any time
in our history” may create pressures and
challenges for clients and occasionally the
State Bar. The task force will examine best
practices and make proposals.
Another area of focus will be the estab-
lishment of a working group on CLE topics.
It will examine the offerings of the Bar’s CLE
Department along with those of Sections.
He believes the result will be improved offer-
ings to meet “the specialized needs of the
Finally, he expects additional progress
from a task force established a year ago that
is focused on green issues and sustainability.
(His wife Jennifer Mott was named chair of
the task force by a previous Bar President).
“We seek to define and deliver to members some ideas on how we can practice law
in a more economically and environmentally
Trial lawyers and debate pros. The very best
of them are probably a little bit cowboy and a
little bit rancher. They know and keep track of
every head of cattle, and so can appreciate
fences and boundaries. But they know success
sometimes requires surprise and the occasional trust in instinct. Corrals are great, but the
open plain is where cases and competitions