In his 24-year law career, John E. Thies handled cases as far south as Carbondale, as far north as Rockford and at many courthouses in between.
"I wish I had pushpins and a map so I could keep track of it," he said.
It's fitting that a lawyer who traveled most of the state will rise to the presidency of the Illinois State Bar Association tonight at a swearing-in ceremony.
Thies said his cases throughout the state prepared him to lead the state's largest bar group, which features about 33,000 members.
"It's given me the chance to get to know lawyers in other places and court systems," Thies said.
His presidency also makes history for the ISBA.
A third-generation lawyer, Thies is the first child of a former ISBA president to follow a parent's footsteps. His father, Richard L. Thies, served as president during the 1986-87 term.
"My wife and I are very proud of the fact he's done this. He's done it on his own completely," the elder Thies said. "He's been involved in bar association work since he was even in law school. I think it came naturally."
The younger Thies, 49, handles commercial litigation as a shareholder at Webber & Thies P.C. in Urbana. He also represents defendants in class-action suits and companies in employment cases.
Thies (pronounced "theece") has spent his entire legal career at Webber & Thies, joining the firm after earning a law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1988.
In his yearlong presidency, he plans to release several committee studies. One ISBA committee will review how law school debt will impact law firms in the future.
"So many of the firms throughout the state — 10 lawyers or less — those law firms will have a harder and harder time hiring people because those law students with such high debt will not be able to practice in small firm settings," Thies said. "That's something we will be able to document and it will demonstrate why the need for some sort of reform is crucial."
The committee will hold hearings across the state that lawyers, judges and school leaders can attend to testify about "what will the impact be on the delivery of legal services if the current trajectory of legal debt continues," Thies said.
"This is clearly a national issue. It's going to the core of how much we train lawyers and how much does it cost to train lawyers. We can make a record that informs the national discussion."
Another committee will survey all of the state's circuit courts to learn about funding and financial challenges the systems face.
"There are things we can do that don't require additional funds. The most obvious is e-filing," Thies said.
"In a way, I'm a poster child for a need for this (e-filing), having a practice that takes me to different counties. It's really important that all 102 counties have consistent standards."
In another committee, members will study revisions to the standards that are used to stop a judge from hearing a case via recusal, substitution or disqualification.
Thies asked former state Appellate Justice Gino L. DiVito to co-chair the committee.
"John's totally engaged," said DiVito of Tabet, DiVito & Rothstein LLC. "He's with it. He is able to determine the issues that confront the bar, the justice system in general, and he's ready and willing to address them. So I anticipate a great year with him at the helm."
Thies, a father of two daughters, also recruited his wife, Terry, to assist his presidency.
She chairs a committee that will work with the Illinois attorney general's office to collect donations for the state's eight regional food banks. The committee will run a collection campaign in February.
"The most important thing is we were looking for something that would celebrate our profession's philanthropy," Thies said. "We have a very philanthropic profession and we also want to encourage it and facilitate it."
Thies' level of organization hasn't gone unnoticed.
"He has, already, a well-organized plan of what he wants to accomplish and has put that into place," said Wheaton attorney Richard D. Felice, ISBA second vice president.
"And we're all involved in various components of his plan to make it happen. And I think it will, without question, happen. He's as best organized as anyone has ever been."
As for serving in a position his father once held, Thies called it a "great honor."
"And I see it as a great responsibility," he said. "There are so many important needs right now and we're trying to address them."